Sunday, December 14, 2014

Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland Combined Greatest All-Time team

Ireland vs Northern Ireland 1978
Please also see my All-Time World Cup Team Index.  I have also create all-time teams for both Ireland and Northern Ireland.  My all-time team for the United kingdom is here

Ireland/Northern Ireland Combined Team 1986 World Cup

From 1882 to 1950, the name Ireland national team was used by the Irish Football Association (IFA).  It consisted of players from the entire Ireland.  After the partition of Ireland in the 1920s, another team was organized by Football Association of Ireland (FAI). They also competed with the name Ireland from 1937 and 1952.  So two different team was playing as Ireland in the period and some players were playing for both teams.  In 1953, the FAI was officially recognized as Ireland while the national team by IFA became Northern Ireland.  Due to the complexity of Irish question, players who played for any of the Ireland national team are eligible to be on this team.

I do not know enough about Irish politics and the football world to see if it is possible to have a combined team for the Island of Ireland, but George Best famously called for an unified team throughout his career.  Meanwhile, Irish Rugby Football Union and Hockey Ireland has created combined national teams for their sports without any problem. 
N.Ireland vs Ireland
This is my selection of  the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland Combined team.   If there were an All-Time World Cup, this would be the 23 players I would bring to the tournament.  
GK: Pat Jennings (N.Ireland)
Considered among the greatest goalkeeper of all-time.  The prime of his career was spent with both Tottenham Hotspurs and Arsenal.  In 1973 the Football Writers' Association named him as its footballer of the year. Three years later he won PFA's version of the award – he was the first goalkeeper to receive this accolade, and to this date remains only one of two, along with Peter Shilton. He earned 119 caps for Northern Ireland and went to two WC Finals. 
Pat Jennings
GK: Shay Given (Ireland)
Shay Given started his career with Celtic in Scotland, but made his professional debut with Blackburn Rovers.  He was remembered for playing with Newcastle United from 1997 to 2009.  He was voted into PFA Team of the Year twice, 2001-2002 and 2005-2006.  He later played for Manchester City, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough F.C. and Stoke.  He earned 126 caps for Ireland. He played in the 2002 World Cup Finals and the European Championship in 2010 and 2016.

GK: Harry Gregg (N.Ireland)
Gregg was Matt Busby's goalkeeper from 9 seasons.  He survived the Munich Air Disaster.  He was called a hero of the incident because he pulled out survivors from the burning plane. He was voted best goalkeeper of the tournament at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals. He had 25 caps. H also played for Doncaster Rovers and Stoke City.

RB: Billy McCracken (N.Ireland) 
Billy McCracken was one of the most successful defender of his time.  McCracken played for the English club Newcastle United from 1904 to 1924, helping them win three League titles and the FA Cup. He was known for setting the offside trap for the attackers.  The offside rule was changed because of him. 

RB: John Carey (Ireland/N.Ireland) 
He was also a dual internationalist, playing for and captaining both Ireland teams – the FAI XI and the IFA XI.  In 1949, he was voted the FWA Footballer of the Year and in the same year captained the FAI XI that defeated England, becoming the first non-UK team to beat England at home.   As a player Carey spent most of his career at Manchester United, where he was team captain from 1946 until he retired as a player in 1953. 

CB/DM: Paul McGrath (Ireland) 
Paul McGrath is one of Ireland's greatest ever players.  He played 83 times for Ireland. He appeared at the 1990 and 1994 World Cup Finals, as well as the Euro 1988.  He played for St Patrick's Athletic and then, joined Manchester United in 1982.  He had a run-in with Sir Alex who was the new manager at Manchester United and moved to Aston Villa in 1989 where he won the PFA Player of the Year in 1993. He later played for Derby County and Sheffield United.
Paul McGarth
LB/CB: Mark Lawrenson (Ireland)
Mark Lawrenson was a key defender for Liverpool in the 1980's, where he won one European Cup and 5 league titles. At the international level, he played for Ireland between 1977 and 1987.  He helped Ireland to qualify for its first ever major tournament in 1988, but an injury prevented him from going to Euro 1988. Ireland went on to qualify for the next four tournaments, biut he already retired by then.

CB: David O’Leary (Ireland)
O'Leary made a record of 722 appearance for Arsenal.  For Arsenal, he won the English League, FA Cup and the League Cup, two of each.  He also played briefly with Leeds United at the end of his career. With 68 caps, he represented Ireland at the World Cup Finals in 1990, scoring the winning penalty against Romania in the penalty shootout.

CB: Charlie Hurley (Ireland) 
Hurley is best known for his long career at Sunderland.  He played for them between 1957 and 1969. He was named the Black Cats' "Player of the Century" by their fans on the occasion of the club's centenary in 1979, and then, Millwall's greatest players in 2007.  He ended his playing career at Bolton Wanderers.  He played 40 times for the Republic. 

LB/RB: Denis Irwin (Ireland) 
Alex Ferguson considered him his greatest ever signing.  He played over 200 games for Manchester United, winning the Champions' League in 1999 and 7 Premiership titles. He also played for Leeds United and Oldham Athletic, and finished his career with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Irwin was capped by the Republic of Ireland national side 56 times, scoring four goals and featuring in the side that reached the second round (last 16) at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Denis Irwin 
LB: Alf McMichael (N.Ireland)
Belfast-born McMichael began his career at Linfield, before signing for Newcastle United in 1949. He remained at Newcastle until 1962, appearing 433 times. He was part of the team that won the 1952 FA Cup Final. At one point he was considered the best left-back in Britain and was a popular player amongst Newcastle United supporters. He represented Northern Ireland 40 times.

CM/DM: Roy Keane (Ireland)
Roy Keane was the captain of Manchester United from 1997 to 2005, where he won one Champions' League, 7 Preimer League titles and 4 FA Cups.  He was the PWA Player of the Year in 2000.  At the international level, he had 67 caps.  He played for Ireland at the 1994 World Cup Finals in the USA, but was sent home 4 years later before the start of the World Cup Finals in 2002. He later played for Celtic in Scotland after leaving Manchester United.
Roy Keane 
CM/M: Johnny Giles (Ireland)
Giles started with Manchester United in 1957.  After winning an FA Cup winner's medal under Matt Busby, he moved to Leeds United in 1963 where he played in midfield alongside Billy Bremner under Manager Don Revie. He also played for West Bromwich Albion, where he was the player-manager. He was voted as Ireland's greatest player at the UEFA Jubilee Awards in 2004.  He was capped 59 times.  From 1973 onward, he served as their player-manager.

CM/AM:  Danny Blanchflower (N.Ireland)
Danny Blanchflower  won the Double in 1961 with Tottenham Hotspurs.  He won the FA Cup the following year, and then, a Cup Winners' Cup in 1963.  He was the PWA Player of the Year in 1958 and 1961. He also played for Aston Villa and Barnsley before joining Hotspurs. He went to the World Cup in 1958, where North Ireland reached the quarterfinal.

LM/CM: Ronnie Whelan (Ireland)
Ronnie Whelan played for the mighty Liverpool during the 1980's.  He won one European Cup and 6 league titles.  Whelan played for the Republic of Ireland national football team at one UEFA European Football Championship (1988) and two World Cups (1990 and 1994), turning out a total of 53 times for the national side between 1981 and 1995.
LW/RW: George Best (N.Ireland)
George Best was considered to be one of the greatest players ever played the game.  He was voted #19 as the greatest European player by the UEFA Jublilee Poll. He was known for his "pop star" lifestyle. He was one of the "United's Trinity" that helped Manchester United to their first (and also first ever for an English club) European Cup in 1968.  He won the PWA PLayer of the Year award and the Ballon d'Or that year.
George Best
RW: Billy Bingham (N.Ireland) 
Billy Bingham was a childhood friend of Jackie Branchflower. He was at one point the cap record holder for Norther Ireland. He helped them to qualify for Sweden 1958, where North Ireland reached the quarter-final.  He won a league title with Everton in 1963. His longest stint was with Sunderland, where he spent 8 years.  He also had a lengthy career with Luton Town.

LW/AM: Liam Brady (Ireland)
Liam Brady played over 200 times for Arsenal in the 1980's.  He was the PWA Player of the Year in 1979.  He was one of the few successful Irish players playing outside the UK.  In 1980, he moved to Juventus, where he won two Series A titles in two seasons.  He was replaced by Michel Platini, but he went on to play for Inter Milan and Ascoli in Italy. He made 72 caps for Ireland, but he never went to a major tournament.
 Liam Brady 
LW: Damien Duff (Ireland) 
Duff won two Premiership titles with Chelsea.  After four seasons at Stamford Bridge, he left for Newcastle United where he won the 2006 UEFA Intertoto Cup, and then moved on to Fulham, with whom he played in the 2010 UEFA Europa League Final. He was remembered for his performance at WC 2002 and captained Ireland at Euro 2012.

RW/FW: Patsy Gallacher (N.Ireland/Ireland)
Patsy Gallacher was nicknamed "Mighty Atom".   He was considered one of the greatest Celtic's players ever.  The 1925 Scottish FA Cup Final was called "the Patsy Gallacher" final after he scored a somersault goal. He played for Falkirk at the end of his career. He played 12 times for IFA (now called Northern Ireland) and one time for FAI (Republic of Ireland) in a game against Spain at the age of 41, the oldest ever debutant for their team.

ST: Robbie Keane (Ireland) 
Robbie Keane is the all-time leading scorer and cap record holder for Ireland.  He went to the World Cup Finals in 2002, and participated at Eyuro 2012 and 2016.  He had played in Italy, Scotland, England, and the USA. Most of his stints were short, including a dream move to Inter Milan.  His most famous stints was with Tottenham Hotspurs, where he won the League Cup in 2008.  At the end of his career, he played in the MLS with LA Galaxy alongside Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
Robbie Keane vs Northern Ireland
ST: Frank Stapleton (Ireland) 
Frank Stapleton was Ireland's all-time leading scorer for a decade.  He had 71 caps and captained Ireland at the Euro 1988, Ireland's first major tournament. He is best remembered for his time at Arsenal and Manchester United, where he won a single FA Cup for both clubs. He also played in Holland, Belgium and France after he left Manchester United.

ST:  John Aldridge (Ireland)
John Aldridge is still the 6th highest goal scorer in the history of English football.  He was best remembered with his career at Liverpool from 1987 to 1989. He joined the club as a replacement for Ian Rush.  He linked up with Peter Beardsley and John Barnes to form one of the most exciting attacking lines in the club's history. He had 69 caps for the Republic of Ireland.  He played in Euro 1988, and with 1990 and 1994 World Cup Finals.
John Aldridge
Honorable Mention
Robert Milne (N.Ireland), Terry Neil (N.Ireland), Alan McDonald (N.Ireland), Steve Staunton (Ireland), Steve Finnan (Ireland), Kevin Moran (Ireland), Andy Townsend (Ireland), Ray Houghton (Ireland), Niall Quinn (Ireland).

Squad Explanation
-- Due to the complexity of Irish question, players who played for any of the Ireland national team are eligible to be on this team.
-- There are a large of great athletes who were overseas Irish.  John Elway, Tom Brady, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Jason Kidd and Jack Dempsey are all Irish. Since this team is about Irish players, it has nothing to do with a particular national team.  I am opened to select overseas Irish footballers who represented national teams other than the Republic or Northern Ireland.  Kevin Keegan (England), Martin Keown (England), Wayne Rooney (England), Jose Luis Brown (Argentina), Fabian Neill (Uruguay) and Carlos MacAllister (Argentina) are the only Irish or part Irish footballers that I could think of. But it will be difficult and even controversial.  So at this time, I will stay with players from the two teams.  
-- Pat Jennings, George Best, Jackie Blanchflower, Liam Brady, Roy Keane, Paul McGrath and Johnny Giles are autmatic selections.
-- Pat Jennings is the obvious number one. I think Shay Given is now the greatest keeper for the Republic over Packie Bonner. Harry Gregg edged out Bonner for the third keeper spot.
-- The Irish had a large number of great center-backs.  I could not find space for Robert Milne (N.Ireland), Terry Neil (N.Ireland), Alan McDonald (N.Ireland), Steve Staunton and Kevin Moran (Ireland). I also wanted to select Steve Finnan as a fullback.
--  Patsy Gallacher was on both of Ireland and Northern Ireland. all-time team.
-- Best and Bingham took over two wing spots.  I have no space for Ray Houghton (Ireland) 
-- I dropped Niall Quinn and picked Stapleton and Aldridge because they are two of my personal favorites. I grew up in the 1980's.  Norman Whiteside was also considered too.
-- Seven players are from Northern Ireland. Fourteen played for the Republic. Two have played for both teams.
-- In 1978, Northern Ireland played against Ireland in a historical match.  It was the first time the two sides met since partition. Northern Ireland was managed by Danny Blanchflower. The Republic featured John Giles, Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton.  Giles was their player/Manager.  Pat Jennings (N.Ireland), Pat Rice (N.Ireland), Sammy Nelson (N.Ireland), Liam Brady (Ireland) and Frank Stapleton (Ireland) were club teammates with Arsenal.
-- I toyed with the idea of starting a combined Irish team in a specific World Cup years liked what I did with United Kingdom 1970.  Ideally, I wanted to team up the best of both sides.  However, the Republic did not have a good team until Jack Charlton took over the national team in 1986.  They did not produce result until the European Championship in 1988.  Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's best teams are in the 1980's and George Best's peak was in the 1970's.  The greatest players from each side did not overlap.  However, a team of Pat Jennings, Paul McGrath, Liam Brady, Mark Lawrenson, Norman Whiteside etc might have worked.  And Johnny Giles could also play with Pat Jennings and George Best in the 1970's.
Jennings, Best and Bingham

Starting lineup
Formation 4-4-2
I moved Denis Irwin to the rightback, which was actually his natural position. Liam Brady had a great left foot.  He occupied the left midfield, but he would cut inside and playmaker.  Best could play on either side.


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