With just the Irish Sea separating their home from England, it is not particularly surprising to see so many Irish footballers in the Premier League. Even if Ireland itself doesn’t achieve much on the international scene, you will still find plenty of Irish stars shining in the English top flight. In fact, 196 Irish footballers have had the privileged of appearing in the Premier League to much success. Some have won multiple league titles and became icons at some of the biggest clubs in football itself. So here’s is our XI of the greatest Irish football players ever to appear in the Premier League.
XI of the best Irish players in Premier League history
GK: Shay Given
For over 20 years, Shay Given proved himself to be one of the best shot-stoppers in English football. From his early days with Newcastle in the 1990s to his veteran days at Man City, there was never a moment when Shay Given didn’t give his all. His ability to leap across goal and produce multiple saves with ridiculous consistency made him a hero with colleagues and fans alike.
Whilst he never won the big prize himself, Given earned plenty of personal accolades including 2x Irish Player of the Year awards and two appearances in the PFA Team of the Year. A great recognition for one of footballer’s hardest workers.
RB: Seamus Coleman
For someone who started out in Gaelic football, Seamus Coleman has enjoyed a stellar career as a professional footballer in the more traditional sense. Having spent almost his entire career with Everton, Coleman’s pace and passing ability made him one of the premier full-backs in the league itself. With endless energy, Coleman has grown into an example for others to follow and a popular figure at Goodison Park.
Having earned the captain’s armband of both club and country, Coleman’s skillset is unfounded and this was reciprocated by his Player of the Year award form Everton in 2014. In a season where he also made the PFA Team of the Year, it underlines just how good Coleman has been during his time in the Premier League and he is certainly one of the best Irish football players in the competition’s history.
LB: Denis Irwin
When Denis Irwin left Oldham for Manchester United, few would realise the impact the Irishman would have at Old Trafford. A player who would never give up and often not lose a duel, Irwin became a critical part of a defence that shut out attackers’ year after year. No matter who he faced, Irwin often came out on top and helped United on their way.
It was a reason why he was a part of no less than seven Premier League winning sides under the watch of Alex Ferguson from 1993 to 2003. His own personal efforts were recognised with an appearance in the Premier League Team of the Decade in 2003 as well as a spot in the English Football Hall of Fame in 2016. Sir Alex also named Irwin as the only player guaranteed a spot in his all-time United XI. Not bad for a signing of just £625,000.
CB: Richard Dunne
With a stare than froze strikers dead in their tracks, few defenders went as underrated as Richard Dunne. The centre-back was excellent on both his feet and in the air making him the perfect counter-weapon against the best strikers in the league. His consistency made him a hugely popular figure with fans particularly at Manchester City where he won the club’s Player of the Year award four consecutive years from 2005-2008.
These accolades carried onto stints with Aston Villa where he earned a spot in the 2010 PFA Player of the Year award as well as later on with QPR. It’s a lucrative award for a player who also has the unfortunate duty to share the all-time league records for both sending offs (8) and own goals (10).
CB: John O’Shea
The true master of all-trades, very few players were as versatile as John O’Shea. Naturally a centre-back, O’Shea could also be deployed as both a right-back or defensive midfielder – a skillset noticed by Sir Alex Ferguson himself. It was why O’Shea spent the prime of his career as a mainstay of a backline at Old Trafford in the 2000s which won five Premier League titles.
On top of that, his excellent form helped him become the 2007 Irish Player of the Year rewarding his versatile skillset. He would move on to become captain for Sunderland for several seasons before The Black Cats were relegated in 2016. It was a rather bittersweet end for a player who enjoyed a well-decorated career. Nonetheless, O’Shea remains one of the finest Irish football players in Premier League history.
CM: Kevin Kilbane
Never one to steal the headlines, Kevin Kilbane did his job with minimum fuss but with maximum effort. As a steely yet mindful midfielder, Kilbane was a picture of consistency hardly ever missing a game season after season. Often seen for mid-tale sides such as Everton and Wigan, Kilbane’s passing ability and cool composure made him a great anchor in the middle of his park His efforts were well-rewarded in 2004 when he was named Irish Player of the Year in a career that spanned over a decade at the highest level. A professional no matter where or when he played.
CM: Roy Keane
Was there ever a figure quite like Roy Keane? Poised and composed one minute, then breaking legs the next – no one showed determination like Roy Keane. It was why his fiery demeanour partnered well with his endless runs and needle-like passes earning a cult following from Old Trafford fans. It was a skillset that fared him well though winning 7 Premier League trophies where he captained 3 of those triumphant sides.
On his own merits, Keane was a part of 5 PFA Team of the Year selections as well earning a spot in the Premier League All-Time Squad in 2012, making one of the best Premier League midfielders of all time. His actions were cemented with inductions into the English Hall of Fame and Premier League Hall of Fames in 2014 and 2021 respectively. A great award for a polarizing figure whose attitude made him one of the all-time great personalities in English football.
CM: Stephen Ireland
Ireland by name, Ireland by nature. On his day, Stephen Ireland was a dynamic midfielder whose driving runs and excellent awareness made the difference between a draw and a win. His best times came with Manchester City in the late 2000s where he became a key component in the attacking third. His best form came in the 2008/09 season where he would score 9 goals in 35 games helping City transition into a top four side.
This form saw him named 2009 Manchester City Player of the Season and a star in the rising side. Injuries saw his form dip but a move to Aston Villa rejuvenated him enough to be named 2012 Player of the Season at Villa Park. It was a fitting career to a player who was, at times, one of the best in the league.
FW: Damien Duff
Capable of playing on either wing, Damien Duff was always difficult for defences to deal with. His surging runs and tricky passes made him just as deadly creatively as he was in front of the net. Duff’s best form came whilst still with Blackburn Rovers where he scored 9 goals in 26 games and awarded a spot in Uefa’s Team of the Year in 2002.
A big money move to Chelsea didn’t quite earn the personal rewards he hoped for but he still contributed to Chelsea’s first two Premier League titles under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. It was sufficient effort for a player who gave his all no matter who he played for and was one of the most talented Irish football players in Premier League history.
FW: Niall Quinn
A giant amongst minnows, Niall Quinn’s presence automatically lifted any side he was a part of. It also helped that he was a particularly lethal finisher in the penalty box. His consistency in front of the net made him a fan favourite at both Manchester City and Sunderland throughout the 1990s.
It wasn’t until later in his career where he produced some of his best form scoring 14 goals in 37 games in the 1999/2000 season. It was that form that earned him the 1999 Sunderland Player of the Year Award for those exploits. His love affair with The Black Cats continued after his retirement in 2002 and he would go on to part own the club in a 2006 takeover. His efforts earnt him the Freedom of Sunderland in 2013 – a fitting award for a player of his quality.
FW: Robbie Keane
Few players were quite as spectacular and consistent in front of the net than Robbie Keane. Just as comfortable performing a flying volley as a simple tap-in, Keane proved himself to be one of the Premier’s League best strikers in the 2000s. Whether he was playing for Leeds, Liverpool or Spurs, Keane would find a way to score. His best form would be with Spurs where he netted double figures for goals in five consecutive seasons – a best of 16 goals in 36 games in the 2005/06 season.
It was a reason why Keane was named Tottenham Player of the Season on three separate occasions as well as given 3 Player of the Month awards during an 8-year period. These records, along with the all-time goals and appearance records for the Irish national side goes on to solidify Robbie Keane as one of Ireland’s greatest players of all time and certainly one of the finest Irish football players in the Premier League.
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