Here Are 7 Of The Most Random Transfer Moves Involving Irish Players

By Gary Connaughton

Irish players who want to make a name for themselves in the game usually follow a fairly traditional route. They tend to make their way to English football, where there is a well established pathway across the Irish Sea.

Of course, there are exceptions.

While the majority of Irish footballers never venture much further than that, there have been some well-known exceptions down through the years. The likes of Liam Brady, John Aldridge, and Robbie Keane have had high profile spells on the continent.

However, there are some deals that are less well remembered. With destinations in Ukraine, Spain, The Netherlands, Portugal, and France, here are seven of the most random transfer deals involving Irish players.

***Note: Cavan's Cillian Sheridan has had so many of these moves that the great man is deserving of his own article, so has not been included on this occasion.***

Darren O'Dea - Metalurh Donetsk

Darren O'Dea had already had spells at Celtic and a number of English clubs when he made the move to Toronto in the MLS in 2012. Considering he was only 25-years old at the time, it was perhaps expected that he would make his way back across the Atlantic at some point.

However, few would have predicted that he would end up in Ukraine.

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After less than a year in Canada, he signed on a free transfer for Metalurh Donetsk on a three-year deal. While he would spend only one season at the club, he had no shortage of crazy experiences. Speaking to Balls a few years ago, he recalled a scary run-in with the Russian army while on the way to a game in the contested territory of Crimea.

There was - if you like - a 'fake' Russian border set up by men in balaclavas and machine-guns when we arrived, and they wouldn't allow our foreign players - as in myself - across this border without Visas.

But we were on our way for a Ukrainian Premier League match, so we were stuck at a border for four or five hours...

Next thing you know, there's Russian army soldiers pointing machine-guns at us, running at us, shouting.

Obviously I couldn't understand exactly what they were saying. The Russian lads that were with us scarpered quickly enough, but the foreign lads - we didn't know what they were saying. All I saw was a machine-gun in my face!

O'Dea would move to Blackpool after getting out of his contract in Ukraine.

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Mick McCarthy - Olympique Lyonnais

Mick McCarthy spent the vast majority of his playing career in English football, although he would have a couple of ventures outside the nation. The first came with a move to Celtic in 1987, winning a league title and a pair of Scottish Cups in his two seasons at the club.

While that was one thing, seeing him move to Lyon was a much bigger surprise. The defender would sign for the French giants on a three-year deal in the summer of 1989, who became interested in his services after seeing him at for Ireland at Euro 88.

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While the club were keen, McCarthy admitted back in 2009 that he had no idea where his new club even was.

That was perhaps a sign of things to come, with the future Ireland manager hardly thriving during his time in France. He would feature only ten times for the club, failing to settle in due to injury issues and a lack of form and eventually leaving the following January on a loan move to Millwall. The move was soon made permanent.

Phill Babb - Sporting Lisbon

Phil Babb had yet to enter his 30s when it became apparent that his time at Liverpool was coming to an end, although where he would move next remained to be seen. It would not have been expected to see him end up in Portugal, although that's where the defender would land after signing for Sporting Lisbon on a free transfer in the summer of 2000.

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The move turned out to be a success, especially in the second season. He would make 27 appearances in the league as Sporting won a league and cup double.

He would eventually move back to England with Sunderland, although not before he knocked out Cristiano Ronaldo in a training session.

Padraig Amond - Paços de Ferreira

The road from the League of Ireland to the Liga Portugal is not a well travelled one, although that did not stop Padraig Amond from making the move back in 2010. On the back of some remarkable goalscoring exploits for Sligo Rovers, he drew some unexpected interest from Paços de Ferreira.

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It came as quite the shock to the player himself, who explained to Balls last year how the move would come about.

At the time I was living up in Sligo with Mauro Almeida, a Portuguese player that was playing with us.

We were sitting down watching TV one night and chatting away about football. Going across the water to England and playing a high level was an ambition of mine, he asked if I would ever play abroad in somewhere apart from England. It was just a throwaway comment, but I said 'of course I would'...

We just had that conversation, then Mauro got injured and went back to Portugal for a while.

The day we played Shamrock Rovers in the League Cup semi-final, he came back over to finish his rehab with us. He told me ‘there’s a fella from a Portuguese club coming over to look at you today’.

I genuinely knew nothing about it, I hadn’t spoke to anybody about it. I played against Rovers and scored two, by that evening there was a bid after going in for me.

Amond would only play one season in Portuguese football, but he thoroughly enjoyed it. While he was behind future Portugal striker Nélson Oliveira in the pecking order, he did get quite a bit of playing time off the bench as the club finished seventh in the league and reached the Portuguese League Cup final.

Ian Harte - Levante

Ian Harte played a key role for Leeds during their impressive run at the turn of the century, but when the club were relegated in 2004, his next club came as a bit of a surprise.

Levante had just been promoted to La Liga for the first time in over 40 years when they made a move for the Irishman that summer. The second club in the city of Valencia, they probably weren't all that familiar to football fans in this part of the world.

Still only 26-years old at the time, he would score a trademark free-kick on the first day of the season. While the club were as high as fifth in the league at one point, Harte's injury issues would coincide with a plummet down the division as they were eventually relegated at the end of the campaign.

The left back stayed there the following season, helping Levante earn promotion back to the top flight. In his third campaign, he helped them secure safety before leaving on a free transfer after being told he was not part of the manager's plans moving forward.

Steve Finnan - Espanyol

Maybe there was a trend of Irish fullbacks moving to the second teams in major Spanish cities during the 00s?

Steve Finnan moved to Espanyol on deadline in the summer of 2008, with Rafael Benitez having finally replaced the Limerick native in his squad having spent three seasons bringing in new players in his position.

At the time, he admitted that the move was not something he had given much thought to.

It was totally out of the blue. It's exciting to be going to a great club in Spain but I didn't want to leave. But it was obvious that I wasn't going to get a game by staying so I didn't really have much choice.

That probably should have been a warning sign.

His time in Barcelona would be short-lived. Finnan was plagued with injuries during his spell at the club, being linked with a return to the Premier League as soon as the following January. However, a move to Hull City would not proceed due to 'medical reasons'. He would not feature again after that month.

The player made only four appearances in La Liga during his only campaign at the club. The remaining year on his contract was cancelled at the end of that season and the defender joined Portsmouth on a free transfer.

Frank Stapleton - Ajax

When you think of Frank Stapleton, odds are his spells at Arsenal and Manchester United are what spring to mind. The Dubliner had massively successful stints at both clubs.

What is less widely remembered is his brief time at one of Europe's most prestigious clubs.

Leaving Old Trafford in 1987, Stapleton made the rather unlikely move to Ajax. Johann Cruyff brought the striker to Amsterdam to fill the void that had been left by Marco van Basten, who had just joined AC Milan.

He told RTÉ a couple of years ago how fate would have it that one of his first appearances for the club came against Dundalk, coming off the bench at halftime and scoring in a European Cup Winners' Cup tie. The two games against the League of Ireland side would be among only seven that he would manage during his time at the club.

With only one striker in a Cruyff team and Ajax having Dutch international John van 't Schip and an emerging Dennis Bergkamp in the squad, Stapleton found playing time hard to come by.

By the latter part of that year he was sent on loan to Anderlecht, before joining Derby County in January.

SEE ALSO: Here Are 7 Irish Players That Need A Transfer This Summer

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