Euro 2012: Player-by-Player Guide to the Republic of Ireland Squad
With The Guardian reporting that Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has selected his 23-man squad for this summer's Euro 2012, many who watch international soccer regularly looked at the roster and had just one question:
"Who's that again?"
Admittedly, the Republic of Ireland has had few players worthy of international renown. A few have slid through the cracks. Robbie Keane is probably the most well-known Irish player, with players like Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Stephen Hunt right behind him.
Sadly, most of the world doesn't know about longtime veterans Damien Duff or John O'Shea who have an astonishing 170 international caps between them.
The lads of the Emerald Isle are going up against the likes of Spain, Italy and Croatia in the group stages of Euro 2012, so we'll all be up close and personal with them—even if it'll only be for a few weeks.
As the Republic of Ireland makes its way onto our television sets, let's make our way into learning about who these players are. That said, I give you a player-by-player guide to the Republic of Ireland's 23-man roster for this summer's Euro 2012.
GK: Shay Given (Aston Villa)
The most veteran member of Ireland's squad with 121 senior caps at the international level, Given has risen to prominence as one of the world's finest goalkeepers. In his nine matches during the preliminary round of Euro 2012 qualification, Given gave up six goals.
Who else has that kind of average?
Of goalkeepers that played at least six full games, only Italy's Gianluigi Buffon (0.17), France's Hugo Lloris (0.40), Belarus' Yuri Zhevnov (0.63) and England's Joe Hart (0.63) had a better average than Given. And only Lloris bested Given's five clean sheets.
GK: Keiren Westwood (Sunderland)
Westwood started his career in 2002 with Manchester City, but never made an appearance with the Blues. It wasn't until he signed with League One side Carlisle United that Ireland's back-up 'keeper earned regular starting time. He went up to Coventry City (which was second-tier for the five years he played there) and even earned a spot on the Championship PFA Team of the Year.
He signed with Sunderland at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, but has failed to crack the starting roster, appearing in nine matches.
GK: David Forde (Milwall)
Born in western Ireland and having started his professional career with Galway United, Forde is a journeyman goalkeeper. He's suited up for 10 different squads (including the Republic of Ireland), with his latest stay being at Championship side Milwall, where he's made near 200 appearances between the posts.
D: Sean St. Ledger (Leicester City)
Born in England, Ledger is able to play for Ireland because his grandfather was born in Carlow. He's played most of his career with third-tier team Preston North End, but in 2011, made a move to Leicester City—a club that was half-a-dozen points away from playing in the playoff for promotion to the Premier League. He's appeared in 25 matches and scored two goals from the centre-back position.
D: Stephen Ward (Wolverhampton)
The most versatile of any Ireland footballer, Ward has played left-back, midfielder and striker for the Emerald Isle. He'll be slotted as a defender for Euro 2012, but he'll provide Ireland with a much-needed weapon along the left sideline.
D: John O'Shea (Sunderland)
The most-capped defender on Ireland's squad (75 appearances since 2001), O'Shea spent the first 12 years of his professional career with Manchester United, where he helped the Red Devils win the Champions League in 2009. The versatile defender was sold to Sunderland in 2011 for an undisclosed fee and has helped the Black Cats concede just 1.05 goals per match.
D: Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
Dunne is the oldest member of the defensive back line, and he's also the only member to have played his entire career in the top-flight of English football. The centre-back started his career in 1996 with Everton, but transferred to Manchester City in 2000. After nine years, he went to Aston Villa in a deal that included a £5 million signing transfer.
D: Stephen Kelly (Fulham)
Kelly has moved around England quite a bit, jumping between the first and second flight of English football since starting his career in 2000 with Tottenham. He's scored just two goals from the right-back position in 221 total appearances, both with Tottenham and both in the 2004-05 season.
D: Darren O'Dea (Celtic)
O'Dea is the youngest defender on Ireland's 23-man roster at only 25 years of age, but don't let the age fool you—O'Dea won the Ireland Young International Player Of The Year Award during the FAI ceremony in February of 2012. He's also the only one to play outside of England, opting for Scottish Premier League giants Celtic.
D: Kevin Foley (Wolverhampton)
It's not often that a transfer to Wolverhampton is a huge career boost, but it is when you're like Foley, who transferred from third-tier side Luton Town in 2007. He had spent 12 years at a Luton Town club that is not in England's Conference National (fifth-tier for most of us who have no idea what Conference National is). He was involved in Ireland's Euro 2008 qualification campaign and the World Cup 2010 debacle in France.
M: Glenn Whelan (Stoke City)
Whelan is the heart of Ireland's midfield and has been since 2008, when he made his first appearance with the squad—the same year he helped Stoke City gain promotion to the Premier League. He's not much of a goal scorer, but his possession is solid and he sets up attacking runs like nobody's business.
M: Aiden McGeady (Spartak Moscow)
Spending the first six years of his career in Scotland with Celtic, McGeady is one of only two Irish players to play outside of the UK. Keane is one, as he suits up for the LA Galaxy of the MLS, and McGeady plays wing for Russian Premier League club Spartak Moscow.
M: Keith Andrews (West Bromwich Albion)
If we went through every club Andrews has spent time with, we'd be here a while. Suffice to say, the Irish midfielder has a lot of experience moving around, spending time at Wolverhampton, Walsall, Oxford United, Stoke City, Hull City, Milton Keynes Dons, Blackburn, Ipswich Town and (finally!) West Bromwich Albion.
He scored the first of four goals in Ireland's playoff with Estonia on November 11, a match that helped secure their spot in the Euro 2012 finals.
M: Damien Duff (Fulham)
M: Stephen Hunt (Wolverhampton)
If you don't have an unnatural, inexplicable love for Stephen Hunt in your heart, you're not a true fan of Irish football.
The 30-year-old is used mostly as a late-match substitute, providing bursts up the wing when opposing midfielders and defenders are gassed.
The Wolverhampton man plays with more enthusiasm than any other from the Emerald Isle and, as such, has made himself a favorite for many Irish fans—even if he's rarely the favorite to start.
M: Darron Gibson (Everton)
Born in Derry, Northern Ireland, Gibson was at the center of a dispute between the Football Association of Ireland and Northern Ireland's Irish Football Association when he opted to join the Emerald Isle's squad.
Gibson is the only squad to have spent time in Belgium, being loaned out by Manchester United to Royal Antwerp for the 2006-07 season.
M: Keith Fahey (Birmingham City)
Playing more of his career with the League of Ireland than in England's Premier League, Fahey knows what it takes to work hard and get little recognition in return. He spent his youth career at Arsenal and Aston Villa only to be shipped off in 2003 to Bluebell United in Dublin.
He climbed the ranks of Irish domestic soccer, making his way on St. Partick's Athletic and Drogheda United Football Club before capturing the attention of Birmingham City's scouts. He's been with the Championship club since 2009.
M: James McClean (Sunderland)
McClean has only made one appearance for the Irish national squad, but don't let that dissuade you from thinking he's going to make an impact in this summer's tournament.
He's been a regular starter at Sunderland since 2011, appearing in 22 games and scoring five goals while assisting on two others. He's made enough of an impression that manager Martin O'Neill has started him in every league match since January 1.
F: Kevin Doyle (Wolverhampton)
Here, we get to the fun part of Ireland's squad. First up is Kevin Doyle, who is finishing out this season for relegated Wolverhampton. He's as hard-working as they come, making 32 or more appearances in all but one of the seasons in his professional career in the top-flight of English football.
F: Robbie Keane (Los Angeles Galaxy)
What can you say about Ireland's most well-known player and the country's most proficient scorer?
Keane has earned 115 international caps (second only to 'keeper Shay Given) and has scored 53 times (most in Irish history) for an average of 0.46 goals per match.
He may not be the world's best finisher, but Keane is comfortable on the ball and has a penchant for a classy assist or two. If Ireland advances past the Euro 2012 group stage, it'll be because of Keane.
F: Shane Long (West Bromwich Albion)
After six years with a Reading side that was in and out of the England's Premier League, Long signed with West Bromwich Albion in 2011 for a fee of £6m.
He's been worth every penny (...or euro), as he's appeared in 32 matches for the Baggies, scoring seven goals. Long will provide a much-needed reserve for Doyle and Keane if the going gets tough against group opponents Italy, Spain and Croatia.
F: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City)
The least experienced of Ireland's forwards, Walters has only earned five caps for the Emerald Isle since joining the senior squad in 2010.
Despite only being on the national squad for three years, he's carved out a nice living for himself, playing for such top-flight clubs as Blackburn, Bolton and Stoke City since 2000.
Walters is versatile and will provide roster depth at right winger and forward.
F: Simon Cox (West Bromwich Albion)
Last, but certainly not least, it's Simon Cox—the man who got Ireland into its playoff against Estonia.
His play during Ireland's 2-1 win against Armenia sealed Ireland's place in the playoff, and it was Cox who consistently squeezed passes through tight windows and supported the Irish attack beautifully against their Armenian opposition.
Cox is about as good a reserve forward as there is to have on the bench. He's only 25 years old and he's at the peak of his career, just getting signed to top-flight club West Bromwich Albion in 2009.