The Ireland Team From Brian Kerr's Controversial First Qualifier: Where Are They Now?

The Ireland Team From Brian Kerr's Controversial First Qualifier: Where Are They Now?

Gary Connaughton By Gary Connaughton

Brian Kerr's appointment as Ireland manager will probably go down as a missed opportunity.

Having experienced a huge amount of success with the Irish youth sides, he deserved his chance at the top job when it became available after the departure of Mick McCarthy. Unfortunately, things would never quite work out for him. A mixture of some poor results and friction within the squad meant he would last only two qualification campaigns in the role.

It was a somewhat strange time for the team as a whole, something that started with Kerr's very first qualifier in charge.

It came in Tbilisi on the 29th of March in 2003, where Ireland were facing Georgia for the first time. The visitors would win the game 2-1 thanks to a late goal, but the post-match conversation was dominated by events in the stands.

The home supporters behaved disgracefully, throwing a number of objects onto the pitch, including glass bottles and a knife.

At the time, an excerpt from The Guardian summed up the wild scenes that unfolded:

Few teams yearn to get to Albania, but the Republic of Ireland may be an exception. After a game here in which Kevin Kilbane was hit by an open penknife, and glass from a broken vodka bottle ended up embedded in the turf, Brian Kerr's squad would probably have felt happy to run over the border to Chechnya, never mind travel to Tirana for Wednesday's match

Kilbane was not the only Ireland player struck by objects hurled by a hostile crowd. Lee Carsley and Damien Duff were caught on the head by plastic bottles and Gary Breen was hit by a ball bearing. Glass smashed against the frame of Shay Given's goal and a bottle narrowly missed Gary Doherty after his late winner, but the Football Association of Ireland will not be making a formal complaint to Uefa.

The game has largely faded into obscurity since then, but what have the players that featured on the night been up to two in the two decades that have passed?

The Ireland team from Brian Kerr's first qualifier

Shay Given

Shay Given was well established as one of Ireland's key players by this point, going on to have a long and successful international career before retiring in 2016. He narrowly avoided being struck by a glass bottle on the night as it smashed off the frame of his goal.


At club level, he was one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League for over a decade during his spells with Newcastle, Manchester City, and Aston Villa.

Since retirement, he has been involved in both coaching and punditry. He spent time as both a goalkeeping and first team coach at Derby County before leaving in 2021, as well as acting as a pundit on RTÉ, Premier Sports, and Sky Sports.

Stephen Carr

Stephen Carr missed out on the 2002 World Cup, meaning he remains one of the greatest Irish players never to have featured in a major tournament.


Right back was a spot that had a huge amount of competition during this era, with Steve Finnan and Gary Kelly also top class Premier League performers. Despite the competition for places, injury issues, and an early international retirement, Carr still earned 44 caps for his country.

Having retired from club duties in 2013, the Dubliner largely moved away from football. He now lives in Marbella, where he has a business interest in a few restaurants and bars. He is clientele reportedly included the likes of Alan Sugar, Katie Price, Jamie Oliver, and Eva Longoria.

He has on occasion helped advise young footballers on their careers, including to Inter Milan and Ireland youth star Kevin Zefi.



Gary Breen

While Gary Breen's rumoured moves to Barcelona and Inter Milan would not materialise in the aftermath of the World Cup, he remained a key man for Ireland over the few years that followed. He was hit by a ball bearing thrown from the crowd in Tbilisi.

The defender played his last game at international level in 2006, hanging up his boots altogether in 2010 after a couple of years at Barnet.


Since retirement, he has been heavily involved in both punditry and commentary. Breen frequently appears on Premier Sports' Premier League coverage in both roles, as well as regularly writing a column in the Irish Independent.

Kenny Cunningham

Captain on the night having been promoted to the position following Roy Keane's international exile, Kenny Cunningham earned 72 caps for Ireland before his final appearance in 2005. He retired from club duties two years later after a season at Sunderland.

The Dubliner has been a fixture of the punditry scene for over a decade, appearing on the likes of RTÉ, Setanta Sports, Premier Sports, Sky Sports, and Off The Ball. During this spell, has been a staple of RTÉ's coverage during major tournaments.


Cunningham has his coaching badges, although his only role of note came during a brief spell with non-league side Nuneaton Town.

John O'Shea

While he had played in a handful of friendlies prior to this point, this was actually John O'Shea's first competitive cap for Ireland. Of course, he would go on to become a legend in green, winning 118 caps for his country.


At club level, he spent the majority of the rest of his career at Sunderland before spending one season at Reading. He quickly moved into coaching after retiring, taking up a first team job at the latter.

He then became part of Jim Crawford's coaching staff with the Ireland U21s in 2020, a role he juggled with a position at Stoke City. It was announced yesterday that he would be making to step up to join Stephen Kenny's backroom team with the senior side.

We have also seen the Waterford man move into punditry in recent times, making a few appearances on Premier Sports' Premier League coverage.

Lee Carsley

An excellent midfielder at his peak, Lee Carsley had a long and successful playing career in English football. He earned 40 caps for Ireland, anchoring a very good Everton team for a number of years before taking spells with Birmingham City and Coventry City.

Carsley immediately moved into coaching after retirement, spending times with Coventry City, Brentford, Manchester City, and Birmingham City before moving into the England national team setup.

Having first managed their U20 team, he was soon promoted to the U21 job. He has been widely tipped to become the next Ireland manager should Stephen Kenny be replaced over the next couple of years.


Mark Kinsella

This would prove to be Mark Kinsella's final campaign with Ireland, going on to play his last international game in 2004. His last game in professional football came with Walsall in 2006, although he would have a brief comeback with semi-pro side Lewes a couple of years later.

Kinsella has had a number of coaching roles since then. He briefly acted as caretaker manager at Walsall while still a player, going on to manage the Charlton Athletic reserves and lower league side Daventry Town before acting as assistant boss at former club Colcehster Town.

After that, the Dubliner would spend three years in the coaching staff at Drogheda United, one of which was as the manager. That stint ended in 2017.

His son Liam is currently a player at Walsall, being capped six times by Ireland at U21 level in 2017 and 2018. His daughter Alice is a hugely successful gymnast, winning bronze for Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics. She has also medalled at the World Championships and Commonwealth Games.

Matt Holland

Matt Holland earned 49 caps for Ireland, forming a successful partnership with Mark Kinsella in midfield towards the end of his international career. He retired from international duties in 2005, before hanging up his boots at Charlton Athletic in 2009.

Holland has been a regular in the media since then, in both television and radio circles. More recently, he has focused almost exclusively on commentary, appearing on the BBC, BT Sport, and talkSPORT.

Kevin Kilbane

Kevin Kilbane was the man at the centre of the biggest incident of this match, being struck by a knife that was thrown from the pitch. Unsurprisingly, he said it was the ugliest atmosphere he had faced up to that point in his career.

You expect a hostile atmosphere at these kind of places but I was really fortunate that the knife didn't do any damage.

It's crazy really. I have played in Tehran and Turkey and they were both very intimidating but not as dangerous as this.

The Preston-born man had a long career with Ireland, winning a remarkable 110 caps. He also had a very successful career in the Premier League with the likes of Everton and Wigan, playing in over 600 games in English football.

Since retiring in 2012, Kilbane has been a regular on the punditry, for a long time acting as a mainstay Virgin Media's Champions League coverage. He also donned a pair of skates to appear on ITV's 'Dancing on Ice' and now often appears Canadian television as a pundit since his move to the country.


Damien Duff

One of Ireland's greatest ever players, Damien Duff was arguably at the peak of his powers around this period. He would move to Chelsea a few months after this game, going on to win two Premier League titles at Stamford Bridge. With Ireland, he would win 100 caps before retiring in 2012.

Duff moved into coaching after retirement, spending time with Shamrock Rovers, Celtic, and Ireland. He would leave the latter of those job in mysterious circumstances after an apparent falling out with the FAI in 2020.

Since then, he has taken steps into management with Shelbourne. The club finished seventh in the League of Ireland Premier Division on their return to the league in 2022.

Duff has also frequented our televisions as a pundit in recent years, receiving plenty of praise for his appearances on RTÉ.

Gary Doherty

This was an interesting qualifying campaign for Gary Doherty to say the least. Normally a defender at club level, he was used as a striker on a number of occasions by Brian Kerr. That included this game, where the Donegal native was almost struck by a glass bottle after scoring a late winner. He ended the group as Ireland's top scorer with three goals.

While he would fall out of favour after Kerr's departure, he continued to have a successful career at club level. After joining Norwich City from Spurs in 2004, he established himself as a cult hero in East Anglia. He was immortalised in the Ginger Pele chant.

He retired in 2014 after spells with Charlton Athletic and Wycombe Wanderers. He has remained largely out of the lime light since then, moving to the USA in recent years in an effort to set up his own coaching network.

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