Kevin O’Callaghan had a particularly eighties head on him, the sort of lanky curly hair that seemed de rigueur on the classic Panini stickers from that decade. He was probably the first Irish player I thought was the business, though I happened upon his nationality quite by chance. It was during the credits at the end of John Huston’s glorious 1981 ode to the redemptive powers of football ‘Escape To Victory’ wherein O’Callaghan’s cherubic features sat amongst those of Pele, Ossie Ardiles and er Sylvester Stallone. His screen time as Tony Lewis was minimal if truth be told, with the otherwise flying winger cast as a goalkeeper who through an unfortunate quirk of Hollywood hierarchy had his arm smashed to make way for the better connected Stallone. 
Pretty soon afterwards my Kevin O’Callaghan addiction kicked in, as I poured over Ipswich’s Match of the Day appearances for any mention of Ireland’s cinematic great. And his arrival at Ipswich from Millwall in 1980 (for a whopping £250k, huge for the time) could not have been better timed as Bobby Robson was constructing a team of some note. In fact the east Anglican club twice came runners-up in the precursor to the Premier League, the First Division, as well as cracking Europe with a fine UEFA cup triumph in 1981 against Dutch team AZ Alkmaar. The Dagenham born O’Callaghan (Cork father) played a central role in an Ipswich team that is regarded as their finest and thankfully his dazzling wing play wasn’t limited to Portland Road as he amassed 21 caps for his country. The most eye-catching of these came against Spain when his teasing crosses and intricate wing play continually tormented a brilliant Spanish team. With his socks rolled down by his ankles (reminiscent of a future Ireland star with initials JG perhaps – NOPE!!) O’Callaghan shimmied and slalomed all day long with the pinnacle of his efforts involved great intricacies on the right wing before his cross was met by the head of Frank Stapleton to nod home Ireland’s equalising third goal.
- watch O’Callaghan magic from 3:45 in the above video as Ireland came back from 3 – 1 down to draw with Spain in a 1982 European Championship qualifier.
We’re Not Brazil, But We Can Beat Them
Kevin O’Callaghan was also part of the team that beat the mighty Brazil in a friendly in 1987 at Lansdowne Road when Liam Brady’s sambaesque goal had the faithful in raptures. At that stage he had returned back to his first club Millwall where he enjoyed promotion to the First division and relegation back down with the Lions. His left the club in 1991 and within months had retired due to persistent injury at just 32 years old. It was a leg injury that kept him out of Ireland’s Euro ’88 adventures which was a real shame given that we had another mazy winger on the other side of the pitch in Tony Galvin. But the Ipswich man had left his mark so seek out the grainy videos of his virtuoso Ireland performances.
- Author: Kevin Dunphy