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.

AT THE START of the 1956/57 season, for instance, Everton lined up with Jimmy O’Neill, Don Donavon, Peter Farrell and Tommy Eglington, while possessing several others in reserve, such as Mick Meagan and John Sutherland, who could also claim Irish passports. This led to a huge growth in the team’s popularity in Ireland, and overnight ferries
full of Irish fans would dock in Liverpool each match day. Since then the club’s popularity in Ireland has been overtaken by Manchester United and Liverpool, but even in the 21st century it is not insignificant.

Jimmy ‘Paddy’ Sheridan was Everton’s first Irish International. Sheridan made his debut in a 4-0 defeat to England at Molineux on 14 February, 1903. Since then Everton have possessed 17 further Ireland (pre-revolution) and Northern Ireland internationals. A further 21 have represented the Irish Free State or Republic of Ireland as of April 2012.

The clubs most noteworthy Ireland internationals were Peter Farrell and Tommy Eglington. They shared a footballing career that lasted more than 20 years, spanning four different decades and three clubs.

The two great friends started out as juniors with Shamrock Rovers in the late 1930s and spearheaded one of Rovers most successful teams, reaching the final of three successive FAI Finals, winning it in 1944 and 1945, and finishing runners-up in 1946. Soon after they signed for Everton and went on to play important roles in the Blues’ first season back in competitive football following the war. Over the next 11 years they played a combined total of more than 800 League and FA Cup games, most in the same side as each other. Aged 34, in June 1957 Eglington joined Tranmere Rovers; Farrell followed him four months later. Farrell stayed at Prenton Park until 1960 when he finally left his team-mate for good, joining Holyhead Town. Eglington left Birkenhead a year later and played out his career with Cork Hibernians before working as a butcher in Dublin. Farrell returned to Ireland in 1962 and managed St Patricks Athletic, later running his own insurance business.

Everton have had two Irish managers, former Republic captain Johnny Carey (1958–61), and former (and future) Northern Ireland boss Billy Bingham (1973–77).

Although born and brought up in a Welsh border town, Kevin Sheedy, who claims Irish parentage, is Everton’s greatest Irish player. In the 1980s, the unerring accuracy of his left foot elevated his adopted country into their first major finals: the 1988 European Championships in West Germany and 1990 World Cup in Italy. At the latter, Sheedy scored his country’s first World Cup goal, rifling a late equaliser in Ireland’s group match with England. Jack Charlton’s policy – continued by his successors – of selecting ‘naturalised’ Irish players (i.e. those born outside Ireland, but with an Irish parent or grandparent) has meant that of Everton’s nine internationals wsince the mid-1980s, fewer than half – Darron Gibson, Seamus Coleman, Richard Dunne and Gareth Farrelly – were actually born in Ireland.

WHEN WAYNE ROONEY burst onto football’s consciousness, Ireland manager Mick McCarthy tried to recruit him for the Republic’s national team. Rooney dashed those slim hopes in 2003 when, shortly after his 17th birthday, he made his England debut against Australia.