• Sport

A different kind of shooting practice / When Big Jack brought Ireland to Ardee

In the middle of a qualifying campaign for the World Cup in the USA in 1994, Jack Charlton brought his Republic of Ireland team to Ardee for a round of clay pigeon shooting. We recall the story with the man who invited Jack, David Brennan.

Jack Charlton and Niall Quinn in Ardee
Niall Quin and Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton clay pigeon shooting in Ardee in 1993. Photo Credit: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.

Only in Ardee would they think its a good idea to give Roy Keane a shotgun. But hand one over they did. It was June 1993 and the Republic of Ireland team, led by Jack Charlton, were preparing for a double header in qualification for the World Cup, to be held in the United States the following year.

Ireland, having dispatched Northern Ireland and Albania and secured a draw against the European champions Denmark at Lansdowne Road, were preparing to travel first to Riga and then to Vilnius to face Latvia and Lithuania respectively.

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The mood in the camp had been soured, but not too much, by a 2-4 friendly reverse at the hands of Hungary a few days previously. It was Ireland’s first defeat in over a year and they hadn’t lost competitively in just short of three years. That was Toto Schillaci ending hopes of World Cup glory. It was a disappointing end to a glorious summer but elimination merely meant the real party could begin.

The scenes from 1990 – Dublin Airport and central Dublin – live long in the memory. We celebrated it’s 20 year anniversary, then its 25th and this year its 30th. It was fitting that Jack Charlton stuck around to see that.

Three years on as Ireland forged a path to the World Cup in the States, Charlton remained in charge and was as popular as ever. Ireland were unfortunate to miss out on Euro 92 qualification. Back then, only eight teams made it. Nowadays, their qualification campaign would likely have seen them through with plenty to spare.

The manager was a man of the people. He’d grown up sharing a bed with his three brothers, his father was a miner. It was that reputation that led to him receiving, and accepting a curious invite in June of 1993, while he and his players and staff were staying at the Nuremore Hotel in Carrickmacross before the trip east to Riga.

“I contacted Jack and invited him to come and do some shooting,” explains David Brennan. “I went out to see him in the hotel. He took myself and my son into lunch with the team.”

David is the founder of Ardee Sports Company, a company which is now Ireland’s largest firearms dealer and gun shop. When it started back in 1977, it ran commercial clay pigeon shoots before it began manufacturing clay pigeon targets in their factory in the town. In 1993, the football fan made his contact with Jack with no previous connections to the man himself or the team. He wasn’t deterred.

His invitation was accepted and the following day, Jack, his coaches and players arrived in Pepperstown for shooting practice of a different kind.

“I made arrangements for the next day. I went out to the Nuremore Hotel and they got on the bus and the bus driver followed me back – they had to come up the through the back roads, through Killany. They had great fun. It was a great day.”

Word quickly spread they would be in area. A small group of fans were ready for them before arrival, autograph books in hand. Among the assembled crowd was local videographer Joe Finnegan who captured it all on film and Bridie Brennan, David’s mother, who despite her advancing years was sprightly enough to ensure she was first to great Jack off the bus.

“I’m David’s mother,” she proudly boasted.

The players were brought in for teas, coffees and a spread – of course. Steve Staunton, who would have felt as at home as anyone, and Ronnie Whelan can be seen digging in. Roy Keane too but in a more sullen, detached kind of way. Just weeks earlier, the then 21-year-old Keane had joined Manchester United for £3.75 million – a British record fee at the time.

“This is very nice,” Jack says. “We wouldn’t have had lunch if we’d known.”

“We had 16 reporters following the team and a television crew from UTV,” David recalls. “They were like rockstars. They were the most popular people in Ireland.  As the day progressed, somebody put it out on LMFM that they were here and the crowd started swelling and swelling and swelling. We started off with just a few people.”

A 90 minute long video shows David talk some players through the process of shooting a gun. Jack Charlton didn’t need anywhere near as much guidance.  Player after player had a go – the young faces as familiar now as they where then. Cascarino, Staunton, Whelan, Hughton, O’Leary, Bonner, Quinn, Keane. The latter posed with babies. Had Mary Robinson been in Ardee that day, she wouldn’t have had a look in.

“We had a small competition between them. Alan Kelly was the top gun of the day,” David says. “Alan McLoughlin, Roy Keane and Chris Hughton were the winning team.

“Every granny in Ireland was following the team. It was like the 60s. I could tell you what happened in the 60s, but you’d never experience it. It was one of those things you had to be there to soak it all up. The early 90s were fantastic. Charlton lifted the spirits of a nation. It was unbelievable, he gave us confidence in ourselves.

“He would have been a contributing factor in the peace process and everything that followed. Now, he didn’t organise that by no means but he was a contributing factor in the confidence of the people.”

David’s association with Jack Charlton didn’t end there. As thanks, he was invited to attend the visit of Spain to Lansdowne Road in October, a game Ireland lost 1-3.

“He invited me to go on the bus with the team. He handed me two tickets and I didn’t think I had two tickets. They were like gold dust. I had a driver with me so I managed to get my son Martin out of school. He would have been 13. I had dinner with Jack in the hotel. It was a brilliant experience.”

Ranked as one of the finest teams in the world at the time, the people of Ardee had virtually unfettered access to the squad of players. It wouldn’t happen these days.

“It was a different time. People are more security conscious now. When the team came and they were shooting, shortly before that Roy Keane signed for Manchester United. It was the biggest fee at the time. We were in the little pavilion we had having tea and someone said I hope nothing happens in that hut – you have £30 million in that hut!”

“Everybody wanted to shake Jack’s hand,” he recalls. No surprise there, then.

“A few days after the Spain match, I got a call from one of the national papers. They knew I was on the bus with Jack. They asked my opinion; ‘what was he like? What form was he in after losing?’ I said, “If you’re this nice when you lose, what must he be like when you win?””

The footage shot by Joe Finnegan is so very intimate and amazingly, it was locked in the fault until Sunday when after news of Jack’s death, Joe uploaded to YouTube for the world to see. Thanks, Joe.

“I travel all over the world. Everybody wants to come to Ireland,” David added. “They want an excuse to get to Ireland. Jack put Ireland on the map. If doesn’t make any difference whether we won the World Cup or not. You don’t have to come first to win. We got more out of those World Cup tournaments than any other country. He couldn’t have done more for us. He awoken ourselves.

“He raised the spirits of the nation. Everybody flocked to him. When Ray put the ball in the English net, that was Jack’s ordination. We never looked back.”

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