Alexis Mac Allister was a hero for Argentina on Wednesday night, as he opened the scoring in their must-win final group game at the World Cup against Poland.
The Brighton and Hove Albion man was named Man of the Match as he helped his team to top of the group with his first international goal at senior level - but his surname has gained him almost as much attention as his goalscoring exploits in recent weeks.
Back in 2020, Mac Allister’s father Carlos - himself a brilliant footballer and ex Boca Juniors player and Argentina international - told the Athletic that his family had an Irish lineage, not a Scottish one, as his surname might have suggested.
George Hamilton pointed out this fact on RTÉ commentary on Tuesday night after Alexis's goal.
🇵🇱 0-1 🇦🇷
🗣️ 'A lad whose roots several generations ago are in Ireland'
Mac Allister has given Argentina the lead.
📺Watch live now on @rte2 & @rteplayer : https://t.co/JYf06cJLAe
📱Live updates: https://t.co/fXjiUrw7Ay#FIFAWorldCup #POLARG #RTESoccer pic.twitter.com/6otPOnAJhD
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) November 30, 2022
Yet, as George Hamilton suggested, it had been presumed any direct family links to this island had been lost to time.
And considering Alexis has brothers named Kevin and Francis and the physical appearance of his father Carlos, it's no massive surprise to learn of Alexis's Irish lineage.
But it turns out Alexis Mac Allister’s Irish family links can, in fact, be traced to north Co. Dublin, to a cottage in Donabate, of all places.
Today Balls.ie spoke to Alexis Mac Allister's distant Irish cousin Philip McAllister, who is himself from Laytown Co Meath and living in Madrid. Philip is a link between the McAllisters of Ireland and the McAllisters of Argentina.
Philip says members of the McAllister family of Donabate left Ireland for Argentina in the middle of the 19th century.
The ties between the McAllisters of Ireland and Argentina were mostly lost until a photograph of Labour leader Dick Spring appeared in the Irish Times in 1995. Spring was visiting the Hurling Club based in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Hurlingham and was pictured shaking hands with the club secretary, Dickie McAllister.
As Dickie McAllister told Keith Duggan of the Irish Times in 2002,
"This guy in Dublin sees my name in the paper and says, oh my God, this is a shot in the dark, and he writes me a letter. And that's how I found my Irish relatives."
That ‘guy in Dublin’ was Frank McAllister - a cousin of Philip’s father from Donabate.
Frank had seen the photograph and then wrote a letter to Dickie in Argentina asking if he knew anything about his family heritage as Frank knew he had Argentinian relatives.
Dickie said he didn’t know much about his Irish roots, but he had a photo of where his great-great-grandfather had come from in Ireland
That house in that photograph was the McAllister family homestead, the very same cottage in Donabate.
Philip was travelling in Latin America in 2006 and it was then that he became fully immersed in his Argentinian connections after an invitation to a McAllister family reunion in Argentina
“I knock on the door in Argentina, door opens to a whole big family of McAllisters - Dickies, and Monserrats, and Pablos, and Elaynes, and Kevins, and Michaels, and Johns - the whole lot of them.
“The older generation that were still alive, they all spoke English with a Dublin accent!
“The proof was that photo [of the house] - they had no idea. We had lost contact, they had lost contact, this was the rejoining of the family. I stayed there for three months hanging out with them - fabulous people.
Since then Philip has grown very close to the Argentinian McAllisters, and has become a bridge between the two families.
His London-based Argentine cousin Pablo McAllister has confirmed to him that Alexis Mac Allister’s family are from the same family tree. Pablo’s grandfather and Alexis’s grandfather both grew up in Pergamino, which is outside Buenos Aires. Alexis's family eventually moved to the Santa Rosa area of Argentina.
(Making matters somewhat confusing is the fact Alexis’s family spell surname in the Scottish style: Mac.)
The McAllisters have not met Carlos Mac Allister and his son Alexis, but as various interviews show, Alexis is aware that his family lineage is Irish. He just didn’t know it could be traced back to Donabate.
“I was talking to Pablo a few hours ago, and he said we need to go down to Brighton and we need to go to a game, we need to get in touch with Alexis.
I doubt that it was ever in his mind that he was going back to find his roots. He went for football and he's doing well...the World Cup puts you on a stage
A remarkable story of an Irish link to the World Cup - and the route taken by the family of Alexis Mac Allister to get there.