The League of Ireland has produced many talented players who have often become immortalised once they have reached international recognition or played their football on a bigger, more acclaimed stage.
Although the League of Ireland is an inferior league in terms of our closest neighbours in England and further afield to greater Europe, there are a lot of players who have lined out in various Irish stadia over the last number of years who we feel haven’t garnered the credit they deserve, so here at Pundit Arena we have decided to honour some of those who decided to stay put in Ireland to ply their footballing trade.
5. Mick Devine (Cobh Ramblers, Waterford United, Cork City)
First up we have Michael Devine; well-known by Waterford United and Cork City fans, Devine had stints at both clubs after playing with Cobh Ramblers between 1993 and 1998.
However, it is Devine’s spell with Cork City for the majority of the noughties which stands out as his most successful period between the sticks.
While at Cork City, Devine won many honours, including a League of Ireland Premier Division title in 2005 and the FAI Cup in 2007.
Following a year away at Waterford, again Mick returned to his native Leeside in 2010 before leaving again shortly afterwards.
He will be remembered for his lengthy service to Cork City and the great European adventures that the team went on during his time there, particularly the UEFA Intertoto Cup campaign of 2004 in which City managed to reach the quarter-final stage.
4. Peter Hutton (Portadown, Shelbourne, Cliftonville, Finn Harps and Derry City)
Peter Hutton started his career at Derry City in 1990 and spent a huge portion of the start of his career with the Candystripes until 1998 when he left to sign-up with Portadown for a year before returning to his hometown club.
This was a similar pattern throughout the majority of his career as he left and returned to Derry on a frequent basis right up to present day.
Following his return to Derry from 1998 up until 2001, Peter decided to leave again, this time for a year at Tolka Park with Shelbourne. Once again Peter returned to Derry for arguably his most successful period in a Candystripes shirt.
During this era, Hutton helped Derry to win two FAI Cup titles in 2002 and 2006. The latter triumph being the last football match played at the old Lansdowne Road before being renovated.
Hutton is the current Derry City manager.
3. Killian Brennan (Dublin City, Derry City, Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers and St. Pat’s)
Drogheda-born Brennan is part of a family deeply embedded in the League of Ireland, with his brother Sean playing with Drogheda United and Ryan and Gavin both playing with Shamrock Rovers.
Killian only left Ireland briefly to play youth football for Peterborough, but his entire senior career has been played in his native country. Brennan is still a pivotal player in the League of Ireland today, playing with St. Pat’s, but it may come as a surprise to many when they realise just how long he has been playing in the League of Ireland.
He began his career with Dublin City back in 2003 and after a short stint with the club he then joined Derry City in 2004, staying at the Brandywell until 2007. During this period he won the 2006 FAI Cup and formed an early reputation as one of the most talented wingers in the League of Ireland.
A three year spell with Bohemians followed, where he won two Premier Division titles, one FAI Cup, one League Cup and the Setanta Cup.
When the 31-year old finally hangs up his boots this period of his career will surely go down as his most successful.
Brennan subsequently spent one season with Shamrock Rovers before joining St. Pat’s where he was part of the title-winning side in 2013.
He most recently helped the Saints to their third FAI Cup title in November last and their first in 53 years.
2. John Caulfield (Athlone Town and Cork City)
A legend at Cork City, Caulfield started his career at Athlone Town for one season in 1985-86. Then came the move to Cork City where Caulfield became Cork City’s all time appearance holder with 455 appearances and still the joint all-time goalscorer for the club with Pat Morley at 129 goals.
Caulfield has just begun his foray into LOI management, helping Cork City to a second place finish last season as manager of the club where he made his name in a playing career stretching from 1986 to 2001.
In this time, Caulfield was instrumental to a lot of the club’s early milestones as a new League of Ireland club took shape once again on Leeside. He was part of squads which won titles such as City’s first league title in 1993, their first FAI Cup triumph in 1998 as well as the club’s first, and only three League Cup wins in 1988, 1995 and 1999.
Caulfield retired just before the professional era began in the League of Ireland but is now having success in his first position as a League of Ireland manager with City, helping the Rebel Army to a second place finish in the league and ensuring European football at Turner’s Cross in 2015.
1. Owen Heary (Kilkenny City, Home Farm, Shelbourne and Bohemians)
Synonomous with Bohemians and Shelbourne, the Dublin native never left Ireland to play his football and was one of the mid-noughties generation when the league’s popularity increased along with stronger performances in Europe.
He would have surely left the league to play at a higher standard if his prime had come ten years previously, such was Heary’s talent.
38-year-old Heary started out playing for Kilkenny City for one season in 1993-94. He then moved onto Home Farm for the next four years before making himself known as one of the most recognisable faces in League of Ireland history between 1998 and 2006 for Shelbourne.
Heary made 274 appearances in one of the Drumcondra outfit’s most successful eras. The current Sligo boss was part of the historic Shels side that reached the third qualifying round of the Champions League in 2004 and were subsequently one game away from reaching the group stage.
Despite this, Shels still won the league that year. This title was one of five that Heary won while at Shelbourne.
His Bohemians career was also a success as he won two league titles, one FAI Cup, League Cup and Setanta Cup in his time with the Phibsborough club.
Heary now manages Sligo Rovers, having joined from previous club Bohemians.
Are there others you would have put in this list? Let us know who you would have included by simply commenting below.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image By BohemianFC from Dublin , Ireland (3968-owen_heary Uploaded by Lymantria) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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