In celebration of St Patrick, an all-Ireland XI
St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us and so we put on a large green hat at a jaunty angle, hoist a celebratory black beverage, dust down a host of other clichés and select an all-Ireland XI who have worn the stripes with pride…
DEAN KIELY, 80+2 appearances
Dean came in from Luton Town in early 2007 to help solve what had become a problem position between the sticks for the Albion with Russell Hoult at the end of his career here and Pascal Zuberbuhler struggling to fill the void. Kiely was the proverbial safe pair of hands over the next 18 months which was just as well as Tony Mowbray’s side swashbuckled its way to promotion without caring too much about defending.
PADDY MULLIGAN, 132 appearances, 2 goals
A shrewd signing by John Giles early in his first spell at The Hawthorns. There are those that say Paddy had no pace but in days when most sides had an out and out winger in their ranks, Mulligan’s reading of the game and positional sense was such that very few got past him, and those that did often needed the trainer shortly thereafter. Good on the overlap and an accurate deliverer of a cross, he was a vital cog in the 1975/76 promotion side.
GARETH McAULEY, 206+1 appearances, 17 goals
More than 200 games into a career in which he’s been part of two different centre-half partnerships that will go down in Albion history, McAuley is the gift from Ipswich Town that keeps on giving. A free transfer, and worth every penny of it, McAuley is a modern day miracle and the finest living advert there is for Deep Heat. If you need me to tell you more about him, you haven’t been paying proper attention have you?
JACK VERNON, 200 appearances, 1 goal
Rated by many as the finest footballing centre-half the Albion have ever had, the twinkle-toed Vernon was a revelation at The Hawthorns in the five years that he agreed to spend in this country before, as agreed at the start of it all, heading back to Belfast and a job in the family butcher’s firm. He was our record buy at £9,500 from Belfast Celtic, he was not only good enough to play for club and country but the man who skippered the United Kingdom against Wales and then took the centre-half role for Great Britain against the Rest of Europe.
JONNY EVANS, 54+1 appearances, 2 goals
A centre-half to rank among the very best we’ve ever had, such is Jonny’s comfort on the ball that he’s going to play left-back in this side so that both McAuley and Vernon make the cut too. Since joining from Manchester United early last season, Evans has been an automatic choice for the Throstles, giving us another dimension at the back, both defensively and with the ball at his feet. Manchester United must be even better than I thought to be able to let Evans come here.
JAMES McCLEAN, 44+24 appearances, 4 goals
Kevin Kilbane was another option to play wide on the right in this side, but you try and tell James McClean that he hasn’t been picked for an All-Ireland XI and see how brave you are. Unfortunate to have been sidelined for so long this season, he was in superb form for both club and country before his suspension allowed Matt Phillips back into the Albion team at Leicester. Committed, strong in the tackle, quick, direct and with an eye for goal, would you fancy playing against him?
JOHN GILES, 87+1 appearances, 5 goals
Although we only had Giles at the heart of the Albion side for two seasons, and even though it was at the end of his career, such was his quality that Tony Brown regards him as the best he ever played with. The epitome of the midfield general and playmaker, the instigator of everything that Albion did, could pass it over any distance, long or short, had the vision to spot angles and passes that nobody else could and, as a leader, was capable of driving and motivating a team as well as the greatest captains.
MICK MARTIN, 108+7 appearances, 15 goals
Mick Martin was the archetypal team player, the kind you didn’t really notice until he wasn’t there. A fetcher and carrier of the ball in the middle of the park, happy to be a member of Giles’ supporting cast, despite an awkward style, he was deceptively quick over the ground and could get himself from box to box sharp enough. An oiler of the midfield engine, he’ll never be forgotten for his goal against Forest in the 1978 FA Cup quarter-final, not a thing of beauty necessarily, but immensely important.
CHRIS BRUNT, 290+45 appearances, 45 goals
Currently at number 33 on the Albion all-time appearances list, Brunt has made himself a modern day legend at the football club with a string of accomplished appearance, predominantly on the left wing. His delivery of crosses from corners, free-kicks and open play has created countless chances for us over the last decade, that wand of a left foot able to drop the ball pretty much wherever he wants it, generally upon the McAuley head, thereby accounting for how it is that Gareth has scored as many goals for Northern Ireland as George Best.
SHANE LONG, 64+23 appearances, 22 goals
There were other candidates to play up front, notably Reg Ryan from the 1954 FA Cup winning side, but Long’s inexhaustible energy got him the nod. His Albion teammates used to say he’d go and chase a crisp packet in the wind if you asked him to, and that ability to work the channels, chase lost causes and harry defenders all day long made Shane an all-round pain the neck for the opposition. Terrific as a foil for both Peter Odemwingie and Romelu Lukaku, his departure left a big hole.
DAVE WALSH, 174 appearances, 100 goals
One of Albion’s most prolific centre-forwards ever, Dave still holds the record as the only man to score in each of his first six league games for the Throstles. Arriving at The Hawthorns as our first new signing as football restarted after World War Two, plucked from his native Belfast by Albion secretary / manager Fred Everiss, Walsh was a central figure in Albion’s promotion back to the top flight and helped get us established there, ending up with exactly 100 goals in just 174 games.