One more honour for Irwin
Ahead of receiving an honorary doctorate from UCC on Friday, Denis Irwin told Louise Cashell about his one sporting regret... not being able to play hurling for Cork
If players were allowed to keep the trophies themselves, Denis Irwin would need a very large cabinet. Seven Premier League titles, one UEFA Champions League, three FA Cup's, one League Cup, 4 Charity Shields, 1 Cup Winner's Cup, 1 European Super Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup, 1 Division One Play-off and he earned himself a place on the Overall team of the decade in the Premier League Awards. However, when asked of his one regret in his sporting career, soccer doesn't even come in to it.
"That I never got to play hurling with Cork" is his response.
"I have no regrets in my soccer playing career, I couldn't really considering the spell I had when I was with Man United and I really enjoyed playing with Wolves because I supported them as a child.
"Growing up in Cork, the seventies were all about hurling. I would watch the likes of Charlie McCarthy, Jimmy Barry Murphy and Gerald McCarthy playing with my club St Finbarr's and that's what I wanted to do too, soccer wasn't a big thing for me until I got a bit older.
"Even in school [Denis was a pupil in Coláiste Chríost Rí] we played Gaelic Football, not soccer, and it was only when I joined the Cork Schoolboys as a teenager that soccer took precedence but would I have loved to play hurling for Cork? Definitely, everyone with an interest does."
This Friday, Denis is being conferred with an honorary doctorate in UCC along with Ronan O'Gara, Mary O'Connor, Aidan O'Brien and Brian Cody. The event is the latest in the series of events marking UCC's centenary of sport and Denis says that he is delighted to be receiving the honour.
"I feel really honoured that I am getting this from UCC. Considering the calibre of the others who are receiving alongside me on the day, I was just delighted when I found out. It should be a great day and it's something that all my family in Cork can go to, particularly my parents who are very proud, so I'm really looking forward to it!"
Internationally respected as one of the greatest full backs to ever play for Manchester United, Denis carved out a phenomenal career for himself that finished at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2004. Playing sport in Cork is something that Denis believes moulded him to become the player he did.
"I'm sure growing up in Cork is the reason I had the type of career that I did. Hurling and Gaelic Football are tough sports and you need a certain mentality approaching those two types of sport.
"Cork people have that mentality and I brought that over with me when I went to England and it all went from there. A lot of people assume that the year we won the treble in 1999 was a career highlight for me and of course it's up there with them, but the first year I came to Manchester we beat Barcelona to win the European Cup Winner's Cup. That was huge for me because Barcelona were a brilliant team and from there on in, I won a lot with the team."
The Manchester United team of the nineties that Irwin was a part of was legendary and it all started, he says, with manager Alex Ferguson.
"Alex was a fantastic manager. I was at Manchester United for 12 years and as a manger he was hugely successful in that period, he still is. He was grounded and he had a way of doing things, getting the job done, and we were all on board with that. I had great respect for him as a manager and we got on very well.
"The players around me were fantastic as well. You had the likes of Bryan Robson, Ryan Giggs, Scholesy and Eric Cantona, he was the catalyst on our team for many of our wins, he was a huge presence and an unbelievable player and then of course there was Roy [Keane].
"Keano was younger than me so I didn't know him when we were both growing up in Cork, but he was the driving force behind that Manchester United team. He was an honest player and he always gave 100 per cent, no matter what."
Denis played at international level for nine years, won 56 caps and was on the 1994 World Cup Squad, the highlight of his international career.
"You are always going to want to play for your country so I loved playing for Ireland. I had my ups and my downs on that team, the '94 World Cup being a definite highlight and I was happy to retire when I did.
"We had an excellent squad and looking an the Irish team now, I really think Trappatoni has done an unbelievable job. He was a hero before they went out to the Euros and the opposite when he came back. His style of play might not suit everyone but he got us there which was a huge achievement.
"Being honest, and I don't mean any disrespect by this, the current squad isn't the greatest. James McClean though, I think he has a big future ahead of him, he's doing well at Sunderland so I'd keep an eye on him."
For now Denis is kept busy working behind the scenes at Manchester United and his playing days are long behind him.
"95 per cent of players will tell you they are glad when it's all finished. It's a tough job and towards the end of your career, the body just isn't the same. Sometimes, on match days, I think about it but because I'm still involved on the club I still get the buzz, I'm around all the players so I'm not too far from it at all."