By Ian Cooney
The re-run of Ireland’s involvement in Italia ’90 on RTE on Saturday evening last resurrected a myriad of memories for soccer fans around the country. It was a great time to be alive as the nation’s soccer team prospered on the world stage at the first time of asking.
For Padraic Newman and his friends from Castlerea Celtic, the footage took them on a trip down memory lane — from surviving a trip on a catamaran in the Mediterranean Sea to handing over cash for match tickets to the Mafia in a phone booth.
Then there was the flag which has become part of one of the most iconic moments in Irish sport. As Packie Bonner sprung to his right to save Daniel Timofte’s spot kick on the penalty shootout against Romania at the Luigi Ferraris Stadium in Genoa, the camera picked up a “Castlerea Celtic on Tour” flag on the screen, hanging from one of the infamous orange brick pillars in the corner of the stadium that resembled holiday apartment blocks.
“Some of us had gone home at that stage. It was the trip of a lifetime,” recalled Padraic.
“We had passed the flag on to Michael (Mixer) Doherty and Raymond Gray. It was lovely to see it again on television the other night. It brought back great memories,” he continued.
Padraic and the Castlerea entourage that included Mike Doyle, Mixer Doherty, Michael Harvey, Raymond Gray, Tom Byron, Ray Silke, Michael Caulfield, Jimmy Kelly, Declan Walsh, Tom Joyce, RIP, and Brendan Rogers, RIP, set off for Italy 30 years ago, ending up in a hotel in Sicily for Ireland’s group games against England, Egypt and Holland.
“We ended up with a crowd of Dubs. We had mighty craic. There were around 72 of us in the hotel, all Irish and all up for having a good time.”
Ireland’s first game against England took place in Cagliari, Sardania, which necessitated a boat trip from Palermo where Padraic and the Green Army was based.
“We travelled over on these catamarans which weren’t fit for purpose. A massive storm blew up on the way. We nearly didn’t make it. I think one of the catamarans ended up turning back. Ours kept going. When you see some of the crew getting sick, it wasn’t a good sign,” he remembered.
A journey that should have only taken four or five hours last up to 16 hours, and Padraic recalls making kick-off against England with ten minutes to spare.
“The flag survived and it was spotted in television for the first time that night. Overall, we were around 38 hours away from the hotel. I’ll never forget it.
“We went to the Egypt match and there was a group of lads sitting in front of us with t-shirts printed ‘I survived the catamarans’. We still have a good laugh about it,” continued Padraic.
Tickets for the Dutch game, a match that would decide Ireland’s fate in the tournament, were hard to come by, and Padraic went to great lengths to make sure he got his hands on them.
“Myself and two Cork lads went into Palermo at 6 a.m. on the morning of the match. I ended up getting 18 tickets. I came across one of these fellas that looked like the Mafia. I paid him cash in a phone booth for the tickets. Sure the tickets ended up being in the middle of the Dutch fans but they were great craic.”
After being spotted in Genoa, the flag made it way in Mike Doyle’s capable hands to USA ’94 with a “younger generation” of Castlerea supporters. Derek Kennedy took up flag-bearing duties for the European championships finals in Poland/Ukraine and France.
“I think it (the flag) might have made it to Japan/South Korea in 2002. But I gave the flag to Shane Curran at some stage and I haven’t seen it since,” laughed Padraic.
If Ireland qualify for next year’s deferred European Championships, maybe Castlerea’s most famous flag might be reborn and take centre stage once more.