With the highly anticipated friendly in Dublin fast approaching, we are running our eye over the players from the past 18 years. Some very tough decisions have been made and there has been a few left out. However, we have selected our combined XI from the 2000’s.
The Donegal man gets the nod between the sticks. Shay was arguably Ireland’s greatest ever goalkeeper. An excellent shot-stopper and a commanding, reliable presence. He gave his country 20 years of service before hanging up his gloves for the second and final time in 2016. He retired initially from the international game in 2012 but was coaxed back into the mix by Martin O’Neill to be a part the Euro 2016 squad. Given ended his international career with a staggering 134 caps to his name!
Without any question one of the best right-backs in the Premier League, and was a huge loss to Ireland in their world cup qualifying campaign. Coleman adapted to the responsibility of captaining his country remarkably well and is probably the first name down on this team sheet for both club and country.
Coleman is one of the most consistent full-backs currently in the Premier League and is tipped to be Everton’s next club captain. The Donegal man joined Everton in 2009 from League of Ireland side Sligo Rovers for a fee of £60,000. Since then he went on to make nearly 250 appearances for the toffees and has been capped by Ireland 47 times. Everton certainly got their monies worth with the Killybegs man!
Staunton was the first Irish man to reach 100 caps, which fatefully occurred as captain at the 2002 World Cup. The Drogheda man never let his country down – whether it was as an inexperienced yet assured 19-year-old in Euro 88 or as a veteran 33-year-old centre back in South Korea 2002. Staunton was a cult hero who provided countless moments of the stereotypical Irishman in high temperatures. From his baseball cap during the anthems in US Mexico 94 to him taking off his shorts after a victory over Saudi Arabia in the 2002 World Cup.
Staunton also had an impressive club career. Winning the League and FA Cup 1989 and 1990 with Liverpool and two League Cups with Aston Villa.
The Cookstown native became Northern Ireland’s first outfield player to reach 100 caps. Hughes gets the Nod in centre defence over fellow countrymen Johnny Evans and Gareth McAuley. A man who never let his country down since making his debut as a young 18-year-old at home to Slovakia in 1998. A towering centre-half who made 455 appearances in the Premier League without getting sent off. This speaks volume of his self-discipline and concentration as a player.
Aaron has had a fantastic club career as well as international career. He has played for clubs such as Newcastle, Aston Villa and Fulham. Hughes is currently playing for Scottish Premiership outfit Hearts. The 38-year-old shows no signs of retirement from the game just yet as he has another year left on his current contract at Hearts. Aaron’s proudest moment of his career was pulling on that green jersey in a major tournament for the country he loves.
The Sandy Row man has recently announced his retirement from international football. Calling it a day on his international career with 65 caps. ‘Brunty’ will always be remembered on the terraces of Windsor Park for his consistent performances and oh… that wand of a left peg! Brunt has made the starting 11 at left back, a position he has grown into playing there with Northern Ireland. In his early days in green, he played mainly as a left midfielder or attacking midfielder. However, under Michael O’Neill, he really settled into a consistent left back who gives his all.
Chris was a key member of the squad who qualified for the Euros in 2016. However, Chris suffered heartbreak in February 2016 three months before the Euros were to begin in France. He ruptured his Cruciate Ligament against Crystal Palace in a Premier League fixture which left him out for a total of 8 months. Chris has made an impressive 484 club appearances between two clubs Sheffield Wednesday and West Brom.
Damien Duff is Ireland’s fifth most capped player with exactly 100 caps. The ‘wee’ magician made his debut in 1998 in a 2-1 defeat against the Czech Republic. Duff would certainly have hit consistent top-class form had it not been for a series of niggling injuries. He was a player who never shied from showing his emotion, whether it was his tears in the play-off defeat to France or his near-constant public disappointment if he missed out on an international match through injury.
The Dublin man was always there for the Republic when it mattered. A big game player it can be said! The performances that come to mind are those of the 2002 World Cup. Following the tournament, Duff was named Ireland’s player of the tournament which was no shock to anyone! A glittering club career where he made 488 appearances for Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Newcastle, Fulham and Melbourne City. A man who was capable of lighting up any match with a piece of magic!
The former Manchester United enforcer was blessed with so many qualities that he’d be a force anywhere on the pitch. An incredible competitor who, especially in his younger days had the engine to drive from box to box all day long. Keane was the greatest midfield destroyer of his generation and is Ireland’s most decorated and influential footballer of all-time. Having played a crucial role in Manchester United’s seven Premier League titles, one Champions League and four FA Cups from 1994-2003.
Keano was also incredibly influential for his country. He was voted as Ireland’s best player in the 1994 World Cup at just the age of 23. Republic of Ireland fans will also remember his remarkable displays in their Euro 2000 qualifying campaign. The 2002 World Cup qualification campaign was when Keane really left his mark on Irish football. His never-ending tenacious displays and his three goals struck the fear of God into opposing players.
However, the Cork man will always be remembered for that famous fall out with Mick McCarthy at the 2002 World Cup. With him being sent home following bust-up regarding training facilities.
‘Wee Davo’… The Cullybackey man is the heart and soul of the current Northern Ireland team and in our eyes is irreplaceable. One of the gentlemen of the game for sure. A down to earth character who makes time for anyone and does not forget his roots. Current captain of the team Davis is a popular name among the ‘Green and White Army’. His performances since breaking into the first team in 2005 have been nothing short of outstanding.
Davis became the youngest ever player to captain his country at the age of 21 in 2006 against Ukraine. The 33-year-old’s awareness and ability to shield the back four are vital in the way Michael O’Neill’s side play and is a big factor in their impressive defensive displays. With an impressive 105 caps this far there is no doubt Steve Davis will overtake Pat Jennings record of 119 caps and become Northern Ireland’s most capped player. Steve has had a phenomenal club career with Aston Villa, Fulham, Rangers and Southampton, wining eight major honours while at Rangers.
With 86 caps, Gillespie is the sixth most capped player to have played for Northern Ireland. Very similar to Damien Duff. He was more than capable of setting a stadium alight with a piece of brilliance. Keith made his international debut back in 1994 at Windsor Park in a 2-1 defeat to Portugal.
Gillespie will always be remembered by the Northern Ireland faithful for them famous nights at Windsor against Spain and England. He had a career in professional football which lasted for a total of 20 years. Playing for clubs such as Manchester United, Newcastle, Blackburn and Sheffield United. The wide man never shied away from International duty and was always an 8/10 in the famous green jersey.
‘Sir David Healy’, Norn Iron’s patron saint! Northern Ireland’s leading goalscorer of all time with 36 goals. Healy also shares a truly remarkable record with Polish forward man Robert Lewandowski. The highest goals scored throughout a UEFA qualifying campaign- 13 goals. For a Northern Irish man to have this record given the circumstances is incredible! David was capped 95 times for his country throughout a successful 13 year long international career. However, he really struggled at club level.
He scored semi-regularly in the Championship with Preston and Leeds United for most of his career. Healy struggled with a lot of niggling injuries and never really handled the step up to the Premier League. The forward man also had spells with Rangers, Fulham, Sunderland and Bury. The Killyleagh native will be forever in the Northern Ireland history books for that famous strike against England. Also, that incredible hat-trick in a 3-2 victory over Spain. The Spaniards later went on to win the World Cup in 2006.
The Republic of Ireland’s record goalscorer and during his prime would have walked into a star-studded England team. Keane was a terrific servant, and goalscorer, for his country and plenty of clubs. The hitman scored 68 goals for Ireland over an 18 year international career. The Dubliner is also Irelands most capped footballer with a remarkable 146 caps. Making his debut at just 18, against the Czech Republic in 1998, Keane has gone on to score some of Ireland’s most important goals of the ‘00s.
Keane’s goals for Ireland were always of great importance. Notably, for Irish fans, the goals that will stick out is his equaliser against finalists Germany in the 2002 World Cup, the opening goal against Spain in the 1-1 draw at the 2002 World Cup and the equaliser against Italy in the 2010 World Cup Qualifiers.
Robbie played for some huge clubs throughout his career. The most notable clubs being Leeds United, Tottenham, Celtic and LA Galaxy. When Ireland needed a hero Robbie was always the answer!