In Part One of a new series starting today and running across the week, Daniel McDonnell counts down the top 50 players in the League of Ireland between 2000-2020 based on their contribution during their time here
It's not just about ability; longevity, consistency, and domestic and European achievements were key criteria factored into finalising the list.
50. Stephen Rice
Years Active: 2003-2015
Clubs: Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers, Longford
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Honours: 2 Leagues, 2 Setanta Cups, 1 League Cup (all Rovers), 1 First Division (Longford)
Rice was viewed as a full-back in his early days in Bohemians but he was at home in the centre of midfield and became a key element of the Shamrock Rovers team that announced themselves at Tallaght with two league wins and a memorable Europa League run which included a famous Rice goal at White Hart Lane. There will be flashier players on this list but he was effective.
49. Enda Stevens
Years Active: 2008-2011
Clubs: UCD, St Patrick’s Athletic, Shamrock Rovers
Honours: 2 Leagues, 1 Setanta Cup (all Rovers)
Stevens is performing at such a high level now that he will go down as one of the best players to have lined out in the league during this era. On the strength of his time at home, he also warrants inclusion as he rapidly improved under the tutelage of Michael O’Neill to win two leagues and flourish in the Europa League journey that attracted Aston Villa.
48. Patrick McEleney
Years Active: 2010-present
Clubs: Derry City, Dundalk
Honours: 3 Leagues (all Dundalk), 2 FAI Cups (1 Derry, 1 Dundalk), 3 League Cups (2 Dundalk, 1 Derry), 1 First Division (Derry)
On ability, McEleney would be much higher up the chart, and he’s still only 27. The playmaker is a joy to watch in full flight, close to unplayable on a good day, but he’s actually had a stop-start spell at Dundalk (or two spells punctured by an unhappy stay at Oldham) due to injury. He enjoyed some good days in a Derry shirt too with Stephen Kenny a massive admirer.
47. Eamon Zayed
Years Active: 2002-2011/2013-2014
Clubs: Bray, Drogheda, Sporting Fingal, Derry, Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers
Honours: 1 League (Drogheda), 1 FAI Cup (Fingal), 1 League Cup (Derry), 1 Setanta Cup (Drogheda)
Zayed scored 127 goals during his LOI career which is impressive given that he’d already spent a couple of seasons in Iran before he basically left the Irish football scene at 31. The striker had a real presence and his best season was probably a solitary campaign at Derry in 2011 that culminated with his peers voting him as the top player in the country
46. Paul Osam
Years Active: 2000-2004
Club: St Patrick’s Athletic
Honours: 2 League Cups
One player canvassed as part of this feature spoke of how Osam was the first player he heard team-mates speak about with fear. His low enough place in the list is purely down to ‘Oso’ being a victim of timing – he was probably at his strongest in the late 1990s but remained a strong presence and was influential in the ’01/’02 season where the Saints won the most points on the pitch but lost the league due to a registration error.
45. Mark Quigley
Years Active: 2005-2016
Clubs: Shamrock Rovers, St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, Dundalk, Sligo Rovers, Derry City
Honours: 1 League (Sligo Rovers), 1 FAI Cup (St Pat’s), 2 Setanta Cups (1 Bohs, 1 Shamrock Rovers), 1 League Cup (Shamrock Rovers)
Quigley had two stints with four of his former clubs and that sort of sums up his story. His CV fits the profile of journeyman but the skilful attacker was more of a cult hero – superb in patches if inconsistent. When he was good, he was exceptionally good and he found his groove in Sligo in 2012, inspiring a title win. But he loved them and left them just as quickly.
44. Brian Shelley
Years Active: 2000-2010
Clubs: Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, Longford, Drogheda
Honours: 3 Leagues (2 Bohs, 1 Drogheda), 1 FAI Cup (Bohs), 3 Setanta Cups (2 Drogheda, 1 Bohs), 1 League Cup (Bohs)
The feats of defenders are consistently overlooked as the years pass but Shelley was a top-notch player, a promising full-back in his youth at Bohs who had a spell in Carlisle before being central to trophy-laden spells at Drogheda and Bohs again. His versatility and consistency saw him voted as the PFAI player of the year in 2007; he’s the last defender to be given that recognition.
43. Colin Healy
Years Active: 2007-2009/2013-2017
Club: Cork City
Honours: 2 FAI Cups, 1 Setanta Cup
He’s got a strange place in Irish football trivia as the player left in World Cup limbo due to the Saipan shemozzle but when Cork City fans think of Healy, they think of the assured midfield presence who shone once free of the injury misfortunes that blighted his career over the water. Healy was a key figure in the resurgence under John Caulfield but sadly had to retire early in the double-winning season.
42. Michael Duffy
Years Active: 2012-2014/2017-present
Clubs: Derry City, Dundalk
Honours: 2 Leagues, 1 FAI Cup, 2 League Cups (all Dundalk)
The left winger has been instrumental in Dundalk’s last two league wins, and has developed a habit of popping up with big goals at important times. An obvious talent with his native Derry in his youth, it didn’t happen for him at Celtic and he was slow to settle at Dundalk but he is now targeted by all opposing bosses as a main threat. There’s more to come from him.
41. David Forde
Years Active: 2000-2001/2003-2006
Clubs: Galway United, Derry City
Honours: 1 FAI Cup, 2 League Cups (all Derry)
Forde went onto bigger and better things after leaving Derry City in 2006, and it’s perhaps fair to say that he didn’t look like a future Irish ’keeper in his youth. But Stephen Kenny respected the big Galwegian’s ability to command his box, convincing him to relocate to the Brandywell to reboot and go again following a few false starts. He signed off with FAI Cup final joy in 2006.