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Rating the 21 best Irish Premier League players ever

Robbie Keane and other players who have made their mark on England’s top flight.

N.B. THIS LIST IS based on how well the players in question performed in the Premier League era, taking into account a combination of consistency and impact on the top flight. Consequently, while the likes of David O’Leary and Ronnie Whelan were technically Premier League players at one point and had better careers overall than some of the people on this list, their lack of game time following the competition’s inception renders them ineligible for selection.

21. Shane Long

Southampton v Newcastle United - Barclays Premier League - St Mary's Source: Clive Gee

In an increasingly competitive Premier League where it’s rare enough for an Irish player to thrive, Long’s 10 goals in 28 appearances for Southampton last season was no mean feat. In total, he has made over 150 Premier League appearances, and while he hasn’t always been the most prolific of strikers, the £12 million fee that the Tipperary native commanded amid his 2014 move to the Saints indicates how he is valued for much more than just his goalscoring.

20. Matt Holland

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton Athletic - Hillsborough Source: Neal Simpson

A quiet, unassuming but nonetheless effective player, Holland made over 200 appearances for Ipswich and Charlton at the top level over the course of his career. His most memorable campaign was surely in 2000-01, when he captained Ipswich to an improbable fifth-place finish.

19. Kenny Cunningham

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Liverpool v Birmingham City Source: Neal Simpson

A very underrated and highly consistent player, Cunningham made over 300 Premier League appearances, featuring at the back in Wimbledon and Birmingham teams that regularly punched above their weight, winning Player of the Season for the latter in 2003.

18. Ray Houghton

Soccer - Coca-Cola Cup - 3rd Round - Sunderland v Aston Villa - Roker Park Source: EMPICS Sport

Houghton would be higher on this list on the basis of his entire career, but he ultimately spent just three seasons playing in the Premier League — first with Aston Villa and then at Crystal Palace, who he could not prevent from being relegated. His first season at Villa was arguably the most memorable, as he was a regular in the team that just fell short in the Premier League title race. He was also an unused sub in the 1994 Villa team that won the League Cup.

17. Jason McAteer

Soccer - FA Cup sponsored by Littlewoods - 4th Round - Chelsea v Liverpool - Stamford Bridge Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

Not the most naturally talented of players, McAteer nonetheless made the best of his abilities to enjoy some memorable moments over the course of his career. Although his defining moment arguably came for Ireland, when he hit the winner against Holland, his accomplishments at club level should not be overlooked. McAteer made 100 appearances for Liverpool and was part of a side that regularly finished in the top four, before undertaking subsequent stints at Blackburn and Sunderland.

16. Niall Quinn

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Manchester City v Sunderland Source: EMPICS Sport

Seldom the most prolific of strikers, Quinn’s aerial ability and footballing intelligence nonetheless ensured he still spent the majority of his career in England’s top flight, proving to be a useful player for both Man City and Sunderland in the Premier League era.

15. Andy Townsend

Aston Villa v Arsenal Source: EMPICS Sport

Made over 200 Premier League appearances and captained both Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, arguably enjoying his best season with the former in 1995-96 campaign, where he led the Bimingham-based club to fourth place in the league and put in a man-of-the-match performance as they won their second League Cup final in three years. He also impressed during a short, end-of-career stint with Middlesbrough.

14. Gary Kelly

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Leeds United v Southampton Source: EMPICS Sport

A rare example of a one-club man, Kelly’s career may have petered out in conjunction with Leeds’ slide into obscurity, hence it’s easy to forget that he was once considered among the top full-backs playing in England. He featured twice in the PFA Team of the Year and ultimately made over 500 appearances for the Yorkshire-based club.

13. James McCarthy

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Newcastle United - Goodison Park Source: EMPICS Sport

His performances for Ireland may underwhelm at times, but it is no accident that McCarthy is held in such high esteem by Everton fans. He is badly missed when injured, and his impressive performances have led to the player being linked with moves to both Tottenham and Man City. He already has an FA Cup winners medal to his name, and at just 25, he also has made more top-flight appearances than others on this list and can surely only get better in the coming seasons.

12. Stephen Carr

Soccer - FA Barclaycard Premiership - Tottenham Hotspur v Bolton Wanderers Source: Nigel French

A superb full-back on his day, Carr made over 200 appearances in an 11-year spell at Tottenham, featuring twice in the PFA Team of the Year. At his peak, he was linked with a big-money move to Man United, but a troublesome knee injury arguably stopped the Dubliner from fulfilling his full potential and ensured he would not feature in 2002 World Cup finals. That said, he enjoyed a late-career renaissance at Birmingham and was part of their League Cup-winning team.

11. Seamus Coleman

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Sunderland - Goodison Park Source: Barrington Coombs

Still only 27, Coleman has been one of the best full-backs in the Premier League for at least four seasons now. In an increasingly competitive environment, for an Irish player to be considered a key player at that level, as Coleman undoubtedly is, is no small feat.

10. Steve Staunton

Soccer - Friendly - Stoke City v Liverpool Source: EMPICS Sport

Another player who would be even higher if his entire career was taken into account, Staunton was in his second season at Villa by the time the Premier League got underway, and played an important role in the side that finished runner-up to Man United. He made almost 300 appearances for Villa overall and also made 44 appearances in his second spell at Liverpool.

9. Richard Dunne

Soccer - UEFA Cup - Round of 16 - Second Leg - AaB Aalborg v Manchester City - Aalborg Stadion Source: EMPICS Sport

Never got the truly big move he arguably deserved, but both Ireland and Man City fans will always recognise Dunne’s immense talent at his peak. In addition to featuring in the PFA Team of the Year in 2010, Dunne was voted Man City’s Player of the Year for an impressive four consecutive seasons.

8. Steve Finnan

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Liverpool v Manchester United - Anfield Source: EMPICS Sport

If you look up the dictionary, there is probably a picture of Finnan beside the definition for ‘solid’. An often underrated player, he still managed to feature in the 2000-01 Premier League team of the year. He also spent five seasons in a Liverpool side that regular challenged for honours and made two Champions League final appearances.

7. John O’Shea

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: Scott Heppell

Sometimes unfairly derided, O’Shea was never world class, but you don’t win five Premier League medals without being talented. Moreover, he was not used as sparingly at Old Trafford as some may assume, making at least 20 appearances in 8/10 seasons with the first team. He has also developed into an excellent signing for Sunderland — one of the more reliable players in a team that’s rarely far away from a relegation battle.

6. Paul McGrath


Were this list based on his entire career, McGrath would be even higher, but he was 32 when the Premier League began. That said, even during his relatively brief stint in the competition, he was still a highly accomplished player, earning the PFA Player of the Year award in 1993.

5. Shay Given

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Everton v Newcastle United - Goodison Park

Not just one of best Irish players, but surely one of the best goalkeepers in Premier League history, Given featured twice in the PFA Team of the Year and at times single-handedly rescued Newcastle’s consistently leaky defence.

4. Damien Duff

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Fulham v Chelsea - Craven Cottage Source: Nick Potts

At his peak, Duff was arguably the best winger in the Premier League. He may have spent just three seasons at the very top tier with Chelsea, but he had an impressive impact during his time there, winning two Premier League medals. Injuries may have robbed him of some of the threat of his younger days, but he nonetheless enjoyed creditable spells at both Newcastle and Fulham towards the latter end of his career.

3. Robbie Keane

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - Tottenham Hotspur v Fiorentina - White Hart Lane Source: Matthew Impey

He may never have won the Premier League but Keane still made a considerable impression on England’s top flight. He is one of a select group of players to score over 100 goals in the league and is currently 13th in the all-time scoring charts.

2. Denis Irwin

Soccer - F.A Charity Shield - Chelsea v Manchester United Source: EMPICS Sport

The distinguished full-back won the Premier League seven times with Man United, in addition to featuring in the 90s team of the decade. There is even a case to be made for calling Irwin the best Premier League full-back ever.

1. Roy Keane

Soccer - FA Barclays Premiership - Manchester United v Newcastle United - Old Trafford Source: Neal Simpson

With no fewer than seven Premier League title wins and two PFA Team of the Year nominations, Roy Keane was an easy choice for first place on this list. No Irish player comes close to matching his talent and list of achievements in the modern Premier League era.

A version of this post was originally published on 4 August, 2015

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Paul Fennessy

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