herald

Thursday 22 November 2018

Memories of Italian job

Major Euro triumph is marked 20 years on

8 May 1998. Rep of Ireland David McMahon celebrates scoring Ireland's winning goal. UEFA U-16 Championship Final, Rep of Ireland v Italy, McDiarmid Park, Perth, Scotland. Picture Credit David Maher SPORTSFILE.
8 May 1998. Rep of Ireland David McMahon celebrates scoring Ireland's winning goal. UEFA U-16 Championship Final, Rep of Ireland v Italy, McDiarmid Park, Perth, Scotland. Picture Credit David Maher SPORTSFILE.

It's a normal working day for a bunch of lads in their late 30s.

But at some point today, the WhatsApp group will start to ping with messages, as some Irish footballers recall the moment, 20 years ago today, when they were crowned champions of Europe, beating Italy 2-1 in the final of the U-16 European Championship finals.

Dubliner David McMahon was the nation's golden boy that day in Scotland, scoring the winning goal early in the second half after Keith Foy's earlier goal was cancelled out.

While team-mates went on to great things at international and Premier League level (John O'Shea, Andy Reid, the late Liam Miller), McMahon's career peaked that day. He barely kicked a ball at club level afterwards and was effectively finished with football at the age of 25.

Now 37, the focus for Tolka Rovers old boy McMahon is family in his adopted home of Newcastle, and the day job, working as a rep for Carlsberg.

McMahon pictured at the twentieth anniversary celebration of the squad’s achievement in January. Photo: Sportsfile
McMahon pictured at the twentieth anniversary celebration of the squad’s achievement in January. Photo: Sportsfile

But the memories live on where his career, and the careers of others, faded.

Stunning

"We beat Italy in the final of the European Championships, the first Irish team to win anything, no-one can ever take that away from us," McMahon told the Herald as he reflected on that stunning feat of May 8, 1998.

"We didn't realise at the time how big a deal it was for Irish soccer.

"I didn't know that this week was the 20th anniversary, life's too busy to think about stuff like that but it's nice to know that people remember it."

McMahon was banging in the goals at the time, for the underage teams with Ireland and Newcastle United, but his career after that failed to take off, the striker playing for a series of clubs in Scotland, England and Ireland, before dropping into the non-league scene around Newcastle.

And yet he has no hard feelings. "That's as good as it got for me in football, scoring the winner in an U-16 Euros final," he says.

"I had another year or so at a decent level but once I left Newcastle (2001) it was over for me.

"I wasn't fit after that as I had a knee injury which I couldn't get right. I went on to play semi-pro locally, but that was just to get some cash in while I went to Uni," added McMahon, who took a Sports Science degree and now works in sales.

After the highs of May '98, careers moved on, and lads like John O'Shea, Andy Reid, Joe Murphy, John Thompson, Jim Goodwin, Jon Douglas and Graham Barrett won senior caps.

But for two of the key players in the U-16s, top scorer McMahon and captain Shaun Byrne, their club careers amounted to a handful of appearances.

Friends

"How Shaun didn't make it I will never know. At the time you're disappointed as you have friends playing for Ireland, playing in the Premier League, but it is what it is and you are happy for them. I look back now and think I still had great times in football," says McMahon.

The first taste of nostalgia came in January, when the Irish teams which landed the U-16 and U-18 titles in 1998 - the first time a nation had won both in the same year, and only one team (Spain) has done it since - gathered in Dublin at an event organised by the Soccer Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI).

Since then, there's been sadness as Liam Miller, a key midfielder in the U-16 squad, lost his battle with cancer. "Losing Liam was a blow as we were a very tight group back then," McMahon reflects.

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