Alan Kernaghan: Lansdowne Road riot was worse than Windsor Park hell
Ex-Ireland defender says everyone was surprised by events of February 15, 1996
HE survived a night of the most vitriolic abuse when he lined out for the Republic of Ireland 'away' to Northern Ireland, a place which was Alan Kernaghan's home for a large part of his childhood.
But the defender was still unprepared for what happened on a February night in 1995 when he manned a central defensive berth for the Republic against his native England.
"I think everyone had a sense of shock. You tried to understand what had happened and why it had happened. To me, it was just total nonsense," Kernaghan told The Herald this week as he reflected on that infamous night and riot 20 years ago.
"The atmosphere in Windsor Park that night in '93 was pretty bad but we knew we were going to get that, it was no surprise, and it was mainly vocal. It was nasty but it was vocal and you could switch off from it as you weren't in danger.
"But the Lansdowne riot was a surprise, it came out of the blue and everyone was caught on the back-foot. It was the worst night I saw in my career. I had crazy moments, when the fans come on the pitch at the of a game where you've been promoted or relegated but Lansdowne in '95 was something else," added the defender, a favourite of Chartlon.
"What I remember about the game in '95 was that we played really well. We had a few changes to the usual side we had out, but we played really well in the game and were on the front foot from early on. David Kelly got that great goal and then - bedlam. All the trouble broke out.
"For a lot of the players, the initial concern was our families in the crowd, we looked to see where all the nonsense was happening as we knew where our families were. I knew that my family's tickets were for the right-hand side of the stand and the trouble seemed to be at the left, so I was relieved to know they should be ok. Then, the main aim was to get off the pitch safely.
"I saw later that Jack got involved with the England fans who were on the pitch but I just wanted get off the field and into the dressing room as soon as possible.
"I had friends over for the game so that night we ventured out in Dublin - reluctantly. But you could see around the town that it was different, the security in all the pubs was much higher.
"And it's a surprise to me that it's taken us 20 years to get England back to Dublin. A lot of good has happened since then so I don't know why we've waited 20 years for a rematch, it's a different world now compared to the Ireland we had back then."
Time has moved on for Kernaghan since he hung up his boots. He had spells managing Falkirk and Dundee, then had a stint on the coaching staff at Ibrox with Rangers, and his most recent post was at Brentford.
But recently, he was lured 'home' by Northern Ireland and Kernaghan has been appointed as manager of their U15 and U16 sides. And it's significant that a player who caused so much controversy (and earned unprecedented abuse) by playing for the Republic instead of Northern Ireland, where he spent a large part of his childhood, now finds himself tasked with ensuring that promising youngsters born north of the border stay out of the clutches of the Republic.
"The outlook is pretty good for Northern Ireland now, there's a real feel-good factor about Michael O'Neill's team and everyone is looking forward to the qualifier next week, if we get a good result against Romania then we have a good chance of going to the finals," he says. "Part of my brief is to try and keep Northern Ireland-born players on board with us. We're just trying to keep the ones we have in our system happy and make them feel wanted. Michael O'Neill has made huge strides in that department and hopefully it continues.
"I can't say if our players are being chased by the FAI, I've only been in the job for a few weeks. But if it's the case that Michael's senior team qualify for Euro 2016, it could have a trickle-down effect and help us to keep players with us."