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The Ones That Got Away: Five Footballers Who Could Have Played For Ireland

during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group D qualifying match between Republic of Ireland and Georgia at Aviva Stadium on September 7, 2015 in Dublin, Ireland.

With the European Championships just three months away, Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill is starting to get a fair idea of which players will be on the plane to France this summer.

As always, there will be a number of British-born players in the travelling party – Ireland have always used the grandparent rule to great effect.

Despite the success rate, a number of players over the years have been invited to join the Boys in Green only to have the invitation rejected or thwarted by red tape. Others have tried to hitch a ride on the emerald bandwagon only to have the door slammed in their face.

Here are five players who, in another life, could have been Irish heroes:

Tim Cahill (Australia)

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 18: Tim Cahill of Australia celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Australia and Netherlands at Estadio Beira-Rio on June 18, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

It’s hard to believe now, given how highly regarded Cahill is as a part of the Socceroos, but his international career very nearly took a different path.

In 2002, Cahill, then at Millwall, was looked at by then-Ireland boss Mick McCarthy as a potential option for the squad, with a view to being taken to the World Cup later that year. Unfortunately for Cahill, his two appearances for Western Samoa in World Cup under-20 qualifying matches at the age of 14 scuppered his chances.

FIFA ruled that he had chosen his nationality at that point and refused him the chance to switch allegiance. Despite threatening to take FIFA to court for their refusal to allow him to play for Ireland, Cahill eventually backed down.

It worked out well in the end for Cahill, however – a change in FIFA rules allowed him to play for Australia two years later where he has gone on to become the nation’s highest ever goalscorer with 45 goals – four of them coming in the three World Cup tournaments he has subsequently appeared in.


Paul Gascoigne (England)

Paul Gascoigne of England makes a funny face to the television camera during the team line up before the 1990 FIFA World Cup Finals Semi-Final match between West Germany and England played at the Stadio Delle Alpi, in Turin, Italy on July 4, 1990. The match ended in a 1-1 draw after extra-time, with West Germany winning 4-3 in the penalty shoot-out. (Photo by Billy Sticlkand/Getty Images)

The story goes that there was one week in the difference between Gascoigne choosing Ireland ahead of England.

Former Ireland boss Jack Charlton first noticed his potential when he was manager at Newcastle and a young Gascoigne was bursting on to the scene. Upon taking the Ireland job in 1986, Charlton set about trying to give the 20 year old his first taste of international football – albeit in a green shirt – and but for the player’s blissful ignorance in relation to his own ancestry, Charlton, in his own words, might have succeeded:

“The problem was getting him to play for Ireland and if only I’d spoken to his mother a week earlier, I might have had the chance…He actually qualified to play for Ireland but no one knew it at the time and we only just missed out on him.

“I think I could have persuaded him, if I’d known. He still calls me his second dad and I do think I could have talked him into it.”

Gascoigne went on to win 57 caps for England in a career that promised so much but ultimately, largely due to his own personal demons, had comparatively little to show for it.


Paul Scholes (England)

27 Mar 1999: Paul Scholes of England clutches the matchball after scoring a hat-trick against Poland in the European Championship qualifier at Wembley in London. England won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport

This one was never really a runner, in all honesty. In fact despite the strong Irish connection to Manchester, little was know about Scholes’ Irish heritage until he revealed it himself in an Independent column in 2015 urging Jack Grealish to choose England ahead of Ireland, as he himself had done nearly two decades previously:

“I had the same options as Jack Grealish when it came to international football, in fact I could have played for Northern Ireland as well as the Republic…but it never occurred to me to play for anyone other than England.”

His love affair with international football was not to be a lengthy one – after 66 caps, Scholes permanently withdrew himself from England consideration in 2004 at the age of just 29. Despite numerous approaches from a succession of England managers, Scholes never played for England again.

Frankly, he’s only even on this list because an Irish midfield pairing of Scholes and Roy Keane would have been too brilliant to even comprehend.


Harry Kane (England)

during the EURO 2016 Qualifier match between England and Lithuania at Wembley Stadium on March 27, 2015 in London, England.

This one was apparently not too far away from happening.

Martin O’Neill revealed last year that in 2014 Kane apparently had a “keen interest” in playing for Ireland, an interest that was dampened somewhat when he realised that he was good enough for the England team.

Nonetheless, there was slight surprise when O’Neill also revealed that it was in fact the Kane camp who contacted him – and not the other way around – about the striker joining the Irish camp, but how much of that was down to the player’s actual wishes was unclear:

“The order of events is that initially the agent got in touch and said that he would have a keen interest and we wanted to go and chase it up,

“It would have been really nice, [but] Harry himself always wanted to play for England. It’s just as simple as that.”

What can be taken away from that is that the timing was all wrong for Ireland – had they been interested in him before he exploded onto the scene with Tottenham, he might be wearing a green shirt in France this year instead of a white one.


Vinnie Jones (Wales)


If the ‘Scholes-Keane’ axis would have been a thing of beauty, pairing notorious hardman Vinnie Jones next to the Cork native would have been the recipe for disaster. As it was, however, Jones’s would-be involvement would probably have come a bit before Keane’s time.

In 1988, Jack Charlton was forming his 20-man squad for the European Championships in West Germany. Liam Brady was already a confirmed absentee, and Jones could smell an opportunity to appear in a major finals.

Not that he would admit to that of course, insisting:

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

His sudden declaration of Irishness some time around April 1988 cast all manner of doubt on that claim.

Nonetheless, Charlton resisted the urge to recruit the future star of such films as Midnight Meat Train and Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’s Ball to the travelling European Championship party.

Six years later, Jones suddenly decided he was Welsh – winning a total of nine caps for the Welsh national side over a two-and-a-half-year period.

And finally, one who did play for Ireland but really shouldn’t have…

Joe Lapira (United States)

This happened, and we all let it happen. Lapira was given his first (and only) Irish cap by Steve Staunton against Ecuador in 2007, making him the first amateur to win a senior cap since 1964.

He was last seen (in a sporting capacity) in the Norwegian second division with Nybergsund IL-Trysil some time around 2013.

Now let us never speak of it again.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.