Like practically every country apart from England, the Republic of Ireland no longer start games with the players numbered 1-11.
The last time it happened was in 2012 – in their first and third games at that summer’s European Championship. However, from their opening game in the qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup onwards, squad numbering has been used.
Some odd choices (such as defenders wearing 10) meaning that a 1-11 had no realistic chance of being seen.
Euro 2012 was the second time that Ireland had fielded 1-11 in two out of three games at the competition.
Back in 1988, the country’s first time at a major tournament, they had similarly gone with the traditional layout in their first and third games.
Then, the Italia 90 opener against England had just one deviation – Andy Townsend started in midfield wearing number 13 with number 6 Ronnie Whelan absent from the starting 11.
By the end of a tournament where Ireland reached the quarter-finals, only one other player with a number above 11 had started, with Niall Quinn (17) displacing Tony Cascarino.
However, the October after the World Cup would provide the first instance of Ireland playing a non-finals game where a player started with a number above 11.
Our thanks go to Craig Ackers, who made us aware of this appearance by John Sheridan on the Undr The Cosh podcast. In it, he related how, ahead of Ireland’s opening Euro 92 qualifier against Turkey at Lansdowne Road, Paul McGrath went missing.
Earlier in the week, McGrath – experiencing problems with alcohol, had gone AWOL and ended up in Greece. While he made it back in time for the game, and the incident didn’t surface in the media, Sheridan revealed that there was more to follow.
We’d get on the coach at the Airport Hotel, straight through the middle of Dublin. Paul used to always sit at the back of the bus, right at the back, in the corner.
When you got to Lansdowne, you had to get out of the bus and walk 200 yards, through a bit of the crowd, under the tunnel and into the changing room.
We get into the changing room anyway, next thing we’re looking around and there’s no sign of Paul – he’s only got off the fucking bus, hadn’t he? He was in no frame to play the game.
The funny side of it is that we didn’t have enough players. Bernie Slaven had been the one left out and we used to get two shirts each. Bernie wasn’t involved in the game so he got his shirts signed by all the players on the way to the game.
But Bernie’s only got to go on the bench, hadn’t he?!
Now, I will admit to a bit of scepticism upon first viewing – it seemed to have a bit of after-dinner-speaking embellishment to the story. Why, for instance, was Slaven not given a fresh shirt within the 12-16 bracket?
Well, it seems that the players had been given their shirts before reaching Lansdowne Road, as the ITV pre-match graphic shows that Chris Hughton, who was called up to the starting 11 instead of McGrath, wore 14, with no number 6 in the lineup. Presumably, Slaven’s shirt had 17 on the back.
The reshuffling of the team saw Hughton slot in at left-back with Steve Staunton pushing on into midfield as Sheridan tucked in alongside Townsend.
The switching of McGrath from 7 to 6 makes sense to our minds as he was capable of playing in defence and midfield, though when he returned for the next game against England, he was 7 again with Whelan 6 and Townsend 11.
Townsend would eventually make 7 his own, but during those qualifiers he wore 6 more often than not.
It meant that newcomer Roy Keane, who wore 6 at club level for Nottingham Forest, appeared as number 7 for his country as well as donning number 9 in a couple of games where a 4-5-1 was used.