Football / European Championship: Charlton enters new era

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JACK CHARLTON embarks on a new era in Irish football in Riga tonight, a two-year cycle that will almost certainly end with his retirement.

Although he is 60 next birthday, Big Jack is not quite ready to bow out.

But after what he considers a failed mission at the World Cup in America this summer, he has replaced much of the old guard with his new breed for the opening European Championship qualifier against Latvia.

Goalkeeper Packie Bonner is the biggest name to go. His blunder in Orlando two months ago clinched Ireland's exit from the World Cup with a 2-0 second round defeat by the Netherlands.

Even though Charlton insists it is not the end of the line for Celtic's 77-capped Irish record holder, the opportunity is finally there for his patient deputy, Sheffield United's transfer-seeking Alan Kelly, to establish himself.

Ray Houghton and Scots- based striker Tommy Coyne, who sweated blood for the cause in a lone-striker role in the World Cup, are also discarded.

In all there are six changes tonight from the team that lost to the Dutch two months ago, although Roy Keane and Terry Phelan are both only out through injuries.

'The hardest decision of all was leaving out Ray Houghton,' said Charlton. 'He has always done a great job for us but he has told me he realises I've got to look to the future and give Jason McAteer a chance.'