21 June 2015

Spanning the Decades

Last week NIFG published a piece on the members of the 50 Cap Club, this week we  look at those 21 players who had an international career spanning more than (fairly arbitrarily) thirteen years. While there is an obvious overlap with those who have won 50+ caps, it is not as large as you might think. Twelve of the players listed below did not make the 50 Cap Club, with seven (a third!) not even reaching 25 caps!

Pat Jennings in 1964 and 1986
Unsurprisingly the Northern Ireland player with the longest international career was Pat Jennings, with 22 years and 58 days between his first and last caps. That's an average of over 5 caps per year.

Next on the list is another famous name to those who know their football history, Newcastle United legend Bill McCracken. Right-back McCracken was a 19 year-old with Distillery when he made his Ireland debut in 1902 and had passed his 40th birthday when he won his 16th and final cap in 1923 shortly after he was appointed manager at Hull. That was a return of just 0.76 caps a year. So what happened? The First World War put international football on hold for over five years, but likely had little effect on McCracken's cap total. In 1907 he fell out with the Irish FA over match fees, arguing that he was worthy of the same £10 as his England contemporaries received. The IFA balked at the suggestion, so banishing one of the most famous footballers of his age until a post-war reconciliation in 1919. The gap of nearly 13 years is the biggest between caps for any Ireland international. Even with the War interrupting football, if McCracken had played in every possible international he would have won 51 caps. If football hadn't been suspended that total could have been 66.

Next on the list is our current goalkeeper, Roy Carroll. There are parallels between Carroll's and McCracken's international careers. Both were just 19 when first capped, and both suffered long exiles from the international set-up. Initially Carroll became frustrated with his role as back-up to Maik Taylor and requested not to travel with the squad unless he could play. There then followed a period of injury and upheaval in his career until he rebuilt his form and confidence on the continent, and was recalled after a six year gap in 2012. Currently he holds 41 caps, playing in just 28% of the 144 matches Northern have played since his debut against Thailand in 1997, 18 years ago.

Billy Gillespie c.1913 and later with less hair
Donegal-man Billy Gillespie was capped 25 times in a near 18 year international career, but he too had his career stymied by the Great War. His appearances in 61% of the possible matches between 1913-30 was respectable, particularly considering he suffered a couple of serious injuries and was on several occasions withheld from international duty by Sheffield United where he was captain of a successful side.

Aaron Hughes's international career is now in its 18th year and we all hope he can get at least one more season out of it!

Liverpool and Belfast Celtic legend Elisha Scott also could have won many more caps if not for the First World War and club pressures during an international career that spanned just two days short of 16 years and 31 caps.

The finest player of his age (according to Bill Shankly no less), Peter Doherty claimed 16 caps in a 15 year international career interrupted by the Second World War. He also fell foul of IFA's selection committee at times. They regarded him as a "luxury" player and refused to select him with more "solid" options chosen instead. The fact that Ireland were regularly hammered with or without him in the team meant that the fans were denied the one bright spot they may have seen on the Windsor Park turf.

Contrary to the table below, Billy Lacey's international career actually spanned over 21 years. Capped 23 times by the Irish FA between 1909 and 1923, his career was stretched past his 40th birthday when he won another three caps for the fledgling Free State international team between 1927-1930. His career was also interrupted by WW1, but his appearance in 66% of possible internationals while playing with successful Everton and Liverpool sides has to be admired!

Linfield's Johnny Darling was a player that Ireland looked to on-and-off over a fifteen year international career. His 22 caps equates to less than half of the internationals played between 1897 and 1912. He was an early example of an Irish League professional and won multiple honours during 20 years as a player.

Derek Dougan 1958 and 1973
Derek Dougan's international career began as a raw 20 year-old at the 1958 World Cup finals and ended nearly 15 years later, either due to a falling out with Harry Cavan over his All-Ireland team ambitions or due to him being over the hill, depending on who's word you take. Not really ready for the international game when injuries to more likely number nines thrust him into the team in Sweden, it took Dougan another few years to establish himself in the Northern Ireland team. His career was further interrupted as Bertie Peacock was unwilling to select a player playing in the Division Three as Dougan did with Peterborough from 1963-65. A return of 43 caps from a possible 79 does look a poor return for such a gifted player.

Sammy McIlroy appeared in 88 of a possible 107 matches during his 14 year international career, which began when he was just 17 and included all of the early-80s glories, many with him as captain. Although some did feel McIlroy had been dropped too soon in the wake of Mexico 86, in reality his career had stalled since he'd been released by Stoke in 1985, though he kept his Football League playing career going into the 1990s.

Dave Rollo's earliest caps were won as deputy for more illustrious names in the years leading up to the Great War, but he did play twice in Ireland's 1914 British Championship success. Post-war he established himself in the Ireland team, winning his 16th and final cap as a 36 year-old in a 3-3 draw with England.

Keith Gillespie 1994 and 2008
From teenage starlet, to supposed waster, to seasoned pro, Keith Gillespie was a Northern Ireland regular, barring disciplinary issues, for 14 years, yielding 86 caps. Although his days were probably done, the manner of the ending of his international career by Nigel Worthington in 2009 rankled with player and fans alike.

Peter Doherty probably saw something of himself in Jimmy McIlroy who, although sometimes failing to effectively transfer his club form to the international stage was a regular in the Northern Ireland team for 14 years. He played an important role in getting Northern Ireland to Sweden in 1958 and in an historic 1957 win over England.

Mal Donaghy was pretty much always in the Northern Ireland side for a little over 14 years. Had he been awarded his first caps a couple of years earlier, as he probably deserved, he might have been the first outfield player to reach 100 caps.

Alex Stevenson was just 19 when first capped by the Irish Free State in 1932, it would be fourteen years before the FAI capped him again. In those intervening years he was a regular for the Irish FA's team, barely missing a game in a 14 year career that was interrupted by WWII. He won his 17th and final (Northern) Ireland cap at the age of 35 and the last of 7 Eire caps a year later.

Dave McCreery was another teenage international who was to star in two World Cups during his 14 year international career. Sometimes underrated by fans, and at times undervalued by his managers, to look at him you'd say 67 caps wasn't a bad return, but then looks can be deceiving.

George Best 1964 and 1976
The mercurial talent that was George Best had an international career that spanned over 13 years, but yielded just 37 caps. He turned out in just 47% of possible games during that period as he was often rested by Sir Matt, suffering the knocks that went with the game in those days or had went "Missing". Whether he could've went on a bit longer (to 1982?) if he'd looked after himself is something that can only be speculated.

The fact that Danny Blanchflower's career suffered a slow-ish start is perhaps overlooked. He was 23 before becoming a full-time pro, but within six months he was an international... and quickly dropped for being out of his depth. Of course Ireland couldn't afford to over-look any player, especially one as cute as Blanchflower! He quickly learnt the game and was a regular until injuries began to curtail his career as he approached the age of 37. He couldn't have done much more than win a then record 56 caps in those 13 years.

Pat McCourt was a highly promising 18 year-old when he came off the bench for his debut in a inglorious 5-0 defeat by Spain in 2002. There followed a gradual fall and a gradual rise spanning seven years before he returned to the international scene in 2009. He remains a squad regular, but has been seldom trusted for more than the odd cameo in the past six years as his cap tally has crept to 17, just 16% of possible matches. He was spectacular against the Faroes in 2011 though!

From his first cap as an amateur at Distillery in 1971 to his 64th and last while captaining Northern Ireland in what would eventually be a second successive successful World Cup qualifying campaign, Martin O'Neill was an incredibly valuable Northern Ireland player during those glory days. His appearances in British Championship matches were sporadic, though this was often due to club commitments during a successful career with Forest.

Players
Caps
% Apps
CAREER
Caps/ Yr
Span
(Yrs-Days)
P.A.
119
81.0%
1964
1986
5.37
22-058
W.R.
16
31.4%
1902
1923
0.76
21-009
R.E.
41
28.5%
1997
2015
2.27
18-010
W.B.
25
61.0%
1913
1930
1.41
17-247
A.W.
96
68.6%
1998
2015
5.59
17-067
E.
31
60.8%
1920
1936
1.94
15-363
P.D.
16
59.3%
1935
1950
1.02
15-268
W.
23
65.7%
1909
1924
1.47
15-251
J.
22
46.8%
1897
1912
1.46
15-024
A.D.
43
54.4%
1958
1973
2.93
14-251
S.B.
88
82.2%
1972
1986
6.00
14-242
D.
16
53.3%
1912
1926
1.10
14-190
K.R.
86
74.8%
1994
2008
6.06
14-073
J.
55
76.4%
1951
1965
3.89
14-049
M.M.
91
91.0%
1980
1994
6.47
14-026
A.E.
17
81.0%
1933
1947
1.21
14-018
D.
67
66.3%
1976
1990
4.78
14-010
G.
37
47.4%
1964
1977
2.74
13-180
R.D.
56
91.8%
1949
1962
4.26
13-058
P.J.
17
15.6%
2002
2015
1.30
13-044
H.M.
64
67.4%
1971
1984
4.89
13-032

2 comments:

Ken said...

In 1969, before it was mandatory for clubs to release Sottish, Irish and Welsh players for international games, Busby held Best back for a League Cup replay with Burnley at Old Trafford, rather than allow him to play in a vital WC tie in Russia. No surprise that Russia won 2-0 and went on to Mexico in 1970!

Ken Garrett.

jcd said...

One of the many occasions on which we were deprived of English-based talent, but almost certainly the most costly!

Who was Northern Ireland's Greatest World Cup Player & Team? (select up to eleven players)

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