To celebrate March 17th,it seems only right that we talk about some of the famous players to wear the famous claret and blue strip while also playing for the Boys in Green.
1. Paul McGrath
There’s no better start than to talk about God, AKA Paul McGrath, who to this day is still considered one of the greatest Irish players to play the game. Having spent seven years at Manchester United during the mid-1980s, Aston Villa signed McGrath for £400,000 and made an immediate impact for us, narrowly missing out on the title to Liverpool. The following season wouldn’t prove as successful as Villa fought relegation, with McGrath being a consistent mainstay in the defence. However, when Ron Atkinson took over in 1991, he built one of the greatest sides of the early Premier League years. In the opening Premier League season, Aston Villa again missed out on the title, finishing as runners up, but for McGrath personally was a successful season. He won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award, one of only 6 defenders to ever win the award, but the silverware wouldn’t stop there. In 1994, he would get revenge by beating Manchester United in the League Cup final, a trophy he then won again with Villa in 1996. This would be McGrath’s final season with Villa, leaving behind him a historic legacy.
2. Steve Staunton
Another Irish defender who was a part of our great teams in the 90s, Steve Staunton played over 200 games for us at full back. Signed from Liverpool, Staunton was a player who had already won trophies in his career and brought that winning mentality to Villa Park. He started his career with us well as he score on his debut match in a 3-2 victory over Sheffield Wednesday and soon became a regular at the back with McGrath and co. Like the Irish central defender, Staunton would finish 2nd in the 1991/92 season, losing out to Manchester United. But revenge would come as he won 2 League Cups in three seasons and cementing his name in Villa history as one of the best fullbacks we have seen.
3. Andy Townsend
One final Irish player from the side in the 90s is the hard-tackling, hard-working midfielder Andy Townsend. Although he only spent 4 years at the club, he was very influential from the middle of the park and was a part of the clubs success during that era. Bought from Chelsea in 1993 for £2.1 million, he was brought in for his quality in midfield, and was a starter for both of our wins of the League Cup. The 1996 final made even sweeter by him captaining our side and picking up a Man of the Match performance to top it off. At the time, Villa’s fifth success in the competition equalled the record set by Liverpool. Safe to say that even though Townsend spent 4 years at the club, those 134 games brought a lot of success and he left with a short but strong legacy.
4. Conor Hourihane
The most recent player to represent Villa and Ireland is midfield maestro Conor Hourihane. Bought from Barnsley in January 2017, Hourihane had already won so much with Barnsley in previous years, and brought this to our weakened team at the time. Having immediately becoming a starter, Hourihane scored his only hattrick for the club in a 4-2 victory over Norwich in August 2017 and would get 11 goals for us as we just missed out on promotion as we lost 1-0 to Fulham at Wembley. The Villa players though would have our revenge as Hourihane played a pivotal part in our promotion campaign, including that screamer against West Brom in the semi-finals, and his many wonderful freekicks throughout that season. Even in the Premier League, Hourihane put in some world-class displays against Newcastle and Norwich, meaning that he had scored in all 4 tiers of the English game. Currently on loan at Swansea City, he is again proving how good of a player he can be and that Villa were very lucky to have him.
Although there are many other notable Irish players that I can mention, Villa fans will always love these 4 players for the amazing service they did for our amazing club.
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