From Keane to Miller – United’s Irish Legion

“15 clear and we’re having a Guinness” doesn’t have as good a ring to it as “15 clear and we’re having a beer”. But after all but regaining our Premier League crown by extending the gap to 15 points yesterday, it’d be rude to not indulge with a taste of the black stuff on St. Paddy’s day.

Despite being the ‘nearly men’ of International football for a while now, Eire has been blessed over the years with producing some fine talent. United have also had the privilege of producing their own Irish fruit down the years. So sit back with your tipple, and revel in some of Ireland’s brightest stars who made the grade at United.

Patrick O’Connell, 1914-19

The United manager Jack Robson made the tough defender the first Irish captain of Manchester United. His time with United was not particularly positive for him as the club struggled with the threat of relegation for most of the season even though he scored two goals from defence in 35 appearances. His career, like many at the time, was curtailed by the war. He was involved in a match fixing scandal with Liverpool players, as it was thought their earning capacity would be limited due to the war effort. Appearances for United- 35.  Goals- 2.

Billy Toms, 1919-20

Signed from local side Eccles Borough in 1919, Toms was a striker. His stint at United was short-lived and a transfer to Plymouth in 1920 for £500 ensued. Appearances for United- 14. Goals- 4.

Billy Behan, 1933-34

Signed from Shamrock Rovers in 1933, Behan was a goalkeeper whose tale was another short story. At the time, United were facing up to the prospect of relegation to Division 3, Behan was third choice keeper and only made one appearance before returning to Ireland. Behan became a scout after his playing days and was credited with uncovering the talents of Kevin Moran and Paul McGrath (more on these two later). Appearances for United- 1.

David Byrne, 1933-34

Byrne was a striker who was signed from Shamrock Rovers. He was almost a one-season wonder with 3 goals in 4 games before moving back to Ireland. Appearances- 4. Goals-3.

Tommy Breen, 1936-39

Breen was a goalkeeper who figured prominently in the 37-38 season. The next season was a struggle and only featured in 6 games before World War II. After the war, United attempted to re-sign Breen but he was reluctant and subsequently signed for Shamrock Rovers. Breen was the first United player to represent his country. Appearances- 71.

Johnny Carey, 1936-53

Spotted by that man Billy Behan, Carey joined United for a then Irish record fee of £250. World War II interrupted his progress after an impressive first year, instead of returning to Ireland, he was posted to Italy and North Africa. Sir Matt Busby made Carey his captain and performed the role admirably until his departure in 1953. Carey led United to the FA Cup in 1948 and the First Division title in 1951-2. Appearances- 344. Goals- 17.

Sonny Feehan, 1948-50

Feehan was a keeper signed to fill the void left by the injured first-choice Jack Crompton. Increased competition the following season left Feehan’s chances limited. He was sold to Northampton in 1950 for £525. Appearances- 14.

Noel McFarlane, 1952-6

Another one-game wonder, McFarlane featured in a First Division match against Tottenham. United won 2-0 with goals from Jack Rowley and Tommy Taylor. McFarlane was unfortunate that there was a plethora of outstanding forwards at the time. Appearances- 1.

Paddy Kennedy, 1952-6

A full-back who joined United as a teenager, Kennedy never really made the grade at United despite being a prominent member of youth team success in 1953. Appearances- 1.

Liam Whelan, 1953-8

Billy Behan plucked Whelan from Irish football in 1953. Behan knew he had uncovered a gem and informed Matt Busby to sign the player at all costs. Whelan didn’t take long to open his account for United, scoring in his second appearance- he instantly became a club favourite. Whelan was a key cog in the United side that won the First Division in 1956 by eleven points. Whelan’s place In the side was under threat from the emerging Bobby Charlton. Whelan tragically lost his life in the Munich disaster at just 22. He was one of the most budding talents in England, Charlton said, “he would be a wonder of today’s game”. Appearances- 98. Goals- 52.

Johnny Giles, 1957-63

Behan spotted Giles as a 15 year old. Giles came into a reconstructed United side after Munich. Giles made over a century of appearances before being sold to arch rivals Leeds United. Appearances- 115. Goals-13.

Joe Carolan, 1956-60

Carolan was a defender who Busby trusted a lot, he was a dependable player and could play anywhere across the back. He lasted 4 years at United before being sold to Brighton. Appearances- 71.

Noel Cantwell, 1960-67

Cantwell was Carolan’s replacement in effect. Joined from West Ham in 1960, he became club captain in 1963 and drew impressionable thoughts from Bobby Charlton, “Signing Cantwell was one of our more successful moves”. Appearances- 146. Goals- 8.

Shay Brennan, 1955-70

Signed on the midst of the Munich disaster, Brennan established himself to be one of United’s more successful signings. Brennan made an all-time high 60 appearances in a season as United won thr title in 1964-5 (the first title post-Munich), and was in the starting XI as United beat Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to give Busby the Holy Grail of European Cup success.  Appearances- 359. Goals- 6.

Tony Dunne, 1960-73

Signed by Busby for £5,000, ‘the quickest defender Charlton ever saw’, his speed and defensive qualities meant he was a mainstay for over a decade ever since the day he signed. Truly one of United’s best ever defenders. Appearances- 535. Goals-2.

Pat Dunne, 1964-7

Signed as cover for the stricken Munich hero Harry Gregg, Dunne proved to be an able deputy before losing his place to Gregg upon his recovery. Appearances- 67.

Don Givens, 1966-70

Givens was signed as a prolific teenager as part of the Munich rebuilding process. Givens only registered one goal for United after George Best’s emergence. Appearances- 9. Goals-1.

Mick Martin, 1973-5

Martin could play across the back or in midfield and was arguably United’s utility man of the era. He became a peripheral figure under Tommy Docherty and joined West Brom. Appearances- 43. Goals-2.

Gerry Daly, 1973-77

Docherty paid £20,000 to sign Daly, an exciting attacking midfielder. Daly was part of the team relegated to Division 2 but subsequently regained promotion. Appearances- 142. Goals- 32.

Paddy Roche, 1973-82

Docherty paid £15,000 to sign Roche. He took the gloves from Alex Stepney but then lost his place to Gary Bailey. Appearances- 53.

Ashley Grimes, 1977-83

Though signed by Docherty, Grimes featured prominently under next manager Dave Sexton. Winner of the FA Cup in 1983. He joined Coventry for £200,000. Appearances- 107. Goals-11.

Kevin Moran, 1978-88

Hard as nails defender who would run through brick walls for the cause. Famously, became the first player to be sent off in an FA Cup final. When people say, ‘old-school defender’, Moran was the very definition. Appearances- 289. Goals- 24.

Anthony Whelan, 1980-83

Whelan only made 1 appearance for United and his chances of action diminished further with the signing of Paul McGrath. Appearances- 1.

Frank Stapleton, 1981-7

Despite being rejected by United as a teenager, Ron Atkinson forked out £900,000 to finally get his man. Stapleton was a popular striker and won the FA Cup twice in ’83 and ’85. Appearances- 288. Goals- 78.

Paul McGrath, 1982-89

One of Ireland’s greatest ever players. Despite being riddled with persistent knee problems and alcoholism, McGrath was a fine athlete. Despite thriving under Atkinson’s tutelage, Ferguson did not accept his off-field issues and transferred him to Aston Villa. Appearances- 199. Goals- 16.

Derek Brazil, 1986-9

Signed as a teenager but only made a couple of appearances. Appearances- 2.

Liam O’Brien, 1986-88

Signed by Atkinson in 86, he never got to play for him as Atkinson was sacked a month later. His United career was in fits and starts, mainly featuring as a substitute. Appearances- 36. Goals- 2.

Denis Irwin, 1990-2002

United’s Mr Dependable, he was one of the most consistent full-backs around, which endeared him to the United faithful. Signed for £625,000, this proved to be one of Ferguson’s more astute purchases. Dangerous over a dead ball, and cool as a cucumber from the penalty spot, Irwin scored some vital goals during his 12 years at the club. Part of the unprecedented Treble team, but he missed out on FA Cup success due to suspension. One of our finest ever full-backs. Appearances- 529. Goals- 33.

Roy Keane, 1993-2005

Taken aback by a young snapper playing for Nottingham Forest against United, Ferguson pulled out the stops to ensure a young Roy Keane turned down Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn advances. One of our finest captains, wore his heart on his sleeve and was a natural winner. Appearances- 480. Goals- 51.

John O’Shea, 1999-2011

Our modern day utility man, who was used in every position thinkable, even tackling countryman Robbie Keane when in goal against Tottenham. Scorer of that memorable chip at Highbury, that last minute winner at Anfield and home goal against Arsenal in the Champions League, O’Shea left United as a cult hero and with some lasting memories. Appearances- 393. Goals- 15.

Liam Miller, 2004-6

Dubbed as the next Roy Keane after a string of impressive Champions League performances for Celtic, Miller unfortunately did not live up to the hype. Roy Keane then signed him for Sunderland after 2 years in Manchester. Appearances- 22. Goals- 2.

Darron Gibson, 2004-12

Famed for his powerful shot and ability to score from range, Gibson got a fair crack under Ferguson. He scored a blinder against Hull, and in Champions League action against Bayern Munich and Schalke. Gibson unfortunately was not quite United standard and divided opinion. He is now starring for Everton. Appearances- 60. Goals-10.

Robbie Brady, 2008-13

Despite starring at each youth level for United, Brady found first team opportunities limited, due to the plethora of winger options. He made his only appearance in this season’s Capital One Cup in our 2-1 victory against Newcastle.  He spent time at Hull on loan before completing a permanent move in January. Appearances- 1.

More Stories Anthony Whelan Ashley Grimes Billy Behan Billy Toms Darron Gibson David Byrne denis irwin Derek Brazil Don Givens Frank Stapleton Gerry Daly Joe Carolan John O'Shea Johnny Carey Johnny Giles Kevin Moran Liam Miller Liam O'Brien Liam Whelan Manchester United Mick Martin Noel Cantwell Noel McFarlane Paddy Kennedy Paddy Roche Pat Dunne Patrick O'Connell Paul McGrath Robbie Brady Roy Keane Shay Brennan Sonny Feehan Tommy Breen Tony Dunne

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