World Cup Football / Republic's joy: Irish delight over punts and pints: Charlton's charges set to profit from a maestro's master-stroke. Trevor Haylett reports

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The Independent Online
IT WAS possible at some stage of Hangover Thursday that the 'mercenaries' found time to tot up what their business trip to the United States next summer will earn them. At the last count it was pounds 100,000 per man and rising but good luck to them, for the achievement of reaching the World Cup finals for the second successive tournament the Republic of Ireland deserve every last punt.

No sooner had the final whistle of an increasingly dramatic Belfast night sounded and the referee's last shrill in Seville confirmed a Spanish victory and therefore Ireland's passage to the American jamboree, than the presses began rolling with the first money-spinning enterprises for the players who took delight in answering the charge of the Northern Ireland manager, Billy Bingham, that they had enrolled with Jack Charlton's army only because no one else would give them a game.

'Open a World Cup account now,' championed the Irish Permanent Building Society yesterday morning in a newspaper commercial slogan spread above the smiling faces of eight of Charlton's achievers.

Missing, surprisingly, was the hero of this particular nerve-racked hour, Alan McLoughlin. Then again he had just opened his particular World Cup account at Windsor Park. It was his first goal in this qualifying campaign - in his first appearance in the tournament - and in fact his first goal for his country in his 14th appearance.

McLoughlin was an unlikely white knight to come to the rescue of an American dream. Previously, fortune had not smiled on him a great deal. He had suffered demotion with Swindon in 1990, after his Wembley goal had put them in the top flight, and, with Portsmouth, he was beaten in the 1992 FA Cup semi-final and the club missed promotion to the Premier League on goal difference last season.

With second-half anxiety climbing ever higher inside Windsor Park, it was McLoughlin, the substitute, who took responsibility for the Republic's World Cup destiny as he found himself in the right place with a splendid left-footed equaliser four minutes after Jimmy Quinn had volleyed Northern Ireland ahead. So Denmark, by that time losing in Seville, were edged out by virtue of the Irish having scored more goals.

It is the likes of the Manchester- born McLoughlin that Bingham had in mind when he launched his attack two days before the fixture that would mark his retirement after 17 years of distinguished international management. If their closest connection was an Irish grandmother how could players born and bred across the water be truly committed to the cause, he argued.

Yet it is hard to envisage more commitment than was shown in Belfast, as at every venue in this two-year odyssey. McLoughlin, but more pertinently, Andy Townsend, John Aldridge and Alan Kernaghan, who qualify through grandparents, knew what their success would mean for the people of the Republic, many thousands of whom travelled in the first hours of yesterday morning to provide a noisy and colourful airport homecoming. Footballers are not yet so cynical, nor so fiscally obsessed, that the depth of warmth and support leaves them unmoved.

It is something Charlton never forgets. 'I am delighted for the sake of the Irish people,' he said. 'They are a very small nation and they are beginning to love their football but I take no delight in being the only ones to get through. I feel sorry for Graham Taylor just as I do for Terry Yorath and Andy Roxburgh.

'After England had put us out of the last European Championships on goal difference Graham said to me: 'I am lucky. You will never beat me because I am lucky'. But ever since then he has had no luck at all. He has had selection problems and been forced into corners and he has probably said too much to reporters. But like every manager we never get everything right all of the time.'

He has apologised for an injudicious remark during a touchline dispute in the closing, tantalising moments after experiencing the full range of emotion in 90 minutes. If the script following Quinn's piledriver had been different, he might today have been making the decision to quit his adopted country, possibly in preparation for the prospective England vacancy.

'Your life can change in just four minutes, can't it?' the Englishman said. 'I've been giving thought to my future for weeks and weeks now and if the result had been a bad one I might have had to make a very difficult decision. Now the next eight months are taken care of and after that the next European Championships will be off and running.'

Charlton will become a millionaire just through this World Cup journey alone. To earn all of his money he must now give serious thought to replacing or protecting the ageing influences in the side who have begun to reveal a vulnerability that no amount of heart and determination can camouflage. For the younger men of Ireland their chance awaits.

(Photograph omitted)