Sunday 25 September 2016

Roy Keane, Paul McGrath, Shay Given - It's the top 20 Irishmen to play in Premier League

Published 07/08/2015 | 02:30

Roy Keane: 'An inspirational figure who drove Manchester United to success on a regular basis'
Paul McGrath in action for Aston Villa
Damien Duff in action for Chelsea
Niall Quinn playing for Sunderland in 2002
Steve Staunton playing for Aston Villa in 1994
Gary Kelly in action for Leeds

Since Sky’s massive investment gave English football a new face in 1992, Irish players have been a consistent part of the show. Ahead of the new season, we rank the Irishmen who lined out in the Premier League in terms of their impact for their clubs during the 23 seasons

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1. Roy Keane

The only option for top spot, really. It's impossible to tell the story of the Premier League without the fiery Corkman, an inspirational figure who drove Manchester United to success on a regular basis. He was prominently involved in seven league title wins, setting standards that made him the best of his generation in that position despite baffling revision weighted towards Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard or even Paul Scholes.

2. Paul McGrath

He was only around for the early stages of the transition, earning modest money compared to what was coming to subsequent generations. In the first season, 1992/93, he was voted as the league's best player by his peers on account of his performances at Aston Villa. Keane is the only other Irishman to have that honour bestowed upon him. McGrath is still a hero at Villa and left in 1996 for a seven month spell at Derby where he was still capable of doing a fine job at the age of 37.

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3. Denis Irwin

Full backs rarely fight it out for awards, but Irwin was a genuine class act who merged defensive competence with the technical assurance to hurt teams in the opposition half - he scored 18 Premier League goals. His name is generally mentioned by knowledgeable observers when the overall best XI of this period is discussed and he's also a candidate for an all-time Manchester United team. Throw in a substantial medal collection and he fully deserves his place in the top three.

4. Damien Duff

The Ballyboden man is arguably the most exciting Irish player to emerge in the Premier League lifespan. His sensational bursts for Blackburn convinced Chelsea to splash out and he twice won the league under Jose Mourinho. He regrets leaving for Newcastle when he could have stuck around to fight for his place, yet the ill-advised North-East stint shouldn't detract from his earlier achievements. His top flight swansong with Fulham featured glimpses of the old magic.

5. Robbie Keane

He scored 123 Premier League goals, which is quite a feat even if his remarkable international haul will define his legacy. He peaked at Spurs, forming a strong partnership with Dimitar Berbatov that paved the way for his doomed move to Liverpool which was essentially cut short by internal politics although he would have removed all doubt by hitting the ground running. He may not have challenged for league titles, but he left his mark.

6. John O'Shea

It's a testament to O'Shea's professionalism that he has spent his whole career on the books of a Premier League side. Now that there's no Irish player with a top four club, there should be belated recognition of what the Waterford native achieved by staying at Manchester United for so long, in a variety of roles, and building a fine medal collection. Sunderland was always going to be difficult in comparison.

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7. Shay Given

He is on course to achieve his ambition of playing into his forties at Premier League level, even if he's been given indications that he has joined Stoke as a second choice goalkeeper after leaving Aston Villa where he had broken into the side. Given had mixed spells at Manchester City and Villa, and it was Newcastle where he really shone. In the early 2000s, he was arguably the best keeper in the division; 443 appearances is a laudable innings.

8. Niall Quinn

In terms of longevity, Quinn squeezed as much as he could out of his top flight existence and his wonderful partnership with Kevin Phillips created plenty of great memories for supporters of Sunderland. He had his moments at Manchester City too, although untimely injuries and a disappointing relegation took the gloss off his stay at the old Maine Road. He scored 59 goals in 250 top flight appearances between his two abodes.

9. Richard Dunne

The Dubliner was a rock for Manchester City in the phase where they reformed from a yo-yo club into a steadier proposition capable of attracting major investment to convert them into a global player. He was pushed out then, and went to Aston Villa which ended up being more of a fire-fighting mission than anticipated. At 35, he was still one of QPR's better players last term. The good days comfortably outnumber the bad and 431 appearances is a testament to how he was regarded.

10. Andy Townsend

He joined Aston Villa from Chelsea in 1993 and went on to figure at the right end of the table with the Birmingham side, although it was the League Cup where they won their medals. Townsend later transferred to Middlesbrough where he temporarily formed an effective understanding with Paul Gascoigne. He made 215 Premier outings, most of them coming in his 30s, which is a very respectable tally.

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11. Seamus Coleman

We don't have the strength and depth that we used to but Coleman would not be out of place in any Irish generation. With the Premier League now populated by myriad nationalities, the fact that he was voted into the PFA XI in 2013/14 is a feather in his cap. His goal and assist record from right back for Everton is impressive - he's already at 13 strikes - and he's got time to progress up the ladder.

12. Steve Staunton

Forget Staunton the manager. Staunton the player was a skilful operator that performed with distinction on the left side for Aston Villa; viewers of Sky's Premier League years will note that 'Stan' scored one of the goals of the 1992/93 season by swerving in a stunning left footer in a title battle at Old Trafford. He went back to his first English club Liverpool before returning to Villa. He featured 288 times at the highest level.

13. Steve Finnan

The understated Finnan was a late developer, similar to Coleman, and it was only around the 2002 World Cup where his regular displays of quality at Fulham began to attract admiring glances from further up the table. He chose Liverpool, where he saw off a series of right back rivals under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez and joined the small list of Irish players with a Champions League medal.

14. Stephen Carr

Another full back of distinction. Carr exploded onto the scene with Spurs and he was desperately unlucky to be struck down by a knee injury that ruled him out of Japan/Korea in 2002; at the time he was one of the best around. A variety of ailments plagued him at Newcastle and early retirement followed. Birmingham coaxed him back and his ability to get up to speed and survive in the upper echelons illustrated his capabilities.

15. Gary Kelly

He was a big star in 1994, one third of the 'Three Amigos' that went to the World Cup with Phil Babb and Jason McAteer his partners in crime. Kelly was already at home in the Premier League by then and, while he struggled to maintain that early momentum, do not underestimate just how good he was in his formative days. In hindsight, he probably stayed too long at Elland Road when the foundations crumbled.

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16. Steven Reid

He also fits into the 'what if' category along with Carr. His graph was on a steep upward curve at Blackburn, with Manchester United on the premises, when he became acquainted with the pain of a shuddering knee injury and the associated lay-off. He lost the engine that made him an imposing midfield presence and regrouped for a second coming as a defender with West Brom and then Burnley to see out his playing days in the Premier League. Still managed to reach the 192 appearance mark.

17. James McCarthy

His contributions for Ireland have failed to win over swathes of the public, but he's grown into an invaluable player for Everton with the potential to graduate to a Champions League class employer. Roberto Martinez considers the Glaswegian irreplaceable having overseen his development at Wigan. McCarthy has the assurance and the athleticism to mix it with the opponents of the highest calibre. The 24-year-old has already played a part in 177 Premier League encounters.

18. Ray Houghton

The Liverpool section of his career is outside the criteria for this list - Ronnie Whelan is another high class player who only had a brief taste of the new dawn - but Houghton benefited from leaving Anfield and joining the Irish colony at Aston Villa where he enjoyed some good times under Ron Atkinson ahead of the 1994 World Cup. Subsequently unable to keep Crystal Palace up on a flying visit as the chequered flag came into sight. His overall CV is superior to quite a few of those players listed above.

19. Matt Holland

The convert to the Irish cause turned heads at Ipswich and was at the forefront when they jumped up from the second tier to a surprise a lot of observers. When that fairytale ran out of steam, Holland found a comparable project at Charlton where fans also feted him with player of the season gongs. He wasn't a flashy player but had solid attributes.

20. Kevin Kilbane

There are plenty of other players that could have been considered. Kenny Cunningham, Ian Harte and Mark Kinsella are three names that featured regularly on Premier League teamsheets for a long period; Glenn Whelan and Jon Walters are building up long service too. Kilbane showed exceptional durability, however, to make 325 appearances across 11 seasons with four different clubs in a host of positions.

Irish Independent

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