A remarkable stat about United's Irish Reds

Thursday 03 August 2023 07:00

Manchester United has been blessed with players from more than 40 different nations during the club's storied history but few countries have made as big an impact at Old Trafford as Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Many Reds have cemented their status as genuine Old Trafford legends after crossing the Irish Sea, and five of them are actually among our top 25 appearance makers of all time.

That remarkable statistic underlines just how important players from Ireland have been at United. But as well as contributing significantly to the club's success on the pitch, they have also helped to develop a hugely loyal fanbase in all parts of the isle.

The Republic of Ireland will host many members of Erik ten Hag's squad this weekend when our pre-season campaign concludes with two warm-up games on consecutive days.

After Saturday's visit of French outfit RC Lens to Old Trafford, the Reds will make the relatively short trip over to Dublin, where we will take on La Liga side Athletic Club on Sunday (kick-off 16:00 BST) at the impressive Aviva Stadium.

Both games will be shown live on MUTV, ManUtd.com and the United App.


Coming in at eighth on United's all-time appearances list is Tony Dunne, an unsung hero of Sir Matt Busby’s iconic side and one of the greatest full-backs in the club’s history. Signed in 1960 from Shelbourne, he went on to score twice in 529 appearances for the Reds, before leaving in July 1973 on a free transfer to Bolton Wanderers. Dunne earned 33 caps for the Republic of Ireland and was named Irish Footballer of the Year in 1969.

He’s closely followed in ninth place by Denis Irwin, who needs no introduction as a modern United great. The formidable left-back scored 33 goals in 529 games during a glittering 12-year stay at the club, and remains United’s second most-decorated player with 13 league winners' medals.

In 13th position is our former captain Roy Keane, whose leadership skills, desire and passion were unrivalled. After the Cork-born midfielder made the move from Nottingham Forest in 1993, he quickly became a cult hero and led United to the historic Treble in 1998/99. A successful period at Old Trafford ended with his sudden exit in November 2005 but Keane, who earned 67 caps for the Republic of Ireland, remains the joint most successful Irish footballer of all time with 19 major trophies in his club career.

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Two Northern Ireland internationals complete our top five Reds from across the Irish Sea. George Best is 15th on the appearances chart with 470 games to his name and 179 goals to boot, between 1963 and 1974. A key figure throughout our journey to European Cup glory in 1968, he remains arguably the most naturally gifted footballer Britain has produced. Best also holds the post-War record for most goals by a United player in a single match - netting six against Northampton Town in an FA Cup tie in 1970. It all started when a skinny teenager from Belfast’s Cregagh estate was spotted by Reds scout Bob Bishop - and the rest, as they say, is history.

Best's fellow countryman Sammy McIlroy is in 24th place, having played 419 times for United after becoming Matt Busby’s final signing at Old Trafford. The first of his 71 goals came on his debut against Manchester City at Maine Road in 1971. The Belfast-born midfielder spent 11 years with the Reds before departing to Stoke City in 1982 and later moved into management, which included a spell as Northern Ireland boss.

Sammy McIlroy playing for United in the 1970s.


Saturday at Old Trafford:
Fans can still buy tickets for the 12:45 BST kick-off against Lens, the Ligue 1 runners-up. With discounted seats available, it's a perfect chance to see the Reds in person.

Sunday at Aviva Stadium:
Tickets for the Athletic Club game (16:00 BST kick-off) have already sold out but you can still see the action unfold live on MUTV via the club channel, our United App and ManUtd.com.

Subscribe now to watch both of this weekend's games live.