For many in Ireland, Paul McGrath is a living legend. No
player in Ireland's history has had so many column inches
written in his honour, yet the defender has always remained
modest about his ability.
Born in London, McGrath spent the first 16 years of his
life in an orphanage and started his football career with
Dalkey United before joining St Patrick's Athletic. He won
the Young Player of the Year award in 1982 and joined Manchester
United for a bargain £30,000 the following season.
On the pitch, McGrath settled in easily alongside Manchester
United's superstar, winning a FA Cup medal in 1985, but
off the field he turned to alcohol to deal with the pressures
of being a professional footballer.
In 1985, he won the first of his 83 caps though it wasn't
until Jack Charlton became manager that McGrath became a
key member of the side. Chosen regularly in midfield by
Charlton, McGrath helped Ireland to the European Championships
in 1988 and World Cup two years later. Four years later,
he was also part of the Ireland side that qualified for
its second World Cup.
However, the story was not as straightforward as it may
sound. McGrath's drinking problems meant that on two occasions,
he missed Ireland matches, while at club level, Manchester
United decided to cut their losses and let him leave for
Aston Villa. He was also injury prone and during the course
of his career he had eight knee operations, which meant
that towards the end of his career, he was not training
in the accepted sense.
It is testament to his natural fitness that despite this,
he still played football at the highest level until he retired
in 1998. To this day, the greatest player ever to play in
two world cups and don a green jersey.