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25 years ago today: Ray Houghton's magical goal at the Giants Stadium

It was one of the greatest days in Irish sport, which makes it sad in ways that it was a quarter ...

25 years ago today: Ray Hought...

25 years ago today: Ray Houghton's magical goal at the Giants Stadium

It was one of the greatest days in Irish sport, which makes it sad in ways that it was a quarter of a century ago. Ray Houghton's winner as the Republic of Ireland beat Italy 1-0 at the World Cup on June 18th 1994 is etched in the memories of those that can recall it. 

Houghton had already won our hearts, with his goal against England at Euro 88 putting the Boys in Green on the footballing map.

Manager Jack Charlton guided the national team to the last 8 of the 1990 World Cup, where they lost 1-0 to hosts Italy in the quarter finals.

Therefore it was fascinating that after narrowly qualifying for USA 94, a tournament England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland failed to reach, the Republic of Ireland were pitted against the Italians in the opening group game.

Not only that, it was staged at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, not far from New York city.  Irish heritage is intrinsic to that part of the world and the whole occasion turned into a celebration of what it is to be Irish. Expats, second generation fans and those that made the journey across the Atlantic outnumbered the Italians in the stadium.

It was a Republic of Ireland team that contained a young Roy Keane, with the Italians fielding household names in Roberto Baggio, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini. Serie A was the best league in the world at the time, and Italy would ultimately reach the final.

On this day though, Houghton floated an opportunistic shot over the head of Azzurri goalkeeper Gianluca Pagliuca on 11 minutes and the rest was history.

Paul McGrath gave his best ever performance in a green shirt. It was a celestial display. McGrath was everywhere, stopping everything, blocking everyone.

As a 15 year old teenager watching at night back at home in Ireland, the frayed nerves began to turn into a confidence that this was going to be our moment. Italy could not breach us and we had that special feeling again of overwhelming joy and pride.

The triumph of the Giants Stadium turned to tragedy as we learned of the horrific terrorist attack at Loughinisland, County Down, as six civilians were murdered by the UVF as they watched the game. The atrocity came just months before the cease fire in Northern Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland's World Cup was never the same after that match, with the heat in Florida and the quality of the Dutch eventually ending our challenge in the last 16.

One of the saddest things about Irish football right now is that we are often looking to nostalgia to feel good about the game. That's not right. It is possible for things to change. Only a year and a day ago I was in Moscow to see Mexico shock world champions Germany 1-0 on the third day of the 2018 World Cup.

When I think about that great day as a neutral, I remember it as Mexico's 'Giants Stadium' moment. That's how big it was for us, 25 years ago today. I want that feeling as an Irish fan again.

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