In a week where a number of new players will make their Irish international debuts, we remember the infamous arrival of Joe Lapira onto Irish soccer.
In the early hours of 24 May 2007, while hopeful TD’s waited to hear whether or not they got their respective seats in the general election, Irish eyebrows were raised as a business student from Louisiana took his seat on the Republic of Ireland bench against Ecuador in the first game of Steve Staunton’s side’s American tour.
Qualifying through his Irish mother, New York born Joseph Lapira became the first amateur player to play for Ireland since Willie Browne in 1964.
Despite enjoying considerable footballing success with the University of Notre Dame, not even Lapira himself could have envisaged an international call up.
A lot of Irish fans debated whether or not Staunton, whom only a few months prior had enjoyed a dream start to the job with a 3-0 triumph over Sweden, had completely lost his mind.
Truth be told, a lot of comparisons could be drawn from Lapira the international player and ‘Stan’ the international manager; inexperienced and out of his depth.
His Irishness, however, can’t be denied, as he recalled in a 2017 interview with the Irish Independent cheering on the ‘Boys In Green’ from his aunt’s house in the summer of 1994 during the World Cup.
In the same interview, Lapira admitted he was a bit star struck in training the week leading up to the Ecuador match, meeting the likes of Kevin Kilbane and Shane Long, players he had grown accustomed to watching in Premier League action every week.
He is quoted by the Mirror as saying that during one drill when he went in the middle he was “nutmegged like 45 times in a row.”
The game itself finished 1-1, Kevin Doyle’s header on 44 minutes cancelling out former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez’ opener, but this game will be remembered eternally for that 84th minute substitute.
With luscious ginger locks similar to those of USA soccer cult hero Alexi Lalas, Lapira trotted on to replace the recently retired Daryl Murphy, and tried to make the most of his six minutes in the spotlight as he chased every ball as if it was his last.
However, nothing really came off for the striker and so ended the most bizarre of international careers as Lapira was never to put on the green jersey again.
Unsuccessful trials at Rangers, Aberdeen and Toronto FC followed before he saw out his playing days at Norwegian side Nybergsund Trysil.
His solitary Irish cap has come and gone, but by some it has still not and will not be forgotten, as is clear through images that surfaced on the internet during Euro 2016.
A group of Irish supporters carried a flag for the tournament reading,
“We all dream of a team of Joe Lapiras.”