The Irish names written in FA Cup history
THIS afternoon, a group of Irishmen are presented with an opportunity to write their names into the FA Cup's 140-year history.
Stoke City are likely to field four Irish internationals in their starting XI, which will lock horns with big-spending Manchester City on a mission to end their club's long wait for this trophy.
Glenn Whelan, Rory Delap, Marc Wilson and Jonathan Walters have all been central to Stoke's impressive progression to Wembley.
There's a good story behind each of the quartet. Injury ruled Delap and Wilson out of previous finals with Southampton and Portsmouth respectively, while Whelan started his career as a trainee at Manchester City, and Walters has climbed from the bottom of the English ladder to the top in the space of a few short seasons.
Victory for the Potters would be a fairy tale story that could only be surpassed if Manchester City substitute Shay Given was somehow given the opportunity to make an impression.
The history of the competition is littered with Irish tales. Ahead of another chapter, we look back at some memorable finals where men from these shores made an impact.
The legendary Johnny Carey captains Manchester United to a 4-2 victory over a storied Blackpool side featuring the great Stanley Matthews. It was United's first appearance in an FA Cup final in 39 years.
Another Irishman climbed the famous steps to lift the trophy, with Noel Cantwell the Manchester United skipper on an afternoon where they saw off Leicester. Tony Dunne and Johnny Giles also picked up winners medals. Future Irish assistant boss Maurice Setters was actually due to captain the side until an incident on a trip to Dalymount Park resulted in his demotion and Cantwell's promotion.
A famous final with Irish interest, as Chelsea come out on top after a replay with a Leeds side featuring John Giles. There is cup joy for English-born Irish international John Dempsey, who would score the winner in the Cup Winners Cup final against Real Madrid a year later.
A landmark game -- as it marked the centenary of the competition -- and a defining moment in the history of Leeds United who edged out Arsenal to take home the trophy for the first time. Giles secured a second FA Cup medal with another stirring midfield display.
Bill Shankly's last match in charge of Liverpool also represented a big afternoon in the career of Steve Heighway. He had put the Reds ahead in extra-time of the 1971 final, but ended up on the losing side. This time, his goal was sandwiched between two Kevin Keegan strikes as Newcastle were comfortably dispatched.
One of the classic finals, with a serious green influence. Arsenal came out on top of a 3-2 scoreline over Manchester United, with Liam Brady, David O'Leary and goalscorer Frank Stapleton all in the winning camp. They had suffered defeat in the 1978 showpiece and the same fate would befall them in 1980 when John Devine also lined out in a stunning reverse at the hands of West Ham.
An iconic cup final with Ricky Villa's solo effort in the replay delivering cup joy for Spurs at the expense of Manchester City. His exploits secured medals for Tony Galvin and Chris Hughton and that duo were in the winning enclosure again a year later.
Brighton's unlikely date with Manchester United should have ended in glory for the outsiders, but Gordon Smith fluffed a late chance in a 2-2 draw and the replay was a stroll for the Red Devils. Relegated Brighton fielded Michael Robinson, Tony Grealish and a young Gary Howlett in their starting XI, with Gerry Ryan involved from the bench. Kevin Moran and Stapleton were on the right side of the eventual outcome.
Moran wrote himself into the record books for all the wrong reasons, becoming the first player to get sent off in the final after a professional foul on Peter Reid. Still, he and Paul McGrath ended up with winners' medals thanks to extra-time heroics from Norman Whiteside, who nabbed the winner in a 1-0 triumph for Ron Atkinson's Manchester United over an Everton side that included Kevin Sheedy at left midfield.
Another taste of defeat for Sheedy, this time in an all-Merseyside final. Liverpool scored three to Everton's one, and were helped on their way by Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and the subsequently luckless Jim Beglin.
A bad day for John Aldridge, with Wimbledon 'keeper Dave Beasant making the first FA Cup final penalty save to deny the Liverpool front man's effort. After taking an early lead, the Crazy Gang -- with Terry Phelan in their ranks -- held on for a remarkable triumph.
An emotive decider coming so soon after the Hillsborough disaster at the semi-final against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest, with another Merseyside derby providing five goals. Crucially, Liverpool scored three, with skipper Ronnie Whelan, Steve Staunton, Ray Houghton and deadlock breaker Aldridge winning out as Sheedy finished on the losing side for a third time.
Sunderland's John Byrne had scored in every round on the way to Wembley, yet the Liverpool defence would not be breached. Houghton was the only other Irishman on show (Whelan was injured), as the ill-fated Graeme Souness regime reached its peak.
A fitting end to David O'Leary's long career at Arsenal as, 14 years after cup glory, he added another medal to his collection by appearing as a substitute in the Gunners' win over Sheffield Wednesday at the second attempt.
A young Roy Keane was on a losing Nottingham Forest side in 1991 earlier. He experienced the other side of the coin here as, along with Denis Irwin, he was a regular fixture in a Man United side which hammered Chelsea, who brought on Tony Cascarino late on.
Keane and Irwin had lost the '95 decider to Everton, but returned to the winners circle in a final that is remembered for the white suits sported by Liverpool's Spice Boys and Eric Cantona's stunning late winner. Phil Babb and Jason McAteer started for the much-maligned runners-up.
Bittersweet final from an Irish point of view. The second leg of Manchester United's treble, but Irwin was unjustly banned, while Keane was forced off injured early, already knowing he was out of the Champions League final through suspension. Shay Given handed in a transfer request after he was surprisingly left on the Newcastle bench by Ruud Gullit.
A mismatch, as Manchester United brush aside Championship contenders, Millwall. Keane is the winning captain, and John O'Shea picks up his first winners' medal in Cardiff. On the opposite side, Dubliner Robbie Ryan is given unenviable task of marking Ronaldo and young Sligo player Barry Cogan is a late sub. Ryan now works for London Underground; Cogan plays for Dover.
Right now, the '05 final is mostly referenced as the occasion of Arsenal's last major trophy win. It was also Keane's last major final for Manchester United, although he didn't know it at the time. Alex Ferguson's men dominated the game, and Keane scored in the shootout. Paul Scholes missed though, and Keane's old foe Patrick Vieira lifted the crown.
Until today, the only Irishman to play a full part in a decider at the new Wembley is Stephen McPhail, who hit the headlines three years ago as the captain of a Cardiff side which defied their Championship status to reach the last hurdle, before finding Portsmouth to be a challenge too far.