Football Special Report #20: Non-Gaelic Football – A History of Irish Internationals Who Could Have Declared For Somebody Else, 1922-2022


The inspiration for this project stemmed from the fact that it has become theoretically possible in the present day for a full Irish starting XI made entirely of players who contain DNA from outside of Europe. Of course, this concept would probably upset those few of the far-right (great!) whose idea of a perfect Ireland is supposed Gaelic hegemony (while also ironically being led by their British counterparts). And although there is indeed a lot to love, cherish, and be proud of regarding the Celtic heritage of our isle, in reality it has nothing to now do with with being Irish necessarily, as the national team can attest for.

Besides the majority of people born in Ireland with mostly native-Irish ancestors as far back as they can see, an Irish person could obviously also be someone born in Ireland to foreign parents; someone born in a foreign land to one or more Irish parents or grandparents; someone born in a foreign land to foreign parents who was then raised in Ireland; someone born in Ireland to foreign parents who was then raised in a foreign land; someone born and raised in a foreign land with no Irish connections at all, who came to Ireland later; or whatever bizarre combination of the above you like (we use “foreign” in all of these cases as the easiest way to refer to something outside the island, obviously there is no such thing really as “foreign” in this age of global connectivity and you won’t see it used here again).

However, we are not going to be going through every such instance of a person playing for Ireland who could have represented somebody else, as covering every Mark Lawrenson, Mick McCarthy, and John Aldridge of the world would be long and boring. Therefore, many of your “average”, white, English-born players who qualified through a parent or grandparent needn’t be discussed; nor shall Declan Rice or Jack Grealish (although there will be at least one player who ended up representing another international football association after being capped for Ireland in the modern age).

The 1920s:

While “officially” there wouldn’t be an English-born Irish international until the 1960s (as shall we’ll see below), in reality the first such player made his Ireland debut in 1927. Michael “Mick” O’Brien, a man who actually probably was “fully Gaelic”, was born in Ushaw Moor, England, to an Irish family in August 1893. They later moved to South Shields, Durham, which is were an 18 year old Mick first began to play football for Walker Celtic, and then Wallsend. In 1912, the defender who could play as a forward signed for Blyth Spartans, and also appeared for Newcastle East End around the time, before attracting interest from the more famous Celtic of the Glasgow variety. But without kicking a ball in Scotland, O’Brien would return to Blyth later that year, transferring to Brentford in 1913. With the outbreak of World War 1 and the postponement of football, he served with distinction in both the British Royal Navy and the Royal Flying Corps.

Upon the conclusion of the War, Mick ended up at Norwich City, followed by his old home-town club of South Shields, and by 1920 he was with Queens Park Rangers. While at QPR, his first call up for the the Ireland team of the Irish Football Association/IFA came, meaning the team representing the “British-ruled Ireland”, which was still the only national team on the island at this point, pre-Treaty. The so-called “Granny rule” had not yet come into effect either, meaning that a player was only meant to represent the country of their birth, not the country of a parent or grandparent’s birth. But it was widely reported that O’Brien was born in Kilcock, County Kildare, with speculation that Mick himself invented the story to allow himself be eligible. Research by an editor of Brentford’s match programmes later revealed the birthplace mentioned above, but regardless, Mick made his debut for the IFA in February 1921 at home to Scotland in Belfast – the first of his 10 caps for “Ireland”.

Going on to play at club level for Leicester City; Hull City; Brooklyn Wanderers in the US; Derby County; Walsall; Norwich once more; and Watford throughout the 1920s and early 30s, in 1927 while with Derby, O’Brien made the last of his IFA appearances. It wouldn’t be the end of his international career though of course, as only four days later, with nothing to stop a switch of national team at the time, he made his debut for the Football Association of the Irish Free State/FAIFS and their Irish Free State XI, as the newly independent country since 1922 was then known. Along with Tommy Muldoon, Harry Duggan and Joe Kendrick, Mick was one of four players in the side against Italy B on 23 April to be the first Irish players plying their domestic trade in England. Given that the opponents were a B team however, obviously the game wasn’t a full international. But proper caps would be forthcoming, as he played twice against Belgium in 1929 and 30 – two 4-0 and 1-3 victories respectively – before captaining the side in his last outing in green away to the Netherlands on 8 May 1932 – another impressive 0-2 win – making him one of 33 players to have turned out for “both Irelands” back then (before new rules were introduced to prevent such moves, more below). Following the end of his playing days, O’Brien would become one of the earliest Irish managers in English football also, with reigns at QPR and Ipswich, before returning to Ireland as boss of the original Cork City in 1939 until the club’s dissolution the following year. Later in 1940, Mick sadly died at the age of 47 (for reasons we cannot find), making him the first Irish international to pass away.


Among the O’Briens, the Muldoons, the Dowdalls, and the Bradys, the Connollys, the Doyles, the Fagans and the Floods, one name that stands out among the list of internationals from (what would become) the Football Association of Ireland/FAI’s first decade in existence is Tom Farquharson (we’ll henceforth go with “FAI” for clarity even before the name change, but more on that below; and mentions of “Ireland/Irish” on their own will only refer to what will become the Republic). Tom was born in Dublin in 1899 to a Presbyterian businessman father of Scottish-plantation origin, who conducted business with the British and had contacts in the occupying British army. “Farquharson” is derived from the Gaelic word “fearchar” (“very dear one”) and the associated surname MacFhearchair (“son of a very dear one”), so Tom’s DNA ultimately was more Gaelic than you might think. Either way, Tom’s mother was Catholic and Tom was raised as such, with his national allegiances never in doubt as he joined the IRA during the Irish War of Independence (as a non-violent member, carrying out messages, etc.) while still a teenager playing for local clubs.

Tom’s involvement with Republicanism led to his imprisonment at Mount Joy and great embarrassment for his father, with his later release, thanks to his father’s contacts, only on the condition that he leave Ireland. He did so by moving to South Wales, where he would begin his senior career at Oakdale FC of the Welsh Football League, drawing on his ball-handling experiences in Gaelic football back in Dublin to become a goalkeeper. He then went to Abertillery Town before transferring to Cardiff City, going on to make 445 appearances for the Bluebirds. During his club playing days, former teammates confirmed that Farquharson carried a handgun in his kit bag as protection, considering his political past. Interestingly, again considering said political past, Tom was called up to and capped for the IFA’s Ireland team 7 times from 1923 to 1925 while at Cardiff (with the IFA still claiming football jurisdiction over the whole island despite the partition of the country following the Irish War of Independence, as soon were the FAI). However, after being kept out of the IFA XI by Liverpool’s Elisha Scott, Tom made his debut for the FAI at home to Belgium on 20 April 1929.

In 1931, Farquharson was re-called by the IFA to represent them against Wales. However, with a big FAI game coming up in Spain, he rejected it and opted to stick with the Irish Free State. Tom was named captain for the Spanish match in Barcelona on 26 April, and, in one of his career highlights, helped the side to a 1-1 draw. But his decision to turn down the IFA call-up angered the footballing authorities in Belfast and Tom stirred the pot even more with comments made in a subsequent newspaper interview, where he stated: “I will go so far as to say that the Irish Football Association usurped the name of Ireland by calling the side they have selected “Ireland””. His decision to stand by the Free State team and his above comments earned him much plaudits in Dublin, and he was later honoured by the FAI with an award at a special presentation.


The 1930s:

A contemporary of Farquharson was Harry Chatton, also born in 1899, but in Enniskillen, Fermanagh, of an Ulster-Protestant-plantation family-tree. This would eventually make him the first player to be born in the territory of what would become Northern Ireland to go on to represent the FAI’s team, although, like Farquharson, he would play for the IFA first. When Harry was young, the family moved to Scotland where he was raised and eventually signed for his hometown team of Dumbarton, and then Partick Thistle; the latter while earning his IFA caps in 1924 and 1925. In 1930 though, after stints with “Indiana Flooring” in the American Soccer League and Hearts back in Scotland, Harry transferred to Shelbourne FC in Dublin, a club who had been at the centre of the IFA/FAI split in 1921 (after Shels’ FAI Cup final replay with Glenavon was scheduled for Belfast again like the first game, rather than Dublin as convention dictated). While with the Reds and winning a League of Ireland title, Chatton made his debut for the Irish Free State in the same game away to Spain that Farquharson captained on 26 April 1931. Two more appearances in the green jersey of the FAI were made subsequently: while back with Dumbarton later in 1931, captaining the Irish team in the return game at home to Spain on 31 December (a 0-5 defeat); and at home to the Netherlands 8 April 1934 (a 2-5 defeat) while at his last club Cork FC, with whom he also won the 1934 FAI Cup.


The next player, Fred Horlacher, had actually made his FAI international debut before Harry Chatton, but was born eleven years later in 1910. Hailing from Blackrock, Dublin, left-winger Fred’s surname clearly suggests an exotic origin. Indeed, his parents Herman and Magdalena Horlacher (neé Brenner) were German immigrants, and Fred was raised and lived as a devout member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Playing his club football in Dublin for the amateur Bohemian FC from 1928 until the end of his career and life, Horlacher became the first Irish player of non-Gaelic or British blood to be capped by the FAI when he made his debut in a 1-3 away win against Belgium on 11 May 1930 (again with Farquharson in goal). Accepting a call to represent an IFA Amateur XI later in the year against England Amateurs, Fred was suspended by the FAI for three months as punishment, along with two other Bohs players who took part. But he would return to earn 6 more caps with 2 goals, until his unfortunate death from pneumonia in 1943 at the young age of 33.


Another Bohemians player of the age with an eye-catching name was Plevna “Plev” Ellis, born in Dublin in June 1908, who would go on to achieve 7 Irish caps and 3 goals, starting with his debut away to Switzerland on 5 May 1935. Plev’s parents were English, but his name fascinatingly has its origins in the 19th century Siege of Plevna (current day Pleven in Bulgaria), making him undoubtedly the only Irish international in history named after a battle in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878. The Siege resulted in a Russian-Romanian-Bulgarian coalition defeating the Ottoman Empire’s forces, which would be instrumental in the Liberation of Bulgaria; although the delay meant that the Russians could not reach Constantinople as planned, and hence the continuation of the Ottoman Empire for another four decades. But anyway, the Siege made such an impression on Europe that several places were subsequently named after it, specifically in Lancashire, England (such as Plevna Road, Preston), and even some children such as the future international midfielder Plev Ellis.


The adoption of the Constitution of Ireland in 1937 put an end to the Irish Free State, as the country was renamed Éire/Ireland and the way paved for the creation of a republic in 1948 to finally, officially leave the British Empire/Commonwealth (for the 26 counties at least). While acknowledging that the state’s jurisdiction was confined to the area that had been the Irish Free State, the constitution also defined the national territory to be the whole island. In anticipation of this, the “Football Association of the Irish Free State” became the Football Association of Ireland/FAI in 1936 and officially recognised players from all over the island as fair game for their national team, as the IFA had already been doing. At this point, the IFA was also still not members FIFA, along with the other British associations, meaning that the two opposing federations were not yet in direct competition. This resulted in several more interesting situations like Mick O’Brien above, such as when Jimmy Kelly of Derry City – born in Donegal in 1911 and an international for both IFA and FAI from 1931 to 1936 – played for IFA Ireland in a defeat of Wales in Belfast on 11 March 1936, before less than a week later playing for FAI Ireland on 17 March in a defeat of Switzerland in Dalymount Park, Dublin.

More importantly though, the above manifested with several players born in Northern Ireland-territory being called up for the FAI in 1936 and 1937, such as Derry-native Hugh Connolly of Cork FC; Belfast man Davy Jordan of Wolverhampton Wanderers; Shelbourne’s John Feenan from Newry; Dudalk’s Mick Hoy of Tandragee, County Armagh; Tommy Donnelly from Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, who turned out for both Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers around the time; and Jackie Brown. The latter of these, Jackie, was the only one who had previously played for the IFA, having made his debut against England in 1935. Born in 1914 in Belfast and a Belfast Celtic player for 1933-34, Brown made his FAI debut while with Coventry City, away to Switzerland on 17 May 1937, before a week later scoring in an excellent 0-2 win away against France. The following year, he was called up again for a similar tour along with two other Northerners, Belfast’s Harry Baird of Manchester United and Huddersfield Town (and later 216 appearances for Ipswich Town), and Walter McMillen, also of Belfast and Manchester United but with Chesterfield by this point. However, now the IFA complained to “Daddy” and had the English FA issue telegrams to the three players, ordering them not to accept the call on the grounds that they were not born in the territory of the future-Irish Free State. Brown subsequently went back to representing the IFA, with his last international cap coming against Wales in March 1939.


Following the end of World War II and the resumption of international football (the only Irish game played during the period being an unofficial friendly at home to a Scotland XI in Dalymount Park on 28 April 1940), the FAI continued to try and expand its selection pool north of the border. For two return matches away to Portugal and Spain in June 1946, four players originating from what would become Northern Ireland were selected for the squad: Shamrock Rover’s James McAlinden (soon to be of Portsmouth), born in Belfast in December 1917; Belfast Celtic’s Jackie Vernon (soon of West Bromwich Albion), born in Belfast in September 1918; Belfast Celtic’s William “Billy” McMillan (birth details unknown), and Paddy Sloan, born in Lurgan, County Armagh, in April 1920, who throughout an amazing career turned out for the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, AC Milan, Torino, Udinese, Brescia, and Malta’s Rabat Ajax. All four played in both games – a 1-3 defeat to Portugal on 16 June and a 0-1 victory over Spain on 23 June. These would be their only respective appearances however, with McAlinden and Vernon returning to IFA duties afterwards.

In September 1946, Dubliner Johnny Carey of Manchester United and Sligoman Bill Gorman of Brentford both achieved the interesting feat of playing against England twice in three days with different national teams: a 2-7 defeat for the IFA on the 28th in Belfast, followed by a more respectable 0-1 defeat in Dublin for the FAI on the 30th. With the entry of the IFA and their fellow British associations into FIFA that same year however, the days of such national team-jumping would soon be over as both the IFA and FAI were involved in the upcoming World Cup 1950 qualifiers, potentially putting them in direct competition for the first time (albeit in the unlikely event that both qualified). After the IFA fielded Tom Aherne, Reg Ryan, Davy Walsh and Con Martin in a qualifier against Wales on 8 March 1950 (also part of the British Home Championships which doubled as qualifiers), all of whom had been born in the Irish Free State (apart from Aherne who was born during the War of Independence) and all of whom had played for the FAI already in the qualifiers, the farcical situation proved too much for FIFA and they finally came down on the matter in 1953. Declaring that internationals must be selected from within their state’s political borders only, and that no team could call themselves simply “Ireland” going forward, the new specific designations of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in world football were to be enforced (leading many to assume that the latter was the official name of the country, when in political terms it is really only an official description rather than the constitutional name). The last active player from this era was indeed Con Martin, who, along with the other three from the Wales match, would be among the last Free State players to represent the IFA, and the last duel-capped player of the era to win any international cap following his last FAI appearance in 1956.


The 1950s:

Despite the border solidifying in a football sense, British influence on the Irish game still wouldn’t be far away through Alf Ringstead. Alf’s father was the famous English jokey Charlie Ringstead who already had many big race wins under his belt by the time his future-footballing son was born in 1927, at which point he and his wife Annie Florence (“Flori”) Ward were living in her native Dublin. The family moved back to England by the time Alf was playing youth football for Ellesmere Port FC in Cheshire, and then onto Everton as a 14 year old. He would spend the majority of his senior career at Sheffield Wednesday, from 1950 to 1959, during which time he made all of his Irish appearances starting with a friendly at home to Argentina on 13 May 1951. It was the first of 20 caps and 7 goals in green for the outside right.

The 1960s:

On 5 May 1965, Manchester United’s Shay Brennan made his Irish debut against Spain to become the first English-born Irish international to qualify through heritage, thanks to his Carlow-native parents. Brennan hailed from Manchester in 1937 and played for his hometown club from youth football until he was 33, when he moved back to the land of his ancestors for several seasons with Waterford FC from 1970 to 1974, having achieved 19 international caps until then. Meanwhile, a couple of years after Brennan’s, Celtic’s Charlie Gallagher made his Irish debut against Turkey on 22 February 1967 to become the first Scottish-born Irish international, thanks to his Donegal-native parents. While not in the match-day XI, 1940-born Gallagher of Glasgow was part of the Celtic squad that won the 1967 European Cup, being the only internationally-capped member not to have represented Scotland (only two players in the whole squad lacked international call-ups during their careers). While both possessed “all-Gaelic blood” of course, theoretically they could have also declared for the countries of their births.

The 1970s:

Our next main person of interest is Steve Heighway, born in Dublin in 1947. Like Plev Ellis, both of Steve’s parents were English who had relocated to Ireland, in this case due to his father taking up a job as a consultant engineer at Busaras. But according to the man himself, Dublin never felt like home and the family had moved back to Sheffield by the time Steve was 10. First signing for non-league Skelmersdale United as a youth, the winger was spotted by scouts from Liverpool in May 1970 while still studying for his final exams at the University of Warwick in Coventry (with any third level education a rarity for a pro) and quickly signed. Before even establishing himself in the Liverpool team, Heighway was called up to the Irish squad and made his debut in a 0-2 friendly defeat at home to Poland on 23 September 1970. His Liverpool debut had only come the day before in a League Cup second round replay at home to Mansfield Town, but by November he was mainstay on Merseyside.

Steve described his Irish international experiences as lonely ones at first, with the rest of the British-based members of the squad usually happy to take the opportunity of flying back to Dublin to meet family and friends, while Steve had nobody in the city or country to call on. And with a stellar Liverpool career throughout the rest of the 70s running concurrently with his international career (his last appearances for both came in 1981 before winding down his playing days with the Minnesota Kicks of the NASL and Philadelphia Fever of the Major Indoor Soccer League), winning four league titles, two European Cups, two UEFA Cups, and an FA Cup and League Cup each, an English call-up would have been inevitable had Heighway not first accepted to play for the country of his birth. But with no Irish blood, no Irish family and only a vague memory of growing up briefly in a place he felt he didn’t belong, Steve still gave it his all every time he pulled on the Irish jersey and was one of the team’s stars of the decade, despite never finding the net in 34 caps.


A teammate briefly of Heighway’s in international squads was London-born Terry Mancini. With a surname that suggests he was the original Tony Cascarino, the origins are similar in that neither of them were actually born to an Italian father, but in Mancini’s case he was actually qualified to play for Ireland. Terry had been Terence Seely at the beginning of his life, which was his Irish father’s family name. After Mr Seely Sr. died when Terry was seven and his mother re-married, he henceforth went by the name of his new stepfather. Starting his professional career with Watford in 1961, Mancini was at Queens Park Rangers in 1973 when a conversation with his Irish international teammate and future Irish caretaker-manager Don Givens made Terry realise he was eligible for Ireland through his birth-father. He made his debut at home to Poland in a 1-0 friendly win on 21 October later that year, before which, he later admitted, he had no idea that the Irish national anthem was playing as he had never heard it before. He made four more appearances in green over the next year or two, notably bagging his one international goal away to Brazil in the Maracanã in a 1-2 defeat on 5 May 1974, and if nothing else remained Ireland’s most exotically named player for the rest of the decade and beyond.


While Steve Heighway was “Irish by birth, English by blood”, goalkeeper Peter Thomas went a step further by being both English by birth and blood, but still ending up an Irish international. Born in Coventry in 1944, Thomas signed with Coventry City in 1966 and made one appearance for his hometown club before being loaned out to Waterford FC in the League of Ireland the following year. Later in 1967, the deal was made permanent and Thomas settled in Ireland, turning out for the Blues 193 times between then and 1975. During this time he became an Irish citizen, off the back of which he was selected for the Irish national team and made his debut at home to Poland on 31 October 1973, although he was forced to come off due to a stomach injury. He won his second and last cap away to Brazil in 1974, after which he began frequently migrating to North America in between League of Ireland seasons for stints with the Washington Diplomats, Utah Golden Spikers, Las Vegas Quicksilvers and Sacremento Gold from 1975 to 78, returning to play for Waterford after each one. Following his last spell at Waterford from 1978 to 82, and including his loan, Thomas could claim six different runs with the club and five league titles, although all of the latter had come during his initial permanent contract. From 1982 to 85 he completed his playing career with a couple of seasons at Galway United and one at Drogheda United, before briefly returning to Waterford (by then Waterford United) as manager in 1988.


In 1979 came arguably one of the biggest steps in Irish cultural history, not just sport, as for the first time a “person of colour” (for want of a better phrase, basically the first to be not of fully white-European origin) would represent the country (presumably in any discipline; League of Ireland stalwart in the 1950s and 60s Ray Keogh is said to have been the first black or mixed-race player to play in the domestic league, but was only ever called up to a League of Ireland XI). Christopher Hughton was born in Essex, England, in 1958 to a Ghanaian postman Willie and his Irish wife Christine, née Bourke. Chris joined Tottenham Hotspur as a youth in 1971 and stayed there for nearly twenty years, finally moving on to West Ham United at the start of the 90s before a stint at Brentford, and then hanging up his boots in 1993. Growing up part-African, part-Irish in a time when racism against both ethnic groups was common in England, it is no wonder that Chris was attracted to fringe politics and he wrote a column for the UK’s Workers Revolutionary Party in the 1970s, which had originally been created as a splinter group of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Starting with his debut at home to USA on 29 October 1979, Chris’ Irish career went on until 1991 with 53 caps earned and Euro 88 and World Cup 90 appearances, having established himself as the country’s top full-back while winning a UEFA Cup and two FA Cups with Spurs in the early 80s. After an Ireland testimonial in 1995, he returned to the international set-up as assistant manager to Brian Kerr from 2003 to 05. But interestingly, Chris eventually also came into the fold of his other country of origin, Ghana, taking up a role as a technical advisor to the national team’s coaching staff in February 2022 ahead of World Cup qualifiers in March and travelling with the squad for the finals in Qatar.

The 1980s:

While we had originally only intended on focusing on the men’s wing of Irish football here, a section must be kept for a player whose talent meant that the first mixed-race international on the women’s side came only a couple of years after their male equivalents. With a name like a grizzled, veteran All-Ireland Gaelic football finalist circa 1961, Jackie McCarthy-O’Brien was born that very year in Birmingham, England, to an Irish mother and Jamaican father, before being taken back to Limerick to live by her mother just a month later. Raised within the harsh environment of industrial schools, her mother funnily-enough married an All-Ireland handball champion Mickey O’Brien in 1966, which was when the latter-half of her surname was added. Although not by blood, Mickey was Jackie’s father in her eyes and his sporting prowess was passed down as she developed a love for team sports as a teen. As well as not fitting-in in terms of her race at the time, Jackie battled prejudice on two fronts due to her homosexuality when such a thing was still illegal in Ireland, adding to her understandable feeling of general uncomfortableness in society. But time on the pitch was her antidote to this, and by 1981, at the age of 20, McCarthy-O’Brien was called up to the Republic of Ireland women’s national football team.

The Ladies Football Association of Ireland, as they called themselves then, was founded in 1973 and was initially independent of the FAI, although the players did appear in official FAI kits (at least by the 80s for when we have pictures). The team’s first match was a 2-3 win away to Wales in May 1973, but they would have to wait until Euro 84 qualifiers to make their competitive debut. Jackie made her own debut the year before these, in one of four matches: home to Scotland in March; home to England in May (both 0-5 defeats); away to Northern Ireland in August (a 5-1 defeat); or away to Belgian in October (a 4-1 defeat)(with the lack of records readily available, we don’t know which, but the above were the only Irish women’s internationals that year). She would make 13 appearances between then and 1993, by which point the LFAI had officially become affiliated to the FAI in 1991 (ahead of eventually changing the name to the Women’s Football Association of Ireland in 2001, now simply FAI Women’s). Knee injuries meant a premature end to her soccer days, but McCarthy-O’Brien’s international career wasn’t over just yet. Switching to rugby, she won 13 caps for the Irish women’s rugby team, becoming that code’s first Irish mixed-race player also. With this trailblazing legacy of a queer person of colour grabbing two male-dominated sports by the balls in a time of stifling conservatism, Jackie’s legacy should never be forgotten.


Both the earlier-mentioned Shay Brennan (or Mick O’Brien unofficially) and Charlie Gallagher are connected in a trifecta of record-breaking to the first Welsh-born Irish international, who came on the scene nearly two decades later. Kevin Sheedy was born in the town of Builth Wells, Wales, to an Irish father from County Clare and a Welsh mother from Brecon. While with his first senior club Hereford United, where he grew up, Sheedy was spotted early as a potential Boy in Green and was recruited for underage Ireland teams from 1978 to 1981. When the call had initially come, Kevin, who held an Irish passport from birth, called the Welsh FA too see if he was in consideration for their upcoming squads. With a curt response informing him that the information would not be made public, the players’ mind was made up for Ireland and he never looked back.

Sheedy came on as a substitute at home to the Netherlands in a European qualifier on 12 October 1983 to make his senior debut, and to make him Ireland’s only Welsh-born international to date (and seemingly the only one ever with significant Welsh blood). By this time he was with Everton (having had an unsuccessful spell at Liverpool from 1978 to 82), with whom he would make 274 appearances over the next ten years. A notable dead-ball expert, one of his most famous goals came in the 1985 FA Cup 6th round at home to Ipswich Town on 9 March, when his free-kick that hit the back of the net was ordered to be re-taken by the ref – after which, Sheedy scored it again. And of course his other most famous goal was the first ever scored by an Irishman at a World Cup, thanks to his equalising strike from outside-the-box against England on 11 June 1990. Appropriately, his last international appearance came against the country of his birth, back to being a sub again in a friendly with Wales on 17 November 1992 in Shelbourne’s Tolka Park. Having finished off his playing days with Newcastle United in 1992-93 and Blackpool in 93-94, he would one day return to the League of Ireland with a brief, unsuccessful spell as Waterford manager in 2021.


,Like the above, another player who needs no introduction is Paul McGrath. Paul’s father was a Nigerian medical student in Dublin in the late 1950s where he met Paul’s mother Betty McGrath. Soon after Paul was conceived, the father disappeared and Betty fled to England to have the baby, fearing the reaction from her own father at this out-of-wedlock pregnancy, as well as that of the hideously conservative Catholic Ireland of the time at large. Ultimately, Betty returned to Ireland following the birth where her fears were realised, as Paul was forcibly taken from her and placed in foster care; and later (after being declared uncontrollable) an orphanage, despite Betty’s efforts to get him back, thanks to members of the hideously misguided “Catholic Crusade”. With this tumultuous background, as well as the small matter of being one of the few black youths in Dublin at the time (Phil Lynott and Paul were apparently well aware of each other), Paul found his passion and calling in football, playing for local sides Pearse Rovers and Dalkey United until signing for St. Patrick’s Athletic in the League of Ireland in 1981.

At Pats, receiving the nickname “the Black Pearl of Inchicore”, McGrath’s talent was quickly recognised and by 1982 he had earned a moved to Manchester United. In 1985 he was called up to the Ireland squad by Eoin Hand and made his debut by coming on as a substitute in a friendly at home to Italy on 5 February, becoming the second men’s player of partly African-origin to wear the green. McGrath’s well publicised love of/struggles with alcohol led to his departure from Man Utd in 1989 during Alex Fergusson’s reign, having been offered a deal with SSC Napoli in Italy but eventually signing for Aston Villa, with whom he’d be most remembered. The alcoholism would go on to lead to several high-profile “disappearances” from Ireland squads over the years also; an understandable dependency considering his traumatic youth. But with legendary performances such as that at World Cup 94 versus Italy, and a famously gentle personality in contrast with the warrior on the pitch, Paul will be remembered as one of Ireland’s favourite sons. On 11 February 1997, he made his last appearance for the national team in a 0-0 friendly draw away to Wales, following late-career stints with Derby County and Sheffield United, and also like Sheedy would eventually briefly be associated with Waterford United as Director of Football in 2004.


Later the same year that Paul McGrath made his debut, a man loved nearly as much by some came onto the scene in the earlier-mentioned Tony Cascarino. As one of the most high profile cases of a “non-Irishman” playing for Ireland, his story again probably doesn’t need to be told. But Anthony Guy Cascarino was born in St Paul’s Cray, South East London, in 1962 to Theresa O’Malley and Dominico Cascarino. Theresa’s father, apparently, was Michael O’Malley of Westport, Mayo, who had moved to London as a teenager, while Dominico had been born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Italian immigrant parents who moved to England by the time he was five. Of course, unbeknownst to Tony until 1996, Theresa had actually been adopted and therefore possessed no Irish blood, which would make Tony eligible to play for England, Scotland, or Italy, but not Ireland. Having made his start with non-league Crockenhill FC in 1980, forward “Big Cas” (later aka the “Ice Cream Man”, due to Jack Charlton’s inability to pronounce his surname) signed for Gillingham the following year and stayed there until 1987, scoring 78 times in 219 games and making it to three consecutive PFA Third Division Teams of the Year from 1985 to 1987. It was during this time that Ireland manager Eoin Hand discovered Tony’s “Irish heritage” and called him up to the Ireland squad, making his debut in a World Cup 86 qualifier at home to Switzerland on 11 September 1985.

Playing in a couple more qualifiers in 1985 after his debut, Cascarino received no further caps for the following two years as Jack Charlton took charge, finally being recalled in the lead up to Euro 88. He would make two sub appearances at the tournament, going on to feature prominently in World Cup 90 qualifiers and taking part in every Ireland game at Italia 90. His form back at Gillingham had earned him a move to Millwall in 1987, where a successful strike partnership with Teddy Sheringham helped the club win the Football League Second Division in 1988 and was followed with another progressive transfer to Aston Villa in 1990. His Villa and succeeding Celtic and Chelsea stints were not so successful, and he moved on to a fruitful later-career period in France, winning the Second Division there twice with Marseille and Nancy respectively in 1995 and 1998 (earning another nickname – “Tony Goal”). It was during this time in 1996 that a new law was passed which made it mandatory for Irish internationals to hold Irish passports, which is when he discovered his “family secret” from his mother.

It was later revealed that Tony, while he did receive a “passport of restricted validity”, had applied and was turned down for an Irish passport in 1985, after which he didn’t give it much thought having already made his debut. He had, though, been added to the Irish Foreign Births Register in the Department of Foreign Affairs in advance of his first cap, and to allow this his mother had also been added in the days before – evidently illegally at the hands of the FAI, as neither Tony or Theresa had any idea until years later. His Irish passport was finally granted in 1996, with his last cap coming in 1999 away to Turkey in the ill-tempered Euro 2000 qualifier play-off. The following year, he revealed the truth about his heritage to much hysteria in the press, but with the FAI insisting that had always been in fact eligible to play for them. The fact that he was by this time the country’s record caps-holder with 88 appearances and 19 goals, may have had something to do with their denial of any foul play.


In January 1960, Ray Houghton was born in Glasgow, Scotland; son of a man from Buncrana, County Donegal, Ireland and a Scottish mother. The family moved to London when Ray was 10, after which his soccer-skills were noticed by West Ham United. Signing professionally as a teenager, the midfielder was called up to a Scotland U18 squad but did not play, with Ray later citing a bad attitude from the manager towards players like himself not based in Scotland. His West Ham career was not the best either, making only one first team appearance before moving to second-tier Fulham in 1982. A more successful spell of 129 games in three years led to a move to First Division Oxford United next in 1985, but still no Scotland call-up came.

Ray’s life would change in 1986, after fellow-Oxford player and Irish international Dave Langan had informed new Irish manager Jack Charlton of the Irish eligibility of another of their Oxford teammates, John Aldridge (who qualified through his grandmother from Athlone, even though we said we weren’t going to get into the likes of him). After Charlton went to scout Aldridge and secure his services, the latter mentioned in passing how Ray Houghton’s father was also Irish. With his Scotland dreams now in the rear-view mirror as they prepared for World Cup 86 without him, Ray accepted the call and both he and Aldridge made their Ireland debuts at home to Wales on 26 March 1986, for what was also Charlton’s first game in charge. Joining the highly successful Liverpool of the era in 1987, Houghton went on to: score Ireland’s first goal in their first match at a major tournament finals, the 1-0 win against England at Euro 88; to be the only Scottish-born player in general to have appeared at the quarter-finals of a World Cup via Ireland’s run in 1990, scoring in the second-round penalty shoot-out against Romania to get there; score Ireland’s goal in its finest win at a World Cup, the 1-0 against at World Cup 94; and very nearly the goal that helped Ireland to another tournament, scoring away to Belgium in the World Cup 1998 qualifier play-off second-leg defeat in 1997. By that point he had also played for Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and Reading, before three final appearances with Stevenage Borough in 1999-2000, later starting a media career and becoming a valuable ambassador for the FAI.

The 1990s:

After Charlie Gallagher and Ray Houghton, Ireland’s next Scottish-born international would also be one of the first new caps of the 1990s. Bernie Slaven was born in November 1960 in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, to Scottish parents but with a grandfather from Ireland. After minor stints with Airdrieonians and Queen of the South, 27 goals in 42 games for Albion Rovers between 1983 and 1985 earned him a move to Middlesbrough in England. There he scored a further 118 goals in 307 appearances, ranging from the third to the top tier between 1985 and 1993. Slaven was frustrated with the lack of a call-up from Scotland manager Andy Roxburgh during this initial time, who was the same manager of the Scotland underage team who had denied Ray Houghton a look-in years earlier. When Jack Charlton’s Ireland came calling therefore, the 29 year old Slaven accepted and made his debut at home to Wales on 28 March 1990 in a World Cup 90 warm-up, scoring in a 1-0 win. He was brought to Italy that summer for the World Cup itself although he didn’t receive any playing minutes, but did entertain teammates with his loving phone calls home to his dog (as relayed in Tony Cascarino’s autobiography). Going on to win 6 more caps, his last came again against Wales in Tolka Park in a friendly on 17 February 1993, also appearing for Port Vale, Darlington and Billingham Synthonia until 1999 post-Boro.


Going back to the now veritable conveyer belt of mixed-race Irish talent, the trend continued into the 90s with another defender in Terry Phelan, born in Salford, England, in 1967. Phelan’s mother was an immigrant from Tubbercurry, County Sligo, while there is no mention that we can find of his father or the father’s background beyond England. This presumed absence of the father’s side of the family meant that Phelan was raised “fully Irish”, holding an Irish passport and representing Irish underage teams from the time he was 15. With strong competition in his full-back position, it would be another nine years until he was called-up and made his full debut for the Irish senior team at home to Hungary in a friendly on 11 September 1991, by which time he had become established with the 1989 FA Cup winning “Crazy Gang” Wimbledon side. Appearing at the 1994 World Cup and turning out for other, bigger clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton, Phelan won the last of his 42 Irish caps in 2000, going on to wind-down his playing career in the US and New Zealand before more recently taking up backroom roles with Indian clubs. But despite his current exotic workplace, Terry claimed in 2011 that if a world war was to break out and Ireland were involved, he’d “be first in line going to defend Ireland” in the trenches, just like he did on the pitch.


Similar to Bernie Slaven, in that he was the son of two Scottish parents but with an Irish grandmother, Tommy Coyne was born in Govan, Glasgow, in November 1962. Having already signed with Clydebank FC an 18 year old, he travelled to Spain in 1982 to support Scotland as a fan at that year’s World Cup. 38 goals in 80 games for Clydebank led to a move to Dundee United in 1983, which was not as successful and was followed by a switch to Dundee FC in 1986. This time, 50 goals in 89 appearances earned Coyne a transfer to his boyhood favourites of Celtic (having turned down a chance at a trial with Dundee United earlier in life at the hopes of being picked up by the Celts instead). After a slow start at Parkhead, by 1990-91 he was the Scottish top-flight’s top scorer, but again like Slaven, no Scotland call-up was forthcoming. Instead, Jack Charlton came sleuthing and called Coyne up for his debut at 31 years of age, scoring his first international goal after just 27 minutes against Switzerland in a friendly on 25 March 1992.

Having gone to Tranmere in 1993, Tommy’s wife tragically died at the age of 29 and he was forced to move back to Scotland with their children. Resuming his career with Motherwell, he was called up to Ireland’s World Cup 94 squad and started in three games at the tournament, 12 years after being at a World Cup as a fan of another nation. Despite not scoring, his performances were critically acclaimed, and he was also the first Motherwell player to appear at a World Cup. 57 goals in 132 games were scored during his Motherwell days until 1998, during which time Tommy also concluded his international career with 6 goals in 22 games total. This had included a brace against Liechtenstein in 1994, and a final appearance against Belgium in the first-leg of the World Cup 98 play-off qualifier on 29 October 1997. Following Motherwell, Coyne played for Dundee and Clydebank again, plus briefly for Falkirk and Albion Rovers, before managing stints at Clydebank and Bellshill Athletic in the early 2000s.


A more “old school” example of a complicated qualification arose the same year as Coyne made his debut. Alan Kernaghan was born in Leeds in 1967 to a Protestant family who had recently moved from County Down, Northern Ireland, and a few years later would move back to Bangor in Down where Alan was raised. Excelling at football, he represented Northern Ireland at Schoolboy level (including against the Republic), as well as performing as a ball-boy at Windsor Park. Making his career start with Middlesbrough in 1985, Alan longed-for and expected a call to represent the North at senior level. However, a long standing agreement between the British “Home Nations” at the time meant that any player born on the turf of one was expected not to represent any of the other three. Once Kernaghan came of age in the late 80s, this was the reason he received a firm no from the IFA, despite the fact the “rule” was broken around the exact same time as London-born Ian Dowie made his Northern Ireland debut in 1990 thanks to his Belfast Dad. With the North out of the question, Alan’s grandmother came into the picture who was a citizen of the Republic, making him eligible to play for Ireland. Jack Charlton pounced, and on 9 September 1992, amid question marks regarding national commitment from some onlookers, Alan made his international debut in the World Cup qualifier at home to Latvia.

As fate would have it, the qualifying group also contained Northern Ireland, putting Alan on a direct collision course with his original national team of choice. Although he didn’t take part in the first such encounter in Dublin in March 1993, the centre-half was selected to start in the final crunch game away to the North on 17 November, in the same ground he used to ball-boy in. Naturally, the rabid “anti-Irish” crowd in Windsor that night subjected Alan to specific abuse due to his treachery, completely unawares that if it had been up to him, he would have be on the other side. However, once becoming an Irish international, Kernaghan was fully committed to the Republic and helped the side qualify for the World Cup (although he did not actually end up playing in the USA despite making the squad). He would appear a total of 22 times for Ireland, the last of which coming against Bolivia in the US Cup in June 1996. With his club-playing career continuing for another ten years, mostly as a journeyman in Scotland, he eventually made history appropriate to his accomplishment of being a Northern Protestant playing for the Republic of Ireland during The Troubles, as in 2006 he was hired as a coach for Rangers FC, becoming the first ever FAIrish-capped player to do so.


One reason Alan Kernaghan didn’t make it onto the field at USA 94 was due to our next entrant, who also proved that the conveyor belt of mixed-race Irish talent was also a specifically defensive one. Born in Lambeth, South London, in 1970, Phil Babb was the product of an Irish mother from Carlow and a Guyanese father, which would go on to make him the first Irish player to be of partly Caribbean-origin on the men’s side, or partly South American-origin in general (depending on how one classifies Guyana). As a 15 year old with Millwall, Phil apparently already had ambitions of playing for Ireland, but, like Terry Phelan, he would have to wait nine years for it to become a reality. Unlike Terry though, Phil didn’t receive any underage call-ups, apparently having not yet declared internationally one way or the other, which slightly contradicts his teenage Irish dreams. Then with Coventry City and having appeared in David O’Leary’s odd testimonial in 1993 against Hungary (odd as it was considered an official match by the Hungarians but not by Ireland or FIFA), Babb finally made his Irish debut alongside other exciting young talent Gary Kelly and Jason McAteer in the run-up to the World Cup against Russia on 23 March 1994. At USA 94 itself, he made his competitive debut at centre-back alongside his hero Paul McGrath, plus Terry Phelan in one of the full-back positions to make it a very historic (and effective) 3/4 mixed-race back four.

Despite moving on to Liverpool that year and making 128 appearances for them over the next several seasons, 1994 remained Babb’s international high-point, and in the end he would win a slightly disappointing 35 Irish caps. Having only taken part in three competitive internationals since Euro 96 qualifiers, he was included in an Ireland squad for the US Cup in June 2000 which was proceeded by a friendly at home to Scotland in May. The Scotland match is noteworthy, or nearly noteworthy, as the game where Babb at one point found himself in the opposition’s penalty box and amazingly pulled off a near-perfect overhead kick on a flying ball, which unfortunately ricocheted powerfully off the crossbar and away rather than into the net. Most probably don’t remember the effort, but it never left us as what could have been one of the all-time great moments in Irish football. That year, Babb also made a shock transfer to Sporting Club de Portugal alongside fellow-Irishman Alan Mahon, and his career seemed to be back on the rise with another Irish call-up for World Cup qualifiers in August 2000. But infamously, Babb and winger Mark Kennedy were sent home from the squad’s training camp “after appearing in court charged with drunken and abusive behaviour and causing criminal damage.” He would make one more Irish appearance a couple of years later, again unfortunately noteworthy as featuring an own-goal with his first touch of the ball, having come on as a sub as part of a Euro 04 qualifier loss away to Russia on 7 September 2002.


Again relating to Bernie Slaven, Owen Coyle (middle name Columba) was born in Paisley, Scotland, in July 1966. Raised in the “Little Donegal” area of the Gorbals, Glasgow, both of Owen’s parents were Irish and the family would frequently travel back to the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht area of Gweedore in Donegal. Appearing over 100 times between 1985 and 1988 for his first club Dumbarton, with 36 goals, in the striker’s own words he didn’t consider himself good enough to play at the highest level, which for him would have meant Scotland caps. But Ireland scouts came to watch him “six or seven times” while with Dumbarton, and he was called up to the U21s to make his Irish underage debut against the Scots themselves in February 1987, scoring within two minutes in what would turn out to be a consolation goal in a 4-1 defeat. Moving to Clydebank in 1988, with an impressive record of 33 goals in 63 games for them, before 50 goals for his next club Airdrieonians in 123 games between 1990 and 1993, Coyle made an appearance for Ireland B in 1990, replacing David Kelly as a substitute in a 4-1 win against England B at Turners Cross, Cork, on 24 May.

Owen’s goals for Airdrie earned him a move down south as he joined Bolton Wanderers in 1993. The following year, in the run up to USA 94, he was called up the Irish squad and made his debut replacing fellow-Scottish-born striker Tommy Coyne away to the Netherlands on 20 April, with Coyne’s earlier goal ultimately securing a surprise 0-1 win. While Coyle would go on to star at the World Cup, as mentioned above, Coyne’s cap against the Dutch would prove to be his sole run out for the senior team. One more Ireland B appearance would be forthcoming however, again against England but this time as part of a defeat away in Anfield on 13 December 1994, coming on for David Kelly. In 1995, Coyne moved back to Scotland with a transfer to Dundee United, before Motherwell from 1997 to 1999 where he would link up with Tommy Coyne once again. Post-1999 came spells at Dunfermline Athletic; Ross County on loan; returns to Dundee United and Airdrieonians; the latter’s successor club Airdrie United; Falkirk; and St. Johnstone, with whom he would start a managerial career that now consists of too many clubs to mention (having also briefly been “co-manager” at Falkirk in 2002), but is currently in charge of Queen’s Park in the Scottish second tier.


After his debut, the earlier-mentioned Phil Babb didn’t have too long to wait in being joined internationally by another man with Caribbean blood. Curtis Fleming was born in Manchester in 1968 to an Irish mother and a Jamaican father. The family moved to Ireland not long afterwards and Curtis was raised in Dublin, playing youth football for Belvedere FC before following in Paul McGrath’s footsteps joining St. Patrick’s Athletic in 1987, and received call-ups to Irish underage squads in 1989 and 90. He also continued in the proud-tradition of Irish mixed-race internationals up to this point in being a defender – a right-sided fullback. Despite seeming to sign for Shamrock Rovers, Flemming instead moved to Middlesbrough in 1991 where he would stay for a decade. While part of the famous mid-90s Middlesbrough Premiership squad under Bryan Robson, with teammates such as Juninho and soon Ravenelli, he was called up to Mick McCarthy’s new look Ireland and played for the first time at home to the Czech Republic on 29 April 1996. He made ten appearances in green between then and his last cap in 1998, but after stints with Birmingham, Crystal Palace and Darlington, returned to the League of Ireland with Shelbourne in 2005 with whom he would also play in the Champions League.


Tony Cascarino wasn’t the only Irish international in the 90s whose path to being capped had something to do with a parent’s adoption. Fellow forward Jonathan “Jon” Goodman was born in June 1971 in Walthamstow, England, to English parents and made his real career start with Millwall in 1990. But Jon’s dad had been adopted, and, being aware of having Irish blood, perused his heritage once his adopted mother had died. Goodman senior found family in Galway and eventually moved altogether to County Wexford, gaining an Irish passport. By now with Wimbledon but having a connection to Ireland manager Mick McCarthy through the latter’s playing and managing days at Millwall, Jon realised he was now eligible for Ireland himself. Advised by Mick he would be looked at if he acquired his own Irish passport, Goodman did so and won his first Irish cap away to Wales in a friendly in a Cardiff on 7 February 1997. He would only make three further appearances, all in 1997 and including the infamous 3-2 World Cup qualifier loss away to FYR Macedonia, before retiring early from injury at the age of 29 in 2000. Pursuing a career as a coach and sports scientist, he would later take up a role as a fitness coach for Northern Ireland in their Euro 2008 qualifying campaign and is currently the academy manager of Milton Keynes Dons.

The 2000s:

Following the above, and the likes of Mickey Evans’ solo cap in 1997 (who is so obscure that we can’t even find enough info on where his Irish blood comes from to even potentially include in this piece), the Mick McCarthy-era “oddity” call-ups continued into the year 2000 with centre-back Paul Butler (to be fair amid many call-ups of future starting XI regulars also). Born in Manchester in 1972 and with no Irish connections, Butler started his senior career with Rochdale in 1991, before moving to Bury in 1996 and Sunderland in 1998. When receiving his call in 2000, it was widely reported that Butler was eligible only through his Irish wife Caroline and had availed of a passport that way. But an interview with the man himself ahead of his first, and as it would turn out only cap, revealed that it was Paul’s stepfather’s father Seamus, born in Dublin, who qualified him. Starting at home to the Czech Republic on 23 February 2000 and with Kernaghan-like question marks hanging over his connections and commitment, Paul was unfortunately substituted at half-time with the score at 0-2, never to be seen in green again. But he continued playing as a journeyman domestically until 2009, with further stints at Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, MK Dons and Chester City.


On 15 August 2001, two men would make their Ireland debuts to triple the amount of Irish internationals with Jamaican blood overnight. As the elder, Clinton Morrison would also make history in being the first black Irish international who wasn’t as obviously mixed-race to those who weren’t aware of his Irish grandmother. Born in London in 1979 to a “broken home” as Clinton Chambers, Clinton changed his surname as a 15 year old to his mother’s maiden name following his father’s walk-out on the family several years earlier. It was his mother’s mother, Mary Morrison from Garristown, North County Dublin, who qualified him for Ireland, while his father’s side qualified him for Jamaica. Obviously though, his native England would have been Clinton’s first choice international set-up, but as a young striker at second tier Crystal Palace in the late 90s/early 2000s, breaking into Kevin Keegan and Sven-Göran Eriksson’s sides was realistically never going to be on the cards.

In February 2001, Mick McCarthy began his pursuit of the then 20 year who had been firing them in for Palace, but was initially rebuked as Morrison contemplated the direction of his international future. By the spring, he seemed to have made his mind as he was called for Irish U21s games vs Estonia and Portugal, and accepted. A few months later and Clinton was named among the subs to take on Croatia in a friendly on the above-referenced date. Initially nervous that he wouldn’t be accepted in the side due to his South London accent, Morrison’s fears were quickly banished once he came on as the Irish crowd got behind him as they would any other Irishman and he scored the side’s second goal in the game on his debut. Playing in the 2nd-leg of the World Cup qualifier play-off away to Iran and scoring again against Denmark in a pre-World Cup friendly, Morrison was selected for the squad for Japan and Korea but didn’t end up getting any playing time. He would score 9 times for Ireland over 36 caps until 2006, during which time he went to Birmingham City in the Premier League before returning to Crystal Palace, going on to play for the likes of Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday post-international career before lower-league and non-league stints in the 2010s. But in 2017, poor Clinton got in hot water with Irish fans when on TV discussing an up-coming Ireland vs Wales World Cup qualifier, stating “may the best team win, two British teams going for it and I for one am hoping that Ireland can turn it on”. Despite the fact that no Irish person enjoys being called British, the majority of the Irish team at the time was actually playing in Britain making it semi-true (as well as the majority of Ireland fans supporting British teams rather than their local club), and anyway, the innocence of this gaffe while actually pledging his support behind Ireland makes it impossible for us to be mad at.


The other player to make his debut against Croatia in August 2001, slightly ahead of Clinton as he actually started, was utility man Steven Reid. As mentioned, London-born and raised Reid – from March 1981 onwards to be exact – also held Jamaican roots through his father’s side, with his Irish connection coming through his mother’s father from Ballinasloe, County Galway. Unlike Morrison though, Reid did have underage international experience, turning out for England Schoolboys in 1997 and 1998. Despite this, he never considered himself fully English, later recalling his mother’s words when he was young as she would explain to her children that they were Irish and the importance of such. At Millwall, where he started rising through the youth ranks when Mick McCarthy was still in charge there, he was encouraged by Irish underage stars Richard Sadlier and Robbie Ryan to declare for Ireland. And while England U21s were apparently interested in the hotly-tipped starlet, inspired by his mother’s pride in their ancestral homeland Steven phoned the FAI and nailed his green, white and orange colours to the mast. Unfortunately, a string of bad injuries would take their toll and Reid only managed 23 caps between 2001 and 2008, during which time he was mostly at Blackburn Rovers, officially retiring from international football in July 2010 but leaving the door open to Ireland should they be in need of a midfielder (at least until his club career came to an end also in 2015 after spells at QPR, WBA and Burnley).


The first player of the 21st century to follow in the footsteps of the Scottish-born Irish internationals such as Houghton and Coyne, was Aiden McGeady. Born April 1986 in Rutherglen, south-east of Glasgow, Aiden’s paternal grandparents hailed from aforementioned Gweedore, County Donegal, an Irish-speaking Gaeltacht area. Playing youth football for Busby Boys Club and Queen’s Park, he represented Scotland Schools sides including at an U13 World Cup in Paris, before joining Celtic’s youth ranks in the year 2000. Unbeknownst to anyone, this signing would ultimately steer his international future as Celtic would not allow their youth players to appear for their own school’s team, which was a requisite of playing for Scotland Schools.

Ireland though, aware of McGeady’s roots, endeavoured former-Irish international and Celtic goalkeeper Packie Bonner to convince the young winger to switch to the Ireland set-up instead. He accepted the offer, with his first experience coming through the U15s. Scotland U16s would later come calling in an attempt to win him back, even through the senior manager Berti Vogts, but McGeady’s mind was set and he stuck with the Irish, going to turn out for the U17s, U19s and U21s between 2002 and 2006. Breaking into the Cetlic first team in the midst of this as an 18 year old in early 2004, he would make his Irish senior debut later that summer against Jamaica at Charlton Athletic’s Valley on 2 June 2004 in the Unity Cup (a triangular competition between three countries with large diasporas in London, the other being Nigeria).

Helping Celtic to four league titles between 2004 and 2008, as well as impressing in Europe, McGeady’s stock rose and he was sold to Spartak Moscow in 2010 for £9.5 million, making him both Scotland’s most expensive export at the time and the first Irishman to play at a Russian club. He would spend four seasons in Moscow, during which time he appeared at Euro 2012 and set-up Ireland’s only goal at the tournament in the 1-3 defeat to Croatia. In 2013 McGeady returned to the UK to sign for Everton, but would only make 33 appearances for the Toffees over four seasons on their books, dropping down to Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End in the second tier on loan for the latter two of these. Despite this, he was selected for Euro 2016 and came on as a substitute in the three group games. The last of his impressive 93 caps for Ireland, with 5 goals, would come the following year in 2017 as he joined Sunderland, who soon found themselves dropping a division to the third tier League One. After a loan move to Chartlon in 2019, where his international career had started 15 years earlier, he his currently back in the Scottish top-flight with another of their famous Irish-heritage clubs Hibernians at 36 years old.


Throughout the 2000s we saw more oddball call-ups like the late 90s, with Jon Macken and Alex Bruce, both products of Manchester United. While moving on from the Red Devils to Preston North End, striker Macken received a call-up from the England U20 squad and made one appearance in the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championships, in which Ireland finished 3rd. Going on to play for Manchester City, Crystal Palace, Ipswich Town, Derby County, Barnsley, Walsall, Northwich Victoria, Stockport County and Bamber Bridge, he received a call-up for Ireland in 2004 while still with the sky-blue side of Manchester, qualifying through his grandparents from Cavan. Coming on for Clinton Morrison in a friendly at home to Bulgaria on 18 August 2004, it would be his only cap.


Alex Bruce, meanwhile, would follow a similar career path to Macken, with stints following Man Utd at Blackburn Rovers, Oldham Athletic, Birmingham City, Sheffield Wednesday, Tranmere Rovers, Ipswich Town, Leicester City, Leeds United, Huddersfield Town, Hull City, Wigan Athletic, Bury, Kilmarnock and Macclesfield. Of course the son of MUFC legend Steve Bruce, Alex was eligible for either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland through his grandparents from County Down, as by this point the Good Friday Agreement had made it a legal right for those from north of the border to be recognised as citizens of Ireland. Despite being approached by Northern Ireland U21s, Alex declared for the Republic and made his underage debut against in a friendly against Sweden on 1 March 2006. Later captaining an Ireland B side in addition to several other underage caps, Alex was called up to the senior side in 2007 and made his debut taking part in a US Cup game against Ecuador in New Jersey on 23 May, before one more appearance in a friendly at home to Poland in 2008. But more new rule changes, from FIFA this time, meant that this wasn’t to be the end of his international career. Since his caps had only come via non-competitive games, Bruce was still eligible for Northern Ireland (or England technically) and accepted a call-up in 2013. He turned out twice for the North in international matches, making him a true throwback to the days of “two Irelands” and the FAI/IFA wars, and becoming the only player to date to have played for both at senior level since the 1950s.


The above-referenced Ecuador match on 23 May 2007 in Giants’ Stadium was one of the strangest in Irish football history, as the “unorthodox”, experience-less manager at the time Steve Staunton gave a debut to no less than eleven players. Along with Bruce, among them was the infamous Joseph “Joe” Lapira. Born in August 1986 in Rochester, upstate New York, to an Irish mother, Joe was also of Maltese descent through his father’s side. While playing collegiate soccer for Notre Dame and 4th tier league football with Baton Rouge Capitals, Lapira’s uncle, who happened to work for the FAI, informed Staunton of his nephew’s skills and Irish eligibility. At the same time, Aberdeen was after Joe’s signature and this combined was apparently enough for a call-up. Against Ecuador, for his solo cap, he would become the first amateur to represent Ireland since Bohemians’ Willie Browne in 1964. Following the US Cup, Lapira’s Aberdeen trial fell through, but he ended up being given a chance by Rangers instead, which would have been an interesting development for a recent Irish international. However, he broke down with injury within minutes of his first training session and would never sign, later getting another opportunity at an Aberdeen trial, but ultimately only achieving a senior career of three and a half seasons in Norway’s second-tier with Nybergsund IL-Trysil in 2008, 2007 and 2011, and three games in India’s second-tier with United Sikkim in 2011.


An interesting case in our discussion comes next as it was to kick off a new era of FAI vs IFA tensions, and the player in question is representative of more than just himself, as we shall see. Darren Gibson was born in October 1987 in Derry, and played for local side Institute as a boy. His talent was noted and the defender received call-ups to Northern Ireland U16s, as well as a trial for Manchester United. As a result of this trial, the IFA completely shot themselves in the foot by dropping Darren for some reason, who hence declared for the Republic of Ireland, taking advantage of the same Good Friday Agreement citizenship laws which had helped Alex Bruce swap sides, and signing for Man Utd in 2005. Between 2003 and 2008, he appeared for Ireland U17s, U19s, U21s and Ireland B, and taking to the field for the senior team for the first time in a 0-4 friendly win away to Denmark on 22 August 2007. His competitive debut would come less than a month later on 8 September, away to Slovakia in a 2-2 drawn Euro 08 qualifier. In the run-up to these, Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthington appealed in vein to get Gibson to return to them, with much consternation in general in the North at the precedent of Ireland having poached “their man” (with many in the “South” in return pointing out the hypocrisy in general of trying to force Irish-identifying Ulstermen to play for a team which represented British rule in Ireland).

Gibson also became a rare-Irish export to Belgium around the time, being loaned by Manchester United to their feeder club Royal Antwerp in the Belgian second tier for 2006-07, before returning to England with another spell loan at Wolves in 07-08, and breaking into the United first team over the next three seasons. He also participated in Euro 2012 qualifiers and was selected in the squad for the finals, by which point he had joined Everton, but manager Giovanni Trapattoni left him as an unused substitute for the tournament itself. This irked Gibson, who, as a result, rejected following call-ups for World Cup 2014 qualifiers in September 2012 and March 2013. With Trapattoni’s exit, he returned to the fold in September 2013 for qualifiers against Germany and Kazakhstan, under interim manager Noel King (now manager of Shelbourne FC women’s wing). The comeback proved to be an unfortunate one however, after having played in the 3-0 defeat to Germany, he was stretchered off against the Kazakhs with a cruciate knee ligament injury that ruled him out for the rest of the season. With limited game time at Everton in the seasons after this, he’d go on to make 27 appearances for Ireland in total until 2016, and further stints with Sunderland, Wigan Athletic, and non-league Salford City and Wythenshawe Amateurs, the latter being the 35 year old’s last club to date in 2022.


Had it not been for injury, the earlier-mentioned Lapira and the other ten debutants against Ecuador that day in 2007 may have been joined by Caleb Folan. Born in Leeds in 1982 and initially playing for Leeds United, Folan received a call-up from Steve Staunton in 2007 after impressive performances for Chesterfield had earned him a move to Wigan Athletic in the Premier League. While we do not know of the non-Irish side of Caleb’s background, one set of his grandparents were from Galway which is from where he presumably inherited the Folan name. But his call-up was controversial, as Staunton had never spoken directly to the striker, had only seen him play once, and had picked him over several other established forwards. However, injury forced Folan’s withdrawal and he had to wait until Staunton’s replacement, Giovanni Trapattoni, issued a new call-up in late 2008. Making his debut as a sub at home to Cyprus in a World Cup qualifier on 15 October, his finest moment in 7 green appearances came away to Italy on 1 April 2009 in the same qualifiers, helping to set up Robbie Keane’s 87 minute equaliser. After having quickly moved from Wigan to Hull City in 2007 and staying there until 2011, Caleb finished his career with exotic spells at Colorado Rapids in MLS, Terengganu F.C. II in Malaysia, and Kanbawza FC in Myanmar, now Shan United FC.


A similar figure in Irish football history to the above is Leon Best, not least for the fact that both were forwards who won 7 caps with no goals. From an area known for its gangs and gun crime, Leon was born in Nottingham in 1986 to an Irish mother. But with no father figure in his life, again we do not know what other ethnicity he might belong to. Leon also lived in Dublin during his youth, as his mother relocated back to their homeland for a number of years from when he was seven, where he also began playing club football with Lourdes Celtic. By 2002, the family had returned to Nottingham though, as Best signed a youth contract with Notts County before signing professionally with Southampton in 2004. Following a succession of loan deals to Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Yeovil Town, a move to Coventry City came in 2007. Best had been an underage Irish international since 2002 via the U17s, U19s and U21s, but while with Coventry in the Championship he was called up to the senior national team and made his debut in a friendly against Nigeria in Craven Cottage on 29 May 2009. As mentioned, this would only be one of 7 caps, the last of which coming the following year, with Best going on to play afterwards for Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, Brighton & Hove Albion, Rotherham Town, Ipswich Town, and Charlton Athletic. One other international football titbit regarding Leon is that his sister is the mother of a child with Jamaican international Wes Morgan.

The 2010s:

Another native-Scotsman, James McCarthy was born in Glasgow in November 1990. The Celtic supporter tried out for his favoured club as a boy but was rejected, due to their existing embarrassment of riches when it came to youth talent, ending up at Hamilton Academical instead. For the Accies, James made his senior debut at 16 years of age in 2006, becoming their youngest debutant of the 21st century and displaying the clear potential that he had, before also becoming their youngest ever goal-scorer in January 2007 via a Scottish Cup defeat of Livingston. In yet another Scottish link to the county, James’ grandfather came from Donegal in Ireland, specifically the Na Rosa region (“The Rosses”); a large part of which is Irish-speaking Gaeltacht land and close to Gweedore where Owen Coyle and Aiden McGeady’s Irish roots lay. Aware of this, the Republic invited the promising midfielder to declare for them, which he did, beginning a journey through the Irish U17s, U18s, U19s and U21s from 2007 to 2011, and with his senior debut coming on 2 March 2010 as a substitute in a friendly with Brazil played in Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. The Scottish FA had made multiple attempts in vain before this to win him back to their own set-up, with McCarthy later stating that he would have played for Scotland had they only invited him first.

By the time of his first senior Ireland cap, James had moved to Wigan Athletic in the Premier League and made 120 appearances for them between 2009 and 2014. Despite speculation arising from Wigan manager at the time Roberto Martinez, with comments regarding his player’s international commitment not having fully been decided on, McCarthy’s future was confirmed in March 2011 when he made his first competitive Irish appearance in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Macedonia, rendering him now officially ineligible to switch back to Scotland. Despite this, he did not feature in Ireland’s Euro 2012 finals campaign, withdrawing in advance of the squad selection on account of his father’s recent cancer diagnosis. He would, though, go on to appear in all but one of the Wold Cup 2014 qualifiers, and help the team to another Euro qualification in the campaign after; this time playing in all four games at the finals.

McCarthy transferred to Everton in 2014 and was hoped to be an international shoe-in in his position for years to come as his career progressed. However, a hamstring injury sustained while playing for Ireland – resulting in a public spat between his Everton manager Ronald Koeman and Irish manager Martin O’Neill, on whether a “half-fit” McCarthy should have been selected at all – followed by a nasty broken leg in January 2018, meant no international caps between in 2017, 18, or 19, and only 5 appearances for Everton across those two seasons. Moving on to Crystal Palace in 2019, he finally appeared twice more for Ireland in 2020, which were the last of his unfortunately low 43 caps to date, before realising his boyhood dream of signing for Celtic in 2021-22 on a four year contract where he is still currently on the books.


Next we have two more players originating in territory currently considered part of the United Kingdom, both having represented those “British nations” at underage level, but both ending-up representing the Republic and making their debut in same game. Marc Wilson hails from Aghagallon, County Antrim, born August 1987, and played both association football and Gaelic football as a youth before focusing on the former, which earned him a spot at the Manchester United academy in 2001. The following year he was called-up to and played for Northern Ireland’s U15s, but, moving to Portsmouth’s youth set-up in 2004, Wilson was then invited to Ireland’s U18s. Citing the fact that Ireland were the team he supported as a boy, he accepted and stuck with the Republic up to senior level from that point on, making his full debut at home to Wales on 11 February 2011 in the short-lived Nations Cup (between the two aforementioned and Scotland and Northern Ireland), despite one last attempt by the North to win him back after this before he had played in a competitive game. Wilson won 25 caps between then and 2016, turning out for a variety of English clubs such as Stoke City, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albio, before more recently making his living in Iceland with Þróttur Vogum and ÍBV.


Ciaran Clark, meanwhile, a product of Irish parents in Harrow, England, and born September 1989, was an Aston Villa youth player from 2000 onwards, breaking into the first team in 2009. From the years of 2005 to 2009 he was an English youth international at multiple levels, captaining the U19s and U20s. But in late 2010, Ireland began scouting Clark who quickly pledged his international future to his historical homeland and made his debut in the 2011 Wales match mentioned above. Winning 36 caps in total to date, the last of which in 2019, and moving to Newcastle United in 2016, Clark is currently on loan to Sheffield United at the time of writing.


James McClean, born in Derry in April 1989, is someone who nobody now could doubt is “100% Gaelic”, also having played Gaelic football for Seán Dolans GAC as a youth. Like Darren Gibson, he would become a product of Institute FC, after having initially switched from Gaelic to association football with his first intermediate club Trojans. But despite his strong beliefs of Irish freedom, like those above James did represent the “British Irish” at youth level (having little other choice at the time), participating in the Northern Ireland 2008 Milk Cup winning team and then making 7 appearances for the Northern Irish U21s in 2008 and 09, by which point he had joined Derry City in the League of Ireland. With scintillating performances domestically, he was called upon for the North’s senior side in July 2011, just before signing for Sunderland, but the 21 year old declined the invitation; instead deciding to wait for the Republic. Despite one last plea from Northern manager Michael O’Neill, McClean stood fast and made his debut for Ireland on 29 February 2012, coming on as a substitute for Aiden McGeady.

McClean’s decision, as part of the growing list of players from Irish Catholic backgrounds in the North (IE, native Irish) who were rejecting the IFA in favour of the “free” FAI, as was their right, triggered abuse and death threats against him from him from British Unionists (which obviously didn’t help their cause at all). Relating to this, and the experience of representing Northern Ireland, the winger was quoted as saying “You are looking around as a Catholic and seeing all the Union Jacks and listening to the fans’ songs and I just didn’t feel at home at all”. Among friendlier faces in the crowd and under the tricolour, McClean made his first international start at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina on 26 May 2012, before coming off the bench at the Euros against Spain to get some competitive minutes under his belt and fully cement his international status. Moving on to Wigan Athletic, West Bromwich Albion, Stoke City, and most recently back to Wigan, James has infamously received anti-Irish abuse throughout his career, much of which stemming from his refusal to wear the British military poppy on his shirts, for obvious reasons. As of the end of 2022, he is on course to achieve a century of Ireland caps, currently siting with 96 appearances and 11 international goals at the time of writing.


Unlike several of the mixed-race players listed above, goalkeeper Darren Randolph was the product of an apparently happier relationship. His father is the basketball player Ed Randolph of Tallahassee, Florida (classically, when you Google Ed, you get a first result confirming this fact, and a second from an Irish Independent article starting with “A Wicklow native”…), who became one of the first American imports to the Irish Basketball League in the 1980s. Meeting his wife Anne during this time – a folk singer from Mayo – the pair settled in Bray where Darren was born in 1987. Perhaps, considering his father’s ball-handling abilities, it was destiny that Randolph would become a goalkeeper upon starting his youth football career with local side Ardmore Rovers in 1998.

By 2003 Randolph had earned a contract with Charlton Athletic, for whom Ardmore were a feeder club, and was also called up to represent Ireland U17s the same year. Going on to play for the U19s, U21s, and Ireland B, while domestically completing loan stints for Welling United, Accrington Stanley, Gillingham, Bury and Hereford United, he would finally make his senior international debut in 2012 via a friendly at home to Oman on 11 September, after transferring to Motherwell in Scotland and finding first choice football. Moving on to Birmingham City, West Ham United, Middlesbrough, and now back to West Ham, and playing every minute of football during Ireland’s Euro 2016 campaign, the last of his 50 caps in green came against Bulgaria in the Nations League on 18 November 2020, although the 34 year old has recently stated he has no desire to retire from international football despite the emergence of several excellent young goalkeepers who have been keeping him out of squads.


A man who would follow in the footsteps of fellow-Derry natives Darren Gibson and James McClean is Shane Duffy, born in the aforementioned historically walled-city in January 1990. Like McClean and Marc Wilson, he also played both Gaelic football as a youth, for Doire Colmcille CLG, and association football for Foyle Harps, before being forced to make a decision and focus on the latter. Having at one point also turned out for Derry City, he represented Northern Ireland U16s, U17s, U19s, U21s, and B team, all across 2008 and 2009, during which time he signed for Everton. In June 2009 at 17 years old, he was called into the Northern Irish senior squad, but was left as an unused substitute in the friendly at home to Italy. However, following a discussion with Irish legend Liam Brady in 2010, he declared for Ireland instead, appearing for the Republic’s U19s and U21s between then and 2014.

Regarding the above decision, and representative of many others born on that side of the boarder who did not view playing for British-ruled Northern Ireland as representing their “own country”, Shane made the interesting comments of: “It was what I wanted to do. It was difficult for me to leave because of what they’ve done for me in Northern Ireland since I was young. They brought me through the ranks which gave me the chance to come to Everton, (…) but it was always always a case of wanting to come to my own country. I spoke to a couple of people about it because I didn’t want to disrespect Northern Ireland, but I just had to do what was best for me and I thought it would be best for me to switch.” In response, and feeling continually hurt over this and the other Northern-born players declaring for the “South”, the IFA took the case up with FIFA and the international Court of Arbitration for Sport, arguing that they were at an disadvantage compared to any other association in the world (with others again pointing out that they should have thought of this before forcing Irish people to play under a British flag). With the rules of the Good Friday Agreement and that of international declaration firmly in place however, the IFA’s efforts were in vain, and in the case of Duffy were meaningless anyway as his familial links to Donegal had made him eligible for Ireland regardless of Good Friday.

Despite the “homecoming” to play under the tricolour, Duffy’s initial Irish experience wouldn’t be a pleasant one, as during a training camp in May 2010 he collided with goalkeeper Adrian Walsh during an Irish development squad vs amateur team game, suffering a “freak” life-threatening injury to his liver which required immediate surgery. Although it was thought that it would take the defender months to recover, he thankfully bounced back quickly and returned to action in a little over 10 weeks. During the 2011-12 season, he began to make senior squad appearances for Everton, with several loan moves between 2010 and 2014 to Burnley, Scunthorpe United and Yeovil Town to gain more valuable first team experience, before being sold on to second tier Blackburn Rovers in 2014. The same year he made his Irish senior debut, appearing in a friendly against Costa Rica in Philadelphia on 7 June. Moving to Brighton & Hove Albion in 2016, whose promotion that season meant several seasons of top flight football to come, he has won international caps every year since 2014, with 55 appearances and 7 goals (many of which powerful headers) to date, and captained the side for the first time in 2019 against Denmark. In 2020 he made a dream switch to Celtic on loan, which turned out to be not as successful as hoped, and returned to Brighton for the following season before another loan spell with Fulham in 2022-23, which at the time of writing has just been made a permanent move.


Darren Randolph wouldn’t actually be the only mixed-race Irish international of his period with a direct familial link to another sportsman. Cyrus Christie, born 1992 in Coventry, is the nephew of the late boxer Errol Christie. From this side of the family, his father’s, Cyrus inherited Jamaican DNA, but through his mother he also could claim both Irish and Lebanese blood. Signing with his local club Coventry City in 2010, wing-back Christie had yet to declare for any of his four possible national teams by 2014 when Ireland manager Martin O’Neill became aware of his Celtic grandmother. Cyrus accepted the call-up that followed and made his debut in a friendly at home to USA on 14 November 2014, by which point he had also made a step up from League 1 to Derby County in the Championship. Currently with Hull City after spells with Middlesbrough and Fulham, and loan moves to Nottingham Forest and Swansea City, he made the last of his at present 30 caps in 2022, but at only 30 years old, more may well be to follow.


Like Leon Best, David McGoldrick hails from the mean streets of Nottingham and started his career with Notts County, but born a year later in 1987, and like Cyrus Christie he would make his Ireland debut vs the United States in 2014. McGoldrick was adopted into his family and only found out later that he had an Irish grandfather through his maternal mother. Therefore, perhaps the non-European side of his ancestry is also unknown, but what is confirmed is that David was eligible for Scotland as well as Ireland and England. With a list similar to several of the above, after County, McGoldrick played for Southampton, Bournemouth, Port Vale, Nottingham Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Coventry City and Ipswich Town by 2013, finally settling at the latter. It was here that Scotland manager Gordon Strachan attempted to lure David into the Scottish set-up, but, encouraged by his Ipswich manager and former Ireland boss Mick McCarthy, and Irish international teammates Stephen Hunt and Daryl Murphy, instead he proclaimed his intention to hold out for the Boys in Gree and was rewarded with the aforementioned call-up for the American game o 18 November 2014. Despite the forward only scoring one goal in 14 appearances total, McGoldrick was named the FAI’s Senior International Player of the Year for 2019 before announcing his international retirement four months later in order to focus on his club career. Moving on to Sheffield United after Ipswich, he is currently on the books of Derby County.


Like several before him, Eunan O’Kane – born in Feeny, County Derry, in July 1990 – was a duel athlete as a youth, playing Gaelic football for St Mary’s Banagher GAC while also honing his association football skills with Maiden City Soccer Academy from the time he was 10 years old. Manchester City were already scouting the youngster a couple of years later, with his sporting DNA evidently coming through his father who had managed the Derry GAA minor-hurlers to an Ulster title in 2001. At 16, he decided to focus on football and was called-up to Northern Ireland U16s in 2005, also representing the U17s, U19s, U20s and U21s between then and 2010. During this period he was signed by Everton in 2007, but returned to Northern Ireland with Coleraine for 2009-10, with whom he’d make his first senior appearances.

In June 2010, O’Kane moved back across the water to fourth tier Torquay United. This would start an epic journey up the divisions, joining third tier Bournemouth after three years who hence progressed from League One to the Championship to the Premier League by 2015 (nearly also achieving the rare feat of scoring in all four leagues, had he only found the net in one of his 16 top flight outings). In 2012, while about to leave Torquay, the midfielder became the latest in the growing list of players to frustrate the footballing authorities in Belfast as he declared for Ireland, beginning with representing the the U21s that same May. By 2015 he had been called up for a senior squad, and made his debut the following spring on 25 March 2016 in a friendly at home to Switzerland, but would miss out on Euro 2016 selection. After 5 caps that year and only appearing twice more in green afterwards, both in 2017 for a total of 7, O’Kane joined Leeds United following Bournemouth in 2016 and went on to to spend time with Luton Town on loan, but a leg break while with Luton in September 2018 unfortunately has resulted in him not playing again since then.


After the earlier-mentioned Fred Horlacher meant that German DNA played a small, early role in Irish international football, it would be another 88 years following his debut before a man actually born on German soil was capped for Ireland; but a man with no German DNA himself. Derrick Williams came into the world in January 1993 in Hamburg, to an Irish-American mother and an African-American father who was serving in the US Army. Due to this, Derrick was moved around Germany and the States regularly in his youth, before the family settled in Waterford in the year 2000. Playing youth football for Tramore AFC, he was spotted by scouts from Aston Villa and signed in 2009 at the age of 15, turning down an offer from Manchester United. By 2011 he was representing Ireland U19s, and the U21s in 2012 and 2013, by which time he had also made one appearance in the Premier League with the Villa senior side. This would be his sole, European top flight football experience to date however, as the centre-back joined third-tier Bristol City in 2013, soon promoted to the Championship, followed by Blackburn Rovers in the same division in 2016.

While with Blackbrun, Williams was named Player of the Season for 2016-17, although the club were also relegated to League One. Helping them to an immediate promotion back up however, he was rewarded at the end of the 2017-18 season with a call-up to the Irish senior squad. He made his debut away to France on 28 May, but would only appear two more times after this (at least including scoring an international goal against New Zealand in November 2019). From 2018 to 2021, Derrick increasingly struggled to get game time at Blackburn, and in March 2021 his contract was cancelled by mutual consent so he could join LA Galaxy in MLS. Appearing more than 50 times over the following two seasons, in November 2022 he was traded to D.C. United ahead of the 2023 season.


Finally, we are coming to the new generation of Irish players whose stories are not yet fully written (aka the part that will age badly), but who are already representative of the Ireland of the 21st century. Some, however, are still drawn from the diaspora whose legacy is such a part of the Irish story in the 20th century, such as Callum Robinson, born in Northampton, England, in 1995, and another in the long line of players with a mother of Irish DNA and a father of Jamaican DNA. Representing England underage teams throughout his initial years at Aston Villa, he declared for Ireland though his Monaghan-born grandmother in 2018 while with Preston North End and made his debut away to Wales on 6 September. The forward, now at Cardiff City, has scored 8 goals in 35 appearances to date.


Another forward, Michael Obafemi was born in the year 2000 in Dublin to Nigerian parents, who probably had little idea that their son would grow up to be his era’s Steve Heighway (and, more than likely, had zero idea who Steve Heighway was either). This is in the sense that the family had moved from London to Dublin, where the parents had Michael, and then moved back to England while he was still an infant. Despite holding no real ethnic, cultural, or historical links to the land of his birth (besides the birth itself), Obafemi still chose Ireland early over his other possible options of England or Nigeria, appearing for the U19s in 2017 before making his full debut the following year at home to Denmark on 19 September 2018. In doing so, he became a double-record breaker in being the first non-mixed-race, black Irish player and also the first Irish international player born in the 2000s. Of Southampton at time but now at Swansea, he will undoubtedly soon add to his 2 goals in 7 appearances so far.

The 2020s:

Born in February 2001, Adam Idah is a Cork-native with an Irish mother and Nigerian father. While playing youth football for College Corinthians AFC in Douglas, Cork, before moving to Norwich City where he remains to this day, he received his first underage call-up in 2016 for the Irish U16s and made appearances for every level up to U21s. In 2020, having broken into Norwich’s first team the year before, Idah made his senior international debut on 3 September away to Bulgaria, and the forward will soon by looking to add a first international goal to his 13 appearances since then.


Nigeria would swiftly continue to leave its mark on Irish football, as in February 2002, Gavin Bazunu was born in Dublin, son of an Irish mother and Nigerian father. The future-goalkeeper was raised in Firhouse and came through nearby Shamrock Rovers’ youth academy, making his debut for the senior team in 2018 aged just 16 as his talent became evident. Not surprisingly then, the following year he made a move to Manchester City (although also unsurprisingly would never make an appearance for the first team there) and was capped for Ireland U19s and U21s. In 2021, while completing loan spells with Rochdale and Portsmouth in League One, Bazunu was called up for the Irish senior team for the game at home to Luxembourg on 27 March and since then has won plaudits for his performances in his 13 appearances to date, becoming manager Stephen Kenny’s No.1 between the sticks and earning a move to Southampton in 2022 for some real, first-team, top-flight experience.


For the purposes of this article, it is a shame that Sammie Szmodics‘ only call-up to an Ireland squad to date did not result in a cap, but there is still time (and we’re including him anyway). Samuel Joseph Szmodics was born in Colchester, England, in 1995, and, as well as the land of his birth, is eligible to play for Hungary through his Hungarian-born grandfather and for Ireland through his Irish-born grandmother. Spending his youth career and first six seasons of senior football at his local club, Colchester United, in League One and League Two, Sammie moved to Bristol City in the Championship in 2019-20, but was immediately loaned to Peterborough United back in League One and signed on with them permanently for 2020-21. In this season, the attacking midfielder scored 16 goals in 46 appearances, helping the side win promotion to the Championship, and was rewarded in May 2021 with a first international call-up of any kind from Stephen Kenny after forwards Callum Robinson and Aaron Connolly were ruled out of his squad through injury. The games in question were to be against Andorra and Hungary, the latter of which would have obviously been of particular interest, but on 2 June Szmodics withdrew from the squad after aggravating an old shoulder injury in training. At 27 years old, it its unlikely but not impossible that his time in green will come again, having been relegated to League One again with Peterborough but encouragingly then winning a move back to the Championship with Blackburn Rovers for 2022-23.


While Ireland’s inevitable first international player of partly-Hungarian descent is yet to be decided, one player who did make history with his debut in 2021 is Chiedozie Ogbene. This is because Chiedozie was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in May 1997, which 24 years later would make him the first ever African-born Irish international. He could have been representing the United States by now however, had his father accepted a job offer in Florida in 2005, rather than taking the family to Ireland for his work instead. But they did settle in Cork, and after several stints with youth clubs in the area – including College Corinthians around the same time as Adam Idah – Ogbene signed for Cork City in 2015 in the League of Ireland. Moving to follow-Premier Division club at the time Limerick FC in 2017, the winger made a name for himself with 34 appearances and 8 goals throughout the season, signing with Brentford in England te following year.

With limited game time on the cards, and after a short loan-deal with Exeter City, in 2019 Ogbene transferred to Rotherham United and has been bouncing back and forth between League One and the Championship with them since then. After this first promotion in 2020, the player himself approached Ireland manager Stephen Kenny with his ambitions of playing for the national team, and later stated his desire of becoming a role-model for other Irish youths of similar origins. On 8 June 2021, he made his debut away to Hungary – this first of 13 caps and 3 goals to date – but the occasion was somewhat soured by the home fans booing of the Ireland players taking of the knee against racism, which Ogbene himself raised with UEFA after the game.


Nigeria’s influence wouldn’t stop there, as Andrew Omobamidele would soon prove, born in Leixlip, Kildare, in June 2002 to an Irish mother and Nigerian father. A defender, Andrew turned out for Leixlip United at junior level and was selected for Dublin District Schoolboys League representative squads, alongside fellow-future international Gavin Bazunu. By 2019 he was receiving call-ups to Ireland U17s and earned a signing with Norwich City. Going on to win caps for the U19s and U21s, in 2021 he was called up the senior squad as he began to break into Norwich’s first team, and made his debut away to Portugal in a World Cup qualifier on 1st September, the first of 5 caps to date.


The latest Irish international of the increasingly normal mixed-race category to make their debut is himself a somewhat surprising call-up. Christopher Nathan Hamilton, better known as CJ Hamilton, was born in Harrow, England, in 1995 to an Irish mother, Mandy O’Keeffe, and an English father, Christopher senior (the J in “CJ” designating junior). It is a sign of the times that we don’t know his father’s family heritage other than this, with whatever “exotic destination” the genes came from in the distant past being too far away to be relevant (compared to many above where such info is nearly always readily available in the player’s backstory). Regardless, CJ’s parents did not stay together and he moved as a child with his mother back Clonlea, County Waterford, where he would play hurling for the local GAA club Clonlea Power and football with Carrick United. The latter was the game that ultimately could put food on his table though, and upon moving back to England to live with his father at 16, CJ signed a youth contract with Sheffield United in 2012.

The winger spent time on loan at Halifax Town and Gateshead in the 5th tier National League before moving to Mansfield Town in League Two in 2016. Becoming a first-team regular over the next four seasons, he secured a transfer to Blackpool in League One in 2020. But it wouldn’t be until March 2022 when Stephen Kenny even became aware of Hamilton, whose domestic performances were raising his profile. He was called up Kenny’s squad that May and made his debut at 27 years old – his only cap to date – on 8 June at home to Ukraine.


We look to the future once again now with a player yet to win caps, but, as another recent call-up, it is surely only a matter of time. Born in August 2002 to a Nigerian family in Enniscorthy, Wexford, Festy Ebosele began his youth career with Moyne Rangers, before moving to Bray Wanderers in 2016. After a couple of years, Festy was spotted by Derby County before even making his way into the Bray senior team and was signed by them 2018. That same year he was called up to Ireland U16s, going on to also represent the U17s, U19s and U21s since then. Ebosele’s senior Derby debut came under unusual circumstances in 2021, when he was one of 14 academy players called-up for the FA Cup game against Chorley on 9 January to replace the entire first-team, who were in forced isolation, along with the staff, after a COVID-19 outbreak. Due to restrictions imposed on the club while in administration the following year, Derby announced in March 2022 that they were not extending the wing-back’s contract, who would instead be moving to the far more exciting prospect of Udinese in Serie A. Interestingly, Irish youth international of Ghanaian-descent James Abankwah would be heading to the same destination, having signed with Udinese from St. Patrick’s Athletic in 2021, but staying at the latter on loan until mid-2022 (most-likely another entrant of his own in a future edition of this article). Ahead of the move to Italy, Ebosele was called up to the Irish senior squad in May 2022 for the games against Armenia, Ukraine, and Scotland, but as of right now is yet to make his debut.


Finally, we come to two of the most recent call-ups to the Ireland squad at the time of writing; both of whom made their debuts in November 2022, but not yet in a competitive game. Evan Ferguson was born in Bettystown, County Meath, in 2004, son of League of Ireland stalwart Barry Ferguson and his English wife Sarah. A footballing prodigy, Evan moved from his first club of St. Kevin’s Boys FC – a breeding ground for many a future international – to Bohemians, for whom he’d make headlines by appearing at only 14 yeara of age for the senior side in a friendly against Chelsea in July 2019. Playing in three League of Ireland games in 2019 and 2020 also, Evan was snapped-up by Brighton & Hove Albion in 2021, making his first senior appearance for the Seagulls in an EFL Cup game away to Cardiff City in August of that year, with his first Premier League experience coming the following February in a home defeat to Burnley. Unsurprisingly, he was a fixture of Ireland underage teams also, appearing for the U15s, U17s and U21s from 2018 onwards.

In October 2022, Ferguson signed his first long-term professional contract on his 18th birthday, locking him down with Albion until 2026 baring a transfer fee, and the following month he was called-up to Stephan Kenny’s Ireland squad. On 17 November, he replaced Alan Browne in the 89th minute of the friendly against Norway to make his senior Ireland debut, which left the young striker “absolutely buzzing”. His stock would continue to rise as he scored his first Premier League goal for Brighton on 31 December, with more following after the New Year. This form and accompanying hype has led to inevitable media hope and speculation in England that Evan, due to his mother, could declare for them, of which of course there is no indication whatsoever. But until he makes his competitive debut, the matter won’t officially be put to bed – no matter how fanciful.


Meanwhile, Belfast man Mark Sykes had been born several years earlier than Evan Fergusson – in August 1997 to be exact – and was brought up through NIFL Premiership club Glenavon. Graduating from their youth system, the midfielder made 117 appearances for the Lurgan Blues between 2013 and 2019, while representing Northern Ireland U18s, U19s and U21s between 2016 and 2018. Descried as “one of the most outstanding young prospects in the Irish League”, Mark transferred to Oxford United in League One in January 2019, and was called-up for Northern Ireland squads in May and September of that year. Without winning a cap however, in August 2020 Sykes informed the IFA that he no longer wished to be considered for their side, joining the several that had come before him in declaring for Ireland. Initially included in a March 2022 squad, and following a move up the ladder domestically to second tier Bristol City for 2022-23, he received another call-up at the same time as Ferguson and made his debut in the second of the two friendlies, at home to Malta for a 1-0 win on 20 November. In doing so, he became the first Belfast-born player to represent the Republic since 1946, and surely won’t be the last.


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