There are 98 Irish players with a single international cap to their name who through circumstance, retirement or death are extremely unlikely to ever add to that total. These inglorious one-cap wonders have mostly been lost to the mists of time but there are several with interesting back stories that are worth telling. Here’s half a dozen to get you started.
Mick O’Flanagan [Friendly v England, Dalymount Park, Dublin, 30th Sept 1946]
If one cap is all that destiny is going to grant you then it probably helps if it involves opposition of worth. In the case of Mick O’Flanagan it was an appearance against the old enemy England at Dalymount Park in September 1946. In what was probably an indicator of the lax pre-match preparations of the time (Saipan was a mere half a century later) O’Flanagan only learnt of his involvement a couple of hours before kick-off due to a last minute injury to Davy Walsh. Having imbibed the night before it is not clear how much this affected his on-field performance. But then, this was his only cap.
The occasion at Dalymount was definitely a little more ballsy than the tepid affair played out in the Aviva recently so it helped that O’Flanagan also had his brother and fellow Irish international Kevin on the pitch to help out. This was Ireland’s first game after World War II and ended disappointingly with Tom Finney scoring a late goal to crush the hopes of the 32,000 Irish in the crowd. For O’Flanagan it was to be the beginning and the end of his Irish adventure though he would go on to represent Ireland in another code, the name of which slips my mind at the moment.
Joe Lapira [Friendly v Ecuador, Giants Stadium, New York, 23rd May 2007]
If memes had been invented back in 2007 then Joe Lapira would have become the poster boy for footballers with a reputation built on shifting sands. The Louisiana born Lapira was awarded a full international cap by Steve Staunton against Ecuador during a two-match tour of the States in the summer of 2007. This despite being a full-time business studies student at Notre Dame University at the time. The 20-year-old was regarded as the star striker of his college team but with little evidence to hand Staunton acted on a prompt from Lapira’s uncle about his eligibility to play for Ireland. The gaffer duly fast-tracked Lapira into the Irish squad and he would come on for the final 4-minutes, and in the process become the first amateur to play for the Republic since 1964.
Lapira’s (in)stint with Ireland was short-lived and within a year of making his international debut he was plying his trade in the cold environs of the Norweigan 2nd division with Nybergsund Idrettslag Trysil. Thankfully he would later move to sunnier climes when 2nd tier Indian club United Sikkim succumbed to his hirsute charms.
Owen Coyle [Friendly v Holland, Tilburg, 20th April 1994]
Most Irish supporters will know that the Scottish born Owen Coyle played for Ireland, but what is most surprising is that his career in green was so short lived, amounting to a solitary cap. And that appearance was a mere 10 minutes, as Coyle’s substitute appearance saw him replacing another Scottish born player Tommy Coyne in the 1-0 friendly victory over Holland in April 1994. Coyle was a prolific goalscorer for an array of Scottish clubs and Bolton down south, and while he was named in Ireland’s provisional squad for the World Cup at USA ’94 he failed to make the final travelling party. With Niall Quinn missing the tournament due to injury Coyle was deemed surplus to our attacking requirements with the aforementioned Tommy Coyne, Tony Cascarino, John Aldridge and David Kelly getting the nod ahead of him.
Following his playing career Coyle went on to manage Burnley, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and is currently head honcho at Houston Dynamo in the MLS.
Jimmy White – [Friendly v Belgium, Standard Liege Stadium, 12th February 1928]
Not the nearly man of British snooker, more the nearly man of Irish football given that Jimmy White’s brace of goals in his one and only appearance for the Republic wasn’t enough for him to ever repeat the experience. His cap was awarded in a rare away friendly, not much change there, after Belgium had invited the newly formed FAI Free State team to Liege to test their strength.
Jimmy White played in his natural positon of centre-forward in the encounter, a role he was familiar with back home in the League of Ireland with Bohemians. With Ireland finding themselves 2-0 down to Belgium after 45 minutes White’s contribution would prove pivotal in securing victory for the Boys in Green. Within a few minutes of the restart he had pulled one back, Billy Lacey drew the teams level and White again worked his magic by putting Ireland ahead. Jack Sullivan’s penalty would seal matters but it was White who had turned the game. It would be 14 months before Ireland played again and in the interim Jimmy fell off the radar and wouldn’t be seen in green again.
Jon Macken [Friendly v Bulgaria, Lansdowne Road, 18th August 2004]
Jon Macken’s most famous moment arrived in an incomprehensible FA Cup tie in 2004 when his Manchester City came from 3 goals and a man down at half-time against Spurs to win 4-3. It was Macken’s headed goal in the 91st minutes that provided the dramatic winner in one of the most famous FA Cup matches of recent times.
Owing to Ireland’s disposition for big frontman (Quinn, Cascarino and the ginger Pele Gary Doherty) it is perhaps odd that Macken did not extend his list of appearances beyond a single appearance in a friendly against Bulgaria. That said the Manchester born player was a late starter for the Boys in Green (he was 27 when he made his debut) having initially chosen England at U-20 level before switching to Ireland after some FIFA/Brian Kerr wrangling. Macken was also injury prone which meant he only made 27 appearances for City over a 3-year period and this after the club had shelled out 5 million on him from Preston.
Richard Sadlier [Friendly v Russia, Lansdowne Road, 13th February 2002]
As well as once scoring in a UEFA European U-18 third place play-off Richard Sadlier notched up a singular appearance for the Irish senior team. A persistent hip injury was the root cause of his failure to add to that paltry return but Sadlier has increasingly made a name for himself as an RTE soccer panellist, going as far as replacing the venerable Johnny Giles for the recent Scottish match.
Sadlier’s sole cap was awarded for a friendly substitute performance against Russia in February 2002, a few months before Mick McCarthy’s team departed for the World Cup in South Korea. At that stage the Milwall striker appeared destined to make the trip to the Far East but injury thwarted his ambitions and it was the same complaint that saw him hang up his boots permanently in 2003 at the age of just 24.
- Author: Kevin Dunphy