30 years of the Premier League: The Cork connection cross channel

Dylan O'Connell examines the influence of Leesiders at the top level of the English game
30 years of the Premier League: The Cork connection cross channel

Roy Keane and Denis Irwin of Manchester United Legends following the Liam Miller Memorial at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in 2018. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

THE Premier League is 30 years old this year and there’s no shortage of stories from the richest competition in world football.

Scores of players from Cork have featured in the tournament and they all did their bit to make the league the most followed globally.

The Premier League kicked off with two of Cork’s greatest ever players at opposite ends of the table.

Roy Keane was with Nottingham Forest at the time and the two-time European Cup winners were relegated at the end of the season. The midfielder did everything he could to prevent Brian Clough’s team from going down, he even played as a centre-back at one point that year. Keane also scored six league goals, which helped to bring Forest’s quest to beat the drop to the second last game of the season.

Just as Forest went down, Denis Irwin won the inaugural Premier League title with Manchester United. The full-back knocked in five league goals that season for his club, and he single-handily earned them four points by scoring an equaliser against Ipswich Town and knocking in the winner versus Coventry City.

Keane and Irwin faced each other twice in the league that season and the Red Devils won both games 2-0.

United’s title success was the start of Sir Alex Ferguson’s domination of English football in the 1990s. The team went on to win five titles and a host of other trophies including the Champions League in 1999. Crucial to this was Roy Keane, who was signed from Forest in 1993.

Irwin left United for Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2002 and he had seven league winners medals around his neck. 

Keane departed in 2005 with the same tally of Premier League honours as his Cork counterpart.

The latter was regularly involved in controversy during his time at Old Trafford. The most famous incident involving Keane was his tackle on Alfie Haaland in April 2001. The midfielder originally received a £5,000 fine and a three-match ban. It was later revealed in Keane’s autobiography that the tackle was pre-meditated and he was given an additional five-game ban and a £150,000 fine.

In 2014, the entire world watched as Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew headbutt David Meyler when he was playing for Hull. The incident happened on the touchline at the Hull City City Stadium and the Newcastle manager was Pardew was fined £60,000 and hit with a seven-match ban over the incident Damien Delaney played in one of the greatest ever Premier League games that season with Crystal Palace. 

Scott Dann of Crystal Palace celebrates with Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace after scoring at Anfield. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Scott Dann of Crystal Palace celebrates with Damien Delaney of Crystal Palace after scoring at Anfield. Picture: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

That May, his team welcomed title-chasing Liverpool to Selhurst Park and the Reds desperately needed to win. The visitors stormed into a three-goal lead, a tally helped by an own goal from Delaney. The Corkman pulled one goal back in the 79th minute and Dwight Gayle scored a brace late on to make it 3-3.

The result killed Liverpool’s title hopes and it meant they needed West Ham to beat Manchester City on the final day of the season. The Hammers lost 2-0 and they ended the season empty-handed.

The most unlikely title event in English football history had a Cork man in the middle of it. 

Ian Flanagan was working for Leicester City as their commercial director when the Foxes upset 5000/1 odds to win the Premier League title in 2016.

Burnley captured the imagination of the world when they qualified for the Europa League in 2018. The Clarets, with Kevin Long in their defence, beat Chelsea and a host of top clubs to qualify for Europe for the first time in 51 years. Led by Sean Dyche, Burnley managed to reach the play-off round of that year’s Europa League.

One of the most exciting teams to ever get promoted to the Premier League had a Cork man in the centre of defence in 2019. Sheffield United under Chris Wilder played John Egan in the middle of their three-man defence and this team went agonisingly close to qualifying for Europe. The Blades played with a 3-5-2 formation and they used this to get the better of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Chelsea.

Caoimhín Kelleher became the first player from Cork to feature for Liverpool in December 2020. The goalkeeper, who played for the Reds in the League Cup in 2019, started against Wolves at Anfield and he kept a clean sheet. Kelleher also lined out against Chelsea and Watford for Liverpool during the 2021-22 Premier League season.


Manchester City now have Brian Barry-Murphy looking after their Elite Development Squad. He works closely under Pep Guardiola to get ready young stars before they step up to his all-conquering first team.

This year, Kelleher is the only player from Cork who could play regularly in the English top flight.

Whatever happens, he will play his part in a 30-year tradition in the biggest league in world football.

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