Ireland’s best XI since 2000
Ireland begin their new campaign under new/old manager Mick McCarthy with Euro 2020 qualifiers against Gibraltar and Georgia. Despite the national side struggling over recent years, The boys in green have had some great players and teams over the years, all the more impressive when you consider the small size of the country and the preference for Gaelic sports- Hurling and Gaelic Football. But who would make it into an XI of players born in the modern era?
Goalkeeper- Shay Given
Ireland’s greatest ever goalkeeper and one of the Premier Leagues best, Shay Given was a standout player for Ireland for much of the last two decades. Making his debut at the age of 19 in 1996 and was first choice until his international retirement in 2016, picking up a whopping 134 caps and representing Ireland at a World Cup and two European Championships. The first player to represent Ireland for more than 20 years, Given is an icon of the game and a player all young Irish goalies should look up to.
Right Back- Seamus Coleman
One of only three current players to make this side, Ireland’s captain has struggled since his horrendous leg break while representing his nation against Wales, and has not yet been able to get back to his best. But at his peak Coleman was a rampaging fullback, capable of defending and attacking in equal brilliance, with a work rate to match. One of the Premier League’s best right backs, Everton secured one of the deals of the century buying Coleman from Irish side Sligo Rovers for just £60,000, and he has gone on to make over 200 Premier League appearances for the Merseyside club. Still with so much to offer, Coleman will be a very important player for McCarthy, and will be hoping to lead Ireland to their third consecutive Euros.
Centre Back- John O’Shea
Another 100 cap+ legend, John O’Shea is one of the most successful Irish players of all time after his illustrious 12 years at the top of the domestic & European game with Manchester United. During this time he was also a pivotal part of the Irish National side, ever present in the qualifying campaigns for the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012, O’Shea played every minute for Ireland at Euro 2012 and captained the side at Euro 2016. O’Shea’s versatility meant he played in a variety of different positions, but he looked most at home next to centre back partner Richard Dunne, and the two formed a solid duo during their time together.
Centre Back- Richard Dunne
The other half of the solid defensive partnership, Dunne originally struggled to cement his place in the starting eleven during the younger days of his career, often being overlooked by managers. But when he finally earned a regular place (around 2008), he was a mainstay until he retired. Capable of weighing in with contributions in both boxes, Dunne scored a credible eight goals in his 80 games for Ireland, including two goals in qualification for the 2002 World Cup and two goals in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. A legend at Man City in their pre-money days, Dunne played 431 times in the top flight of English football and has recently been inducted in the FAI Hall Of Fame.
Left Back- Ian Harte
Goal scoring left back Ian Harte was a solid and reliable player for Ireland during his 11 years of service, culminating in being one of Ireland’s best players as they reached the 2002 World Cup, playing every minute in qualifying and weighing in with four goals. Although a toe injury at the finals restricted his playing time, Harte remained a key player for the next five years, scoring another five goals to take his tally to 12. Retiring internationally in 2007 at the relatively young age of 30, Ireland are yet to fully replace Harte and have had to resort to playing wingers Kevin Kilbane and Robbie Brady at left back, despite their importance further up the field.
Right Wing- Damien Duff
Damien Duff is one of the best Irish players of recent times and his pace, skill and creativity can be matched by few in the national sides history. A standout player at underage level playing at both the 1997 under 18 European championships and the 1999 World Youth Championships, Duff made his senior debut in March 1998 and went on to represent Ireland 100 times. Playing at two major championships Duff was a hugely important player under a succession of Ireland Managers, and remained the key creative force for well over a decade.
Centre Midfielder- Roy Keane
Love him or hate him there’s one thing you simply cant deny about Roy Keane, he was an unbelievable player. From being the standout player leading his nation to the World Cup Finals, to leaving before the tournament even started after a blazing row with manager Mick McCarthy, Roy Keane has had an up and down relationship with his nation. The tough tackling, hard working monster that was Roy Keane in his prime was quite simply unplayable, playing every minute of Ireland’s 1994 World Cup campaign. Many expected the side to be built around Keane, which in many ways it was, but he has often been criticised for pulling out of Ireland squads and as a result only picked up 67 caps. Talent wise he may be the greatest Irish player of all time, but he will never be idolised as much as another R. Keane on this list.
Centre Midfielder- Wes Hoolahan
A small, technical attacking midfielder, Hoolahan is seen as perhaps one of the biggest Irish wastes of talent of the past 20 years. In many ways his style was more suited to the Spanish game as he is not your typical Irish football player, but the fact he only picked up 43 caps despite his impressive club form is a strange conundrum for a team often lacking a creative playmaker and spark. The highlight of his Irish career will undoubtedly be Euro ’16, where he scored his countries first goal of the competition against Sweden, and later provided an assist for Robbie Brady against Italy as Ireland progressed to the knockout rounds. On the biggest stage Hoolahan proved his worth, but sadly he was often underused and under appreciated.
Left Wing- James McClean
The controversial winger was a bit part player during his early days with the senior side, often being used as an impact sub with his pace and work rate causing problems. Eventually forcing his way into the team, McClean has become Ireland’s best player over the past three years, going from a winger capable of running at defenders and causing problems, to a bona-fide match winner who has carried the team at times. Qualification for the 2018 World Cup saw McClean become the sides talisman as he scored four goals, including the winner against Wales to earn his side a place in the play-offs. His passion for pulling on the Irish shirt is unrivalled, and although he may be universally hated in England, in his home nation he’s a hero and an icon.
Striker- Robbie Keane
In the green jersey of Ireland has there ever been a better player? The record appearance maker and goalscorer for the national side, its safe to say there will never be another quite like Robbie Keane. From his iconic goal against Germany at the World Cup to his final goal against Oman on his final appearance, Keane has given everything and more for his nation. An incredible finisher, but also having the capabilities to create as well as score has meant Keane has been indispensable, and there is a genuine argument to say Ireland wouldn’t have qualified for any of the last three tournaments if it wasn’t for Keane. With a phenomenal record of 23 goals in 44 Euro Qualifiers and 18 goals in 37 World Cup Qualifiers, not many strikers can boast such numbers and not many nations have been so reliant on one man.
Striker- Shane Long
Shane Long is a classic poacher who works hard, has blistering pace and can finish. The 32 year old looks set to break the 100 cap mark in the next few years and will be hoping to add to his 17 goals. His strike partnership with Robbie Keane was very fruitful for both, as Long would do the running for both allowing Keane to find space to create and score. As a result Long has only scored once since Keane’s retirement and his club form has took a huge downturn as well over the past two seasons. But with important goals in qualifying against the likes of Poland and Germany, Long deserves his place in this list, and many Irish fans will be hoping he can recover his form and fire Ireland to Euro 2020.