“The new era really is off and running now. Proud captain. Record goal-scorer. And he’s going straight to the new manager to celebrate with Steve Staunton. They’re two-nil up and it is smiles all around Lansdowne Road”
Steve Staunton could have been forgiven for thinking international management was an uncomplicated brief after his new Ireland team tore Sweden to shreds on a raucous night in Dublin 4. Robbie Keane had just scored Ireland’s second of night and even the Sky Sports commentary team of Rob Hawthorne and Niall Quinn couldn’t contain their emotions.
Sir Bobby Robson was looking resplendent in his green scarf, seated in the old West Stand, but it was Stan and his jumpsuit jacket, hair neatly combed and fists clenched, who captivated the broadcast director. His expansive smile lit up an otherwise cold evening in early March 2006. The Republic of Ireland won 3-0, with Liam Miller’s outrageous long range drive in front of the South Stand the pick of the goals.
The Swedes had qualified for the World Cup that summer, alongside England, Trinidad and Tobago and Paraguay in Group B. They went unbeaten in their pool, drawing twice, before Germany comfortably dispatched them in the last 16. In the world rankings, Sweden were ranked inside the world’s top 15 when they visited Dublin. Ireland, meanwhile, had tumbled from 24th to 49th by the end of the year.
In his programme notes, Staunton noted how “we’ve got some new talent in the squad….all of whom have great potential” He added that as a small country, Ireland needs “to squeeze every bit of potential from our available resources” and to start capping players as soon as possible. Stan admitted his pride at signing “a four year contract” with the aim to take Ireland all the way to the Euro 2008 Championships.
Unfortunately for Staunton, Robson and Ireland, the rest of the year was a disaster. They won just one of their next six games in 2006 (against San Marino), and suffered a harrowing experience in Nicosia (a 5-2 loss to Cyprus).
The Sweden game, one of the few highpoints of that regime, was 10 years ago this March. As we’re all aware, both teams have qualified for Euro 2016 and will play each other at the Stade de France on June 13th. The visitors’ line up included some well known players, such as Olof Mellborg, Johan Elmander, Kim Kallstrom, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrik Larsson.
This is the first Ireland team selected by Steve Staunton.
Shay Given: Ireland’s most capped goalkeeper (and second on the overall list behind Robbie Keane) with 133 appearances, Given has kept a very respectable 55 clean sheets for the national team. Vital saves at home to Iran brought Ireland to the 2002 World Cup, where he played in all 4 of Ireland’s games. Given also started at Euro 2012 and briefly retired from international football soon after. Warms the bench at Stoke City, but has a good chance of appearing at his third major championships this summer.
Joey O’Brien: Contracted to Bolton Wanderers, O’Brien made his debut against Sweden two weeks after his 20th birthday and earned 5 more caps for his country. Still only 29, O’Brien is on the books at West Ham now but his involvement has been restricted due to several long term injuries. Contract expires this summer.
Andy O’Brien: Harrowgate-born O’Brien played 25 times for Ireland between 2001 and 2006, and was a member of the World Cup squad in ’02. He played for 6 teams in England, including Newcastle (over 100 club appearances), and eventually left Leeds for Vancouver in 2012.
Richard Dunne: O’Brien’s partner at the back will go down as one of the greatest defenders in Irish football history. Dunne played 80 times for Ireland before his retirement in 2013. The Dubliner spent 9 years at Manchester City, playing almost 300 league games. Released by QPR late last year.
Ian Harte: Harte enjoyed a very eventful career, eventually bowing out when Bournemouth won promotion to the Premier League last May. Amazingly, Harte hasn’t represented his country since 2007, but he managed to wear the green jersey 63 times. A key member of the 2002 World Cup squad, Harte spent 6 years at Elland Road and even togged out for 3 seasons in Spain.
Steven Reid: A classy passer of the ball, injuries limited Reid’s international career to just 23 appearances but he did captain his country in Staunton’s third game. Retired from the game when Burnley were relegated from the Premier League.
Stephen Elliott: Currently a free agent after his release from Carlisle United, Elliott played for Ireland at all levels from U-17s to the national team. His most successful club spell was his stint at Sunderland, where he managed 22 goals in 81 league appearances. Elliott’s last of 9 international caps came in 2006, and he has one goal to his name.
John O’Shea: A Champions League winner, O’Shea has notched up a century of international caps for the Republic of Ireland, beginning with a substitute’s appearance against Croatia in 2001. He scored a vital, late equaliser against Germany in 2014 (one of three international goals) and will certainly be at Euro 2016. O’Shea has played close to 400 league games for Manchester United and Sunderland, picking up 5 Premier League medals.
Damien Duff: The Sportster ranks Duff as the 12th best Irish footballer of all time, but he will probably feature higher in most other records. Injuries blighted his career, but the brilliant winger still racked up a century of international caps. He scored the first goal of the Staunton era, cutting in off his wing and drilling a shot into the bottom left hand corner (with the aid of a slight deflection). Duff won 2 Premier League medals with Chelsea, but most fans will remember his wonderful contribution for Ireland. Retired.
Robbie Keane: Holds numerous records that might never be broken! Will we ever see a finisher like him again? Massively loved and respected.
Kevin Doyle: Living the MLS dream for Colorado Rapids after his English-based career came to an end on loan at Crystal Palace. Doyle once cost Wolverhampton Wanderers £6.5 million but found the goals harder to come by than at Reading. His last goal for the Republic of Ireland came against Oman at the Aviva Stadium.
On the bench that day: Wayne Henderson, Liam Miller, Kevin Kilbane, Graham Kavanagh, Stephen Ireland, Clinton Morrison, Gary Breen, Jonathan Doughlas, Liam Lawrence and Stephen Kelly.
We will see two, and possibly one more, of that entire squad at Euro 2016 this summer.