Best Irish Soccer Players of All Time

Vince Massara

Irish soccer has been graced by some truly exceptional players throughout its history. Names like Roy Keane, Robbie Keane, and Paul McGrath immediately spring to mind. These legends have left an enduring impact on the sport, captivating fans with their incredible talent and unwavering dedication.

However, there are other lesser-known players who have also made significant contributions to Irish soccer. Damien Duff, for example, is known for his commanding presence on the field, while John Giles is celebrated for his technical brilliance.

Exploring the list of the best Irish soccer players of all time is sure to ignite curiosity and inspire a deeper appreciation for these exceptional athletes.

Roy Keane

Roy Keane, an exceptional midfielder in Irish football history, is widely recognized for his successful club career with Manchester United and his influential role in the Republic of Ireland's qualification for major tournaments. Keane's remarkable skills and leadership qualities made him an indispensable player for both club and country.

During his time at Manchester United, Keane displayed his immense talent, contributing to the team's triumph in 7 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups. His commanding presence in midfield and ability to control the game's pace made him a vital figure in Sir Alex Ferguson's successful era at the club. Keane's determination and intensity on the field earned him immense respect from teammates and opponents alike.

Not only was Keane a formidable force at the club level, but he also played a crucial role in the Republic of Ireland's national team. As the team captain, he led Ireland to their first-ever World Cup appearance in 1994 and helped them qualify for the European Championships in 1988 and 2012. Keane's passion for the game and unwavering commitment to the national team made him an icon in Irish football.

Robbie Keane

Robbie Keane, a highly skilled goal scorer and respected leader, has made significant contributions to both the Republic of Ireland national team and various club teams throughout his career.

As the leading goal scorer for the Republic of Ireland with 68 goals, Keane has firmly established himself as one of the greatest Irish soccer players of all time. He's represented his country 131 times and currently serves as the captain, showcasing his long-lasting impact and importance to the team.

Keane's club career has been equally impressive, with stints at notable clubs such as Coventry City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and LA Galaxy. Known for his ability to score against top opponents, Keane has consistently found the back of the net throughout his career.

In addition to his goal-scoring prowess, Keane has demonstrated strong leadership qualities, having captained both his club and country. With multiple FIFA World Cup appearances and successful spells at clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, Keane's impact on the game can't be overstated.

Paul McGrath

Paul McGrath, a highly skilled and resilient center-back, has made a lasting impact on Irish soccer with his exceptional defensive abilities and impressive career at renowned clubs like Manchester United and Aston Villa. Despite facing challenges such as knee issues and alcoholism, McGrath overcame them to become one of the greatest Irish soccer players of all time. Known for his defensive skills, McGrath's story of determination and resilience continues to inspire many.

McGrath represented both the Republic of Ireland national team and made appearances for Northern Ireland before retiring from international soccer. He showcased his talent on the global stage, participating in the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups, as well as the UEFA Euro 1988. His performances in these tournaments solidified his reputation as one of the best Irish players ever.

After retiring from professional soccer, McGrath remained involved in the sport as an assistant manager, using his knowledge and experience to contribute to the soccer community. McGrath's impact goes beyond the field, as he is widely regarded as one of the most iconic Irish soccer players.

To further highlight McGrath's achievements, here is a table presenting his club career:

Manchester United
Aston Villa
St Patricks Athletic

Paul McGrath's legacy as a talented and resilient center-back will always be remembered in the history of Irish soccer.

Damien Duff

Damien Duff, an immensely talented Irish soccer player, has made significant contributions to both club and national teams throughout his impressive career. Known for his skills as a winger, Duff has played a crucial role in Ireland's qualification for major international tournaments, including the 2002 World Cup and the UEFA Euro Championships in 2012. Starting his career as a Gaelic football player, Duff transitioned to professional soccer and showcased his talent on both domestic and international stages.

Duff's club career saw him play for top teams such as Chelsea FC and Newcastle United. During his time at Chelsea, he played a vital role in the team's success, helping them win numerous domestic honors, including the FA Cup. Duff's exceptional performances on the field caught the attention of Manchester United, who signed him in 2003. Although his time at Manchester United was relatively short, Duff made a significant impact.

On the international stage, Duff represented the Republic of Ireland national team with distinction. His skill, speed, and ability to create scoring opportunities made him a valuable asset for the team. Duff's contributions to the Irish national team helped them qualify for major tournaments and raised the level of Irish soccer on the international stage.

John Giles

John Giles, a highly accomplished midfielder, has made significant contributions to Irish soccer throughout his career, both as a player and a manager. He's had a profound impact on the game, not only through his 57 caps for the Republic of Ireland national team, but also through his success at the club level.

Giles' achievements at Manchester United and Leeds United can't be overstated. He won multiple domestic honors with these teams, showcasing his exceptional skill and talent on the field. His success at the club level cemented his place among the top 10 best Irish soccer players.

As a manager, Giles further solidified his legacy. He led the Republic of Ireland national team and came close to guiding them to the 1978 World Cup. His managerial prowess improved the team's reputation and left a lasting impact on Irish soccer.

One of Giles' greatest strengths was his ability to read and interpret the game. His deep understanding of the sport allowed him to make intelligent decisions, contributing to his success both domestically and internationally.

In the realm of Irish soccer, John Giles is held in high regard alongside legendary players such as George Best, Shay Given, Robbie Keane, and Roy Keane. His achievements as a player and a manager have left an indelible mark on the sport in Ireland.

Ronnie Whelan

Ronnie Whelan, a prominent figure in Liverpool's dominant side of the 1980s, played a crucial role in both club and international soccer. As one of Ireland's greatest players, Whelan's contributions to the sport are widely acknowledged. He was known for his versatility, excelling in midfield and occasionally as a defender. Whelan's success at Liverpool, where he won numerous domestic and European titles, solidified his reputation as one of Ireland's finest players.

On the international stage, Whelan represented the Republic of Ireland national team in UEFA Euro 1988 and two World Cups. His performances showcased his technical skill, tactical awareness, and leadership abilities. Whelan played a vital role in their qualification for major tournaments, making a significant impact on the national team.

When discussing the best Irish players, Whelan's name is often mentioned alongside other legends such as Pat Jennings, John O'Shea, Robbie Keane, and Denis Irwin. His achievements at both the club and international level distinguish him as one of Ireland's greatest players.

After retiring as a player, Whelan transitioned into management, taking charge of clubs such as Southend United, Panionios, Olympiakos Nicosia, and Apollon Limassol. His knowledge and experience continue to contribute to the development of the game. Ronnie Whelan's legacy as one of Ireland's best players is secure, and his impact on soccer both in Ireland and beyond is undeniable.

Shay Given

Shay Given, a well-known figure in Irish soccer, has made a lasting impact with his impressive career as a goalkeeper for the Republic of Ireland. With 125 appearances for the national team, Given holds the record for the most caps in that position. He started his career at Celtic but never played for the first team. It was at Blackburn Rovers in 1994 where he began to make a name for himself.

However, it was during his time at Newcastle United that Given truly excelled, becoming a fan favorite and establishing himself as one of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League.

While Given's performance declined in his later years at other clubs, his contributions to Irish soccer shouldn't be overlooked. He played a crucial role in the success of the national team and was selected in Martin O'Neill's squad for UEFA Euro 2016 before retiring from international football in July 2016. Given's achievements and talent as a goalkeeper have sparked debates among fans about whether he or Packie Bonner was the greatest goalkeeper for the Republic of Ireland.

Shay Given's career and remarkable number of appearances for the national team solidify his place among the best Irish soccer players of all time.

Niall Quinn

Niall Quinn, a highly accomplished player with 91 international caps and 21 goals for the Republic of Ireland, has made an enduring impact on Irish soccer through his influential performances as a forward for both his club and his country.

As a former professional footballer, Quinn showcased his elegant technical skills and versatility on the field, establishing himself as a formidable force in the sport. Throughout his career, Quinn's proficiency as a striker was evident, as he scored an impressive 68 goals for clubs such as Manchester City, Arsenal, Sunderland, Newcastle United, and Leeds United.

Quinn's left foot was elegant, and his ability to create scoring opportunities was unmatched. His contributions to the Irish national team were invaluable, as he led the line with finesse and determination. Quinn's impact extended beyond his performances on the field, as he was also known for his leadership qualities and ability to motivate his teammates.

While he'd short stints at Manchester United and Aston Villa, Quinn's legacy in Irish soccer is primarily defined by his time at Sunderland. He played a crucial role in the club's promotion to the Premier League and their subsequent success in the top flight.

Niall Quinn's achievements and influence have solidified his status as one of the greatest Irish soccer players of all time.

Denis Irwin

Denis Irwin is widely recognized as one of the greatest full-backs in the history of football. He'd an incredibly successful career with Manchester United and represented the Republic of Ireland with distinction. Irwin was known for his unwavering consistency, reliability, and versatility, which allowed him to play in multiple positions.

During his time at Manchester United from 1990 to 2002, Irwin played an instrumental role in the club's success. He helped the team secure numerous domestic and international titles, including an impressive seven Premier League championships and one UEFA Champions League trophy.

Irwin's international career was equally impressive. He made his debut for the Republic of Ireland in 1990, the same year he joined Manchester United. He quickly established himself as one of the best players in Irish football history and represented his country at the 1994 World Cup. In total, Irwin earned 56 caps for Ireland.

What truly sets Irwin apart is his remarkable versatility. While primarily a left-back, he was also capable of playing as a right-back and even in midfield. This adaptability made him an invaluable asset to both Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland.

Ray Houghton

Let's now turn our attention to Ray Houghton, a highly respected figure in Irish soccer. Houghton made a lasting impact both at the international level and during his successful club career. He earned over 70 caps for the Republic of Ireland and is fondly remembered for his iconic goals against England and Italy. These goals solidified his status as one of the top scorers for the Republic, and his international career was particularly noteworthy as he qualified to play for Ireland through his Irish father.

Houghton also achieved success with his club teams, including Fulham and Blackburn Rovers, where he made significant contributions. However, it was his time at Liverpool in the late 1980s that truly showcased his talent. Houghton's performances at club level were highly regarded, and he played a key role in Liverpool's success during that period.

Today, Houghton continues to contribute to the sport as an analyst and commentator with RTÉ Sport. His extensive knowledge and insightful perspectives provide valuable insights for viewers and fans alike.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Roy Keane the Best Irish Player Ever?

Roy Keane is widely considered to be the greatest Irish player of all time. His impact on Irish soccer, when compared to other legendary players, and his lasting legacy firmly establish his place among the all-time greats. Keane's contributions to the sport cannot be overstated. He was a fierce competitor on the field, known for his leadership and determination. Off the field, he was a role model and an inspiration to aspiring Irish footballers. Keane's skill, passion, and dedication have left an indelible mark on the sport, making him a true legend in Irish soccer history.

Who Has the Most Caps for Ireland Soccer?

Shay Given is the record holder for the most caps for Ireland soccer, having made 125 appearances for the national team. Throughout his impressive career, Given participated in prestigious tournaments and earned various honors, making him a standout player for Ireland.

How Many Irish Players Play in the Premier League?

Currently, there are around 13-15 Irish players who are playing in the Premier League. This presence of Irish players has had a significant impact on the national team, as it has helped to showcase rising stars and shed light on the challenges faced by Irish players in the competitive world of professional football.

Who Has Played for Ireland and Man City?

Niall Quinn, a well-known footballer from Ireland, has had the opportunity to play for Manchester City. Over the years, Irish players have made significant contributions to the success of Man City. However, they also face their fair share of challenges in the competitive world of the Premier League.


The greatest Irish soccer players in history have made a lasting impact on the sport. Their skill, leadership, and dedication have raised the level of competition and inspired younger generations.

Roy Keane's commanding presence on the field and Robbie Keane's ability to score goals have set new standards and gained global recognition. Alongside legends like Messi, Ronaldo, Pele, and Maradona, these players have showcased the lasting influence that top football players can have on the game.

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