| 15.8°C Dublin

On-field general Keane cream of Scot's Irish crop

Close

ALEX FERGUSON'S trophy-laden career at Manchester United had a strong Irish flavour, with a pair of Corkmen at the very top of the tree.

Darron Gibson's departure for Everton in January 2012 ended a long unbroken run of an Irish presence in Ferguson's first team, with young Robbie Brady on the fringes without ever really making a breakthrough before moving to Hull.

The globalisation of the Premier League has made it harder for players from these shores to break through at the top level, yet the contribution to Ferguson's story has been a strong one, a case of quality rather than quantity.

On the flip side, the departure of some Irish household names was a key part of his early days at Old Trafford. Here, we rate the Irish players who made a senior first team appearance under the Scot on the basis of their performances during his glorious regime.

1 ROY KEANE

He was Ferguson's manager on the pitch, the centrepiece of seven league-winning sides and the outstanding contributor to their treble-winning year in 1998-99.

The United boss got one over his old foe Kenny Dalglish by snatching Keane from under the noses of Blackburn. The Corkman had already shaken hands with Dalglish on a move to Ewood Park but an approach from Ferguson changed his mind.

It was the start of a strong bond which catapulted the Red Devils to a period of remarkable success, yet it ended bitterly when Keane became dispensable and an angry rant about the next crop on MUTV preceded an abrupt departure. When it came to rebuilding, Ferguson showed little sentiment but, at their pomp, they were an incredible combination.

2 DENIS IRWIN

Another Corkman who deserves his place in the greatest XI of the Ferguson era and is a contender for the best United XI of all-time.

He was a bargain buy from Oldham in the summer of 1990, with a £650,000 bid enough to secure his services. What followed was a decade of success where Irwin was instrument-back full, forging a reputation as a solid defender with the technical ability to make an impact a the other end.

Unlike Keane, he also managed to leave on good terms, typically parting without fuss when the time came.

3 JOHN O'SHEA

Lacked the talent of those below him on the list, but he came along at the right time and also had the attitude that made him an important squad figure for a generation, even if Ferguson never really trusted him at centre-half – the position he looked destined to play as a kid and now operates in at Sunderland.

He was part of five title wins and picked up a Champions League winner's medal as an unused sub, although his best season ended with a starting defeat at the hands of Barcelona in the 2009 final. The Waterford man also managed to leave when the time was right.

4 PAUL McGRATH

It's a crying shame that it didn't work out better for McGrath at United, but he was a victim of Ferguson's desire to stamp his authority on a dressing-room that needed it.

Ferguson recalls in McGrath's autobiography that the biggest mistake he made in his first game in charge against Oxford was to play the Dubliner in the centre of midfield – he didn't realise the player had been out the night before and couldn't last the pace. That set the tone for a topsy-turvy relationship, with the Scot finding McGrath 'unreachable' despite attempts to discipline him.

"I had to be ruthless," recalled Ferguson. "I felt, if I don't make my mark, I'm going to die here."

McGrath left in 1989 and thrived under a more sympathetic style of management at Aston Villa.

5 KEVIN MORAN

The defender was 30 when Ferguson assumed control and, after being prominent in his first campaign, the former Dublin Gaelic football star dropped out of favour in the second and was allowed to leave on a free to join Sporting Gijon in 1988.

6 FRANK STAPLETON

If O'Shea came along at the right time, Stapleton was unlucky with his timing. He was part of the early cull, but he wasn't a big drinker and was merely past his best.

Ferguson put it simply: "Frank was gone; he was inclined to drift out to the wing the whole time."

7 DARRON GIBSON

The Derry native was tipped for big things as he came through the ranks and Ferguson was keen to introduce the midfielder to the first team. He was even involved in the latter stages of the Champions League, scoring in a quarter-final tie with Bayern Munich. But Ferguson began to have doubts and a move to Everton was best for both parties

8 LIAM O'BRIEN

O'Brien was Ron Atkinson's last signing, so he faced a battle to make an impression on the new man. He made over 30 appearances in two seasons, primarily as a substitute, and left for a spell at Newcastle, where he is still a cult hero.

9 LIAM MILLER

Ferguson made some bad decisions in the transfer market, and recruiting Miller from Celtic on a controversial free transfer falls under that category. It just didn't work out and his involvement across two seasons was sparing.

10 ROBBIE BRADY

Everyone wanted the talented teenager from St Kevin's Boys, and the influence of Ferguson helped to secure his signature. He finally looked on the verge of a breakthrough last summer but it was out of position at left-back; he made a four-minute appearance in the League Cup last September and made the right decision to leave for Hull in January.

11 DEREK BRAZIL

The Dubliner made just two first-team appearances in a six-year stint at the club, and only one of those came under Ferguson, an away day at Millwall in February 1990. He then dropped down the leagues and struggled with injury.

THE ONES WHO CAME CLOSE

The talented KEVIN GROGAN might have figured on the list if it wasn't for injury. BRIAN CAREY and PAUL McSHANE were around the first-team picture without ever getting on the Old Trafford pitch, while promising kids like DESSIE BAKER, CONOR McCORMACK and JOE COLL all failed to fulfil early promise

THE ONES WHO GOT AWAY?

Ferguson had a look at ROBBIE KEANE but said he would only pay £500,000 for him and put him in the reserves at a time when £6m was the asking price. He was keen on DAMIEN DUFF but said the £17m Chelsea were willing to pay wasn't worth it. STEVEN REID was on his radar but injury put paid to his United ambitions.

Irish Independent