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WORLD CUP USA ’94 / THE FIRST ROUND : COMMENTARY : St. Patrick’s Day Comes on June 28 This Year

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TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

Ah, glory be. They’ll be dancin’ in Cork and Killarney on Tuesday night, and the streets of New York City will turn into the old sod.

Like the beer that will flow till the wee hours in the pubs on the Lower East Side, they poured out of Giants Stadium, some 70,000 strong, dressed in green and headed for celebration. Their Irish national soccer team had advanced to the round of 16 in the World Cup, and it mattered not that it was achieved through a 0-0 tie with Norway, nor that this sort of World Cup advancement had been achieved once before, in 1990, by Ireland.

That’s football, lads. A tie is a win when you need it to go on.

This was a time for hoistin’ a mug and toastin’ Jack Charlton’s boys. They had survived “the group of death,” the toughest division in World Cup ‘94, and had even come out of it in second place. Sing a song of County Carlow and drink to the boys.

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“There’ll be a happy time in New York tonight,” said Charlton, the tall, red-faced coach who was voted the most popular man in Ireland in a recent poll by the Irish Press Group. He got 38% of the vote. Nobody else was even close. And he being an Englishman!

“They’ll be havin’ a party or two and you can go join them,” Charlton said as the number of reporters claiming Irish lineage swelled quickly.

The faithful had swooped out of the city and into the Meadowlands in cars and vans that streamed Irish flags and Irish signs. Walking about them in the parking lots, where the wearing of the green was a way of life, they said their names were Hanrahan and Shaughnessy and O’Leary and O’Brien. There were three Kellys on Ireland’s roster and 10,000 more in the stands.

“It was like we were playing in Ireland,” midfielder Ray Houghton said.

Most of them were in their seats a good hour before the match began. The three decks of Giants Stadium were overflowing with Irish signs. No corner of the stadium was left unrepresented, as was no corner of Ireland: Viscount Bar Cork on Tour. Sligo Rovers. Bellsville Galway. Kilkenny Travelers.

There were also the pubs from New York and neighboring areas represented in sign, as were the Hibernians of Los Angeles. Mixed in were signs more sociological than geographical. A personal favorite: “Our Wives Think We Are in Lough Derg.”

If signage were worth goals, Ireland would have won in a romp. Final count: 137 Irish signs, five Norwegian flags. The announced attendance was 76,323. If you didn’t have a touch of a brogue, you were an outsider. Nobody kept attendance on blue eyes and black hair. Nobody had to.

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“What a marvelous atmosphere to play a game in,” said Andy Townsend, a midfielder for Ireland. “Imagine what would have happened here if we had scored a goal?”

Imagine what happened Tuesday night in New York City. Or at O’Donoghue’s Pub in Dublin. Or down the street a few blocks at St. Stephen’s Green, where they were walking arm in arm through the park and singing songs about their heroes in America.

‘Twas a night when Irish eyes were smilin’ and life was a tall, lukewarm pint of Guinness, drawn ever so nicely and turned just right for a full, creamy head. Then perhaps another. And maybe a round for all the lads. And another . . .

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