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Reminder: Why We Have A Moral Obligation To Spread The Word Of Paul McGrath To The Youth

Reminder: Why We Have A Moral Obligation To Spread The Word Of Paul McGrath To The Youth

During the Oman game, the crowd got such a kick out of seeing Paul McGrath up in the corporate seats that the cameraman lingered longer on the shot than was probably necessary.

He/she pulled away right at the point when a silver hair schmoozer walked up and whispered something in his ear, which was probably the right time to switch back to the actual game.

It was a nice moment but it has since been brought to our attention that there are some youngsters out there who may not know too much about Paul McGrath.

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Naturally, we initially found this rather difficult to believe. That there are kids out there so culturally deprived that the name Paul McGrath might mean little to them. Impossible.

But it's true.

It transpires that there are people out there born since the turn of the Millennium. In fact, it's only a matter of time before one of them turns up in the Premier League and what a depressing day that will be.

And some of these post-2000 birthers possess parents so irresponsible that they haven't sat them down and told them the story of Paul McGrath.

So, for the benefit of this sorry demographic, we will now perform the job that their parents failed to do and tell them the wonderful story of Paul McGrath, one of the greatest and certainly the most beloved Irish footballer of all time.

He is, perhaps more than any other player, associated with the glory years of Irish football

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Many footballers saw some action during the glory years, which ran, roughly speaking, from 1987 to 1994.

Some players were part of the 1988 adventure in Germany. Some players came on stream just before Italia 90. Some bid adieu after the Italian summer. A few of the younger lads were only introduced for the USA campaign of 1992-94.

But McGrath was there for the whole lot. A towering and influential figure through it all. He always delivered on the big day.

He was offered the chance to play for England before being called up to the Irish squad

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Among those lists of English-born players who played for Ireland, Paul McGrath is typically named among the 'English' lads, which is a triumph of legalistic pedantry over common-sense reality.

He was only born in England because the hospital in which his Irish mother gave birth to him was located there. She gave him up for adoption and after a fortnight he was in Dublin, where he was raised by a foster family.

Regardless, he was, as a result, eligible to play for England. The FAI were not yet as quick out of the blocks in snaffling players. His Manchester United teammate Bryan Robson was the England captain and he and Bobby Robson came to Paul early doors and asked him would he don the three lions shirt.

He wasted little time turning the offer down. He allowed that he was 'flattered' by the approach. But never tempted.

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He was the first Irishman to win the PFA Player of the Year

The first year of the Premier League. A Whole Ball Game. Sky Sports and their cheesy ads. Cheerleaders strutting their stuff in Loftus Road and dives like Middlesbrough's old ground.

And Aston Villa and Mr. Bojangles gunning for the League title with a team that owed much to the Republic of Ireland and their big stars.

Paul McGrath shined brightest among them, delivering stunning display after stunning display. His name is still held in reverence at Villa Park.

Once trapped one of those shanked Mark Bosnich kick-outs from a back-pass when he was standing seven yards away from the goalkeeper. He simply nonchalantly rolled the ball to Shaun Teale who was standing beside him.

In March '93, four years after Alex Ferguson almost forced his retirement he was awarded PFA Player of the Year. He was the first Irishman to win the prize. Roy Keane would win it seven years later.

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Three days after picking up the award, he returned to Dublin to help Ireland smash Northern Ireland 3-0.

He dominated England 

It used to be written into UEFA by-laws that Ireland had to draw England as often as possible.

Between 1988 and 1991, Ireland played England four times. They won the first of those, of course. In the nine months between June 1990 and March 1991, they met three further times.

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All three matches finished 1-1 with England taking the lead in all three. Ireland pegged them back every time. All games followed a different pattern.

In Palermo in June 1990, the game was relatively even and the ball spent much of the game in the air. The Italian press howled in disgust the day after.

McGrath was deployed as a kind of anchoring central midfielder due to Jack Charlton's belief that he was too good a footballer to play at centre back.

As Brian Glanville wrote, Bryan Robson achieved nothing during the game thanks to the dominance of McGrath in the centre.

A few months later in Dublin, England probably enjoyed the better of it and Ireland did well to claim a draw. A late Tony Cascarino header cancelled out David Platt's earlier effort.

(*This was of course the era when David Platt seemed to score every England goal).

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In March '91, Ireland played superbly at Wembley, eventually having to settle for another 1-1 draw. Had Ireland won 4-1, the scoreline would barely have flattered them.

McGrath, once more deployed in the advanced role, was majestic all night.

USA '94 and all that...

It's a cliche to point to this now. When asked what are the three greatest footballing performances of all time, one much answer Keane v Juventus in 2000, Dunne v Russia in 2011 and McGrath v Italy in 1994 (not in that order). Or else risk getting you risk getting your Irish passport revoked.

Phil Babb was apparently given the Man of the Match by some media organisations but his performance has been overshadowed in the eyes of posterity by his centre back partner. The verdict of history is in on this one.

Read more: How Irish Fans Shocked The World And Filled The Giants Stadium For Ireland-Italy '94

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney