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golden days Memories of Euro 88 have come flooding back... and what might have been in 1992

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Ruud Gullit (L), Paul McGrath (R) during the UEFA Euro 1988 match between Ireland and Netherlands on June 18, 1988 at the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Ruud Gullit (L), Paul McGrath (R) during the UEFA Euro 1988 match between Ireland and Netherlands on June 18, 1988 at the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

Ruud Gullit (L), Paul McGrath (R) during the UEFA Euro 1988 match between Ireland and Netherlands on June 18, 1988 at the Parkstadion in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

THE memories of Euro '88 have come flooding back over the last week... and what might have been.

To start with, let me get one thing clear, VAR would not have given my 'goal' against the Dutch in Gelsenkirchen, the ball didn't cross the goal line.

There are still many Irish football supporters who think we were robbed that day.

Maybe we were by the way Wim Kieft's shot spun past Packie Bonner. That was a true freak. But my 'goal' wasn't a goal.

Stuttgart and Hannover are special memories, of days when we found our feet as a footballing nation.

I didn't play against the USSR in Hannover.

Instead, Kevin Sheedy came into the midfield and we played probably the best pure football an Irish team played in my time in the shirt.

Everyone remembers the match for Ronnie Whelan's (blow) great goal, but take a look at the game on YouTube sometime - we utterly outplayed the USSR, who would go on to play Holland in the final of the tournament.

But we left ourselves open to a breakaway, and an equaliser, because we couldn't get the second goal.

That was my only time to play at the Euros, but the two tournaments we missed out on qualifying for are still a cause of annoyance, whenever I turn my mind to them.

I actually think Euro '92 would have been the peak of Jack Charlton's team of 1986-95.

But we blew qualification, by letting a 3-1 lead in Poland slip with 20 minutes to go and drew 3-3.

It was so unlike us. In my time playing for Jack, we always fancied ourselves to defend a one-goal lead for however long it took. That was us!

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Here we gave up two goals in 20 minutes. It still stings to that day.

And to make it worse we were still on course to qualify anyway - until Gary Lineker scored very late on in England's last game in the group, also in Poland.

Euro '92 was the last competition in which there were only eight teams on the biggest stage.

If there had been 16 teams at that Euros, as there were in England four years later, I believe Ireland would have qualified and given a right good account of ourselves.

We'd have gone a long way. The settled team and system we had was being added to by the likes of Roy Keane, and we were a match for anyone.

We had played England off the park at Wembley during the qualifying, Lee Dixon got their goal off a deflection. We were a serious team then in those years of the early '90s.

All in all, that Euro '92 qualifying competition still gnaws at me. It is one of the biggest regrets of all of my career.

By contrast, missing out on Euro '96 doesn't bug me too much.

It does for one reason only, because I know our beloved Jack wanted to lead his Irish team up and down the land of his birth.

He would have been so proud, I think he'd have burst.

And, yes, he'd have been sending his own message, years later, to the English FA who didn't even reply to his letter applying for the England job.

We would have had thousands of supporters. Every Irish fan would have had an Auntie in Birmingham, London or Liverpool who would have provided free lodgings. It would have been a hell of a party.

The only thing is it wouldn't have been a party out on the pitch.

If I think Euro '92 would have seen the best of Ireland, we were shot by the time Euro '96 came around.

Football had come to terms with a decade of 'put 'em under pressure' - they now knew how to deal with it.

We had disastrous results against Liechtenstein and Austria in qualifying, and then we lost to Holland in the play-off at Anfield 2-0.

I didn't remember until a while ago that top men like Roy, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton and Niall Quinn missed the match through injury.

But honestly they wouldn't have made a difference. Holland were just younger, faster, better, more fluid than us.

Most of them were only kids, but everyone already knew about Edwin van der Sar, Patrick Kluivert, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and the De Boer twins.

Being beaten by a fine young team was actually a great way for our ageing team to die out.

As for the current Euros, I'm delighted that the referees are letting the game flow. They are not blowing the whistle for a free every time they hear a scream.

There is supposed to be physicality in football.

But of recent times, players are looking at referees for a foul for the slightest contact on their person. That's not football. I'm glad the refs are letting it flow.

And as for my moment of the tournament so far, well it is not one of the many great goals we've seen scored.

Instead it is the roars and fist-pumps from Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and his centre-half, Giorgio Chiellini, at the end of the first match of the Euros against Turkey.

Italy are winning 3-0, but they do not want to concede a goal late on and Chiellini, an old-school defender, gets across to make a tackle he has no right to make.

The pair of them gave it a right welly as they celebrated, they did not want to concede a goal.

That's great stuff and the sort of attitude that could take an impressive Italian side all the way to the semi-final at least.

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