Ever since the expansion of European competition, the FA Cup has ceased being important for the top clubs. Thus the competition's only real relevance today (The Magic Of The Cup™) is its accentuating of the array of non-leagues in England.
The names of the various leagues reads like a half-time ad break on some obscure channel you get on freeview: Evo-Stick; Vanarama; Ryman. What with the spotlight on the non-leagues with the FA Cup third round draw tonight, we decided to take a look at some of the Irish internationals plying their trade in England's basement leagues. Here are some of the Irish caps playing alongside players who wear hard hats for a living.
Alan Quinn - Handsworth Parramore FC
Quinn played eight times for Ireland, earning his first cap under Brian Kerr against Norway in a friendly in 2003. His final cap came in 2007, the same year he was an unused sub in Ireland's last-gasp 2-1 win away to San Marino. Quinn's richest vein of form came at Sheffield Wednesday between 1997 and 2003, where he scored 16 times from midfield in 157 appearances.
His form was spotted by Mick McCarthy, who brought him to Sunderland, where Quinn failed to score in six appearances. He then steeled himself for a cross-city transfer to Sheffield United, where he played for four years before joining Ipswich Town in 2008. Quinn retired in 2011, before surprisingly reversing the decision in 2014 at the age of 35 to join the newly-created Handsworth Parramore.
The club was founded through a merger between Handsworth F.C. and Worksop Parramore F.C. and is not, sadly, a tribute to an American punk group. Handsworth Parramore play in the Northern Counties East League Premier Division, which is the ninth level of English football. They have competed twice in the FA Cup, and have failed to progress beyond the Preliminary Round. When you nail the quiz question 'Name the Irish international whose international career is 15 times older than his current club', you can thank your Balls.ie overlords.
Stephen O'Halloran - Salford City
O'Halloran played for Ireland before making a professional first-team appearance. Steve Staunton selected him for friendlies against Ecuador and Bolivia despite the fact he had yet to play in Aston Villa's first team. They were to be O'Halloran's only international caps as O'Halloran failed to play for Villa at all owing to two cruciate ligament injuries.
He subsequently slid down the leagues, playing for Coventry City, Carlisle, Nuneaton Town and Stockport County. O'Halloran, a defender, now plays with Salford City, the club part-owned by Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Nevilles. O'Halloran still has time on his side to add to his haul of Irish caps: he was just five in the year the Class of '92 earned their moniker.
Conor Clifford - Boreham Wood
Clifford never actually made a full appearance for Ireland. He was an unused sub under Giovanni Trapattoni in a 0-0 draw with Croatia in 2011. He was also a member of the squad that lost 6-1 against Germany in 2012, once again not playing a part. Clifford's career was once extremely promising. He was snapped up by Chelsea from Crumlin in 2007, and was captain of the Chelsea team that won the FA Youth Cup in 2010.
Clifford scored the winning goal in the final against Aston Villa, which was Chelsea's first victory in the competition since 1961. Partly down to Chelsea's miserable recent record at promoting youth-team players, Clifford failed to make a first-team appearance for the Blues. He became one of Chelsea's multitudinous loanees: he played briefly with Plymouth, Notts County, Yeovil Town, Portsmouth and Crawley Town, accumulating just 26 appearances.
Clifford then joined the current Premier League champions-elect Leicster City on a permanent deal in 2013, but failed to make a senior appearance. A descent down the leagues ensued, and via Southend and Barnet, he now plays with Boreham Wood in the Confrence South. Clifford is aged just 24, so is another who has time to work his way back up the leagues, and possibly bother Martin O'Neill in the future.
Jon Macken - Bamber Bridge FC
Macken made a solitary appearance for Ireland: as a replacement for Clinton Morrison in a 1-1 draw against Bulgaria in a 2004 friendly. He began his club career with Manchester United where he failed to make a senior appearance. Macken then joined Preston North End, where he scored 63 goals in 189 appearances. From there he joined Manchester City in 2002, where he plundered seven goals in 51 games.
This is a comparatively disappointing figure: Richard Dunne managed eight goals in his City career. Macken subsequently played with Crystal Palace, Ipswich, Derby County, Barnsley and Walsall. From here, his career is strangely paralleled with Alan Quinn's.
He retired in 2013 at Stockport County, before coming out from exile to play with Lancashire's Bamber Bridge FC this year, aged 38. He played in the Northern Counties East Football League, along with Handsworth Parramore and Quinn in 2014-15, a successful season in which they gained promotion.
Joe O'Cearuill - Staines Town
O'Cearuill's international career is very similar to O'Halloran's. He also made two appearances for Ireland, also against Ecuador and Bolivia in the 2007 friendlies in the United States. O'Cearuill began his youth-team career with Leyton Orient, before joining Arsenal in 2006 via a season with Watford. He failed to make a senior appearance for Arsenal, and was soon sold to Barnet.
O'Cearuill's career has really failed to ignite, his fifteen games for St Pat's in 2008/09 is the most he has played for anyone. O'Cearuill then returned to England where he continued his nomadic existence. He played just once for Boreham Wood in 2009, and went on to play for Forest Green Rovers and Dover Athletic among many others. He now plys his trade with Staines Town in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
Alan O'Brien - Hungerford Town
Alan O'Brien played five times for Ireland between 2006 and 2007, once again under Steve Staunton. This made him of the least successful O'Brien's to play for Ireland, a prize currently held by Andy in the opinion of this writer. O'Brien made five senior appearances for Newcastle United, beginning with an FA cup tie in 2006.
He left Newcastle in 2007, joining Hibernian in Scotland, where he made 47 appearances in which he failed to score. O'Brien then joined Swindon Town in 2009, and went on to play with Yeovil and Gateshead. He has played with Hungerford Town since 2012 in the Southern League Premier Division.