At the start of each month, we will give our top 5 Ireland players per-position before deciding on an All-Time XI at the end of 2024! Be sure to let us know your top 5 in the comments below!
1. Shay Given (1996–2016) 134 caps
The Lifford man was quite correctly described as genuine world class in his prime. He was an excellently agile shot stopper with brilliant reflexes. After starting his career at Celtic, he had a brief spell at Blackburn Rovers (during which he also had loan periods at Sunderland and Swindon Town). He joined Newcastle United in 1997 for a fee of £1.5 million. After a 12-year stay on Tyneside, he then joined Manchester City. Following City, he played for Aston Villa, Stoke City and Middlesbrough. He gained his first international cap in 1996 and played at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. An injury plagued Given played during Ireland’s dismal showing in Euro 2012 and he was also a member of the squad at Euro 2016 (but did not play in any of Ireland’s four matches at the tournament). He is the second-highest capped Ireland player (after Robbie Keane) and he announced his international retirement in July 2016 (having briefly retired previously in 2012). He won 134 caps for his country, keeping an impressive 52 clean sheets.
2. Pat Bonner (1981-1996) 80 caps
Another Donegal native. Bonner is a cultural icon for his role in some of the most memorable moments in Irish sporting history (think the decisive penalty shootout save from Romanian Daniel Timofte in the second round of the 1990 World Cup). Bonner was a one club man, playing 642 times for Glasgow Celtic where he won four League Titles, three Scottish Cups and a League Cup winners medal. For the Boys in Green, Bonner played at Euro 88, Italia 90 and USA 94. He played a starring role in the famous 1-0 win over England at Euro 88. In Italia 90 he was one of Irelands most important players during the tournament (the look of determination on his face as his long punt down the field led to Kevin Sheedy’s equaliser against England in Cagliari!). Although his error gifted Holland’s Wim Jonk a goal in the second round of World Cup 1994, his heroics during a golden period for Irish soccer will forever ensure his place in sporting folklore.
3. Alan Kelly Senior (1956-1973) 47 caps
Kelly started his career at Bray Wanderers and then Drumcondra (where he won an FAI Cup winners medal in 1957 and a League Championship in 1958). In 1960 he moved to Preston North End where he became a club legend, making 513 appearances for the side keeping 126 clean sheets, which is a club record. For the national team, he unfortunately never played at a major tournament. He won the first of his 47 caps in a 3-0 win over the then current World Champions West Germany, and he won his second cap the following year in a World Cup qualifier against England. He then captained the side in a 1972 qualifier against the Soviet Union. If Kelly had played in the modern era he surely would have won much more than his 47 caps. His son Alan Kelly Junior (another excellent goalkeeper) followed in his father’s footsteps playing for both Preston and Ireland (winning 34 caps).
4. Darren Randolph (2012-2020) 50 caps
Born in Bray, Randolph started out at Ardmore Rovers before moving across the water to Charlton Athletic. There then followed spells at Welling United, Accrington Stanley and Gillingham. A move to SPL side Motherwell followed in July 2010. After making 111 appearances for the Steelmen, he transferred to Birmingham City (making 91 appearances). Next up was the first of two spells at West Ham United (either side of 106 appearances for Middlesbrough). Randolph represented Ireland at numerous underage levels and made his full international debut in a friendly win over Oman in September 2012. On 8th October 2015 Randolph replaced Shay Given as a substitute against Germany in a 2016 European Championship qualifying match in Dublin and provided the assist for Shane Long’s famous goal as Ireland won 1-0 to propel themselves towards the finals. In said finals, Randolph played every match including the famous win against Italy in Lille to secure a passage through to the second-round game against France. A cool and laid-back customer, the multi-talented Randolph has also represented Ireland at Basketball.
5. Alan Kelly Jr (1993-2002) 34 caps
Preston born and the son of Alan Jr, the 34 time capped shot stopper shared the sticks with Shay given following Packie Bonner’s retirement. Veteran of two World Cups, albeit as an understudy, Kelly made his debut in 1993 and went on to win 34 caps. He played some part in the successful 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, starting in the early stages of the group with Shay Given eventually finishing the qualifiers and subsequent finals as number 1. One of the highlights of Kelly’s career was being named senior mens player of the year in 1999. Kelly, who was with Blackburn at the time was eventually linked to Manchester united in 2001 as backup before Sir Alex Ferguson decided to sign Andy Goram. Kelly made over 400 appearances at club level, togging out for Preston, Sheffield United and the aforementioned Blackburn Rovers where he had loan spells with Stockport County and Birmingham City. He has since enjoyed a career as a goalkeeping coach with Everton having cut his teeth post retirement in the USA.
Would you suggest any other keepers for the list? Let us know your thoughts!
James, Lansdowne Roar