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One of the modern Manchester United greats, Denis Irwin’s career was one of steady progression to the biggest stage for club and country – where he proved a natural, if often underrated performer, offering sterling service at left-back, with a keen eye for goal.
The former Leeds United trainee was a £625,000 capture from Oldham Athletlc in 1990, having impressed during that year’s epic FA Cup semi-final tussle against the Reds. His first season with United, 1990/91, presaged by a World Cup quarter-final with Jack Charlton’s unfancied Repubic of Ireland, culminated in European Cup Winners' Cup glory in Rotterdam.
But it was the 1992/93 Championship-winning season in which Irwin really established himself. Ever-present, he weighed in with five goals, chief among them a 30-yard belter against Coventry City.
He was the solitary ever-present during the Double-winning campaign of 1993/94, and was a cornerstone of the side that repeated the feat in 1996. Forced to miss the FA Cup leg of 1999’s Treble through suspension, he was back for the Nou Camp Champions League showdown with Bayern Munich, making a mockery of his 34 years.
Further title deeds followed in 2000 – Denis calling time on his international career to prolong his domestic future. A 500th appearance for the Reds arrived during his 10th year of service in 2001 – fittingly enough on St Patrick’s Day, when he skippered the side to home victory over Leicester City. He was given the armband again for the final home game against Derby County – and hoisted the trophy – his seventh title.
Having extended his one-year deal by another 12 months, he eventually brought the curtain down on a glittering 12 years against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford in May 2002. He remains United’s second most-decorated player, with 13 winner’s medals.
Republic of Ireland