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The 7 Scottish-Born Players That Decided To Play For Ireland

The 7 Scottish-Born Players That Decided To Play For Ireland
Gary Connaughton
By Gary Connaughton
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With Stephen Kenny's Ireland team returning to action later this month, it was reported last night that the squad could include an unexpected addition.

The Irish Independent are reporting that Celtic's Mikey Johnston is under consideration, having committed his international future to the Boys in Green. While he has been tracked by the FAI for a number of years, the news came somewhat out of left field.

Should he make his debut in the near future, he would join a relatively short list of Scottish-born players to feature for Ireland. Only seven men have previously pulled on the green jersey having been born in the country.

The Scottish-born Ireland internationals

Owen Coyle

Owen Coyle did not exactly have a storied career in an Ireland jersey, with his only appearance for the country coming in a friendly against the Netherlands in April of 1994. He would also be capped at U21 and 'B' level.

A journeyman striker who spent his career bouncing around various Scottish clubs (apart from one stint with Bolton Wanderers), he was pragmatic in his approach to international football.

Coyle would admit that his decision to play for Ireland came down to who he felt he was more likely to get a game for:

My ambition was to play at the highest level possible and, if I'm being totally honest, I didn't and still don't think I would have been good enough to play for Scotland.

At the time, a cap at U21 level would tie a player to a given country for their entire career. Considering he was playing at a lower league Scottish club at the time, he felt a path into the Scottish setup was unlikely.

In fairness, he did have close links to Ireland. Both of his parent hailed from Donegal and he spent large portions of his childhood in the county. Speaking to Scotsman a few years ago, he explained what it was like growing up as part of the Irish diaspora across the Irish Sea.

I was brought up in the Gorbals, but the area I lived in was called Little Donegal because of the number of Irish immigrants and the bottom line is we were brought up in that community and we would spend every summer in Ireland, the full eight weeks of the holidays, so it felt natural for me to play for Ireland.

Coyle has been linked with the Ireland managerial job in the post, having reportedly been in the running to replace Giovanni Trapattoni before Martin O'Neill was appointed.


Tommy Coyne

A Glaswegian by birth, Tommy Coyne was a latecomer to the international scene. He made his debut for Ireland at the age of 29, throwing his lot in with the Boys in Green having been overlooked by Scotland for a number of years.


His goalscoring record in the Scottish league was very impressive, having prolific spells with the likes of Dundee and Celtic. Despite this, international honours were not forthcoming.

Coyne has been open in the past that he felt he should have been called up by the country of his birth, but he did make the most of his opportunities with Ireland. He would earn 22 caps in green, earning plenty of praise for his performances at the World Cup in 1994 where he started three of the four games in the USA.

Charlie Gallagher

At a time when 'granny rule' players were a rarity in the Ireland squad, Charlie Gallagher broke the trend.  Shay Brennan became the first foreign-born player to line out for the team in 1965, with Gallagher following in his footsteps two years later.


A European Cup winner that year with Celtic, he would have a long and successful career at Parkhead. Despite this, he would never be called into the Scotland squad.

He earned two caps for Ireland, who he qualified to play for via his Donegal-born parents.

Ray Houghton

Arguably the most successful Ireland player to be born in Scotland, Ray Houghton's exploits in an Ireland jersey need no introduction. He scored two of the most famous goals in Irish history against England and Italy at Euro 88 and the 1994 World Cup respectively, earning 73 caps in the process.


Having been overlooked for the Scotland squad for the 1986 World Cup, Jack Charlton was quick to bring the then Oxford United player into the Irish fold. Qualifying through his father from Buncrana, he earned his denut cap in Charlton's first game in charge.

Having been born only three miles away from the ground, he would go on to play a key role in Ireland's victory over Scotland at Hampden Park in 1987. That result that put them on course for Euro 88.

Houghton would recall to the Scotsman in recent years how he was never really considered for his country of birth despite his strong form at club level.


I wasn’t expecting to walk straight into the Scotland team; they’d qualified for the World Cup in Mexico (in 1986). Just an acknowledgement that they knew about me would have been nice because I was starting to shine.

But no one ever came to see me play.

It's fair to say it worked out for Ireland in the end.


James McCarthy

James McCarthy's international future was quite the topic of discussion when he was coming through the ranks at Hamilton Academical. One of the most highly-rated prospects in the UK at the time, he was reportedly drawing interest from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Barcelona after making his senior debut for the club at the age of 15.

Qualifying to play for Ireland via his grandfather, he was first called up at U17 level. Despite admitting that he probably would have played for Scotland had they called him up first, he would turn down numerous approaches to switch allegiances to the country of his birth in the years that followed.

Despite this, media speculation around his international future would continue for some time, even after he made his debut for Ireland in a friendly against Brazil in 2010. Speaking after McCarthy rejected a call-up to a Carling Nations League game at the start of 2011, his manager at Wigan Roberto Martinez said:

I do not know if it is a decision for him to make now or not. We need to give him plenty of time. We need to respect him...

It (international football) is something he needs to think about with his family, with his friends.

It is something very, very deep. But I do not think he has focused on that at all, although it is great to have two nations fighting over you.

The issue would ultimately be settled later that year when he made his competitive debut against Macedonia the following month. He would go on to earn 43 caps for Ireland,a number that would have been far higher were it not for his persistent injury issues.


Bernie Slaven

Another player who came into the Ireland fold at a relatively late stage in his career, Bernie Slaven made his international bow at the age of 29 in a friendly against Wales in 1990. He scored the only goal of the game, being included in the squad for Italia 90 that summer.

He reportedly experienced severe homesickness during the tournament, with Tony Cascarino later recalling in his autobiography how Slaven made a habit of calling home and howling down the phone to his dog. Having not featured in Italy, he would later go on to say that his highlight of that period was meeting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

The striker had been overlooked by Scotland for quite some time prior to this, despite boasting an impressive goalscoring record at Middlesbrough. He said at the time that he felt that he would have been treated differently had he been plying his trade north of the border:

If I'd been scoring for Celtic or Rangers I'd have walked into the side, there are people getting in the team that can hardly play the game.

He would earn seven caps for Ireland.


Aiden McGeady

Aiden McGeady is another player who drew plenty of attention due to his international decision.

A much hyped prospect as he made his way through the system at Celtic, he decided to throw his lot in with Ireland and first played for the country at U15 level. Qualifying via his grandparents, he would later turn down call-ups from Scotland and reaffirmed his commitment to the Irish cause.

This decision caused him quite a bit of grief over the course of his career.

During his time at Celtic, he was regularly booed by opposition supporters who felt that he had turned his back on the country of his birth. In an interview with BBC Scotland last year, he questioned why he was singled out for such treatment when many other players had made a similar choice:

Did I receive a lot of flak for that? Come on, man!

What, going to every away ground in Scotland and getting booed every time you touched the ball? Did that not happen? It did, didn't it.

There are plenty of Scottish players that have played for other teams. Does Scott Arfield not play for Canada? Brian McLean, he chose Northern Ireland. Did they get the same abuse as me? No. Why did I get that abuse?..

It's small-minded individuals, isn't it? That's all it is. The other players I mentioned, why did they not get the same abuse that I got? Any idea? Because I played for Celtic? Because I played for Ireland?

Hearts, Hibs, Motherwell, Falkirk - everywhere, booed everywhere I went. They wanted me to fail. Didn't happen to anybody else, did it? James McCarthy got the same.

McGeady would have a long and successful career with Ireland, being capped 93 times at senior level.

SEE ALSO: Roy Keane Praises Ireland's Mark Sykes For 'Brave' International Decision

roy keane mark sykes


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