When Jack Charlton came to Mullingar – nearly thirty years ago

Páidí Ó Sé famously arrived in Mullingar by helicopter in 2003 to take up the Westmeath senior football job, but 13 years earlier, a football boss of a different sort arrived in town the same way – and drew a crowd of 3,000 people.

Many said that if Jack Charlton, Ireland’s greatest Englishman, had run for president here in 1990 he would have won by a landslide. Mary Robinson, the eventually triumphant Labour candidate for our highest office that year, went on a walkabout of Mullingar a week after the then Republic of Ireland manager and could have only dreamed of attracting a fraction of the crowd that turned out for ‘Jackie’.

Charlton, who steered the Boys in Green to a World Cup quarter-final in 1990 and past the group stage of the 1994 tournament, died yesterday at the age of 85.

The early 1990s were a period of transition from bust to boom in Ireland, and much like Riverdance, Charlton and his exploits at the helm of Irish soccer became symbolic of an Ireland being lifted out of the doldrums and announcing itself on the world stage.

It was fitting, therefore, that when the Geordie made his first appearance in Mullingar after the 1990 World Cup finals, it was at the opening of a new business.

The former Leeds United defender landed by chopper on the Fair Green, Mullingar, and was greeted by Mullingar Town Band before officially opening the 27,000 square foot Avonmore Home and Farm Centre on Saturday October 13, 1990. After a blessing by Fr Patrick Moore, then administrator of Mullingar Parish (now PP, Castlepollard), Jack spoke to and received rapturous applause from the large audience.

Give it a lash, Jack: Jack Charlton speaking before the assembled crowd in Mullingar in October 1990.
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