Home Features Five Of The Best Irish Players Never To Play At A Major Tournament

Five Of The Best Irish Players Never To Play At A Major Tournament

By Robert Redmond & Oisin McQueirns


Over the years, Ireland has developed some incredibly talented footballers that have had the chance to shine on the biggest international stages.

The likes of Ronnie Whelan at Euro 88, Paul McGrath at the World Cup in 1994, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane in Korea and Japan in 2002 – there’s been plenty.

Some of Ireland’s finest talents, however, have never got the chance to represent the Boys in Green at a major tournament during their illustrious careers.

Here we take a look at five of the best:

Ireland footballers

Johnny Carey

Most of us never got to see Carey play, but his record as a player speaks for itself. Carey was born in Dublin in 1919 and was spotted by Manchester United playing for St James Gate. Between 1936 and 1953, he played over 300 times for United and led the team to trophies, despite having his peak years as a player interrupted by the second world war.

Carey was Matt Busby’s first captain at Old Trafford and the key player when United won the FA Cup in 1948 and the league in 1952. He helped Busby lay the foundations for the modern Manchester United and the base to develop the Busby Babes. Carey’s status within the game was so high that he was named player of the year in 1949 and he captained a Europe XI against Britain.

He was Ireland captain when they beat England 2-0 at Goodison Park in 1949, the first time England lost on home soil to a team from outside the United Kingdom. Carey, who went on to be a manager of Ireland and clubs such as Everton, Blackburn Rovers and Nottingham Forest, also represented Dublin in Gaelic football.

Ireland footballers


Liam Brady

Widely considered one of the finest footballers this country has ever produced, Liam Brady won 72 caps for the Boys in Green between 1974 and 1989.

The dazzling midfielder shone at club level for Arsenal, before moving to Italy where he played for both Inter Milan and Juventus with his individual accolades including a PFA Players’ Player of the Year award as well as three inclusions in the team of the season.

Unfortunately for Brady though he never managed to play at a major tournament for his country. However, he was crucial in helping Ireland to their first-ever one in 1988.

Brady was coming towards the end of his career at the time but it looked as though he would still get the chance to shine on the international stage however injury as well as a suspension meant that he did not feature in the tournament.

Two years later he came out of international retirement in the lead up to the World Cup in Italy. However, manager Jack Charlton opted not to select him in the squad.

Ireland footballers


John Giles

Another of Ireland’s greatest ever players, John Giles was a serial winner during his time at Leeds United, helping Don Revie’s iconic side of the 70s to two league titles, two Inter-Cities Fairs Cup’s as well as an FA Cup and League Cup.

Giles won 59 caps for the Boys in Green during his 20-year spell with Ireland, which included a player-manager role, but he never managed to qualify for a major tournament with his country.

Ireland footballers

The former midfielder did revive Ireland’s fortunes during his player-manager spell in the 70s and was agonisingly close to leading his side to the World Cup in 1978 only to miss out on qualification by two points in the end.

A real shame that the biggest international stages never got to see Giles in action.


Stephen Carr

A brilliant right-back during the prime of his career, Stephen Carr was outstanding for Tottenham in the Premier League, making two PFA team’s of the season in the early 2000s – just as Ireland were seeing success on the international stage.

Competition at right-back was fierce for the Boys in Green at the time but Carr had become a regular under Mick McCarthy before suffering a devastating knee injury that kept him out for 14 months.

Ireland footballers

Carr missed the entire 2001/2002 Premier League season as well as the World Cup through injury, with his quality and form meaning he would have almost certainly been on the plane to Korea and Japan had he been fit.

He returned to become a regular in Euro 2004 qualification under Steve Staunton but Ireland failed to reach another major tournament during the rest of his international career.


Matt Doherty

Unlike everyone else on this list, Doherty is still a professional footballer. However, despite just a season and a half in the top-flight, the Dubliner deserves his spot. Doherty has been one of the most consistent players in the division since Wolves won promotion and, without any doubt, the best Irish player in the Premier League over the last two years.

In 65 top-flight appearances, Doherty has eight goals and nine assists – a stunning record for a wing-back. He is perfectly suited to the Wolves’ system and is given the platform to thrive within a well-coach, extremely talented, team.

Ireland footballers

Yet, Doherty constantly exceeds his brief. His movement, and the timing of his runs, in the final third are exceptional and he always seems to be ready at the back post to finish off a move. He is one of the team’s best-attacking outlets and a vital cog in the side.

Doherty, somehow, isn’t first-choice for Ireland. The national team have plenty of competition for the two full-back slots, but the side is poorer for his absence.

He may yet get the chance to play at a major tournament for Ireland, his form and ability certainly warrants that opportunity.

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