Hundreds of top-class players from the Emerald Isle have graced England’s top division during its 25-year history, but who exactly will be remembered as one of the Premier League’s elite?
A list of the greatest Irish players would not be complete without Manchester United legend Roy Keane. The Corkman joined the Red Devils from Nottingham Forest in 1993 and went on to become Sir Alex Ferguson’s midfield enforcer for a decade afterwards, racking up a huge list of honors, including seven Premier League titles and a Champions League triumph. Keane is renowned for his combative approach to the game, but he was also an incredible passer of the ball and was equally adept in defensive or more advanced midfield roles. He also made the PFA Team of the Year on five occasions.
In terms of goal-scoring, Robbie Keane leads the way with an impressive 126 goals in 13 seasons with no less than six Premier League sides, including Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. Keane is Ireland’s top marksman at international level, and he was prolific for every club that he played for between 1999 and 2012. The Dublin-born forward possessed electric pace and excellent close-range finishing. However, he won just one trophy during his time in England – a League Cup with Spurs in 2008.
Ireland have had a wealth of excellent defenders down the years and there has arguably been none better than Denis Irwin, who was renowned for his consistency as left or right-back with Manchester United, where he won seven Premier League titles. While many would not put John O’Shea in the same bracket of quality as Irwin, he also won numerous honors with United during a ten-year stint at Old Trafford.
There always seems to be one player that is head and shoulders above the rest in their respective positions, and that is certainly true of shot-stopper Shay Given, who featured in almost 20 Premier League campaigns for Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, Manchester City, Aston Villa and Stoke City. The Donegalman was among the best in England at the peak of his powers during the early 2000s, and he earned 134 caps for Ireland between 1996 and 2016.
There has been a distinct lack of creative Irish players in the Premier League, but Damien Duff bucked the trend during an exciting three-year spell with Chelsea, where he played under José Mourinho and won the Premier League. Duff scored 54 goals and supplied 55 assists during his career in the top flight, and he will best be remembered for his pace and dribbling skills.
Fast forward to the present day and there were 16 Irish players in the Premier League at the start of the 2017/18 season. Burnley have a strong Irish contingent with Jeff Hendrick, Robbie Brady, Stephen Ward, Jonathan Walters, and Kevin Long, all of whom have helped the club to exceed expectations thus far. The Clarets have good odds at Stakers to win games at Turf Moor for the remainder of the season.
The number of Irish players in the Premier League has dropped from a high of 33 six years ago, but Ireland will continue to be a primary destination for clubs eager to snap up the best talent.