What would an All-Ireland Football XI look like?
By James Cox
With the continued success of the Irish rugby team one cannot help but wonder how a united Ireland football team would fare. The nation has been divided in football since 1921 when the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) was formed following a split from the IFA over claims of bias towards Belfast. Since then both sides have had varying success, the Republic of Ireland more so in recent times having qualified for Euro 2012 and the 2002 World cup while the North’s last major tournament was the 1986 world cup in Spain. The thought of a united Irish side is something most Irish football fans have thought about, and possibly discussed over a beer or two, in this article we look at what a united Irish side of current internationals might look like.
David Forde (Millwall and Republic of Ireland)
David Forde has captured the hearts of the Republic’s fans after making his debut at 33, coincidentally against Northern Ireland in 2011. He has gone on to capture the number one role. Forde starred in the recent one all draw against World Champions Germany, making a number of key saves most notably from Mario Gotze.
Right back- Paddy McNair (Manchester United and Northern Ireland)
Some may consider the 19 year old a surprise selection, especially seeing as he is yet to be capped by the North at senior level. However, McNair has impressed for United since being thrown into the first team in the 2-1 win over West Ham in September following an injury crisis. McNair has made twelve appearances this season and fitted in seamlessly at centre back and right back despite his age. United coaches feel McNair’s natural position is as an offensive midfielder and this is not surprising given his comfort on the ball.
Centre back- Johnny Evans (Manchester United and Northern Ireland)
Evans practically picks himself in this team. McNair’s team mate has been a first team regular at Old Trafford since 2009 having also come through the youth academy. He has racked up an impressive 129 appearances and counting for United and 31 international caps.
Centre back- John O’Shea (Sunderland and Republic of Ireland)
Similar to Evans, O’Shea is the Republic’s first choice centre back. He burst onto the scene with Manchester United in 2002 and made 256 appearances at the Old Trafford outfit. He joined Sunderland in 2011 and was immediately given the captaincy. O’Shea’s versatility has seen him play all over the park throughout his career, but he’s found his best position at centre back.
Left Back- Marc Wilson (Stoke City and Republic of Ireland)
Wilson represented Northern Ireland up until under 15 level when he switched his allegiance to the Republic. Wilson is a regular at Premier League side Stoke city and like O’Shea his versatility has seen him play all over the pitch, however left-back is where he has played his best football.
Right midfield- Seamus Coleman (Everton and Republic of Ireland)
You were wondering why Coleman was left out of the defence right? Well the simple reason is his attacking ability is vital to both Everton and the Republic. David Moyes signed Coleman for a bargain £60,000 from Sligo Rovers in 2009 and since then he has become one of the Premier League’s most consistent performers. With someone like McNair playing behind him, Coleman’s speed and attacking ability could be used to devastating effect.
Centre midfield- James McCarthy (Everton and Republic of Ireland)
The Glaswegian elected to represent the Republic in 2011 and has since become the fulcrum of the midfield. McCarthy’s passing game keeps the tempo up for any side he plays for, and at 24 he has yet to reach his prime. McCarthy was central to Wigan’s 2013 FA Cup win and his career looks like it has a lot more to offer.
Centre midfield- Chris Brunt (West Bromwich Albion and Northern Ireland)
Albion’s captain has recently moved from left mid into a more central attacking position and he has flourished here. While he’s only scored once in 46 Northern Ireland caps, Brunt offers a constant attacking threat often involved in the build up to Albion’s goals. His offensive abilities would balance well with the more defensive McCarthy.
Left Midfield- Aidan McGeady (Everton and Republic of Ireland)
Another Glaswegian who declared for the Republic, McGeady is a vital member of the Republic’s team. The flying winger is our third Everton representative, having joined the Toffees via Celtic and Spartak Moscow. He scored a crucial last minute winner in Ireland’s European qualifier against Georgia in September
Shane Long (Southampton and Republic of Ireland)
Long’s talent has been underappreciated by some managers, most notably Ireland’s previous manager Trapatonni. Long has been a solid performer for Reading, Hull City, West Brom and Southampton and his work rate is an asset to any side he plays for.
Kyle Lafferty (Çaykur Rizespor and Northern Ireland)
On loan at Rizespor from Norwich, Lafferty has scored goals at every club in his nomadic career which has seen him play for FC Sion and Palermo among others. He was at his most prolific at Rangers scoring 104 goals between 2008 and 2012.
Manager- Martin O’Neill
With all due respect to the North’s gaffer Michael O’Neill, we had to go with Martin. The current Republic manager made 64 appearances for Northern Ireland in a distinguished playing career. His positive attitude and enthusiasm is infectious as we saw during his time managing Celtic and Aston Villa and his start to international management has been good so far.
While Ireland may never unite in footballing terms it’s nice to dream. In the mean time both sides resume their Euro 2016 qualification campaigns this Sunday, Northern Ireland host Finland and the Republic of Ireland will take on Poland in Dublin.