The Ireland U21 Team That Stunned Italy In 2012: Where Are They Now?

Gary Connaughton By Gary Connaughton

It's fair to say that U21 is a level that Ireland have consistently failed to perform at. Never qualifying for a major tournament, the U21 national side was often treated as an afterthought in the past.

Now, Jim Crawford's Ireland U21 side stand on the verge of qualifying for that elusive first ever tournament. They are guaranteed at least a play-off spot to qualify for next year's European Championships, and could qualify automatically with a win over Italy on Tuesday evening.

Attitudes to the youth setups in Irish football may have only changed under Stephen Kenny but that doesn't necessarily mean we didn't have talented squads in the past.

The Ireland U21 side from 2011-2012 is a prime example. A number of players from that squad now make up the backbone of the current senior team. Shane Duffy, John Egan, Matt Doherty, Robbie Brady, Conor Hourihane and Jeff Hendrick all played a part.

That campaign, which would unfortunately end up in a third place finish, also gave us perhaps our most famous victory at this level.

A victory over Italy is always special, especially away from home. That is something this team managed to achieve, beating the Italians 4-2 in Casarano.

The circumstances of the win make it all the more remarkable. For starters, a number of the names mentioned above did not feature. Brady, Hendrick, Duffy, and Hourihane played no part.


What's more, they would be reduced to ten men in only the 36th minute, a time when the game was finely poised at 1-1. What followed was a remarkable rallying performance. Ireland would go 4-1 up, being reduced to nine men late on before Italy scored a consolation in injury time.

The Italian team featured the likes of Stephan El Shaarawy, Ciro Immobile, Mattia Perrin, and Manolo Gabbiadini.


As for the Irish side, the 11 players to play on that day have had vastly differing fortunes in the game during the intervening years. Ahead of the Ireland U21 side's crunch clash with the Italians on Tuesday, we've had a look back at that famous 2012 win.

Looking back: The Ireland U21 team that hammered Italy

Aaron McCarey

McCarey played a huge part in this win. With the scores level at 1-1, he saved a penalty from Ciro Immobile to keep ten-man Ireland on level terms. He also made a number of other excellent saves to keep Italy at bay.

The Monaghan native was on the books at Wolves during this time, a club he would spend six years at from 2010-2016. However, the vast majority of that time was spend out on loan at clubs such as Walsall and York City.


The goalkeeper never really carved out a permanent place in English football. He moved to Dundalk in 2019, before moving on to Cliftonville and then Glentoran, where he still plays today.

Matt Doherty

While Matt Doherty's rise to the top would be somewhat delayed, there is no doubting his current standing in the game. He broke out as one of the best fullbacks in the Premier League after a stellar 18 months with Wolves in the English top flight between 2019 and 2020.

A move to Spurs brought initial difficulty, but Doherty has settled in North London and was on course for a terrific season before injury cruelly curtailed it in March. He is a regular starter for Stephen Kenny's Ireland, and has put in some terrific performances in green for the senior side.


John Egan

Egan was a Sunderland player during this period, but he would fail to make the grade at the Stadium of Light. He eventually moved to Gillingham in 2014, with his career being on an upward trajectory ever since.

Two year spells at Gillingham and Brentford would follow, before Sheffield United made the defender their record signing in 2018. He was a huge part in their promotion push that season, and moved his game to another level since returning to the Premier League.

He has also become an indispensable part of Stephen Kenny's side, forming a steady partnership with Shane Duffy at the heart of defence over the past two years.


Derrick Williams

The man to be sent off in the 36th minute of that game, Williams was born in Germany but raised in Waterford, joining Aston Villa in 2009. However, he only made one league appearance for the club. He joined Bristol City in 2013, and has since carved out a strong career in the Championship.

Williams has been capped three times for Ireland at senior level, and scored in a 2019 friendly against New Zealand. He now plies his trade in the MLS with LA Galaxy, after a five year spell with Blackburn Rovers.

Aidan White

Ireland U21s 2012

Captain on the day, Yorkshire-born White came through the ranks at Leeds United. Having lined out for England up to U19 level, he switched to Ireland at U21s.


The defender went on to make 85 league appearances for his boyhood club, spending time on loan at Oldham and Sheffield United. He departed for Rotherham in 2015, before moving to Barnsley on loan a few months later. He won promotion to the Championship with the club before making the move permanent.

However, his career would be derailed by injuries. He left Barnsley in 2017 and was forced to spend two years out of the game. He made his comeback in 2019 with Hearts, and now plays for Rochdale. He has, however, been off out of international consideration for some time.

Anthony Forde

Another Wolves player at this time, Forde was only 19-years old for the win against Italy, getting sent off late on for two bookable offences. Making his Premier League debut against Chelsea at the age of 18 years & 10 days old in 2011, he remains the tenth youngest Irishman to debut in the competition.

He made five league appearances in Wolves' relegation campaign, but never pushed on from here. The Limerick man soon fell out of favour and would spend some time on loan at Scunthorpe before permanently leaving the club in 2014. He would go on to have successful stints at both Walsall and Rotherham, and joined Oxford United in the summer of 2019.

Samir Carruthers

Ireland U21 2012 Italy

Much was expected of Samir Carruthers when he joined Aston Villa as a 16-year old in 2009. He eventually made a first team breakthrough in the 2011/12 season, making three Premier League appearances. Unfortunately, that was about as good as things got for him at Villa Park.

He was sent out on loan to MK Dons for the 2013/14 season, making the move a permanent one at the end of the season. He helped the team earn promotion to the Championship for the first time in 2016, going on to make 37 appearances the following season as they suffered immediate relegation back to League One.

Carruthers went on to spend a couple of seasons at Sheffield United and, after a spell with Cambridge United, now finds himself outside of the Football League with National League side South Dartford.

Conor Henderson

The scorer of Ireland's third on the day, Henderson's career has gone in an unexpected direction in the intervening years. English-born, he was an Arsenal player at the time, although he never made a first team appearance for the club.

He began to slowly move down the football pyramid, never really establishing himself at the likes of Crawley Town and Grimsby Town.

Then he upped and left for Bulgaria. He signed for second-tier club Pirin Blagoevgrad in 2017 and, after a brief foray to Dunărea Călărași in Romania, he finds himself without a club.

Eunan O'Kane

One can't help but feel that Eunan O'Kane should have been destined for bigger things. He looked set to push his game onto the next level after starring for both Bournemouth and Leeds United in the middle of the decade, but injuries have robbed him of that chance.

He was a key part of the side that helped bring Bournemouth to the Premier League for the first time, playing 17 times during the following season.  While his time at Leeds showed plenty of promise, a number of different ailments meant he suffered continued setbacks. He has yet to really return from a double leg break suffered in 2018.

Speaking to Balls in 2019, he said he can't help but think what might have been, especially on the international stage:

I spent three years in nearly every squad and only made seven appearances. There are other people who have been in a similar position to me. Waiting for that chance to come and now they are getting it.

 I am missing out in effect or missing out on the opportunity to play. I could have been there, I could have been a part of it.

He has been without a club since 2021 after being released by Leeds.

Aaron Doran

Ireland U21 2012

Doran scored his only two goals for the Ireland U21 side in this game, and what an occasion to get them on. A native of Charleville, the winger never established himself in English football after moving to Blackburn Rovers as a 16-year old.

He made three league appearances for the club, including a debut against Liverpool, spending time on loan at MK Dons, Leyton Orient, and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. It is north of the border where he would forge a career.

After joining Inverness permanently in 2011, he has made nearly 300 appearances and won a Scottish Cup and Scottish Challenge Cup. The club have been playing in the second division since 2017 and will be hoping to return to the top flight next season.

Sean Murray

Ireland's other goalscorer on the day, English-born Murray came through the ranks at Watford, for whom he would make 75 league appearances between 2011-2016. Spells at both Swindon and Colchester would follow, before Murray spent a year in Denmark with Vejle BK.

He joined Dundalk in 2019, making 25 appearances as Dundalk won the league title. Last year, he moved to Glentoran.

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