It is March 17th today, the one day when everyone in the world gets to say “Kiss me, I’m Irish”, usually after having had a few too many (green) beers.
Like most other holidays which seem to have lost their original meaning thanks to capitalism, St. Patrick’s Day is more a celebration of copious beer and corned beef than the true heritage of our Irish brothers and sisters. We refer you here to the Wikipedia Saint Patrick’s Day page to learn more about the the patron saint of the Irish people and why we celebrate this day.
Since most of us don’t have to worry about driving snakes off our abodes, instead let’s take the time to celebrate some of the greatest Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland players to have pulled on the royal blue shirt in our club’s esteemed history.
No other English club has quite the love affair with the Emerald Isle, with no fewer than 30 players from the Republic of Ireland and 11 from Northern Ireland (via Transfermarkt) to have represented the Toffees, starting with Jack Kirwan back in 1898, with Val Harris (an All-Ireland winner who cost £350) and Billy Lacey following early in the 20th century (via Irish Times) when records are slightly murky - Transfermarkt doesn’t actually account for the first two players mentioned here.
Most of the names that younger fans nowadays will recognize are defenders and defensive midfielders from the Premier League era, but believe it or not, some of the best are actually more attack-minded players. The number of Irishmen plying their trade with the Blues shot up during Roberto Martinez’ tenure, with five players in the Toffees squad.
So without further ado, let’s jump in and look at a dozen or so Irish players to have represented Everton, in order of number of appearances for the Blues.
Darron Gibson - 69 appearances, 2 goals
The feisty midfielder spent five years with Everton between 2012-17, mostly in a holding role in front of the backline. His most memorable contribution will always be his winner against league leaders Manchester City in January 2012, with Leighton Baines and Landon Donovan teeing him up for a thunderbolt in a 1-0 victory.
At his best he was a destructive force on the pitch but capable of playing some sublime passes. Still only 33, his career has meandered and recent bouts with substance addiction and brushes with the law have seen him fade out of the limelight.
Billy Bingham - 86 appearances, 23 goals
The outside right made his mark in a two-year stint for the Blues scoring freely, but was deemed surplus to requirements after Harry Catterick signed Alex Scott in February 1963 allowing Bingham to leave for Port Vale.
His career in management was much more notable, and he took over the reins at Everton at the beginning of the ‘73-74 season replacing Catterick. However, he never managed better than a fourth-placed finish in his three years in charge, including a late stumble in ‘74-75 that saw the Toffees win just once in their last five games to fade away despite leading the league until that point.
Kevin Kilbane - 120 appearances, 5 goals
Born in Preston and brought to the limelight by then-manager David Moyes, he reunited with the Scotsman at Everton in 2003 for a three year stint with the Blues. The wide midfielder was popular with the supporters and still remains in touch with the club and the fanbase on many levels today.
‘Killa’ was at his best in a more reserved defensive role where he had time to use his vision, adding strength and stamina to his portfolio as he made the left wide midfielder position his own.
James McCarthy - 133 appearances, 6 goals
Another fan favourite for his bruising playing style and no holds barred attitude on the pitch, McCarthy spent six years with the Blues until the end of the last decade after coming over from Wigan Athletic with Roberto Martinez.
It’s almost impossible to think about the midfielder without mentally replaying the horrible sight of his leg breaking, but he certainly had some good times on Merseyside and especially last season watching the Everton midfield looking like human turnstiles in the middle of the park, McCarthy was sorely missed. He absolutely earned every single one of his 25 yellow cards and one sending off, and ensured that his opponents felt his presence on the pitch too.
Mick Meagan - 165 appearances, 1 goal
The defender joined the Blues as an 18-year-old with the club still in the Second Division in 1952, but was a key cog in the works as Everton not only climbed back into the top flight but then went on to become First Division champions very quickly.
By the time Meagan left the club after a dozen years of service, he had already quickly grown very popular with the fans, and was highly regarded by every manager he had played for as being calm, cerebral and versatile, some very useful qualities for a defender.
Here’s an excellent recollection by Meagan himself of his time on Merseyside.
Lee Carsley - 197 appearances, 12 goals
What is it about the Irish and combative midfielders? Everton have had more than one in the last couple of decades and Carsley might be the most tenured of that whole lot. Signed from Coventry City in 2003, he stayed with the club for five years and made his name in that time.
After a slow start to his time with the Toffees, he opted to step away from the Republic of Ireland setup and immediately became one of the most improved players in the league, picking up a dozen goals and about five times that in crunching tackles.
After hanging up his boots, he’s bounced around a couple of Championship clubs in manager and assistant manager roles, and is currently in the national team setup as the England Under-20 manager.
Of course, we would be remiss if we talked about Carsley without mentioning his ‘04-05 derby winner at Goodison.
Jimmy O’Neill - 201 appearances
The Irish schoolboy international was spotted at a game by Everton scouts in 1949 and was signed to replace the ageing club legend Ted Sagar. The relatively short (5’10”) but acrobatic goalkeeper stayed with the club throughout the Second Division years and was still part of the club as they gained promotion again. He ended up leaving the club in 1960 after over a decade with the Blues.
He was also popular with the fans for making some incredible saves, but much like the current Everton starter between the posts Jordan Pickford, O’Neill was also capable of making the most egregious errors as well.
Alex Stevenson - 271 appearances, 90 goals
The forward made his name wherever he went scoring goals, and banged in quite a few for the Toffees in his 15 years at the club, spanning World War II. An underrated part of his game was his intelligence and how creative he was for his teammates, supplying first the great Dixie Dean and then later Tommy Lawton.
The diminutive Stevenson, dubbed ‘Mickey Mouse’ by the press, won the league with the Blues in 1938-39 and was well-liked by both his teammates and the fans. Here is an excellent look into the player’s life from the blog ‘A Bohemian Sporting Life’.
Billy Scott - 289 appearances
Another great Irish goalie from Everton yore, he played for the Blues between 1904-12. In that time he won the FA Cup once with the Blues and losing in the Final once more, and finished runners-up in the league thrice. He was renowned for his calm and stable goalkeeping and being a safe pair of hands.
The Everton Heritage Society recently had a ceremony to dedicate his otherwise unmarked grave, more information here.
Seamus Coleman - 340 appearances, 26 goals
A legend in his own right with a song of his own, the player Everton signed for a meagre £60,000 just over a decade ago from Sligo Rovers has shown his durability and tenacity in that time since. Coleman is currently the club captain and while he has lost his burst and verve when attacking, he remains fiercely competitive and his experience combined with his leadership will be needed this season by the Blues as they look to return to Europe next season.
There’s little to be said about the 32-year-old that we don’t already know, so instead here’s a compilation video from 2013-14, arguably his best season with the Blues.
Kevin Sheedy - 357 appearances, 97 goals
One of the most famous names on this list, and certainly the most successful. He is also one of the handful of footballers who can claim to have played for both of the top flight Merseyside teams, joining the Blues from the Reds in 1982 and then staying with the club for a whole decade. The midfielder would go on to win two Football League titles, an FA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup.
His left-footed wizardry, especially from free-kicks was legendary as he scored the most from setpieces of any player in that era. And the temerity of the player was quite incredible - here he is scoring a beautiful freekick against Ipswich Town, and then seeing it called back for an infraction, and then promptly dinking it into the other corner of the goal.
It didn’t end there of course, there’s Derby winner from ‘86-87 as well.
Sheedy had a knack for scoring important goals, and none was more critical than the third goal in Everton’s 3-1 win in the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, with Rapid Vienna having pulled a goal back late and threatening to tie the game.
All in all he would go on to bang in 97 goals in the royal blue shirt - this montage here of his greatest goals is well worth your time.
Tommy Eglington - 426 appearances, 88 goals
The speedy winger’s Everton history will forever be intertwined with that of the next player in this list, Peter Farrell. The pair of Irish players came over on the night ferry across the Irish Sea together in 1946 as a pair of young players signed by the Blues who were putting together a youthful post-War side, and followed each other around for the rest of their footballing careers, indeed they remained the best of friends until the passing of the latter in his eighties.
While his time at the club coincided with some depressing times on the pitch as the Blues got relegated and then struggled to return to the top flight, ‘Flash Eggo’ as he became popularly known was renowned for his tearaway pace on the left wing. Throughout his eleven years at the club he was always known as a gentleman and a Blue through and through. Here’s an excellent bio on Eglington and his long career.
Peter Farrell - 453 appearances, 17 goals
He was always the quiet, tough leader and the perfect foil for Eglington’s searing speed, becoming one of the best winghalves in the club’s history. Farrell was captain of the Blues when they were relegated, vowing to bring them back up to the First Division - it took him a couple of attempts before he made good on that promise, but the Toffees have been in the top flight of English football ever since that 1953-54 season.
Determined and gritty, he was widely acknowledged for the tenacity with which he stuck to his man and incredible workrate patrolling the touchline. He would only leave the club after his best friend Eglington left Everton in 1957, ending up only a couple of season shy of 500 games in the blue shirt.
To all those celebrating St. Patrick’s Day today, a hearty sláinte, and here’s to better times ahead!