Feb 262014

There could soon be stalls selling colcannon in the shadows of Goodison Park.

The signing of highly-rated teenage winger Stephen Kinsella adds a further member of the Blues’ burgeoning Irish contingent.

Although the 15-year-old will not make his first-team bow for some while, he can take heart at how successful his compatriots have been for the Blues.

The relationship between Everton and Ireland has always been strong – only England has been represented at international level more – but the current generation looks to be integral to a bright future for the blue half of Merseyside.

Roberto Martinez must take credit for cultivating the current crop.

He has allowed Shane Duffy to gain experience on loan at Yeovil Town, while Darron Gibson would have played more than just 96 minutes if not for a serious cruciate ligament injury sustained on international duty.

But Martinez has overseen a remarkable improvement in two other Irish internationals, and will hope to do the same with a third.

Seamus Coleman has come a long way from conceding five at left-back against Benfica on his debut, but his rate of improvement has accelerated quickest under the Spaniard this season, becoming one of the finest attacking full-backs in the league.

His six league goals sometimes hides the other attributes to his game – his creativity, energy and steadfast refusal to allow any fleet-footed winger pass him.

Glasgow-born James McCarthy, who was eligible for Ireland through his family’s links with the Rosses in County Donegal, was bought by Martinez within a month of becoming Wigan manager in 2009.

The years of tutelage under Martinez is evident. McCarthy has created 29 chances this season – far behind main creative outlet Kevin Mirallas – but joint-second with Coleman and Steven Pienaar, averaging 50 passes a game.

And hopes of Aiden McGeady, another Glasgow native, replicating such improvement under Martinez increased after a positive, energetic showing as substitute against Chelsea.

It will be for these players to not only emulate, but try to better the efforts of those who have played in the green jersey.

James Corbett writes in his excellent Everton Encyclopedia: “Everton possessed so many Irish players in the mid-1950s that there was a contemporaneous joke that 20 minutes could pass without a Protestant touching the ball.”

The strong Irish influence of the era saw a growth in the team’s popularity in Ireland, with overnight ferries becoming a common mode of transport on the eve of the game.             

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In pics: Irish contingent at Everton through the years

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That legacy can be seen now, with supporters’ clubs in Cork as well as Croxteth, in Dublin as well as Dovecot.

On the pitch, the Blues’ relationship with Ireland began in 1898 when Jack Kirwan, an outside left from Dunlavin, County Wicklow, who would – as manager – guide Ajax to the Dutch top-flight for the first time in 1911.

It was Jimmy Sheridan who became the Blues’ first Irish international against England in 1903, the first of 24 who are recorded to have represented their country while playing for Everton.

The most famous of those internationals is arguably Peter Farrell, an inside forward who served Everton for 11 seasons, suffering relegation and subsequent promotion in that time.

But he is best-known on the Emerald Isle for his goal in Ireland’s 2-0 win over England at Goodison Park in September 1949 – the first time England had been defeated at home by a foreign side, long before the Magical Magyars stormed Wembley.

Farrell had joined the club along with Shamrock Rovers team-mate Tommy Eglington, with the pair totalling over 800 games for the Blues combined. Along with goalkeeper Jimmy O’Neill and right-back Don Donovan, they forged a bond between country and club.

It was not all positive, of course. The influx of Irish players in the 1990s and early 2000s – Kevin Kilbane, Terry Phelan, Richard Dunne – did not have the desired impact.

And the Blues’ solitary Irish manager, Johnny Carey, was sacked after less than three seasons in charge.

Described as a softly-spoken Dubliner, his 1959/60 season in charge saw 13 wins from 19 at Goodison Park but none away on the way to their second successive 16 place finish.

In April 1961, with the club fifth, he was sacked by chairman John Moores in the back of a cab in London – an incident which bore the “taxi for…” phrase still used today. It was an unfairly undignified exit, and legacy, for a man held in high regard by the Goodison support.

Far more dignified was the career of Kevin Sheedy, who won 45 caps for Ireland, but also collected three major trophies for the Blues within three seasons.

Sheedy, born in the Welsh borders but with Irish parents, left Liverpool after four frustrating years and became a Blue legend with his trusted left foot.

His goal at the 1990 World Cup against England, Ireland’s first-ever game at the World Cup, shows that the relationship was not just one way – Ireland offered great players to Everton, but Everton have also reciprocated.

With Martinez and his coaching staff working with both Ireland’s present and future, that looks set to continue for a good while yet.

That could even be enough to make Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane smile. Maybe.             

More Everton FC news:

Andy Burnham urges Greg Dyke to ‘stand up for Everton’ over Arsenal FA Cup tie ticket row while Kristian Walsh looks at the road to redemption: the Blues who battled back from difficult beginnings.

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