Jason McAteer Reminisces Over ‘That’ Goal Against Holland
‘My perfect moment’. That’s how former Ireland and Liverpool star Jason McAteer described ‘that’ famous goal against Holland back in 2001.
McAteer had a brilliant career with successful stints at Bolton, Liverpool and Blackburn but it’s that incredible goal he scored in World Cup qualifying against Holland that Irish football fans will first think of when they think of Jason McAteer.
The former Irish midfielder reflects on what that goal meant to him, how it came about and later discusses the weight of expectation that this current Irish team carries.
That goal to beat Holland was ‘my perfect moment’
You go through your career and you look back on it and some players unfortunately don’t have that one moment. I was blessed to have had a couple of moments in my career that I look back very fondly on.
People say if you go back in time and you can do one again, which one would it be, and for me it would be that goal against Holland.
Going back to the start of the campaign, we were drawn against Portugal and Holland. So we were right up against it. But like today’s team, their first game of the group was against France. It couldn’t have been a harder start for them. Ours was against Holland, in Amsterdam. So we were right up against it.
The difference with us was obviously the quality of players in our squad against what today’s team has, but also we were kind of in the right moment.
We’d been through a transitional stage where Jack Charlton had retired and Mick McCarthy had taken over the squad and introduced younger players like Robbie Keane, Damien Duff, Gary Breen, Richard Dunne. So we had a few years leading into this campaign. We were kind of ready.
We started off the game against Holland in Amsterdam and we were 2-0 up with 10 minutes to go and played really, really well. It ended up 2-2 and we got a right rollicking from Roy Keane in the dressing room when we were all celebrating.
But it was still psychologically a really good result for us and set us up to go through the campaign with a bit of confidence that we could hold our own.
The campaign played out, we got a couple of draws against Portugal and we’d given ourselves an opportunity to qualify right at the death, which was the game against Holland at Lansdowne Road. It was all set up perfectly.
At club level it wasn’t really going well for me, I had left Liverpool, I was now at Blackburn struggling under Graeme Souness. I’d kind of joined up not really expecting to play but you have a week’s training where you can impress the manager and that’s what happened.
How The Goal Came About
Mick decided to play me, so for me to be given the opportunity I wanted to give something back, work hard and if I got a good opportunity to take it. That opportunity came in the second half.
We were down to 10 men and managed to get a corner. I remember putting the corner in, being on the left-hand side when obviously I should have been over on the right.
I sort of lingered around as we won the ball back, and it got recycled out to Steve Finnan and the referee played a good advantage when Roy Keane was brought down. Then Finn manages to dig one out and I just found myself open at the back stick.
Players will tell you ‘Oh yeah, I watched the ball come, I’d positioned myself and I knew exactly what I was going to do and I connected really well’. That’s a load of rubbish.
It comes to you in a second and it’s instinct that takes over, all your training just kicks in. I had no idea what I was going to do apart from let instinct take over, which was hitting it first time. It sat up lovely.
Obviously the technique was to try and get a bit of topspin on the ball and just whip it into the top corner. That was one of them where probably if I had another 20 goes at it, 18 would have gone over the bar.
It was my perfect moment, it was my moment and we held out.
We win one nil which takes us to a play-off and we qualified.
‘The surge of adrenaline is like nothing else, Lansdowne Road just went off’
You get this surge of adrenaline that comes over you.
Ireland games always have an edge to them because of the fans. They go for a good time, they go for a drink before the game. They’re in a really good mood – win, lose or draw – it’s a party after the game. It’s a night out.
It was just set up, there was an atmosphere about the ground, the Dutch were there in their numbers. So it was really colourful, a lot of orange around.
I remember peeling away to our fans and the whole place just went off – this noise, this adrenaline rush goes through and then you celebrate.
Then you go back and you get ready to kick off. And I remember looking at the clock, and I was thinking ‘oh my god, we still got 20 minutes to hold out, can we do it?’.
And this fear comes over you, and it’s just like ‘right I want this moment to be mine’. It’s like you just got to dig in a little bit more now.
They ended up having five or six strikers on the pitch towards the end of the game and you know they had a good few opportunities to equalise but it was our day.
The referee blows the final whistle and then the euphoria that comes over you is just the best feeling in the world. I’ve never I’ve never had that kind of wave of emotion before. It’s crazy.
It’s just crazy because it’s your moment, as much as it’s a team game. I was in a tough place in my life as well, so to have that moment for a few hours was just amazing.
McAteer On The Expectations For This Irish Squad
When I signed for Liverpool, the stress and the pressure that is put on you is created from a legacy and a history that previous teams have built. And you carry that pressure. You carry that stress.
I feel for this team, to be honest, I feel sorry for them. I have a sense of empathy and sympathy for them because I was part of that golden age, through Jack and then on through Mick.
It was such a successful time, the country was rolling on the back of it. It was in such good spirits. Money seemed to be no object around that time, the government was running the show to the point where people were spending money and following the national team around.
We were giving back as we were winning, qualifying for tournaments. They were travelling the world watching us win games and qualify so the whole country probably for 10 or 12 years was in this state of euphoria.
All of a sudden the decline happened quite rapidly. We’ve had a little bit of success under Trapattoni, the football wasn’t great, but he got us to a European Championships. Football’s changed as well. The scouting systems now, the money that teams in the Premier League, lower Premier League teams, now can spend. Irish players aren’t getting the opportunity.
Against Gibraltar, it was the front seven players, only two of them were playing in the Premier League. I think it was Ferguson and Cullen. I think we’re the only two players who played in the Premier League.
Our team was littered with not just Premier League players, Premier League stars. It was littered with big names.
I feel for the team. I feel for the pressure that they’re under to emulate the success and the expectation that the Irish crowd wants and what history kind of demands of them. It’s tough. It’s really really tough.
I admire the job Stephen Kenny has done. But he’s slightly limited with what he’s working with.
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