How the Irish soccer teams tap in to the diaspora

SINCE its first game representing the newly-independent state in 1924, the Irish soccer team has become one of its most recognisable symbols internationally.

With their distinctive green kit and underdog attitude they often make a strong impression at international competitions, while Irish fans are well-known for their sportsmanlike behaviour
and sense of camaraderie. Indeed during the 2016 European Championships, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland were jointly awarded the Médaille de la Ville de Paris by that city’s mayor for their ‘exemplary conduct’ during the competition and later received an outstanding contribution award from the UEFA Executive Committee.

Not all those players who have represented the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been born on this island, with many qualifying to play under the so-called ‘grandparent rule’.

The first member of the Irish Diaspora to play for the Republic was Manchester born Shay Brennan who was first capped in 1965. Since then many high-profile players have been born outside of the island. Well known names such as Mark Lawrenson, David O’Leary, John Aldridge, Paul McGrath, David Kelly and Ray Houghton were all born in Britain and went on to play for the Republic of Ireland national team.

The current Irish squad has seven players born overseas, all of whom have had their own reasons for choosing to play for Ireland. These include Jonathan Walters, who decided to play for the team after the death of his mother when he was aged 11; James McCarthy who choose to play because of the influence his Donegal grandfather had on him; Glasgow-born Aiden McGeady who when approached by both the Scottish and Irish football associations opted for Ireland; and Coventry native Cyrus Christie who after joining the Ireland squad stated, “I immediately felt at home here”.

Playing for the Irish national team has obviously meant just as much to these players, if not more, than those who were born in Ireland. Richard Keogh, who was born in Harlow, in Essex, described captaining Ireland against Oman in 2014 as “the proudest moment of my career by a long way”.

The defender Ciaran Clark has stated that he never felt comfortable playing for England — he captained them at Under-18, Under-19 and Under-20 level — because “Ireland was always the country I wanted to represent”.

Finally Mancunian Keiren Westwood, whose grandparents emigrated from Wexford, has claimed playing as the Ireland No 1 has been great and that he will “never turn his back on Ireland”.

The Northern Ireland squad is also filled with players with similar stories with some squad members hailing from much further afield, like Alan Mannus, who moved to Northern Ireland from Canada with his family at the age of seven.

Diasporic links continue to be a strong component of Irish soccer and the phenomenon has also spread to the rugby and cricket teams too. With continued migration it does not look likely to change in the near future.