April 23, 2024

Irish Football Players – The Greats

Soccer & Ireland – Early Days

For such a small population Ireland has produced a large number of great soccer players over the years. Unfortunately because of the relatively small size of the football League of Ireland, and the lack of financial resources in Irish soccer, our best footballers have had to cross the Irish Sea to 1) earn a living and 2) to find an appropriate stage to display their talent.

Ever since professional soccer began in Britain in the late 1800’s, right up to today, Irish footballers have been making the journey over to English and Scottish soccer clubs. By the 1900’s footballers from Northern Ireland had won FA Cup medals with famous football clubs such as Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur. The soccer team that lined out on the pitch for the Irish Free State in the first home international match contained players from Everton, Derby County, Leeds United and Aston Villa.

Irish Soccer Enrichment

For Irish soccer players with real talent, signing for cross-channel clubs was a no-brainer. The British leagues offered an opportunity to them to earn a living by doing what they loved – playing soccer. In the early days pay and conditions were derisory by comparison to today’s extraordinary footballing earnings. The current crop of Irish footballers in Britain will probably earn more than enough money during their playing careers to maintain them after they retire from the game. Whether we agree with the current pay of today’s soccer players or not there is no doubt that over the years Irish soccer stars have enriched the football clubs and soccer leagues where they played. Footballers of sublime skill such as Johnny Giles, George Best, Liam Brady and Damien Duff, and soccer athletes such as Pat Jennings, Paul McGrath and Roy Keane have graced any of us that have seen them play with something beyond money. Such players have thrilled us with their talents in ways that only sports stars in general, and soccer players in particular, can.

Irish Soccer – Golden Era

It may be credibly argued that Irish footballers from the pre-television era do not get a fair crack of the whip when lists of Irish soccer greats are being compiled. The difficulty of course in trying to go back that far is that there are so few authoritative soccer records that can be depended upon. In the main, therefore, this list of Soccer greats from Ireland generally covers footballers from the late 1960’s onward. There is one notable exception in that Liam Whelan is included. It is generally accepted by those who saw him play that, if he had not been tragically cut down at the age of 22 in the Munich air disaster, he was destined to become one of the very best Irish soccer players ever.

Irelands’ Soccer Greats

As with all such lists the following list of ‘great’ Irish footballers is a subjective selection and is open to challenge and quibble. All of the players chosen have made their own mark on Irish soccer. Some were glittering talents, some were fantastic athletes, some had tremendous drive and commitment, and some had their flaws, but all have contributed to the pantheon of Irish soccer.

George Best

Simply the best! To a great many people that’s what George was – the greatest Irish soccer player ever. He had it all, equally skilled with both feet, a good header of the ball, a fantastic dribbler, he was fast, had tremendous balance – the total footballer. Unfortunately he was committed to off-pitch activities also. Find out more about the Irish soccer great George Best …

Roy Keane

To many Roy Keane is all that is great and bad about Irish soccer. To the Irish soccer public his name will be forever linked with those fateful events in the Saipan Incident in 2002. But there is much more to this great footballer. Find out more about Irish football great Roy Keane …

Paul McGrath

Paul McGrath is one of the most loved Irish soccer stars. On the football pitch he was a supreme athlete and a massive talent. Plagued by repeated knee injuries and his struggles with alcoholism he perhaps reached the heights that he might have but nevertheless McGrath made his mark on the Irish soccer landscape. Read more about Irish soccer great Paul McGrath …

Damien Duff

Damien Duff is one of the best Irish soccer players to emerge from the renewed and reinvigorated interest in football created by the success of the Republic of Ireland team under Jack Charlton. A talented and pacy winger he became the most expensive Irish soccer player when he signed for Chelsea for £17 million. Read more about Irish football great Damien Duff …

Liam Brady

To many Irish soccer fans Liam Brady was the most naturally gifted footballer that the Republic of Ireland ever produced. Certainly he had a sublime left foot and possessed an unrivalled array of passes. He played for top class clubs in both England and Italy. Without a doubt Brady is most the successful football export from Ireland to continental Europe. Read more about Irish soccer great Liam Brady …

Johnny Giles

Today John Giles is known by most Irish soccer fans as one part of the TV football pundit duo (the other being Eamon Dunphy) or as a newspaper journalist. Many of a certain younger generation may not realise just how great Johnny Giles was as a footballer. He was the only Irish soccer player in a Leeds United team that dominated English football for ten years. Read more about Johnny Giles, great Irish footballer …

Niall Quinn

Niall Quinn’s international career spanned every major soccer championship that Ireland qualified for in 80’s, 90’s and 00’s. But for injury in 1994 he would have the unique record of having played in three World Cups and one European Championship. He came to international prominence when he scored a goal against Holland in 1990 which led to Ireland ultimately qualifying for the World Cup Quarter Final. Quinn went on to become the record goal scorer for Ireland. Read more about Niall Quinn, great Irish footballer …

Robbie Keane

Robbie Keane is Ireland’s top goal scorer having scored as many goals as the two next highest goal scorers put together. He is the holder of an Under-18’s European Championship winner’s medal and he is also the highest scoring Irishman to have ever played in the Premiership. Robbie Keane is the most expensive Irish footballer ever having been involved in transfers totalling in excess of €80m. Read more about Robbie Keane, great Irish footballer … Robbie Keane Caps & Goals

Johnny (Jackie Carey)

Johnny, or Jackie Carey, was the first post-war captain of Manchester United. Scouted by talent scout Billy Behan, Carey went on to become one of the longest-serving, and best, Irish players at Old Trafford ever. A tremendous talent and a thorough gentleman – Read more about Johnny Carey, great Irish footballer …

Frank Stapleton

Frank Stapleton was one of the best headers of the ball to play for Ireland. He was also very good on the ground and although he was never a prolific scorer he held the Republic of Ireland goal scoring record for more than ten years. He is also the second highest Irish goal scorer at Manchester United – only second to the great George Best. Read more about Frank Stapleton, great Irish footballer …

Kevin Moran

Kevin Moran was something of a warrior on the football pitch. Not dirty but tough, uncompromising, and fearless. He spilt his own blood on many occasions for club and country. Moran was a very good defender and has the unique distinction of having won both FA Cup and GAA All-Ireland Football winners medals. Read more about Kevin Moran, great Irish footballer …

Other Irish Soccer Players

Eamon Dunphy

By his own admission football pundit Eamon Dunphy was not a great footballer. In fact Dunphy is responsible for one of the funnier Irish soccer quotes that is self-deprecating about his skills as a footballer: “I’ll have you know that I am not a failed Third Division footballer. I am a failed Second Division footballer.” Notwithstanding his ordinariness on the pitch he has been an important character in the wider Irish football world so he gets included here. Read more about Eamon Dunphy the football player …

If you have a favourite Irish soccer player that you feel should be included please feel free to suggest his (or her) name and the reasons why the player should be included in the Soccer-Ireland.com football directory.


Irish Soccer Information
Irish Football Club Directory Irish Soccer Leagues Women’s Soccer in Ireland
Dublin Football Clubs Football Association of Ireland Irish Soccer Players
Dublin Football Clubs by Area Irish Football Club Websites Futsal in Ireland
Irish Soccer Managers Irish Soccer Results
Irish Football History Football Pundits
Irish Soccer Referees Republic of Ireland Managers
League of Ireland Irish Football Statistics