Top 15 Irish Footballers of All Time

The island of Ireland has certainly produced some truly fantastic players over the past number of years. With quite a few quality young stars rising through the ranks of their domestic divisions at present (the League of Ireland) such as teenage sensation Ryan Manning who only recently joined London side Queens Park Rangers as well as Dundalk's free-scoring Richie Towell, it has been a joy to watch more potential seep through.

Aside from that, however, the examples of just how rich with talent the Emerald Isle can be are plentiful indeed. Gracing such top-class clubs such as Manchester United, Juventus, Chelsea, Celtic, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and many more, the Irish have rarely been far from the top of the tree. Despite the lack of stars at the biggest clubs right now, though, one need not look too far into the past to see just how many there have been - and the future will surely see them scale those heights again.

Whether it has been the Premier League, Champions League or FIFA World Cup, players of descent from the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland have seen their best and brightest play ball at the highest levels of professional football, and deservedly so.

Make no mistake, sitting in the shadow of Europe, it's often been easy for the casual observer to forget about some of the skillful and influential performers who have emanated from there. So, this list aims to draw attention to not just the well-known stars who have already booked their place in the pantheon of greats but also those who might not be so recognisable at first glance, despite their contributions to the world of football.

Remember, as usual, this list is not intended to be set in stone, so make sure you have your say in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

15 Brendan Bradley


Not quite as illustrious as some of the other players set to feature, but Brendan Bradley has had a huge impact on Irish football nevertheless. With the most amount of goals in the history of the domestic Irish league, the ex-Finn Harps striker netted a whopping 235 goals in all.

14 David O'Leary


Although this former Arsenal defender will forever be remembered as the star who sent Ireland through to their first-ever quarter-finals of a World Cup (their best-ever showing to date) with a vital spot-kick against Romania, he actually led an immensely fruitful career.

13 Patrick O'Connell


The first Irish captain of Manchester United as well as becoming the saviour of FC Barcelona during the 1930s, Patrick O' Connell's achievements are beyond impressive. A lesser-known success story than a lot of the other players in our list, he has rarely received the necessary plaudits.

12 Damien Duff


A champion and a magician down the wing, Damien Duff made his short stay at the top of the game count with a nice little haul of silverware. Much more importantly, however, "the Duffer" earned the respect of his peers as well as one of the very best minds in the game.

11 Ray Houghton


Scorer of one of the most iconic Irish goals of all time, Ray Houghton netted a glorious header against their oldest and most bitter of rivals, England almost 30 years ago. Looping a glancing effort past a despairing goalkeeper at the European Championships in 1988, he gifted his side a bit of luck in a massive encounter.

10 Danny Blanchflower


Having helped lead Northern Ireland to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1958 where they ultimately lost to France, Danny Blanchflower managed to earn himself a reputation as a real icon of the game with his exploits. Lauded as Tottenham Hotspur's best player in a 2009 poll having played 330 matches for them, it's clear he holds a really special place in the hearts of the Lilywhites' supporters.

9 Johnny "Jackie" Carey


Another Irish star who joined the ranks of greatness at Manchester United, Johnny Carey is in the same class as Patrick O' Connell in that his impressive successes remain shrouded by the history of time. Indeed, he also draws parallels with Damien Duff as he too, began life with Home Farm in Dublin.

8 Shay Given


Having only recently returned to the Republic of Ireland national team set-up under Martin O' Neill and Roy Keane, the inimitable goalkeeping heroics of Shay Given ought to give the Green Army a massive boost as they look to qualify for France 2016 ahead of either Poland or Scotland.

7 Paul McGrath


Struggling with anxiety issues and a fiercely debilitating personal tribulation with alcoholism, it can be easy for football fans of the modern era to reflect on Paul McGrath's career without much appreciation. Often in the public eye for the wrong reasons, he is an ex-footballer who has often toiled with inner demons.

6 Johnny Giles


Currently a pundit working for the national broadcaster RTE, Johnny Giles continues to make a name for himself as a man who knows his football. At his peak, the now 74-year-old was a terrific performer who started his career at Manchester United as a 15-year-old midfielder where he eventually won the FA Cup before progressing on to Leeds United for yet more glory.

5 Packie Bonner

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Star of the Republic of Ireland's famous 1990 World Cup penalty shoot-out victory over Romania where he set David O' Leary up to net the all-important winner with his tremendous reflexes, he's also a great defender of the continuing growth of Irish football from a grass-roots level. Lining out for Glasgow Celtic for several seasons, he became a club legend, something that saw his stock with the locals rise immeasurably.

4 Liam Brady

David Cannon/Allsport

Another footballer-turned-TV-pundit, Liam Brady might be well past his prime and considered an armchair critic by many, but he is undoubtedly one of the greats of Irish football. A rare specimen in that he took it upon himself to move abroad to the Serie A to play for Juventus, Sampdoria and Inter Milan, the now 59-year-old was something of a trailblazer.

3 Robbie Keane

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most loyal servants with the Republic since 1998 – and still going strong – Robbie Keane has never given up on chasing success and triumphs around the pitch. Currently the highest-scoring international player currently active with 65 goals, the ex-Tottenham Hotspur star is fast-approaching Gerd Mullers' personal record of 68.

2 George Best

Colorsport/Stewart Fraser

Famed just as much for his extra-curricular activities as he was for his sporting prowess, George Best did his utmost to detract from his natural talent. Suffering from alcoholism, the Northern Ireland international saw fame and money cause problems for him throughout much of his professional career.

1 Roy Keane


An icon of the game. A leader. A warrior, and a winner, Roy Keane embodied each and every one of these schemas when he was at the top of his game in his heyday. Battling his way from Cobh Ramblers all the way to Manchester United, via Nottingham Forest, “Keano” knew all about hard work and dedication to get to where he wanted to. Becoming a Red Devil and a captain in no time, the huge haul of trophies and medals he helped win across England and Europe are a real testament to his long-standing brilliance.

True, his international career was blighted with certain drawbacks, and his club career saw himself branded as an over-the-top mercenary due to the Alf Inge-Haaland incident as well as his trouble in Saipan, however, he has arguably been the greatest Irishman to play the game due to the manner in which he has not let his technical and personal foibles hamper his journey too much.

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Top 15 Irish Footballers of All Time