File:George Best (1976).jpg

Photo by Peters, Hans / Anefo from Wikimedia

10 Greatest Irish Football (Soccer) Players of All Time


Sport in Ireland plays an important role in Irish society and football is a popular sport in the Republic of Ireland. Despite having a small population of just over seven million people, Ireland is one of the world’s football powerhouses.

The country has its own domestic league, but due to the financial incentives abroad, most of Ireland’s top players,  play in the leagues of larger European countries, particularly in England and Scotland.

Ever since professional soccer began in the late 1800s, Ireland has produced some of the world’s most fantastic players.

On the international stage, the Republic of Ireland has competed in three FIFA World Cups, and also appeared in three European Championships, most recently in 2016.

Let’s look at some of the greatest Irish football players of all time.

1. George Best

File:George Best (1976).jpg

Photo by Peters, Hans / Anefo from Wikimedia

Arguably the best footballer Ireland has ever produced; George Best is one of the best players in the history of the sport. His dribbling skills, pace, and ability to effortlessly get past defenders made him an exciting player to watch.

Born and brought up in Belfast, Best made his senior professional career debut with Manchester United at the age of 17. He spent 11 league seasons with the club becoming an all-time fan favorite and one of the most coveted players in the world.

After leaving Manchester United, Best went on to play for teams in the USA, South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Hong Kong, and Australia. He retired from professional football at the age of 37, having made 705 appearances and scoring 251 goals throughout his career.

At the international level, Best was capped 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals.  His football exploits together with his strong personality made his popularity go beyond football and into the world of mainstream entertainment.

2. Roy Keane

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Photo Source: Wikimedia

Regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, Roy Keane is the joint most successful Irish footballer of all time, having won 19 major trophies in his club career.

In his 18-year playing career, Keane played for Cobh Ramblers, Nottingham Forest, and Manchester United before ending his career at Celtic. 

At the international level, Keane was part of the Irish national team for over 14 years, most of which he spent as captain.

He was ranked No. 11 on The Times’ list of the 50 “hardest” footballers in history in 2007 and was inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame in 2021.

3. Paul McGrath

Paul McGrath is one of the greatest Irish footballers of all time. Deployed as a center-half, he is one of only six defenders to have ever won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award. 

Born in Greenford, Middlesex, Paul McGrath spent all of his career in England, Where he played for Aston Villa, Manchester United, Derby County, and Sheffield United.

In 16 seasons he played in the English top league, McGrath made a total of 452 league appearances scoring a total of 21 goals. Despite struggling with a knee injury that plagued most of his career, he is regarded as one of the best defenders of his generation.

4. Shane Patrick Long

File:FIFA WC-qualification 2014 - Austria vs Ireland 2013-09-10 - Shane Long 02.jpg

Photo by Michael Kranewitter from Wikimedia

Shane Patrick Long is one of the greatest Irish professional footballers of his Generation. He currently plays as a striker for EFL Championship club Reading and the Republic of Ireland national team.

He began his football career at Cork City and later moved to the English premier league where, among other achievements, he scored the fastest in Premier League history On 23 April 2019.

In his long successful premier league career, he has played for Reading, West Brom Albion, Hull City, and Southampton, where he has made over 450 appearances and scored close to 100 premier league goals.

Long made his senior debut for the Republic of Ireland in 2007 and has since earned 88 international caps and scored 17 goals for the team.

5. John O’Shea

Known for his versatility in playing several positions on either side of the pitch, John O’Shea is one of the most inspirational, committed, and admired former Irish professional football players.

O’Shea made a massive 445 Premier League appearances in his career, most of which came at Manchester United. He would win five league titles, a Champions League, FA Cup, and two League Cups during his time at Old Trafford.

O’Shea earned his first senior cap for the Republic of Ireland on 15 August 2001 and was a member of the team for 18 years until his retirement from competitive football in 2018. He made 118 appearances and scored 3 goals for his national side.

6. Liam Brady

renowned for his left foot and elegant technical skills Liam Brady was an amazing midfielder who is not only remembered for his exploits in the English leagues but also in the Serie A in Italy where he played for Juventus, Sampdoria, and Inter Milan.

Brady made his debut for Arsenal at the age of 17, on 6 October 1973, and stayed with the club for 7 seasons. He is one of Arsenal’s all-time greats, playing 307 matches for the Gunners, and scoring 59 goals.

He later spent two seasons with Juventus, where he won two Italian league titles, in 1981 and 1982. Brady won 72 international caps for the Republic of Ireland, scoring 9 goals.

7. Robbie Keane

File:FIFA WC-qualification 2014 - Austria vs Ireland 2013-09-10 - Robbie Keane 03.JPG

Photo by Michael Kranewitter from Wikimedia

Robbie Keane is an Irish professional former player who served as captain of the Republic of Ireland. He is the most capped player and the top goalscorer in the team’s history.

Keane began his career at Wolverhampton Wanderers and made his first-team debut aged 17. He later joined Tottenham Hotspur in 2002 and played there for seven and a half years, amassing 306 appearances and 122 goals across all competitions.

He also played for Inter Milan, Coventry, Liverpool, and LA Galaxy, before he officially announced his retirement on 28 November 2018.

Keane was part of the so-called “golden generation” of Irish youth football of the late 1990s and made his debut for the senior sidein1998. He went on to make 146 caps and scored 68 goals over his 18-year international career, making him the all-time record Irish scorer.

8. Damien Duff

Known for his reluctance to take penalties, Damien Duff is one of the great Irish soccer players to ever play for the Republic of Ireland. He has been capped over 100 times and played at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. 

Duff began his professional playing career with Blackburn Rovers, and later joined Chelsea where he won two Premier League titles. He also played for Newcastle, Fulham, Melbourne City, and Shamrock Rovers before he retired from professional football in 2015.

9. Conor Hourihane

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Photo Ben Sutherland from Wikimedia

Conor Hourihane is an Irish professional footballer who plays as a central midfielder for the Republic of Ireland national team. He has represented the National senior side at the international level as well as under-19 and under-21 levels.

Hourihane started his professional career at Sunderland in 2009. He has gone on to play for Ipswich town, Barnsley, Aston Villa, and currently at Derby County.

Conor Hourihane made his senior international debut On 28 March 2017, and has been capped 36 times and scored 1 goal for the team. He also is the second cousin of Republic of Ireland goalkeeper Marie Hourihan.

10. Ray Houghton

Scorer of one of the most iconic Irish goals of all time, Ray Houghton is a former professional footballer who was deployed as a winger.  He was part of the Irish squad for the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.

Ray Houghton began his professional career in London at West Ham United, after moving to London at the age of 10, and He made his senior debut at the age of 17. He later played for Fulham, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, Liverpool, and Leading.

At the international level, Houghton is popular for his glorious header against their oldest and most bitter of rivals, England in the 1988 European Championships.