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All-time XI: The best Irish players to have ever played in the Premier League

Though their gravitas on the international stage remains minimal by comparison to others, few - if any - nations outside of England have supplied more players to the Premier League than Ireland, with names like Roy Keane

Due to the current international break, 101 Great Goals wanted to pay homage to the many foreign players that have helped build the Premier League into what it is today. Our second stop takes us west of Liverpool, to Ireland.

The proximity of the island nation and historic ties to England dating back centuries was always going to lead to a migration of talent into the top flight of English football, even before the existence of the Premier League. But since the league’s inception, few nations outside of England’s borders have supplied more players than Ireland. And it has not just been about the weight of numbers, either.

A cadre of Irish talent helped define the Premier League from its first season until the current 2022-23 campaign, with some arguably rising to such prominence as to be considered some of the best to ever do it in their respective positions. Here, now, is 101 Great Goals’ all-time XI of Irish players in the Premier League.

GK: Shay Given (Blackburn, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Stoke City)

The obvious choice in goal, Shea Given was a mainstay with Newcastle United upon his arrival on Tyneside in 1997 and played a key role in some of the Magpies’ most memorable seasons in the Premier League and in Europe. Across 451 total appearances for all clubs he appeared for, Given remained one of the best shot-stoppers anywhere in the country.

RCB: Denis Irwin (Manchester United, Wolves)

An absolute icon with Manchester United as a full-back, some liberties were taken with Irwin’s position in order to include some other notable names. Irwin likely would not have paid any mind, though, with many in Manchester still of the opinion that he is the best full-back in the history of the league. After all, Gary Neville did once quip that Irwin, a natural left-back, was a better right-back than he was.

CB: Paul McGrath (Aston Villa, Derby County)

Widely considered one of the greatest players in Irish footballing history, Paul McGrath was the image of what it meant to be a rock in defense. Though he only played in five Premier League seasons despite spending ten years at the top level before the league’s rebranding, McGrath epitomized the artistry of defending along the way to winning PFA Players’ player of the Year in 1993 for good reason.

LCB: Steve Staunton (Aston Villa, Liverpool)

RWB: Séamus Coleman (Everton)

Two other shouts could have been made here; Stephen Carr and Steve Finnan. But it is hard to argue with Everton’s Séamus Coleman; not just the fact that he is still contributing to Everton despite his age, but the longevity of those contributions is evident and glaring. During Everton’s better years, Coleman was a chief figure in those domestic campaigns on both sides of the ball.

LWB: Ian Harte (Leeds United, Sunderland, Reading)

Though Leeds United is a far cry from where they once were during the 1990′s and early 2000′s, many in Yorkshire will never forget Ian Harte’s ever-present contributions at left-back during a period where Leeds were making deep runs in the Champions League while being one of the Premier League’s most vaunted outfits. His attacking contributions and killer set-pieces were core to their success.

CM: John O’Shea (Manchester United, Sunderland)

A player who spent the vast majority of his time as a defender, John O’Shea was a versatile presence at both Manchester United and Sunderland, which included appearances sitting deeper in midfield. Always reliable and willing to step into the breach, he was quietly one of the more efficient players across a highly successful period with the Red Devils that included fourteen major honors.

CM: Roy Keane (Nottingham Forest, Manchester United)

The epitome of what it meant to be captain of Manchester United, many will remember Roy Keane for his brashness and downright dirty style of play on the pitch; but he was so much more than just a bruiser. Technical, able to pick a pass, and chip in on the scoresheet while being an immense leadership figure, his rivalry with Patrick Vieira helped define an entire era of football in England.

RAM: Robbie Keane (Coventry City, Leeds United, Tottenham, Liverpool, West Ham United, Aston Villa)

Fabled in Irish footballing lore, Robbie Keane didn’t truly rise to consistency until his arrival at Tottenham despite bursting onto the English scene with impressive performances at Coventry City. Always reliable in key moments and so much more than just a goalscorer, his relentless ability to press made him valuable away from goal and often times irreplaceable.

LAM: Damien Duff (Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Newcastle United, Fulham)

Though never a brilliant goalscoring winger of note on account of eclipsing five Premier League goals in a single season on only five occasions, Damien Duff still epitomized what it was to be a modern, all-around midfielder. Blessed with pace and good technical ability to drive play down the flank, and also contributing from set-pieces, he was a mainstay for every side he featured for.

CF: Niall Quinn (Manchester City, Sunderland)

There was so much to like, and love, about Niall Quinn, even if the big center-forward was never brilliant in front of goal. His aerial ability and contributions to the attack via impeccable hold-up play can never be understated, but his high-water mark in front of goal while in partnership with Kevin Phillips at Sunderland during the 1999-200 season will forever be remembered in the northeast.

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Andrew Thompson

US-based Football writer. German football guru with a wealth of experience in youth development and analysis. Data aficionado. Happily championing the notion that Americans have a knowledgeable voice in the beautiful game.

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