When you think of Ireland, you probably picture rolling emerald hills, dancing leprechauns, and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. However, the country has more than just that to offer. Boasting physicists like Robert Boyle, musicians such as Bono, and authors like Oscar Wilde, the country is home to internationally renowned individuals who have excelled in their chosen fields. When it comes to sports, particularly football, Ireland is no different.
In 1921, the country’s first national football team was formed. Having played in three World Cups since then, the team is rated as one of the best teams in the world. The best players who have helped solidify this reputation have made an international mark on the sport.
Joseph Denis Irwin
Born in Cork in 1965, Denis Irwin was well known for playing on several teams across the 615 matches he participated in professionally. Among these are Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Oldham Athletic, and Manchester United. Winning a total of 19 trophies throughout his career, Denis was called upon to represent the national team over 55 times. During these appearances, he scored four goals, adding to the total of 43 he scored before retiring in 2004.
In addition to being inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2016, Denis is one of the most successful Irish football players in history. He shares this title with former Manchester United teammate Roy Keane.
George Best was born in 1946 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Loyal to his club, he only ever played for two teams in a long-term capacity: the Fulham Football Club and Manchester United. On top of that, he was called into play for the Northern Ireland national team 37 times, and he also played brief stints with many other smaller clubs.
By scoring 251 goals playing for clubs and a further nine playing internationals, George was recognised for his talent worldwide. His unique style of play led to him being named the European Footballer of the Year in 1968.
Following suit after his surname and winning over 20 trophies during his career, Best received fifth place in the FIFA Player of the Century award in 2000. Two years later, he was officially inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, he also underwent a liver transplant the same year and passed away in 2005 due to complications from the procedure.
Alongside Denis Irwin, Roy Keane is widely considered the other most successful Irish football player in history. Also from Cork, Keane was born in 1971 and began his professional career at age 23. Roy played for the Cobh Ramblers, Nottingham Forest, Celtic Football Club, and most famously, Manchester United. During his 12-year stint in Manchester, he served as captain for eight years and is credited with helping the team reach an incredible level of success.
Roy was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Premier League Hall of Fame in 2021. After scoring 87 club and nine international goals, Keane retired from active play in 2006, although he stayed in the industry for many years as a coach and manager.
Formally known as William Brady, Liam was born in Dublin in 1956. In 1973, he began his professional career with Arsenal, one of the most famous football clubs in the world. Here, he thrived and refined his incredible abilities, particularly his superb technical skills, which he was later known for.
Playing on the Irish national team 72 times, Liam scored nine international goals and a further 78 while playing club matches. Retiring in 1990, Liam went on to manage massive clubs like the Celtic Football Club and Brighton and Hove Albion. He was also the assistant manager for the Irish national team for two years.
Placed in the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) Hall of Fame in 2001, he was also given a spot in the English Football Hall of Fame five years later. Among other accolades during his career, he was named Arsenal Player of the Season four times.
Although they share the same last name, Robbie Keane and Roy Keane are not related. Robbie was born in Dublin in 1980 and became a professional player in 1996. Robbie played for many teams, including Tottenham Hotspur, Leeds United, the Scottish Premier League, West Ham United, LA Galaxy, and Aston Villa. He also represented Ireland’s national team several times and was the type of player who would maximise your rewards if you were betting on the teams he played on.
With 68 international and 325 club goals, his wins for the national team have made him the player with the most scores ever to represent the country. He was recognised as Player of the Year nine times across different sporting bodies. In 2018, he officially announced his retirement and has since moved into coaching.
Born in Dublin in 1959, Frank Stapleton played as a centre forward and was considered one of the best in the world. Starting his professional career with Arsenal in 1972, he represented the team for many years before moving on to Manchester United. However, his achievements as Arsenal Player of the Season in the 1970s are what helped catapult him to international fame.
Stapleton scored 20 goals for Ireland’s national team across over 71 appearances. He held the record for the most national goals by the time he retired in 1990—an achievement that has since been obliterated. He scored a total of 151 goals during his club career, making him a valuable player to any team he represented.
After announcing his retirement, Frank became a manager for the Bradford City and New England Revolution teams for several years. He then took an 18-year break before returning to the sport as an assistant manager for the national team of Jordan.