By Steve Coyne
Ireland’s recent ‘grand slam’ success at Rugby Union where players from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland play as one team, continues to contrast with the division within association football. There was a time, however, when soccer players did turn out for both teams.
I did a search of career records both sides of the Second World War and discovered there were some seventeen players capped by both the FAI and the IFA during the years up to 1939. In addition, a further nine players were dual internationals during the period when football resumed after the war, up until 1950 when the practice was halted.
Historically there was just one team – Ireland – formed by the IFA in 1880 in Belfast. After 1921 the FAI was established in Dublin. During 1936-50 therefore we have a period when both Associations selected on an All-Ireland basis. The list contains one well-known player, Johnny Carey, while others who had interesting careers included Tom Breen, Jacky Brown, Tom Farquharson, and Alex Stevenson.
Mick O’Brien’s career is notable for its longevity. He first represented pre-partition Ireland in 1921 so he could claim to have represented all three national teams over time.
The careers of many of the players followed a familiar pattern. One of Ireland’s greatest players, Peter Doherty, first played for his home-town club, Coleraine, and Glentoran before moving to England in November 1933, and this was the path followed by many of the names on our list.
Both Tom Breen and Jacky Brown played for Belfast Celtic before joining Manchester United and Wolves respectively. By 1936 Brown commanded a £3,000 transfer fee when he moved on.