18 May 2021
By Roger Jones
It’s worth noting that it isn’t just England that has produced some of the best players to ply their trade in the top divisions in English football. In fact, many of the greatest to make appearances in the division over the years have hailed from right here in Ireland or pulled on the famous green jersey.
Recent times may have seen a notable absence of quality when it comes to Irish internationals in England’s second division, but there are certain players who have become club legends and cult heroes due to their antics for their respective clubs. For instance, James Collins at Luton Town helped the Hatters to several promotions, including their most recent one to England’s second flight. As a result of his long tenure at the club, Collins has marked himself out as being a cult hero from the stands of Kenilworth Road and, therefore, it makes sense for him to be considered as a legend in Luton fans’ eyes.
His goalscoring antics, combined with the return of manager Nathan Jones, have ensured stability following a disappointing period where the club were unfortunately docked points and dropped into England’s football conference. The return of such stability has allowed Luton to defy expectations this past season to finish in the mid-table positions, and therefore it may not be long until they push for promotion, in the same way that a team such as Barnsley has this past year. According to Championship odds, the Tykes are 7/2 to get promoted and it could be the case that Luton can build on this season’s successes and carry positive momentum into next year’s campaign in a similar fashion.
Going a little further back but staying in the attacking areas of the pitch, attacking midfielder Wes Hoolahan, who currently plies his trade for Cambridge United, marked himself out as a Norwich City legend during their time in the second tier of English football. He played for the club for the best part of a decade and, in the process, racked up over three hundred appearances, in which he scored forty-seven goals, Much like James Collins, Hoolahan stuck by the Canaries through thick and thin, from their times in League One in the early days of his tenure, as well as the short spells in the Premier League, which are arguably best remembered for the goals they conceded as opposed to scoring, such as Jack Wilshere’s for Arsenal in 2013/14.
Irish players who have gone on to become legends for other clubs have also started their careers and made a name for themselves in England’s second-tier before moving onto bigger and better things. That’s certainly the case for Manchester United legend, and one of the best fullbacks to play in the second tier and top-flight, Denis Irwin. Whilst best remembered for his time with the Red Devils in the early-to-mid-nineties, it is worth noting that Irwin did play in the Second Division for Oldham Athletic during his formative years of development from 1986 to 1990.
It’s such a shame that Ireland and its output of players, especially in the second flight, have gone underappreciated in comparison with their English counterparts. Players like Shane Long, Shay Given and Darren Randolph have made significant contributions for teams in the second division of English football. Perhaps it’s time they received much more respect for their stellar careers.