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St Patrick's Days Special: Ireland's greatest XI

Saturday 17th March 2018

Over the years the island of Ireland has produced some excellent footballers including European Cup winners, league champions and FA Cup winners. To mark St Patrick's Day here is an eleven of some of the best from both sides of the border. 

Goalkeeper - Pat Jennings 

Jennings spent the majority of his career on both sides of the North London rivalry and won the FA Cup with both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. In his time at Spurs he also won two League Cups and a UEFA Cup. If you ask anyone from the island of Ireland who the best goalkeeper ever to play the game is they will take great pleasure in telling you it's the big Newry man. 

Right Back - Gary Kelly

Ireland has had a number of decent right backs but Kelly just gets the nod. The Drogheda man spent his entire career at Leeds United making over 500 appearances for the Yorkshire club in a 15-year spell there where he played on the opposite wing from his nephew, Ian Harte. Kelly never won a trophy with Leeds but did play twice as they won the old First Division in 1992. 

Left Back - Denis Irwin 

Irwin was naturally a right back but ended up playing left back and done so at the very top level. In his 12 years with Manchester United Irwin helped the Red Devils win seven Premier League titles, three FA Cups, a League Cup, a Champions League, a Cup Winners' Cup, a European Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. 

Centre Back - Paul McGrath

One of the very best ever to come from the island of Ireland. McGrath was a sensational footballer and was equally as comfortable in midfield as he was in defence. While there were many great moments throughout his career perhaps one of the most iconic is the job he did on Roberto Baggio as Ireland stunned Italy in the 1994 World Cup. McGrath suffered from alcohol problems throughout his career but when he got on the pitch he was never more in control of anything in his life.

Centre Back - Steve Staunton

Staunton had an excellent career and it feels as though he had a few different careers rolled into one. There was the one where his deadly left foot was built for set pieces and he was equally capable of playing left back or left midfield and then as he got older he moved to centre back and alongside Gary Breen marshalled an Irish defence to the last 16 of the World Cup where they were unlucky to lose to Spain on penalties. 

Right Wing - George Best

The Belfast man was world class and there are still many who would tell you he is the best player to have ever played the game. His years at Manchester United were far and away the best of his career and he helped them win two league titles and the 1968 European Cup. In the year United won the European Cup Best won the Ballon d'Or for being the best player in Europe that season. 

Left Wing - Liam Brady

Brady is another Irish man who was considered to be one of the best of his generation and had an excellent career that saw him play in both England and Italy. In his time with Arsenal, Brady managed to win an FA Cup before moving to Italy where he helped Juventus win back to back Serie A crowns in 1981 and 1982. Brady is in both the English and Irish football's Hall of Fame. 

Centre Midfield - Roy Keane

While many still hold the shenanigans of the 2002 World Cup when Keane walked out on his country after a blazing row with manager Mick McCarthy, against him there can be no denying that Roy Keane was one of Ireland's best ever. Keane was at his best for Manchester United and helped them win seven Premier Leagues, four FA Cups, the European Cup and the Intercontinental Cup. 

Centre Midfield - Johnny Giles

Ireland have had some excellent midfielders over the years and Giles was one of them. Giles is best known for his time at Leeds United although he also played for Manchester United. During his time at Leeds, he helped the Yorkshire side win two leagues, a League Cup, an FA Cup and two Fairs Cup crowns. Many younger fans who don't remember Giles as a player will know him from RTE where he was an analyst until 2016. 

Striker - Robbie Keane 

No Irish player has ever done as much in a green shirt as Robbie Keane. He has more caps than any other Irish man and has scored more goals than any other Irish man with a remarkable 68 goals at international level. At club level, Keane didn't win much despite playing for some huge clubs but he gets in this team based on that goalscoring record at international level. 

Striker - Niall Quinn

Quinn could be unplayable on his day and until Robbie Keane went goal crazy he was Ireland's top goalscorer. Despite being in his mid-30's at the time Quinn was fantastic during the 2002 World Cup and defenders couldn't handle him. He managed to score a goal against Saudi Arabia and his flick on led to a goal against Germany and a penalty against Spain in the last 16. 

Substitutes

Shay Given
Mal Donaghy
Pat Rice
Danny Blanchflower
Damien Duff
David Healy

Near misses

With their only being space for 18 players in the squad, a few quality players had to miss out including two-time European Cup winner, Martin O'Neill, Peter McParland who scored five goals for Northern Ireland in the 1958 World Cup and Norman Whiteside who scored a goal in the 1982 World Cup as a 17-year-old. Some others who missed out include Pat Bonner, Harry Gregg, Johnny Carey, Patrick O'Connell, David O'Leary, Steve Finnan, Frank Stapleton, Jimmy Nicholl, Bertie Peacock and Terry Neill which just goes to show that despite being a small island there is a huge passion for football here and we have made our mark at the very top levels of the game. 

Gerry Johnston

I am a 33-year-old sports writer from Ireland who enjoys watching European football. My main focus is La Liga, but I do keep a close eye on all of the major leagues throughout the world.


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