Irwin a glaring omission in Hall of Fame shortlist
As I read the Premier League Hall of Fame's new 25-man shortlist, I nodded along agreeably – until I reached the end. Where on earth was Denis Irwin?
It's hard to argue against most of the players that have been nominated. Most are all-time greats for their respective clubs, and some even won the league a couple of times.
But Denis Irwin won the Premier League seven times. Seven. Times. Only three players, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville can better that.
Lifting titles isn't everything, admittedly. Plenty of former players would admit that they were lucky to win so many championships; lucky to be part of Sir Alex Ferguson's squads, despite their significant contributions.
But Denis was categorically not one of them. He was never a squad player, and one of the first names on the team sheet for 99 per cent of his United career. Along with Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes, he was one of the foundational pieces that kickstarted the glorious Ferguson era.
He is arguably the greatest full-back in the history of Manchester United, for heaven's sake.
Personally, I feel it's a major oversight that he's not even among the nominees – while acknowledging the fact that the competition is fierce, and there are probably several other players who have compelling cases for inclusion.
But Denis's talents deserve more recognition.
Gary Neville and Patrice Evra are both among those shortlisted – Ashley Cole (Arsenal, Chelsea) is the other full-back – but you'll find few Reds who lived through the 1990s arguing that either were superior to Denis, despite their fantastic credentials.
We're arguably living through a golden age for Premier League full-backs at the moment. The role has changed, admittedly: players like Joao Cancelo and Trent Alexander-Arnold are basically playmakers in wide positions. Their work is predominantly about what they can create.
But Irwin would have had no problems adjusting to that. He was doing much of that way back in the mid-1990s – while also doing far more defending than many of the top full-backs do now.
Run through Denis's list of attributes and you just feel privileged that he played for United.
He could play on the right or left with no discernible difference. How many full-backs can do that?
He was two-footed, and could cross the ball brilliantly with both right and left. He took penalties, he scored scorching free-kicks. He battered in vital goals from open play with glorious regularity. He was brave, selfless and always impeccably fit.
He also had nerves of steel and rarely lost his discipline. When madness was going on all around him, as it often did with team-mates like Cantona, Hughes and Schmeichel – "they could start a fight in an empty house," remarked Sir Alex – Denis remained calm, committed and as composed as ever.
But every one of the superstars in United's famous Double-winning team of 1994 – and the 1999 Treble winners – respected Irwin to the hilt.
In fact, perhaps one of the most impressive things about the Republic of Ireland international is that he's probably the only footballer who can send Roy Keane into a misty-eyed, nostalgic tailspin.
If you don't believe me, search online for a two-minute compilation which contains nothing but Keane rhapsodising about his fellow Cork man's endless virtues!
Keane loved Denis as a player and as a person, and anyone who's watched our former captain's punditry knows he's not a man that's easily satisfied. He had – and has – high standards, and Irwin met them every week.
I like to think that Roy will be on the phone this morning, demanding an explanation as to why Denis isn't in line to join him in the Hall of Fame.
But I'm pretty sure he won't. Players like Keane and Irwin gave their most eloquent talks on the pitch, and are happy to let their incredible resumes speak for themselves.
A place in the Premier League Hall of Fame is small fry, after all, compared to Denis's many Premier League medals.
Not to mention the huge bank of memories he gifted to a generation of blessed United fans. What. A. Player.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.