Over the years Manchester United have had a strong connection with Irish footballers and on St Patrick’s Day Manchester United fans should always celebrate these players. Especially those that have helped the club to some of the greatest triumphs in its history. The first player to cross the Irish Sea to Manchester was John Pedan in 1893 to join Newton Heath (as United were known then). Pedan joined Newton Heath from Lingfield and spent one season in Manchester, playing 32 games and scoring 8 goals. After Pedan many players have followed him across the Irish Sea to join Manchester United. Over 60 players have made at least one appearance for the Manchester United first team, while there are also several Irish players that never played for the United first team but have gone on to have good careers.
Irish players have been involved of many of the greatest triumphs in Manchester United’s history, when United became the first English side to win the European Cup in 1968, Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne and George Best were all involved in the game and Best scored the first goal in extra-time as United beat Benfica 4-1 in the final. Denis Irwin was a regular in the team as United won their first Championship for twenty-six years in the 1992/93 season and would be a regular in the team until leaving in 2002. Irwin along with fellow Irishman Roy Keane helped United win the treble of League, Fa Cup and European Cup in the 1998/99 season. When Manchester United won the European Cup for the third time in 2007/2008 season, Irishman John O’Shea and was part of the first team squad.
Republic Of Ireland
There have been 32 players from the Republic Of Ireland to play for Manchester United, the first player from the Republic Of Ireland to play for Manchester United was Patrick O’Connell, before joining United he had short spells at Sheffield Wednesday Hull City. O’Connell spent five years at United from 1914 to 1919 and made 35 appearances in this time and scored 2 goals. Lets look at three other players from Republic Of Ireland that starred for Manchester United.
Tony Dunne was signed by Matt Busby in 1960 for £5,000 as Busby was rebuilding his Manchester United side after the Munich Air Disaster. Dunne was a pacey left-back for Manchester United. He was a threat for United going forward whilst also being a reliable and committed presence in defence. Dunne made his debut for United on 15th October 1960 against Burnley at Turf Moor. Dunne would remain an ever present at Manchester United and help the club to their first European Cup triumph in the 1967/68 season. Making 49 appearances in all competitions and playing in every tie in the European Cup. Upon leaving the club in 1973 Tony Dunne had made 535 appearances for Manchester United and scored 2 goals. In his time at United Dunne won two First Division Championships, an Fa Cup and a European Cup.
Paul McGrath joined Manchester United in 1982 after one season with St Patrick’s athletic in the Irish Leagues. McGrath was helped to settle in Manchester by the several other Irish players that were at the club when he joined, including Frank Stapleton and Kevin Moran. McGrath’s physique, presence and pure football ability made him stand out on any football pitch he was on. He made his league debut for United against Tottenham Hotspur in the 1982/83. McGrath went on to make 199 appearances for United and scoring 16 goals. His only honour at United came when United won the 1985 Fa cup, beating Everton 1-0. McGrath left Manchester United in 1989 after suffering several knee injuries and it was rumoured that his relationship with manager Alex Ferguson wasn’t the best.
Denis Irwin signed for Manchester United when Alex Ferguson Oldham Athletic £650,000 for him in June 1990. This must go down as one of Ferguson’s most astute signings, given the small fee Manchester United paid for him and career he had at United. Irwin spent twelve years at Manchester United and played 529 games for the club and scored 33 goals. Irwin helped the club to many major honours. In his first season he helped the club win the European Cup Winners Cup and in 1992/93 season he was a key figure in Alex Ferguson’s team as they won the League Championship. The clubs first League Championship for twenty-six years. In his twelve years at United, Irwin won seven League Championships, three Fa Cups, one League Cup, one European Cup, one European Cup Winners Cup and One European Super Cup.
There has 32 Northern Irish footballers that played in Manchester United’s first team, starting with John Pedan in 1983 to the wonderfully gifted George Best and Norman Whiteside. Whiteside’s career was sadly cut short by injury. In the current first team squad at Manchester United there two Northern Irish players in Jonny Evans and Paddy McNair. Lets look at three players from Northern Ireland that have featured for Manchester United.
Harry Gregg joined United in 1957 and made his debut for the club on 21st November 1957 in a first division match against Leicester City, United won the game 4-0. Gregg survived the Munich Air Disaster and was credited with saving the lives of several of his team-mates as pulled them from the wreckage. Harry Gregg played 247 games for Manchester United over his nine year career at the club and although it was successful time for the Gregg himself never picked up any major honours. He missed the 1963 Fa Cup victory due to injury and missed out on a League Championship winners medal in 1964/65 season as he did not make enough appearances due to a series of different injuries. He left the club in 1966 and still regarded by many as the best goalkeeper ever to play for Manchester United.
Sammy McIlroy was Matt Busby’s final signing in 1969, he was regarded as an intelligent and skilful midfielder. McIlroy made his debut 6th November 1971 as a 17-year-old against Manchester City, he didn’t establish himself as a regular in the United until the 1974/75 season. He made 51 appearances and scored 10 goals in that season as he helped United to the Second Division Championship and promotion back to the First Division at the first time of asking. McIlroy helped United win the 1977 Fa Cup beating Liverpool 2-1 in the final, this coming a year after losing to Southampton in the final. McIlroy stayed at Manchester United until 1982 and made 419 appearances and scored 71 goals for the club.
Norman Whiteside made his debut on 24th April 1982 as a 16-year-old against Brighton & Hove Albion. His first goal for the club came on the first start for the club against Stoke City on 15th May 1982. In his first full season in the United first in 1982/83 season, Whiteside made 51 appearances and scored 14 goals. In this season Whiteside also became the youngest score in the League Cup final in a 2-1 defeat to Liverpool. A months later he became the youngest score in an Fa Cup final as United beat Brighton & Hove Albion 4-0 in the Fa Cup final replay after the first game ended 2-2. In 1985 Whiteside again scored in the Fa Cup final as United beat 1-0. This goal won Whiteside the 1984/85 goal of the season award and is probably still remembered as on the greatest goals in an Fa Cup final. Whiteside’s career was blighted by a series of knee injuries and left United 1989 having made 274 appearances and scoring 67 goals for the club. Whiteside’s only major honours at United were the two Fa cup wins in 1983 and 1985, scoring in both finals.
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