By Gerry Kelly – Special for TSC from Dublin
Like every country on the globe Ireland was deeply saddened this week to hear that the great Diego Armando Maradona (DAM) had departed this world at just 60 years.
There has been a huge amount of features on TV radio & in newspapers reflecting the fact that those who remember his actual playing genius are now mostly middle-aged and older. I am happy to include myself in that category. I saw Maradona win the World Cup for Argentina in 1986. Surely no other Mundial before or since has been so utterly dominated by a single individual. I can actually remember more of the ’78 winning team – Fillol, Bertoni, Passarella, Ardiles, Luque and Kempes, than the side that triumphed 8 years later.
I recall the famous “hand of God” goal, followed minutes later by surely the greatest individual ever seen. I also remember the famous photo from the semi-final of 6 Belgian defenders lined up to tackle the great man. Plus the final – any team who threw away a 2 goal lead would surely lose to the Germans. But not a team with Maradona in it. Years later I read that manager Carlos Bilardo lectured the team after the match, because they had conceded 2 goals from corners; until Maradona reminded him that they were World champions.
Liam Brady – who played in Italy at the time Maradona signed for Napoli wrote a lovely article saying he never once saw the great man complaining to team mates that they were not up to his standard. He also recalled taking a penalty against Napoli with Maradona making jokes and trying to put him off. When Brady scored Maradona was the first to say “well done”
It is a curious fact that D.A.M. played against Irish teams 4 times in 3 years; it is an equally curious fact that only one of these games was a full International match with caps awarded.
In 1978 & 1980 Argentina hosted Ireland XI made up of players playing in the semi-professional League of Ireland only. The ’78 game was just before Menotti announced his World Cup squad famously omitting the 17 year old; a pain he carried for the rest of his life. The 2 matches finished 1-0 & 3-1 – respectable results from an Irish point of view.
In 1979 Argentina were in Dublin for a charity match for UNICEF. Although they were World champions the FAI struggled to sell 30 000 tickets for the game. Football was not a hugely popular sport in Ireland at the time, the Lansdowne Road pitch was terrible scarred by rugby matches – the game finished a predictably drab 0-0 draw. In May 1980 came the only full International of the 4 games. Irish defender Dave Langan was given the task of marking the teenager; he said what he still remembers was “his amazing control, he was as strong as a tank and he accelerated like a human Ferrari, – you could not get near him”. Argentina won 1-0 but D.A.M. had a penalty saved.
That game came between a 3-1 defeat to England at Wembley and a 3-1 victory over Austria in Vienna – D.A.M.’s one and only hat-trick for the Azulycelestes.
Argentina would not visit Dublin again until the rebuilt Lansdowne Road hosted its first football match in 2010. This time Angel Di Maria scored the only goal, and the No. 10 shirt was worn by Lionel Messi.
But perhaps the best Irish summary of D.A.M. comes from veteran commentator Jimmy Magee. He used only 4 words to describe that unforgettable 2nd goal v England in 1986 – “different class. DIFFERENT CLASS.”
To D.A.M. – thanks for the memories. May you be truly happy in your new life.