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The ‘Almost Irish’ XI: Players That Could Have Been Boys In Green

The ‘Granny Rule’ has been a key component of Irish football since Jack Charlton popularised the phrase in the mid-1980s. 

The spread of Irish diaspora across Europe (mostly England) meant that there was a whole new pool of footballers available to the Boys In Green.

With that in mind, we have formulated the best XI who could have represented Ireland – ‘the best, almost Irish XI’.

Goalkeeper: Joe Corrigan

There are not a whole lot of eligible goalkeepers who haven’t already played in a green shirt but out of the small few, Joe Corrigan is undoubtedly the best of them.

Corrigan made close to 500 appearances for Manchester City between 1967 and 1983 and it is widely speculated that the goalkeeper’s Killarney relations could have made him eligible for the Republic.

Playing at a time when Peter Shilton and Ray Clemence had a hold over the English goal, Corrigan only ever managed 10 appearances for England’s B team but is widely considered by Manchester City to be one of the greatest goalkeepers in the club’s history.


Left Back: Franck Quedrue 

Those with a penchant for mid-’00s bang average fullbacks will fondly remember Frenchman Franck Quedrue.

The ex- Middlesbrough and Fulham defender actually had quite a decent Premier League career, making 275 appearances in English football across four different clubs, as well as winning a League Cup and a Uefa Cup runners-up medal.

What people might not remember about Quedrue is that in 2005, he almost declared for Ireland.

The Paris born left-back was vying for a place in the Irish squad for the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, but sadly, he made a mistake in his ancestry and ended up being a generation out.

It was Quedrue’s great-grandfather who was Irish, meaning his dreams of taking the field alongside Robbie Keane and Damien Duff were scuppered.


Centre Back: Steve Bruce

A key part of an accolade-ridden Manchester United side of the mid-’90s, Steve Bruce was, surprisingly, never capped by England.

In 1994 when Bruce was 34 years of age he was contacted by then Ireland manager Jack Charlton and asked to be a part of the Irish squad.

Bruce, who qualified for Ireland through his mother, revealed that he did not take up Charlton’s offer as his then club manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, did not want him classed as a foreign national, due to international restrictions that were in place in UEFA competitions at the time.

Bruce and McGrath at the heart of the Irish defence? Oh, what could have been.


Centre Back: Martin Keown

As tough as Martin Keown is to listen to on the BBC today, back in the late 90s/ early 2000s he was one of the Premier League’s finest defenders.

With a mother from Galway and a father from Fermanagh, Keown would have had no eligibility problems had he declared for Ireland in the mid-90s. The ex-Arsenal defender was approached by Jack Charlton, but subsequently turned down the offer and went on to earn 43 caps and have a successful career as an English international.

His son, Niall, who plays for Reading, has, unlike his father, declared for Ireland.


Right Back: Vinny Jones

The quintessential hard man, Vinny Jones almost declared for Ireland ahead of the 1988 European Championships.

Jones, was apparently interested in going to a major championship and saw Ireland as an opportunity to fulfil a career goal. Despite this, however, Charlton never picked the future Wales international, but Jones was quick to point out that he was not just in it for an easy ride.

I’m not trying to get a cheap ticket to the European Championship finals or anything like that,” Jones said.


Right Midfield: Tim Cahill

Back in 2002 when Tim Cahill was a plucky young midfielder plying his trade at Millwall, Ireland were headed to the World Cup in Korea and Japan.

Before the finals, Mick McCarthy approached Cahill about representing Ireland, and the Aussie was apparently very keen on the offer.

Just like Franck Quedrue however, his dreams of playing in a green shirt were also dashed but this time it was FIFA’s rules which were to blame. Cahill had played twice for the Western Samoa U20s and so, at the time, was unable to switch allegiances to Mick McCarthy and Co.

That rule has since changed and Tim Cahill went onto become one of the most legendary figures in Australian footballing history becoming the country’s record goalscorer with 50 in 105 appearances.


Centre Midfield: Jose Luis Brown

Almost certainly beyond the boundaries of the granny rule, Jose Luis Brown’s Irish ancestry still befits him a place on this list.

Oh, and the fact that he’s an actual World Cup winner. He even scored in the final in 1986 as Argentina beat Germany by 3-2.

Brown could operate in both midfield and defence and is widely recognised as one of the most famous Irish Argentines in sporting history.

There are some unconfirmed claims that Brown’s heritage stems from Athlone and the Scottish have already tried to claim the World Cup winner, but he’s 100% one of our own.


Centre Midfield: Kevin Nolan

One of the more recent examples, Kevin Nolan played for England at both u18s and u21 level but was pursued by then manager Steve Staunton as he looked to add more Premier League experience to his Irish squad.

Staunton would have had to jump through quite a number of hoops to attain the services of the ex- Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham man, but his plan never came to fruition.

The best thing to come from the whole situation was probably the petition set up by Irish fans to try and get Nolan to declare for Ireland, which reached the dizzy heights of 45 signatures.


Left Midfield: Paul Scholes

Arguably the greatest English midfielder of his generation, there was once a time when Manchester United’s Paul Scholes could have been the greatest “Irish” midfielder of his generation.

Scholes did not reveal his eligibility for the Republic until 2015 however and thus at the time meant that there was no media frenzy surrounding which country he should represent.

The Manchester United icon was speaking about Jack Grealish declaring for England in an Independent column and likened his decision to that of the Aston Villa midfielder.


Striker: Fabian O’Neill

One of the most unfamiliar names on this list, Fabian O’Neill was an Uruguayan international attacking midfielder who played with a number of Serie A teams including Italian giants Juventus.

O’Neill doesn’t quite fit the perimeters of the current granny role but the sheer rareness of his relatively unreported career warrants his inclusion on this list.

Nicknamed “Mago” meaning Wizard during his time at Montevideo Club Nacional de Football in Uruguay, O’Neill’s Irish connections come from his great-great-grandparents Elizabeth Murphy and Thomas O’Neill who hailed from Cork.

O’Neill even went to the World Cup with his country Uruguay in 2002 but sadly did not feature.



Striker: Wayne Rooney

The one name guaranteed to make the list, Wayne Rooney’s eligibility for the Republic came through his Irish grandmother.

The FAI spotted Rooney from an early age and made a play for the Everton striker when he was just 16, but in an interview in 2015, he admitted that he never even considered donning the green jersey.

“Lee Carsley asked me (on behalf of Republic boss Mick McCarthy) about it and it never crossed my mind.

“I have Irish grandparents, so if they wanted to play for Ireland I’m sure they could have, but it was never something I thought about.”



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Author: Oisin McQueirns

Oisin McQueirns is a digital journalist at Pundit Arena. Massive fan of Leeds United, Ric Flair and Trusting The Process. Contact him here [email protected]