The Republic of Ireland has consistently produced quality players and while the national team hasn’t always garnered the results those stars deserved, individual players have enjoyed plenty of domestic success.
The trend has continued since the advent of the Premier League ahead of the 1992-93 season. While there have been fewer great players arriving from the Emerald Isle in recent years, their most recent squad for the November internationals still contained seven stars currently plying their trade in the top-flight
Rampaging Roy a PL legend
Not just the greatest Irish player of the Premier League era, but arguably one of the best of any nationality, Roy Keane’s mix of aggression, arrogance and aptitude was precisely what the division was all about during his heyday.
Bought by Sir Alex Ferguson from Nottingham Forest from under the nose of Blackburn boss Kenny Dalglish for a then British record of £3.75m in 1993, Keane was effectively Ferguson on the pitch.
The midfielder drove his team forward with his relentless will to win, playing his part in seven Premier League title victories, four FA Cups and a Champions League.
While he didn’t play in the 1999 final against Bayern Munich, his performance in the second-leg of the semi away to Juventus is one of the finest ever seen.
The Cork-born star received a yellow card in the first half of the game in Turin for a 33rd minute trip on Zinedine Zidane, a caution he knew would rule him out of the final. Rather than feel sorry for himself, the United skipper produced what Ferguson described as “the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field”.
Keane had already reduced his side’s 2-0 deficit with a front post header and went on to dominate the game as United progressed into their first European Cup final since 1968.
While there were also dark moments in his career, Keane will forever be known for his mix of skill and snarl, a combination that few have matched or ever will.
Another Keane could Stake a Claim
While Roy leads the way, another Keane, Robbie, also deserves to be in the conversation due to his scoring record.
The striker netted an Irish best 126 goals in 349 games, 67 more than his nearest rival in the Premier League’s Irish scoring stakes, Niall Quinn.
Robbie Keane was famous for regularly changing clubs, featuring for no fewer than six different Premier League sides, including Tottenham twice.
He is also both the record caps holder for Ireland with 146 and their leading goalscorer with 68. Again, he beats Quinn in that battle, with 47 efforts more than his former strike partner.
A Given that Shay is mentioned
For longevity, though, you could argue that Shay Given is the greatest Irish player in Premier League history. The goalkeeper not only won 134 caps between the sticks for his country, a tally second only to Robbie Keane, he also made 451 Premier League appearances, a record for an Irishman.
After making two appearances for Blackburn in 1996/97, he moved north to Newcastle in 1997. Given would become a stalwart over 12 years at St James’ Park, before becoming one of a newly-rich Manchester City’s first signings in 2009.
Spells at Aston Villa and Stoke followed and despite his advancing years, the goalkeeper continued to demonstrate his lightning reflexes.
Those reactions made him stand out amongst not just his compatriots but also his peers, being named in the PFA Team of the Year in both 2001-02 and 2005-06.
Quality at the Back
There have also been a host of other talented stars. Damien Duff was a supreme winger, winning the Premier League twice with Chelsea, but the Boys in Green have often been characterised by players who, while undoubtedly skilful, are mostly known for their determination.
Current captain Seamus Coleman has provided a fabulous thrusting presence down Everton’s right flank for well over a decade.
A former Toffee in Richard Dunne was a pure warrior of a defender, also representing Manchester City, Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers for his 431 appearances, although he did score a record 10 own goals in the process.
However, they arguably didn’t possess the same skill as other compatriots. John O’Shea was both underrated and versatile but two fellow former Manchester United men were levels above him.
Robbed of his best years by injury, Paul McGrath is arguably the greatest Irish defender of all time, but Denis Irwin is also a contender.
An understated player, he could feature in either full-back role and the simplicity with which he played the game was exactly why he was such a vital part of Ferguson’s treble-winning team in 1999. He also struck a mean free-kick and his coolness from 12 yards saw him selected to take spot kicks ahead of the likes of Beckham, Cole, Yorke and Sheringham.