Poblacht na hÉireann / Republic of Ireland
- Capital: Dublin / Baile Átha Cliath
- Official Languages: Irish, English
- Nicknames: The Boys in Green / Na buachaillí i nglas; Jack’s Army / Fianna de Jack [men’s team]; The Girls in Green / Na cailíní i nglas [women’s team]
- Association: Football Association of Ireland (FAI) / Cumann Peile na hÉireann
- FIFA Code: IRL
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Quarter Finals (1990)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Round of 16 (2016)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 6th (August 1993)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 27th (December 2008)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 70th (June-July 2014)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 38th (July 2003)
- Most Capped Player: Robbie Keane – 146 caps
- Top Scorer: Robbie Keane – 68 goals
The Republic of Ireland have a long established history in the world of football, having originally been part of the all-Irish football team which competed within the historic Home Nations Championship. However since the southern 26 counties of Ireland became independent and became the Republic of Ireland, they initially were overshadowed by the six northern counties in football despite producing such talented players throughout the decades, such as Johnny Giles and Liam Brady. It wouldn’t be until the late 1980s when they would come into the forefront by qualifying for their first major tournament, the 1988 European Championships, and then qualifying for their first World Cup in 1990 and surprisingly progressing all the way to the quarter-finals of the competitions before losing by a single goal to the hosts, Italy.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, they were one of the more talented sides in European football and qualified for three out of four World Cups between 1990 and 2002, inspired by the management of legendary player and manager Jack Charlton, and progressed by former Irish international player turned manager Mick McCarthy. Although they haven’t reached the World Cup since 2002, they have come close on occasions (most famously losing to a Thierry Henry handball in the playoffs for the 2010 World Cup) and continue to be one of the stronger teams in Europe. The Boys in Green have qualified for the 2012 and 2016 European Championship, and just missing out on the 2020 edition in the UEFA Nations League playoffs.
To talk about one of international football’s iconic sides in men’s football, we interviewed the absolutely excellent Forgotten Clubs. The Ireland-based website writes excellent articles on football clubs from around the world who are no longer competing or exist to some reason or another, but have illustrious histories that need telling. To find their website and social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Forgotten Clubs Website: https://forgottenclubs.wordpress.com/
- Forgotten Clubs Twitter: @forgottenclubs
- Forgotten Clubs Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/forgottenclubs/
To talk about The Girls in Green and Ireland’s women’s national team, we interviewed the excellent The WNL Show, a Dublin-based Twitter account which is “on a mission to raise the standards of women’s football coverage in Ireland!“. Therefore they would be the perfect people to ask questions about the women’s team. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- The WNL Show Twitter: @thewnlshow
Key: FC = Forgotten Clubs; WNL = The WNL Show
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
FC: The Republic of Ireland’s best manager of all time has to be Jack Charlton. Although a little bit before my time, as I was only born in 1990, but it is quite obvious here in Ireland that he is ‘number one’. All I hear are stories about the 1990 World Cup. I was born that summer so maybe that’s why I love football so much. I’ve seen the videos of all those games as my dad made me watch them growing up and I still have them. I think everyone in Ireland has videos of that era of football. So Jack is the best manager we ever had.
The best player is a tougher one to answer. We have had so many top players, even before I was born. Liam Brady, Johnny Giles, then later you have Paul McGrath, Dennis Irwin, Roy Keane, Steve Staunton, Niall Quinn the list goes on… but for me, and just because of my era, it has to be Robbie Keane. Just because of his goalscoring record, something we didn’t realise we had until it was gone. You really do take these things for granted. Not the most gifted of Irish players but, as I said previously, his goalscoring record is enough to put him as my pick for the best ever Ireland player, but there are plenty of other contenders.
WNL: The best manager for the women’s team is hard to quantify because Ireland have never reached a major senior international tournament so to pick a favourite manager is hard. Noel King has done a lot of good work for the country when he managed the women’s under 17’s side to the U-17 World Cup quarter-finals in 2010. He also became the only Irish manager ever to beat Germany in a competitive game [in the 2010 UEFA U-17 Championships]. In addition, King led Ireland to our only play-off birth, but we sadly couldn’t get over the hurdle, so he would have to get the spot as ‘best manager’.
In terms of players, while the likes of Denise O’Sullivan is the most well recognised at this time, if I was to pick a best player to wear the Ireland shirt, it would probably be either Emma Byrne or Olivia O’Toole as both added so much to the game. Byrne was immense in goal for so many years and what she done for the girls in 2017 will always be remembered in terms of the protest to get some of the basic equipment needed. O’Toole’s goal-scoring will never be matched in my eyes for Ireland; she scored 54 international goals, and despite having some decent forwards, we have never found someone who can score goals on a regular basis so I would say Olivia just edges Emma.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
WNL: For that it would have to be Emma Byrne for me for some of the reasons mentioned in the previous question. However, if you want someone from now, it would potentially have to be Katie McCabe as she has the charisma as captain and is probably the most well known Irish player now [currently playing for Arsenal].
FC: Cult hero…for the past, it would be, for me, Clinton Morrison. I don’t know why. He seems to have landed on his feet with Sky Sports there now, but it has just reminded me of how he played for Ireland in a period when it wasn’t that common for a black player to do so. That may sound strange but for me at that time, as a kid or teenager, it was something different – but good different! There was Paul McGrath and Phil Babb as well but I always remember Clinton scoring against China at Lansdowne Road in a 5-1 win. He looked so happy to have scored for a country that he wasn’t really from. His thick English accent as well just mad it all very bizarre but great. That would be my take on that.
A present cult hero? I’m not sure we have one at the moment and that is a problem with the current Irish squad. There are no characters anymore! There are no cheeky Clinton Morrisons, hard men Roy Keanes or tricky winger types like Damien Duff, so I’d have to say none at present. If they don’t jump out at you then they aren’t a ‘cult hero’.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player in the Irish national side currently?
FC: Our best player at the moment is probably John Egan or Darren Randolph as both have played really well for the Irish team. However, I would say John Egan though as he is a consistent performer for Sheffield United, albeit they are struggling in the English Premier League at the moment, but I think the way he goes about his business is quality. Good on the ball but puts his head in there when it’s needed. But at the moment we lack quality on a creative sense so… There are a few good young players coming through but I couldn’t pick one and say they are our best player currently.
WNL: Many will say midfielder Denise O’Sullivan because is lighting it up in the NWSL [National Women’s Soccer League in the USA], but for us personally we are yet to fully see her show the potential flair she has, in a Green jersey. Captain Katie McCabe for her consistency has to be the best player currently in the Ireland squad.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
WNL: Truthfully poor! We had a Euro 2021 qualifying group where getting automatic qualification wasn’t completely out of the realms, but with poor management, and the best players not being picked, it made it harder to do so. For example, the likes of Tyler Toland was ostracized from the squad once manager Vera Pauw took over. Being honest with you, did we have our best 11 on the pitch in the right positions once during this campaign? Nope! Vera has a habit of picking players who like to keep in her good books instead of players in form. In only one game did we have a goalkeeper on the pitch who supporters felt comfortable with and that was the last game against Germany.
Unfortunately in the FAI, the women’s game is an afterthought and we have not had any good results at any levels of women’s football in recent years. There is a massive divide between the high performance director, the women’s national team manager, the rest of the league, and some underage coaches – no-one is singing off the same hymn sheets.
At present, we look at the other home nations, such as Northern Ireland, with envy! We beat them comfortably in the last campaign [winning 2-0 & 4-0 in the 2019 World Cup qualifying], but look at the progress they have made since bringing in a good coach.
We lack any form of structure and unfortunately it has stagnated the growth of the game. Over 12 players from the successful U17s 2010 squad, who beat Germany, have been capped by Ireland at senior level. Today, less than half of them are either in the squad, or even playing football – serious questions need to be asked! As for our domestic league, there is no sponsor, no plan, and clubs fend for themselves. They have weak leadership from the FAI Women’s committee or league director, and they only seem to appear for a photo opportunity instead of making the game any better.
FC: I probably kind of answered that question in the previous answers but we lack creativity, goals, and any sort of an overall identity. The games under the last two managers we had in Martin O’Neill and Mick McCarthy just felt like watching paint dry and it felt as though we were going through the motions. There were no thrills with them. O’Neill got us to the 2016 European Championships and a few decent moments there, mainly Robbie Brady‘s header against Italy, but when you look back at it with an unbiased football head on, it wasn’t that an impressive result beating a second string Italian side to qualify by coming third in a group of four.
So right now we are in a bad shape, and even with Stephen Kenny in charge, and trying to stamp a type of football to be played by the national team that we have never seen before, there still seems to be a lack of spark or quality. This has resulted in people here to turn their backs on the Irish team for now. It’s hard to watch, let’s put it that way!
Q. Are there any Irish players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
FC: The obvious would be Troy Parrott, who is a forward at Tottenham Hotspur but is currently on loan at Millwall, yet he hasn’t really played much senior club games. He is only 17 or 18 though and a really good prospect. Aaron Connelly at Brighton is also another stand-out player but in my opinion there is a bit of a ‘Shane Long‘ vibe about him in that he will work hard for the team, and run all day, but won’t score many goals or get the crowd excited. There are a few players in Europe that could step up, with lads playing for Elche and Getafe. Our under 21s look good with the likes of Michael Obefemi (at Southampton), Conor Coventry (West Ham United), Lee O’Connor (Celtic), and a few others should be looked at, but I try not get too excited by young players coming through, until they do something of note in the senior side…
WNL: For sure, a name you’ll hear more of is Roma McLoughlin. She is currently in college in America and she is the most gifted player to come out of Ireland. Grace Moloney has taken a long time to get her chance in goal, but if given a run, she could be huge. Leanne Kiernan and Heather Payne, both only young but capped players, and if they can keep developing, can also become stars. Furthermore, Tyler Toland, who is still a teenager, has the potential to be a star if she can get a good run of first-team games and force her way back into Manchester City’s plans.
Q. Looking at the Republic of Ireland’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
WNL: It is a tough question because many supporters will say the goalless draw away to the Netherlands in 2017 was our best senior result. However, the under 17’s beating Germany in 2010 has to tight up there. Likewise the U19’s reaching the European Championship semi-finals in 2014 by beating England, Sweden, and Spain in group stages to get there.
FC: The best game for me was the 1-1 draw against Germany in the 2002 World Cup when Robbie Keane scored the last minute equaliser. I was with my dad, watching the game at home, after getting the day off school, and when the ball went in we both went mad! He threw me around the room! That was my best game and result. The game against Holland, when Jason McAteer scored was also very memorable and helped us qualify for the 2002 World Cup, of course the Carlsberg advert later on in life made that moment a little more special (look it up if you haven’t seen it but Irish people will know what I am talking about).
So it’s between them two for me, but the obvious ones most people will pick will be against England when Ray Houghton scored against them [in the 1988 European Championships] or Romania in the 1990 World Cup when Packie Bonner made the penalty save in the shootout and David O’Leary scored the winning penalty. Both great memories I’m sure, but before my time.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
FC: Funnily enough it’s a win that would win that one, and it was a 2-1 win against San Marino away in the Euro 2008 qualifying. It was Stephen Ireland who scored the winner in the last minute [in the 94th minute] and honestly, people didn’t know if they should celebrate or not. It was a weird feeling, cause we had won, yet it felt embarrassing. The 5-2 loss to Cyprus [also in the same Euro 2008 qualifying campaign] was also a low point, both under the management of Steve Staunton. Such a poor era that was. The crowds at those games were toxic. Fights would even break out in the stadium, which had never happened before. But those two are the games that stick out in my head as being the lowest point.
WNL: For us the 0-1 loss away to Ukraine recently has to go down as one of the lowest points because we had our qualification future in our own hands! It will always be remembered for the campaign that got away especially after beating Ukraine 3-2 at home.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Irish national team?
WNL: The best thing is probably getting to know some of the players, whilst the worst is definitely being on the media side and commenting when things go bad, but unfortunately it is the nature of the beast.
FC: The best thing is a struggle to think of right now, but I suppose it’s the fact we are a small island yet still produce decent players, and there is always the chance we can compete at least. Like, we have never been rock bottom of a qualifying group that I can remember and nearly always have had a shout of qualifying for major tournaments. I always feel for countries like San Marino and Gibraltar who will never, well not in my lifetime, qualify for a major tournament.
The worst thing is the myth that Irish fans are the best in the world. I hate that narrative, because we really aren’t. You only have to look at our national league [League of Ireland] to know most Irish people don’t follow or support it, yet go around following the Irish national team. But there is a underlining reason for that and that’s because they aren’t interested in the football, and only interested in the party that goes with it.
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
FC: Short and sweet this one… Only one song is sang at Ireland games and that is ‘Come on You Boys in Green‘ which is shite and just annoying. OLÉ-OLÉ-OLÉ! is an old one, but rarely sang at matches these days.
WNL: Not really, you would hear some chorus of ‘Come on You Girls in Green‘ but no real song has ever been adopted, same with the men.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
WNL: No, but the current one will always be iconic because it is the first time there has been a jersey that has been specifically designed for the women’s team.
FC: My favourite shirt is the one from 1997, or for the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign, and a bit of a controversial one due to the political situation on this island, but its the orange away kit with the OPEL sponsorship on the front. I love the colour orange and this one, when I was 8, always stuck out for me and has always done. A lot of the Irish home and away jerseys are the same, but that one stuck out. I don’t think we have had orange coloured shirt since, for obvious reasons…
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Republic of Ireland national team?
FC: To qualify for another World Cup again before I die, which I really don’t know if we will manage it or not. There is no certain future for football in Ireland at the moment as everybody seems to be doing whatever they want, with junior leagues adopting different rules to other leagues in the country. I hope we can find someone soon but who knows? Either way, the FAI are in huge trouble…
WNL: To see a flourishing domestic league with double the amount of teams, and to finally qualify for a senior major tournament.
A massive go raibh míle maith agat to the guys from the superb Forgotten Clubs for answering our questions on the Boys in Green, and The WNL Show for their answers on the Girls in Green. Remember you can find their excellent accounts and website in the links at the top of the blogpage.
If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.