May 25, 2024

Denis Irwin


Irish Footballers that Played for Manchester United – Denis Irwin

Denis Irwin – Introduction

Denis Irwin from Cork in the south of Ireland was the most consistent performer to ever play for any of Alex Ferguson’s teams. Irwin could play equally well in either full-back position. He has the eight highest number of appearances – 529 – of all time for Manchester United, just six behind another Irish fullback Tony Dunne. With 33 goals he has an impressive scoring record for a defender.

Denis Irwin, an accomplished GAA footballer and hurler, started his professional football career with Leeds United in the old English Second Division. In view of the career that lay ahead of him he was, very surprisingly, given a free transfer to Oldham Athletic.

Following some impressive cup performances by Irwin for Oldham, including two semi-final matches against Manchester United in April 1990, Alex Ferguson moved to sign Irwin for United.

Denis Irwin & Manchester United

Ferguson paid Oldham £625,000 to sign Denis Irwin for Manchester United on 08 June 1990. This is surely the most astute signing ever by Ferguson in view of Irwin’s subsequent career with the Reds and must represent the best value Ferguson ever got from any signing.

Denis Irwin made his debut for Manchester United on 18 August 1990 in the Charity Shield in a 1-1 draw with Liverpool FC. His subsequent longevity with United is borne testimony by the fact that not one of his team mates, including substitutes, from that match was with the club on the day of Irwin’s last match with the Red Devils against Charlton Athletic on 11 May 2002.

Denis Irwin scored his first goal for Manchester United on 07 September 1991 against Norwich City in the old First Division. He went on to score many vital goals for United and at one stage he was the team’s regular penalty taker. He was also very adept with free kicks around the penalty box.

Denis Irwin Wins First Trophy With Manchester United

As mentioned previously Irwin came to Ferguson’s attention in the 1990 FA Cup. A competition that United went on to win and thus qualified for UEFA’s Cup Winners Cup in the 1990/91 season. This would provide Denis Irwin with his first major honour in his professional football career. Manchester United, with Irwin at fullback beat Barcelona 2-1 in the final through two goals from Mark Hughes in May 1991. This was followed up by a winners medal in the 1992 League Cup final against Nottingham Forest which saw Irwin come up against fellow-Corkman Roy Keane in his first season in English football.

Denis Irwin’s medal haul grew further when Manchester United claimed the inaugural Premier League title. It was the first time United won the League under Alex Ferguson and the first time since 1967 in the Matt Busby era. Ever-present Denis Irwin chipped in with five goals during that League campaign including the winner against Coventry City in April 1993. It got better for Irwin in the following season as Roy Keane swelled the ranks of great Cork footballers to play for Manchester United. The Reds claimed their first League and Cup double with Irwin contributing four goals in addition to his consistent excellence in his fullback role.

Denis Irwin – Part of Manchester United’s Treble Winning Team

It had been a breathtaking first four seasons for Denis Irwin in a Manchester United side that was bursting with talent and brimming in confidence, but better was to come. Surely the pinnacle of Irwin’s United career has to be the 1998/99 season when Manchester United claimed an unprecedented treble of the Premier League title, the FA Cup, and the UEFA Champions League.

Irwin missed out on the FA Cup final due to a harsh red card that he received at Anfield on 5th May where United won a precious point in a 2-2 draw (United won the League by one point). Denis Irwin scored United’s second goal that day. Alex Ferguson described Irwin’s sending off as “…an affront to commonsense … it ruled out one of the best-behaved and most respected pros in England out of the Cup final.” Nevertheless Irwin was awarded an FA Cup winners medal which his earlier performances more than merited.

Irwin in United’s ‘Very Best’ Team

In total Denis Irwin won 13 major honours with Manchester United in a glittering career that spanned a 12 year period. Throughout his United career there were only two seasons in which he did not collect a winners medal. His consistent excellent performances were fully appreciated by people that really know their football. In his autobiography Bobby Charlton chose Denis Irwin in his personal “very best of Manchester United”. When one considers the competition from, amongst others, World Cup winner Roger Byrne and Ireland’s Tony Dunne, both of whom played with Charlton, this is some accolade from a truly great player.

As Charlton comments in his autobiography “You never worried about Denis Irwin; I remember him once making a mistake, an occasion so rare found myself thinking, ‘Really, I never thought I would see that.'”. United manager Alex Ferguson knew from the moment that he signed Irwin he knew that he had a rare gem “Nowhere in football is there a more popular player than the unassuming Irishman, who is the ultimate professional, one of those quiet, under-praised heroes who constitute the bedrock of all great teams.”

Denis Irwin – Republic of Ireland Career

Denis Irwin made his debut for the Republic of Ireland on 12 September 1990 in a friendly match against Morocco at Dalymount Park. Ireland won the match 1-0 through a David Kelly Goal. Irwin’s first competitive match for Ireland was at Lansdowne Road (Now Aviva Stadium) in a 1992 Euro qualifier against Turkey on 17 October 1990. Ireland won the match 5-0. He represented Ireland at the 1994 World Cup Finals and played in the famous 1-0 win over Italy in Ireland’s opening group match at Giants Stadium.

Denis Irwin scored his first goal for Ireland on 29 April 1992 against the USA in a friendly match at Lansdowne Road. He went on to score three more goals in an Irish shirt. Denis Irwin won the last of his 56 international caps for Ireland on 17 November 1999 in the second play-off leg against Turkey in the Euro 2000 qualifiers.

References :
Sir Bobby Charlton – My Manchester United Years – The Autobiography; Bobby Charlton with James Lawton (2007); Headline Publishing Group
Managing My Life- My Autobiography; Alex Ferguson with Hugh McIlvanney (2000); Hodder and Stoughton Ltd

Denis Irwin – Manchester United & Ireland Statistics

Denis Irwin of Manchester United
Denis Irwin was born on
31st October 1965 in Cork
Playing Position
Full back
Joined Manchester United
Manchester United Debut
18 August 1990 V Liverpool
Last Appearance for Man Utd
11 May 2002 V Charlton Athletic
Left Manchester United
No. of Games Played for Utd
Goals scored for Man Utd
Honours Won by Denis Irwin
Champions League 1999; Cup Winners Cup 1991; Premier League 1993; 1994; 1996; 1997; 1999; 2000; 2001 FA Cup 1994; 1996; 1999 League Cup 1992
Other Clubs
Leeds United, Oldham Athletic , Wolverhampton Wanderers
Republic of Ireland Caps
Goals scored for Ireland


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Don Givens Harry Gregg – Ashley Grimes – Mickey Hamill – David Healy – Denis Irwin
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