As the Republic of Ireland squad and their passionate supporters prepare for Euro 2016, we take a look at five Irish icons who have made their mark for the Emerald Isle in major tournaments.
The Goalkeeping Great – Packie Bonner (1981-1996)
There was only one man to kick this entry off with. Boasting 80 caps in net for Ireland and having featured in an incredible five major tournaments for the side, Bonner has produced an array of memorable moments in the famous green shirt.
He starred in the Euro 1988 victory over England, and set up Kevin Sheedy’s equaliser against the same opposition in World Cup 1990, to help Ireland progress to the knockouts.
The Donegal-born keeper also made a winning penalty-shoot-out save to ensure Ireland reached the quarter-finals of Italia 90 at the expense of Romania, and he again took the Boys in Green into the knockouts with a 1-0 win over Italy at World Cup 1994.
The Defensive Dynamo – Mick McCarthy (1984-1992)
Ireland’s ‘Captain Fantastic’, McCarthy may have been Barnsley-born, but the Green Army quickly took the imposing, no-nonsense defender to their hearts.
Big Mick captained the side to a memorable quarter-final berth at Italia 90, with the then-Millwall defender an ever-present in a defence which conceded just three times in five games.
Never a flair player, McCarthy instead made himself an invaluable part of the squad as a tough-tackling organiser who knew how – and when – to clear his lines. He left the creative trickery in the Ireland squad of the 1990s to the next man.
The Midfield Magician – Ray Houghton (1986-1997)
The amiable, pint-sized midfielder was a huge part of Ireland’s team spirit, though it’s his legendary goals in Euro 1988 and World Cup 1994 – for which the Green Army will remember him most fondly.
Houghton struck a fortuitous winner against England in the opener in Stuttgart 28 years ago, while Italy were on the receiving end of his cool finishing in the crucial game that won Ireland a place in the knock-outs at USA ’94.
A competitor for the big occasion, he impressed in three major tournaments for the Boys in Green, and was fittingly given his final cap in 1998 by former teammate – and Ireland boss from 1997-2002 – Mick McCarthy.
The Striking Sensation – Robbie Keane (1998-present)
The most capped Republic of Ireland player, and the side’s top all-time goalscorer, no player has been more synonymous with the Irish team’s combination of talent and tirelessness than 35-year-old Keane.
His biggest contribution on the international stage came during the 2002 World Cup when the then-Leeds United hitman scored three times as the Boys in Green reached the last 16.
His 92nd-minute equaliser against Germany will live longest in the memory, though he also scored in the heartbreaking defeat to Spain and the 3-0 victory over tournament whipping-boys Saudi Arabia.
Keane was also among the better Ireland players at Euro 2012, though while the Irish fans won plaudits for their vocal passion in the stands, the team failed to match that intensity on the pitch.
The Brilliant Boss – Jack Charlton (1986-1996)
With his gruff Northumberland bark and legendary flat caps, Charlton spent almost a decade at the Irish helm. He transformed the national side from one which had never reached a major finals, to a side who qualified for three in a row, reaching the knockouts at two World Cups.
A tactically astute manager and a wonderful man-motivator, the former Sheffield Wednesday boss turned Ireland into a defensively-solid unit who could be devastating on the counter attack.
The current Ireland crop head to Euro 2016 looking to emulate the feats of their finest predecessors – and to perhaps even go a step further. Having humbled Germany en route to reaching the finals, who would bet against them impressing in the tournament?
The Boys in Green share Group E with Belgium, Italy, and Sweden, with Martin O’Neill’s charges 10/1 to win the group and 5/4 to reach the knockouts.
Especially optimistic fans can also back their side to reach the Euro 2016 final at 40/1 and to lift the trophy at 150/1. Remember, Ireland have a habit of upsetting the odds…
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing