One of the less publicised transfer moves by an Irish player this summer involved the signing of Rob Kiernan by Glasgow Rangers Football Club. After a series of loan spells with clubs in the English Football League, the former Republic of Ireland under-21 captain left Wigan Athletic last month to join the Old Firm club. Kiernan had spent much of last season on loan at Birmingham City, but cited the opportunity to work with Rangers manager Mark Warburton as one of the main reasons for moving to the Scottish Championship. Kiernan and Warbuton had previously worked together at Brentford.
There was a time when the signing of a Republic of Ireland player by the Ibrox club might have created a stir, but the lack of recent newsprint on the subject would suggest that this is no longer the taboo subject it once was. This is partly due to the fact that Kiernan’s fellow Irish underage internationals, Alan Smith and Jon Daly have already paved the way with moves to the Ibrox club, whilst the on-going decline of the club has also perhaps reduced public interest in who they sign. Nonetheless, the history of Irish players at Rangers is sufficiently brief to demonstrate that Rob Kiernan’s transfer is one less ordinary.
The early history of Irish at Rangers
Alex Craig was born in Galway in 1886 and was the first player born in what is now the Republic of Ireland to play for Rangers. Craig made 102 appearances for Rangers between 1904 and 1911 before joining Greenock Morton. He returned to Rangers in 1914 where he made a further 42 appearances over the following two years. Craig’s career pre-dated the foundation of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) and the Republic of Ireland team that we know today. However, he won 9 international caps for the then Ireland team that was run by the Belfast-based Irish Football Association (IFA).
Craig’s time at Rangers briefly coincided with the arrival of a second player at Rangers who was born in the Republic of Ireland. James Lowry-Macauley hailed from Portarlington in County Laois and signed for Rangers in 1910. He made a single appearance for the club before later playing for Huddersfield Town and Preston North End. Lowry-Macauley’s international career included 6 caps for the IFA-run Ireland team of that time.
The first and to date only Rangers player to win full caps for the Republic of Ireland senior team was Alex Stevenson who was born in Dublin in 1912. He played 12 times for Rangers between 1932 and 1934 and the records indicate that he scored 7 goals during his time with the club. Stevenson is one of those few players that simultaneously represented both the FAI and IFA-run teams during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Following Alex Stevenson’s departure it would be almost 80 years before a player from the Republic of Ireland would play for Rangers, with the club’s Old Firm rivals Celtic remaining the first choice for the majority of Irish players moving to Scotland. Given the bitter rivalry between the clubs and the white-hot atmosphere of Old Firm derbies the option of signing for Rangers was a prospect that most Irish players shied away from. This was demonstrated in the handful of occasions when the prospect of signing an Irish player presented itself. In 1987 Graeme Souness considered signing Ray Houghton from Oxford United but Houghton declined the opportunity and is on the record as stating that he was wary of the potential reaction that a move to Ibrox would have caused. In the early 1990’s a young Alan Maybury travelled from Dublin to Glasgow for trials with Rangers. It is understood that he was offered a youth contract by Walter Smith, but declined in favour of signing for Leeds United. Like Houghton, Maybury is on the record as stating that the move would have been more hassle than it was worth.
In 2006, the former Republic of Ireland international Alan Kernaghan took up a youth coaching role with Rangers where he remained until February 2012. Kernaghan’s involvement with the club was not hugely surprising, as he had grown up in Bangor in County Down and represented Northern Ireland at schoolboy level. Nonetheless, it was during Kernaghan’s time at Rangers that the club registered its first Republic of Ireland-based scout with the FAI. Former Rangers reserve player Paul Hamilton was appointed to the role in 2007 with the objective of signing an Irish player. In the summer of 2010 Hamilton succeeded when Rangers signed a young goalkeeper called Alan Smith from Crumlin United. Originally from Cobh Smith joined the Rangers underage system and set about trying to make a name for himself at the club. Smith progressed relatively well and made his debut for the first team in April 2013 when he was introduced as a substitute in a friendly against Linfield in Belfast.
Smith’s low-key introduction to first team action at Rangers was quickly followed by the signing of Jon Daly from Dundee United in May 2013. Daly’s CV included an impressive underage career for Ireland at a time when Brian Kerr’s teams consistently qualified for the major underage tournaments. He spent six and a half seasons at Dundee United and in 2012 he was voted onto the PFA Scottish Team of the Year. Following his signing by Rangers Daly went on to make 67 appearances in all competitions and scored 26 goals over the course of two seasons.
Kiernan retaining the recent Irish link at Ibrox
Alan Smith was released by Rangers in the summer of 2013 and joined Cork City in February of this year, whilst Jon Daly confirmed in May that he was leaving the club. Nonetheless, Smith and Daly have paved the way for others to follow in their footsteps and the recent signing of Rob Kiernan will retain an Irish link at the club. The declining opportunities available to Irish players at English clubs has led to more players moving to Scotland and this process has been reinforced by the number of League of Ireland players that have also signed for Scottish clubs in recent seasons. This process is mutually beneficial as far as Rangers are concerned, given that the club’s financial difficulties necessitate a comprehensive and open approach to recruitment. It will be interesting to note over the coming years whether the club can either develop or sign a full senior international player from the Republic of Ireland.
- Author: Ray Brady