In the relationship between the League of Ireland and the national team, Steve Staunton's selection of Joe Lapira may represent its nadir. Stan decided to experiment with his Irish squad for a tour of the United States in May 2007, which featured games against Ecuador and Bolivia. Those games were remembered last week, when Graham Burke became the league's first Irish international since Joe Gamble played on said tour of the U.S. That he was the only Irish representative was pretty damning, however, considering Staunton's completely bonkers decision to call up Joe Lapira, a 20-year-old student playing with Notre Dame. In making an appearance against Bolivia, Lapira became Ireland's only amateur player of the last 50 years.
Lapira has retained a place in the Irish football consciousness, even if he is ironically remembered as Ireland's most forgettable player. Among those who (kind of) remember Lapira is Martin O'Neill. At his post-match press conference after Saturday's 2-1 win against the United States, O'Neill reflected on the experimentation across 2018's friendly games against Turkey, France, and the U.S.
O'Neill handed out eight debuts across the three games and is calling on the players he blooded to step up to the plate when the Nations League kicks off in September. In so doing, he made reference to Lapira:
What you can do, if players are trying to come through, if some of these players make it into the squad when we enter competitive mode, they aren't overawed. I don't want to end up with 19 one-cap wonders, like the boy in America...[journalists respond 'Joe Lapira' in unison]. Lapira... so famous I didn't really remember him.
It seems oddly fitting that Lapira's name cropped up on an international night which featured a first League of Ireland goalscorer in 40 years. Graham Burke deflected Darragh Lenihan's admittedly goal-bound shot into the net just before making way for Daryl Horgan. O'Neill said he was "pleased" for Burke, although did say that he felt the game passed him by somewhat.
That said, the odds of Burke being the first League of Ireland player to play competitively for Ireland since 1985 are slim, with O'Neill more or less admitting that the Rovers man will have to return to England to be considered as a regular in the future.
I think that's entirely up to him. His attitude on the training ground has been great, and he is an exceptionally nice footballer. I think it was quite quick tonight for him. Some of it was a little but strange to him, which I expected. Really now, for him, whatever he has designs on, he has to push on. If it is, for instance, going back to play for England, I think these things would be giving him the biggest push he could get. Really, it's up to him.