We were all part of Jackie’s Army
Killarney pays tribute to a sporting icon
By Sean Moriarty
The great Jack Charlton will make his final journey today as he is laid to rest at in his native Newcastle.
At 12.30 today radio stations in Ireland and Britain will simultaneously play ‘Put ‘em Under Pressure” – the Republic of Ireland soccer team’s Italia 1990 anthem.
This week’s print edition of the Killarney Advertiser carried a special tribute to the national icon and many well-known Killarney people paid tribute to the legendary soccer manager.
Many of us are better at watching soccer than we are at playing it, and for that we have to thank Jack Charlton, who died this week aged 85.
His arrival as the manager of the Republic of Ireland Football Manager in 1985 made us watch even more soccer.
He guided the Irish team to their first major final at Euro ’88 and two World Cups, Italia ’90 and USA ‘94 in the space of 10 years.
He brought Irish soccer fans on a series of journeys that will never be forgotten, and those of a certain age began to believe that qualifying for major tournaments were the norm rather than the exception.
Moments that define Irish sporting history; our first ever appearance at the European finals in Germany in 1988; Ray Houghton’s famous Stuttgart goal against arch rivals England; our first World Cup, Italia ’90 where the impossible was achieved; making it to the quarter finals against the host nation and the revenge defeat of the Italians in Giant’s Stadium, New York, four years later.
These are just the sporting highlights. There were great cultural moments too and he gave the Irish people a new sense of believe in an ever expanding Euro-zone.
We could now celebrate our national identity in ways never seen before and as one hack put it, we reclaimed the Irish Tri-Colour from extreme nationalists. The irony that it took an Englishman to achieve all this is not lost, as “Big Jack”, became a national folk hero and a much loved character.
At the height of this Irish success he made visits to Killarney, and his time here is fondly remembered by those who were there to meet him.
In November 1990 Jack Charlton was given a civic reception by the then Mayor of Killarney Michael Courtney (RIP) at the Great Southern Hotel.
Michael Rosney, now of Killeen House Hotel, was the Great Southern Hotel Manager at the time.
“He was an absolute gentleman to deal with,” Michael told the Killarney Advertiser. “In fact, he stood out as he was such a kind, genuine, natural man to deal with.”
Jack was in town to address the Irish Travel Agents Association annual conference.
Local travel agent Vince Counihan, who owned Counihan’s Travel Agency at the time, was instrumental in getting Big Jack to Killarney.
“He was such a great speaker, a lovely modest man to deal with but there was very little business done at the convention as everyone was still celebrating Italia ’90 which took place only five or six months earlier,” added Michael.
Over 700 people attended the conference banquet where Jack gave an uplifting and humorous speech. Jack retired early as he had to be up at 6am so he could travel to Dublin for another appointment.
Needless to say, the banquet attendees did not go to bed early and the craic continued into the small hours in the residents’ bar.
The early morning revellers could not believe that Jack was still in the hotel the following morning and started an impromptu version of ‘Ole Ole Ole’ as he waited in the lobby for his lift.
Michael Rosney was there to witness it all.
“He just turned to me and said “It is so nice of the Irish to get up early and see me off”,” Michael told the Killarney Advertiser.
One of the guests at the reception included recently retired Killarney Senator Paul Coghlan from Ballydowney.
“He created the atmosphere, there was an aura about him,” the former politician told the Killarney Advertiser. “I can only say the very best about him. We were all enthralled and thrilled to meet him. He was great company but he also did great things for the nation and caused us to sit and take notice. He was a national hero.”
The FAI’s main sponsor at the time was Opel Ireland and local Opel dealer and motor industry legend, the late, Mick Ahern, met Charlton at new car launches in Dublin.
His son Paul recalls how his late father and Jack became great friends and Mick would often act as the soccer hero’s driver while he was in the Killarney area.
Paul remembers one story where his father was dispatched to one airport to pick Jack up. He was driving a brand new Opel Omega at the time and Charlton loved nothing better than to smoke a big cigar after a flight.
“”Is this a new car Mick”, he asked my father,” Paul told the Killarney Advertiser. “”It is Jack”, and with that Jack put the cigar back in his shirt pocket and said “I won’t be the first person to smoke in it so”.”
On at least one occasion Jack Charlton stayed at The Three Lakes Hotel, the current location of the Plaza Hotel, and once again Mick Ahern was the appointed driver.
“A huge crowd gathered outside the hotel to try and meet Jack,” added Paul. “He was bigger than the Pope that time.”