Limerick Utd league glory and fairytale Madrid tie laid bare in 'First Hand'

Colm Kinsella

Reporter:

Colm Kinsella

Email:

ckinsella@limerickleader.ie

Limerick Utd league glory and fairytale Madrid tie laid bare in 'First Hand'

Limerick Utd side who played Real Madrid

FORMER Limerick United and Republic of Ireland manager Eoin Hand will hold the Limerick launch of his new book ‘First Hand – My Life and Irish Football’ at the Markets Field on Friday night at 7.30pm.

Hand led Limerick Utd to their second and last league title in 1979/80 and FAI Cup two years later, and he acknowledges that his time here was a ‘huge part of his career’.

Former Portsmouth player Hand will be joined at the Markets Field on Friday evening by members of the 1982 Cup-winning side, with Limerick’s Live 95FM’s Mike Aherne the master of ceremonies.

Hand said: “Limerick is a huge part of my career. That was the transition from me being a player over in Portsmouth to player/manager. Then as a consequence of Limerick, a series of coincidences, becoming the Ireland manager in 1980.

“I was told all of it was an interesting story to put down on paper and, so far, the response has been good. This is a legacy you’re leaving behind and it will be there forever so I was sensitive to different things, without taking away from the truth of the story.”

Hand took charge of Limerick in 1979 and at the first attempt won the League of Ireland title, which he reflects on fondly.

“The timing (of his appointment) was very good. I knew I was finished with Portsmouth in the 1979 season. I accepted that I couldn’t keep with the pace of the football over there, but I thought I could still play and I was considering Cyprus and Greece.

“Then Limerick got in touch with me. I don’t know how, but it was Mickey Webb and Harry Gibson-Steele. I met them in Heathrow, we had a long chat and it sounded exciting, plus it was going home. Limerick has and always had a great sporting tradition. I thought it was worth a go.

“It was a great start to the season; we had played three and won three. It snowballed from then and the confidence grew with the lads.

“You could feel the whole thing building up and then the realisation that, hey, there’s something happening here – we could win this league.”

Limerick did go on to clinch the title, with a draw against Athlone Town at Saint Mel’s Park on the final day of the 79/80 season. In 1982, the club collected their second-ever FAI Cup with a defeat of Bohemians in the decider at Dalymount Park.

During the course of the book, Hand also recounts Limerick’s fairytale European Cup fixture with Spanish aristocrats and six-time Champions of Europe, Real Madrid in September 1980.

Limerick United suffered an unfortunate 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid in the first leg at Lansdowne Road before travelling to Spain.

Hand recounts in the book: “On 1 October, in front of 60,000 Real Madrid fans, we lined up at the Bernabéu for the second leg. I told the players that this was a once-in-a-life-time opportunity and that they should go out, play their own style of football, enjoy themselves and forget about the opposition’s reputation. They were human and fallible; the first leg had proven that.”

Despite a battling display, Limerick eventually lost 5-1 on the night and 7-2 on aggregate. It was quite an experience.

In First Hand – My Life and Irish Football (The Collins Press, price €19.99), Hand responds for the first time, telling the inside story of his time in football, from his start with Swindon Town at eighteen, through playing for Portsmouth and Ireland, to managing Limerick and the Irish team, as well as English, Saudi Arabian and South African teams. Along with anecdotes about top players and managers like George Best, Bobby Charlton and John Giles, he exposes the inner workings of the FAI and assesses its stewardship of Irish football.