The Top Ten: SAFC Players From The Emerald Isle

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As you may or may not be aware our emerging winger James McClean has stirred some controversy back in his native Ireland. Little would probably have been made of the youngster's decision to play for the Republic rather than Northern Ireland had his impact not have been so immediate and eye-catching. Sunderland have a rich history of links with the Emerald Isle, a bond which has only grown stronger over recent years following a certain striker's involvement with the Northeast side.

The Sunderland/Ireland association is the topic of today's Top Ten as I make my return to the feature to no doubt get everything wrong as per usual! Join me after the jump as I run through my Top Ten Irish SAFC players!

(This is where Robbie Keane SHOULD have figured!)

10. Ian Harte

Ian "enjoyed" a blink and you may have missed it spell with Sunderland in 2007 joining his former International captain Roy Keane at the Stadium of Light. Harte's best days may have been well behind him at this point but I can remember being reasonably happy with his signing at the time, my young judgement obviously clouded by memories of his impressive spell with Leeds many years before. His early days there at least.

I'm guaranteed to cop some flack for old Ian but I'm a sucker for a player with the potential to rifle in freekick when asked, just unfortunately for Harte and the sole member of his fan club at the time, me, he rarely featured. At least his International career was half decent, which helps swing his inclusion back into the left-backs favour. Right?

Harte racked up over sixty appearances and eleven goals and played every minute of Ireland's qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup before a toe injury hampered his performances at the competition itself.

9. John O'Shea

The Paddy McGuinness lookalike may still be in the early stages of his SAFC career but his influence on the side has been clear to see, especially of late following his move to the heart of the defence. O'Shea has suffered with a series of niggling injuries since his arrival from Old Trafford but now following an extended spell in the side we are really beginning to see the best of the composed centre-back who's experience will prove invaluable. You only have to look at how well players such as Michael Turner and Matt Kilgallon have looked playing alongside the Irishman to see what an influence he commands.

O'Shea has also earned an impressive seventy caps for the Republic of Ireland with his versatility being a desirable asset for an International squad.

8. John Byrne

The striker may have only spent one season on Wearside but made such an impact during the 1991/92 FA Cup run that few will forget his name. Byrne's record on the road to Wembley was superb, netting a goal in every game before unfortunately drawing a blank in the defeat to Liverpool in the final. However Byrne was mistakenly awarded a winners medal during the post match ceremony, so he can always embellish the story to his Grandchildren.

Byrne collected twenty-three caps for his country and his most memorable moment came with a brace against Turkey during the Euro 92 qualifiers.

7. Gary Breen

The much travelled centre-back was a dependable if unspectacular player, the kind of player that just got about his job with little fuss and fanfare. I don't think that Breen's influence on the promotion winning side of 2004/05 is given enough credit - so here you go Gary, this is your moment! Then again following relegation the following season Breen had managed to face the drop with each of the Premier League clubs he had played for, Coventry and West Ham the previous sides. Swings and roundabouts I guess.

Testament however to Breen's ability is his impressive International record. The defender clocked up over sixty appearances during his career, most notably playing every minute of Ireland's 2002 World Cup campaign, even grabbing a goal in a first round victory over Saudi Arabia.

6. Andy Reid

Everyone has an opinion on our former midfielder, mainly based around his fitness, or lack of depending upon your stance. For me Reid was always someone I looked to watching play given his unpredictability. There is no arguing however that on his day Andy was the kind of player that could turn a game on its head by himself.

Reid represented Ireland twenty-seven times and recorded his first goal for his country in 2003, a freekick from well over thirty-five yards out against Bulgaria.

Reid slowly but surely fell out of contention on Wearside and was seen more often with a guitar and a microphone by the end of his spell than with a ball at his feet but I will always remember the little, big, fella, if only for that goal against West Ham.

5. Jason McAteer

I'll make no qualms about it. I was a big Jason McAteer fan back in the day. The former Liverpool "Spice Boy" brought his wealth of experience to Sunderland's midfield in 2001 and was involved in one of my all time favourite SAFC moments in 2003 - THAT clash with Roy Keane following an epic afternoon spent winding the Manchester United captain up a treat. "Put that in your f'ing book"

The notoriously dopey midfielder, you don't earn the nickname Trigger for nothing, represented the Republic of Ireland over fifty times and earned legendary status following his superb volley against Holland in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers at Landsdowne Road.

4. Kieron Brady

Cult hero Brady's career may have been tragically cut short but the midfielder still had enough time to catch the imagination of the Sunderland faithful in the early 1990's. A real crowd pleasing midfielder who always had a trick up his sleeve, Brady seemed to have the world at his feet, unfortunately it wasn't to be. A real case of leaving it to the fans imagination to dream of what could have been.

Brady was bestowed with International recognition before he was forced to hang up his boots, making four appearances.

Kieron has since turned his attentions to his Celebrate Identity Challenge Intolerance Equality and Diversity training group which educates around the areas of racism, religious intolerance and other forms of discrimination, a worthy cause I'm sure you'll agree.

3. Shay Given

Yes, Shay may have gone on to become a Newcastle United legend but his stint on Wearside was nothing short of spectacular. In fact it was probably too good if anything as it alerted our neighbours to his undoubted quality. Given was instrumental in helping SAFC to the Division One Championship in 1995/96 keeping an unbelievable twelve clean sheets during his seventeen game spell at Roker Park. Sunderland fans dared to dream that we could keep ahold of the Irishman but were beaten to his signature by our archrivals. How different things could have been eh?

Given's consistent form for the Magpies over the years has seen him unsurpassed as the Irish Number One and has seen the shotstopper win an incredible 120 caps.

2. Niall Quinn

An extremely close call for the top spot this week, however Niall is used to receiving all the plaudits so I'm sure he won't mind finishing up as the runner-up in this little list. Quinn's contribution to SAFC over the years has been nothing short of magnificent. From his awe-inspiring partnership with Kevin Phillips in the hey-days under Peter Reid to his new role, transforming SAFC into the, dare I say it, burgeoning outfit we see today.

His International record wasn't bad either with over ninety caps for Ireland, a stint which saw him break the then goal scoring record for his country before the perpetual SAFC transfer target Robbie Keane came along and cart wheeled himself to the number one spot.

1. Charlie Hurley

The King. It is surely a crime punishable only by an NUFC season ticket for a Sunderland fan not to put a player of Hurley's stature and pedigree at the top of such a list. I didn't make the rules and I certainly aren't going to break them. To put it simply, Charlie is a legend who also made forty appearances for the Republic of Ireland and was everyone's favourite Irishman at the moment, Martin O'Neill's favourite player. What more can be said that hasn't already been penned by those far more articulate than myself? Speaking of which, we had the pleasure of hosting some of Mark Metcalfe's superb book on the great man himself late last year, read that instead!

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OK, so who did I miss? Let me know in the comments below and have a vote in the poll while you're here. The winner doesn't get a prize or anything, we're not made of money.

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