The buzz of European club football is beginning to grow as the giants of Europe are set to take on each other in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. With the Malta stalemate still fresh in the mind; it got me thinking about how players from Northern Ireland have fared within European club competitions in the past.
It occurred that only five players from Northern Ireland have succeeded in winning a European club competition, with many more reaching finals and lifting runners-up medals.
As a result, I have drawn up a 14 man squad of all Northern Irish internationals to play in a European final. These include the obvious choice of the European Cup/Champions League, the UEFA Cup/Europa League and the now defunct Cup Winner’s Cup. As Mal Donaghy and Jonny Evans both made the bench but did not play in the European finals of 1991 and 2009 respectively, they would be ineligible for the side. The Squad is as follows:
Pat Rice, Sammy Nelson, Aaron Hughes, Steve Morrow*
Danny Blanchflower (C)*,
Martin O’Neill*, Steve Davis, Neil Lennon, Chris McGrath
(* indicates European final winner)
Chris Baird – 2010 Europa League Final
Danny Hegan – 1972 UEFA Cup Final
Dereck Dougan – 1972 UEFA Cup Final
GK: Pat Jennings
In total, Pat appeared in three European finals, the most of any Northern Irish player. Jennings succeeded in winning the 1972 UEFA Cup with Spurs, and also appeared in the 1980 Cup Winners Cup final with Arsenal and the 1974 UEFA Cup final with Spurs, where Mike England the Welshman scored the opener.
DEF: Aaron Hughes
Along with Chris Baird, Aaron Hughes is the most recent Northern Irishman to appear in a European final. The former Northern Ireland captain featured in the 2010 Europa League final where Fulham were defeated by Atletico Madrid in Hamburg.
DEF: Steve Morrow
Morrow took part in two successive European finals for Arsenal. He played in midfield in the Cup Winners Cup final of 1994 against Parma in Denmark, which featured a young Gianfranco Zola in the opposition’s ranks. The following year Morrow was unsuccessful, however; coming on as a sub to play in defence against a Real Zaragoza side who edged Arsenal with an extra-time winner. Featuring in that final was another forthcoming Chelsea star, Gus Poyet.
DEF: Pat Rice
Pat featured in the 1980 European Cup Winner’s defeat to Valencia. Playing alongside Sammy Nelson in defence and with Pat Jennings in goal, it is the most Northern Ireland have ever contributed to a European final.
DEF: Sammy Nelson
Nelson, along with Jennings and Rice, started in the 1980 European Cup Winners Cup Final.
DEF/MID: Danny Blanchflower
Blanchflower is the only Northern Irishman to captain a European Final winning side. Blanchflower won the 1963 Cup Winners Cup final with Tottenham Hotspur, demolishing Atletico Madrid 5-1 in Rotterdam. He was the first Northern Irish international to win an official European trophy.
MID: Martin O’Neill
Martin was part of the Nottingham Forest side who won back-to-back European Cups. Although he was on the bench injured for the 1979 final, O’Neill started in midfield for the 1980 final where Forest defeated Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg side.
MID: Neil Lennon
Playing under Martin O’Neill, Lennon appeared in the 2003 UEFA Cup final defeat at the hands of Porto in Seville.
MID: Chris McGrath
McGrath sported the number 7 jersey for Spurs in the 1974 UEFA Cup final defeat as the Spurs were defeated 4-2 on aggregate by Feyenoord.
MID: Steve Davis
Current Northern Ireland captain, Steve Davis, played on the wing for Rangers in the UEFA Cup final of 2008 in Manchester against Zenit St. Petersburg.
ATK: George Best
Perhaps the most famous performance from a Northern Irishman in a European final, George Best helped Manchester United to victory against Eusebio’s Benfica at Wembley in 1968. Best would go on take the Ballon d’Or that year.
Manager: Terry Neill
Even though Martin O’Neill took Celtic to the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, as he is already featured in the squad as a player, it would be only fair to give the Manager’s role to Terry Neill. Neill guided Arsenal to the 1980 European Cup Winners Cup Final, eventually losing to Valencia on penalties.
Photo Credit: Andy Welsh (Flickr)