These three Irishmen made history on this day 50 years ago with Manchester United
Fifty years ago today Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne and George Best became the first Irishmen to win European Cup medals as Manchester United conquered Benfica to win the trophy the club had craved since the Munich Air Disaster of 1958 had robbed the club of a generation of gifted talent.
Had they lived, Liam Whelan from Cabra in Dublin might well have beaten the trio to that honour. For Manchester United back then were a collection of wonderful players with the football world at their feet before tragedy intervened.
It would be another decade before United won that trophy at Wembley. Brennan was Ireland’s first ‘granny’ player, a tough tackling right-back who was so proud of his Waterford roots.
At left-full was Tony Dunne, a Dub who had played for Shelbourne before getting a transfer to United and becoming a valued member of the team. And then there was George Best, and never was a sportsman so aptly named.
George was simply a once-in-a-lifetime talent. Will this island ever produce a better footballer? Never say never, but if Ireland does find a footballer to get to George’s level, he is going to be some player.
A year earlier Charlie Gallagher was a Celtic player in 1967, but he did not play in the famous final in Lisbon and that was to be a recurring theme for Irish footballers, with Mickey Walsh not part of Porto’s team in 1987 and Roy Keane famously missed the Champions League final of 1999 through suspension.
Liverpool’s four trophies between 1977 and 1984 led to a rich haul of medals for Irish footballers. Winger Steve Heighway started in 1977 and was a sub a year later.
No Irishman featured in 1981, but in 1984 against Roma, Mark Lawrenson, Ronnie Whelan and Mick Robinson were all present and received one of the most treasured honours in football.
In between of course, Irish manager Martin O’Neill got his medal in 1980 when Nottingham Forest beat Hamburg. He had not featured the previous year when Brian Clough left the midfielder out of the final as he fought back from injury.
When Liverpool’s glory era ended, it was a long wait for the next medal, with Denis Irwin delivering in 1999 in that dramatic finale in Barcelona.
Another dramatic finale took place in 2005 when Liverpool came from three goals behind to beat AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul. Steve Finnan came off at half-time with an injury.
Ireland’s last involvement with the European Cup final was when John O’Shea was an unused substitute for Manchester United in 2008 against Chelsea in Moscow.