Treble Icons: Denis Irwin
As longest-serving member of the Manchester United squad in 1998/99, Denis Irwin’s experience proved invaluable for our youthful squad and his calming influence cannot be understated, especially in the many times of adversity.
The Irishman will make another impact on the group in the Treble Reunion match against Bayern Munich on 26 May. Tickets for the showdown are still available to buy, with all proceeds going to the Manchester United Foundation.
LET'S HEAR FROM THE MAN HIMSELF
“Playing football is a great life, I was fortunate to play with so many great players at Manchester United which made my life easier, but 1999 would take some beating," Denis recently reflected.
"I think you’d have to win the World Cup to top those 10 days, winning the league, beating Newcastle in the FA Cup and beating Bayern Munich. The way we did it will take some beating.”
THE STORY OF IRWIN IN 1998/99
The Treble campaign was Denis’s ninth as a United player and he had established himself as a model of consistency during his prior seasons with the club.
In an era when full-backs were expected to focus mainly on defending, Denis was decades ahead of his time by being as comfortable on the front foot as he was shutting out the opposition. Irwin was also capable of operating on either flank, something that is almost unheard of in today’s game.
Winning three trophies in one season demands a winning mentality, and Irwin’s drive and passion, coupled with his determination, helped create the atmosphere required for success.
Even at the age 33, Denis played 48 games in '98/99, including 12 of our 13 Champions League matches.
Sadly, the defender missed the FA Cup final through suspension, but played in all the rounds prior the Wembley showpiece.
Our trip to Turin is always remembered for the outstanding performance of an influential Irishman, but Irwin’s contribution that evening is often overlooked.
After conceding those two early goals against Juventus, Denis produced a fantastic display to keep the likes of Antonio Conte and Zinedine Zidane quiet. He also nearly netted what would have been a decisive goal for the Reds when he hit the post in the latter stages.
The full-back had already proved his attacking threat that season, breaking the deadlock against Liverpool in September with a trademark penalty. In the high-pressure moments, Denis always remained the coolest head on the pitch and he also netted from the spot in the reverse fixture at Anfield later in the campaign.
In total, Irwin scored three penalties that year, including one in the third-round FA Cup clash with Middlesbrough, that completed our comeback against Bryan Robson’s side.
Sir Alex Ferguson…
"People ask me: ‘Who is your best Man United team?’. It is absolutely impossible. You look at the players I had. How do you pick out of that? But honestly, I would say Denis Irwin would be the one certainty to get in the team. I called him an eight out of 10."
Irwin remained at Old Trafford for another three seasons and won two more league titles. While he managed to maintain his impeccably high standards, age finally took its toll on the Irishman in his final season at United.
Reluctantly, Sir Alex knew it was Denis’s time to move on and in 2002 - aged 36 - he moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers. He left the club having won 19 major honours in 12 years and, remarkably, could boast winners’ medal in eight separate competitions.
After joining Wolves, Irwin helped the Black Country club to gain promotion to the Premier League in his first season at Molineux. The following year, the man from Cork returned to Old Trafford, this time as an opposition defender, as we beat Wolves 1-0 in August 2003. It proved to be his final season as a player, and at the end of the campaign he announced his retirement from the game.
Since then, Denis has become a club ambassador and regular face on MUTV, where he offers his expert opinion on everything United.
Right now, he is preparing to once again grace the Old Trafford pitch for our upcoming Treble Reunion match on 26 May. Tickets are still available to buy.