Football

Here's Our Ireland Team Of The Decade According To The Balls.ie Football Show

Here's Our Ireland Team Of The Decade According To The Balls.ie Football Show

The end of this year is ripe for decade-based lists. Firstly, we tried our hand at creating a starting XI of players from the Premier League over the last decade, with the catch that we could only choose one player per club.

Ireland's agonising 1-1 draw against Denmark not only ushered in another play-off campaign, but it also signalled the end of a decade for Irish football.

The 10s, or whatever they're going to be called, have been a successful decade for Irish football. Sure, we didn't make it to a World Cup, but we reached our first major tournament since 2002 and we had exuberant jolly up in the likes of Lille and Poznan. Surely that counts for something.

Not only that, but the decade has also seen momentous victories over the likes of Germany, Italy, and Wales. Sure, we might have been humiliated 6-1 by the Germans and 5-1 by the Danish in our own back garden, but don't let that cloud your judgement.

And so, on this week's iteration of The Balls.ie Football Show, the three lads tried to pick a consensus starting XI that would form an Ireland team of the decade. Here's how they got on:

GK - Darren Randolph

ireland team of the decade

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One thing is abundantly clear when running through the players who have occupied the sticks for Ireland this decade, the position is easily one of our strongest.

Darren Randolph fought off stiff competition in order to win the number 1 jersey. The Bray native made his debut against Oman (of course) in a friendly in 2012. He made the odd appearance in subsequent years but never got a sniff of a regular starting role behind the likes of Shay Given, David Forde and even Keiren Westwood.

However, that all changed on October 8 2015. In the 44th minute of Ireland's crucial qualifier against world champions Germany, Shay Given was forced off with an injury. Step forward, Darren Randolph. The stopper stepped in ably, shoring up the defence. Then, with 70 minutes on the clock, his kick out found the path of Shane Long expertly. 1-0 Ireland, and history was made.

Ever since that moment, Randolph has been one of the first names of the Ireland team-sheet. The 32 year-old is only coming into his prime and Ireland are reaping the benefits.

Special considerations: Shay Given, David Forde 

 

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RB - Seamus Coleman

ireland team of the decade

An ever-present for most of the decade for both club and country, the current Ireland captain has probably been the most consistent player to don an Ireland jersey this decade.

It's amazing that it took Giovanni Trappatoni so long to see Coleman's ability, with the former Sligo Rovers man missing out on Ireland's EURO 2012 squad behind the likes of Kevin Foley and Stephen Kelly. However, once qualifying started for the 2014 World Cup, Coleman made the right-back spot his own.

Ever since, only injury and suspension have caused Coleman to be absent from the Ireland side. He missed out on a large chunk of Ireland's 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign due to an awful leg break at home to Wales. He's since come back and assumed the captain's armband once again, although Matt Doherty is breathing down his neck.

Special considerations: Stephen Kelly, Cyrus Christie

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LB - Stephen Ward

ireland team of the decade

Stephen Ward has only recently retired from international football, winning 50 caps in the process. All of those caps were won during this decade. That's some going, especially considering left-back has been seen as a problem position for Ireland over the last number of years.

Ward took over the reins from Kevin Kilbane, who was converted into a left-back because we had no one to play there. He played for Ireland at EURO 2012, then lost his place to another pretend left-back in Marc Wilson. Ward eventually won his place back during the EURO 2016 qualifying campaign, helped in no small part by his excellent club form for Burnley.

Ward remained as first-choice left-back for the championships, playing in all but one of Ireland's four games. The emergence of Enda Stevens in the past year has deemed Ward surplus to requirements, but the Portmarnock man was a solid defender for Ireland in his time.

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Special considerations: Enda Stevens (already), the converted left-back Kevin Kilbane

 

CB - Shane Duffy

ireland team of the decade

Since heading his way into the Ireland starting line-up for a must-win match against Italy at EURO 2016, the big lad from Derry has been a vital part of every Ireland team he's been in. Of course, he got sent-off in the round of 16 match against France, but he had already done enough to warrant our undying love.

Ever since that day in Lille, Duffy has been a mainstay for both Martin O'Neill and Mick McCarthy. The Brighton defender is a rock at the back, providing a foundation akin to great Irish centre-halves of the past. Furthermore, the fact Mick McCarthy entrusted Duffy with the captain's armband against Denmark in the absence of Seamus Coleman means that Duffy will be a talisman going into the new decade.

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Special considerations: John O'Shea, Sean St Ledger

 

CB -Richard Dunne

ireland team of the decade

If this team hinges on big game players, then in a one-off game, give us Richard Dunne like our lives depend on it. Dunne only played for Ireland until 2013, but had already solidified himself as an Irish legend.

He virtually played by himself against Russia in the Luzhniki Stadium in 2011, battered and bloodied yet still able to thwart every Russian attack. Its testament to his heroics that day that even Paul McGrath, the man who lives with Roberto Baggio in his pocket, said that it was the greatest performance he'd ever seen from an Irish central defender. There's high praise, then there's almighty praise.

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Dunne would have walked into this team on the back of that performance alone, but it helps that he was an ever-present for two years after. The jersey he wore that night, '5' sharpied on for good measure, rightfully hangs in a museum.

Special considerations: Richard Keogh, Ciaran Clark

CM - Glenn Whelan

ireland team of the decade

Glenn Whelan assumes a central midfield role in our Ireland team like he has done for most of the decade. A trusted lieutenant whilst Trap was in charge, Whelan was often the scapegoat for some sub-par Ireland performances during the Italians reign.

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Under Martin O'Neill, the Clondalkin native was a constant in the side, at least until the advent of James McCarthy in O'Neill's plans. It's testament to Whelan that he managed to survive O'Neill's attempts to retire him, returning to the international fold when Mick McCarthy took over.

Often overlooked and under-appreciated, as we talked about here, Whelan finally seems to be getting the long overdue love his game warrant. Arguably, his finest hours in an Ireland jersey have come during the most recent campaign, shouldering responsibility in a midfield crying out for a general. Not bad for a 35 year-old.

Special considerations: James McCarthy, Keith Andrews

 

CM - Wes Hoolahan

ireland team of the decade

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He was always going to find his way into this team. Yes, we haven't taken the easy way out and left Wes on the bench, we've decided to start him in order to unlock defences and sprinkle magic all over the pitch. His diminutive size and penchant for playing football meant that Trap never fancied Hoolahan, even though the world and its barber could see what the former Shels maestro could do.

We mentioned big game players and Wes was certainly one of them. EURO 2016 was a tournament which cemented Wes' place in the hearts of Irish fans. From his goal against Sweden to his assist against Italy (we won't mention his miss), that tournament was Wes' time to shine.

Even in the World Cup campaign, as he was slowing down as a player, he was still capable of moments of magic. His defence-splitting pass to set-up James McClean for the only goal in a historic win away to Austria was one that only Wes could pick out. He retired after that campaign, but it's a shame that we didn't see more of him in an Ireland jersey.

Special considerations: Jeff Hendrick, Keith Fahey (we didn't exactly have an abundance of centre mids, okay?)

 

RM - Big Jon Walters

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ireland team of the decade

It had to be, didn't it? The big man carved a niche for himself on the right-wing under Martin O'Neill, though he was an immediate hit when he was given the nod ahead of Simon Cox for the away leg against Estonia in the play-off for EURO 2012. He repaid Trap's faith with a goal, and became a fixture in the Ireland side ever since.

Walters, in the same vein of Dunne and Hoolahan, was a big game player. From that night in Tallinn to being a constant thorn in Austrian sides, Walters never shied away from the big occasion. It was showcased particularly in the EURO 2016 play-off second leg at the AVIVA, where Big Jon took on a gaggle of Bosnians and won.

Even out of position, Jon was the man.

Special considerations: Aiden McGeady, Anthony Pilkington (he was better than you remember)

 

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LM - James McClean

ireland team of the decade

This was the position that caused the most debate. In truth, Robbie Brady is extremely unlucky to not make his way into the starting XI. If the COYBIG army are the 12th man, then Brady is indeed the 13th. Brady, like Walters et al, was a big game player. Just look at his goal against Bosnia in the first leg of the play-off, or you can attempt to look, that fog was lethal that day. That's not even mentioning his goal against Italy, those 18 months were glorious for Robbie.

But, we decided that James McClean should get the nod. The winger is the embodiment of the grit and determination that all great Ireland sides should have. Since he burst on the scene in the League of Ireland at Derry City, and subsequently surprised everyone by taking the Premier League by storm at Sunderland, McClean has delivered.

Of course, his powers may have waned over the last few years, but that doesn't mean McClean was integral to Ireland's qualification to EURO 2016. Sure, he may have scored a few against Gibraltar, but his tackle on Poland's Arkadiusz Milik in the 1-1 set a marker which Ireland played up to thereafter. Also, his goals against Austria and Wales in World Cup qualifying made a nation believe.

Special considerations: Robbie Brady (sorry Robbie), Damien Duff

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ST - Kevin Doyle

ireland team of the decade

Kevin Doyle only scored seven goals for Ireland this decade, but his place in Ireland's team of the decade stems from his innate ability to alleviate the burden of goalscoring from another lad in this team. The likes of Shane Long may have scored more goals, but that's by virtue of having many more games played. Doyle scored seven in 31 games, whereas Long has scored 14 goals in 71 matches.

Either way, Doyle had the ability to produce a moment of magic to get Ireland out of a bind. This is evident by the opening match of the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign away to Kazakhstan, the kind of match Ireland would struggle with now. With Ireland 1-0 down, Doyle came on in the 58th minute and immediately changed the game. He won a penalty that Robbie Keane converted in the 88th minute, and ended up notching the winner in the 90th minute.

Although he petered out at international level, Doyle managed to stick around for longer than anticipated. His retirement from international football in 2017 coincided with his retirement from all forms of the game due to concussion issues.

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Special considerations: Shane Long, Simon Cox

 

ST - Robbie Keane (C)

ireland team of the decade

There was no way Robbie Keane wasn't getting into this squad. Keane is probably the greatest international footballer that Ireland has ever produced, with his record of 68 goals unlikely to ever be beaten. Just this decade, Keane scored 27 international goals, meaning that his goal tally from this decade would be second on the all-time list, six goals better than Niall Quinn's tally of 21.

That's testament to the goal-getting ability of Keane. Ireland reliance on his exploits are painfully obvious in the aftermath of his international career. Ireland have never been blessed with an abundance of creative talents in midfield areas, which makes Keane's goalscoring at international level all the more impressive. People wonder where goals are going to come from in the current Ireland side because they were so used to Robbie nabbing a goal when we needed one.

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Keane captains the team as well, there's no one better to lead by example.

Special considerations: Daryl Murphy, David McGoldrick

 

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Do you agree with our side? Let us know! Make sure to listen to The Balls.ie Football Show below:

Sean Meehan

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