Published: Happy Days Issue 6 and StateOfTheGame.co.uk, 30th August 2006, http://stateofthegame.co.uk/2006/08/30/northern-ireland-one-cap-wonders/
Sven-Goran Eriksson’s reign has ended in tatters. He will be remembered not for his almost impeccable record in qualifying (England only ever lost one competitive qualifying match under the Swede, a fact not lost on the 14,000 Green and White army who were at Windsor Park little over a year ago.) He will not even be remembered for a 5-1 demolition of Germany in their own back yard – The fact that England fans still gloat over this and the German team has since reached a World Cup final and Semi-final is testament to the under achieving and over hyped nature of the English team and it’s surrounding media circus.
Eriksson will be remembered for his love of the female species, his appalling lack of sense in dining with Peter Kenyon and discussing all about Becks and co to a chap dressed in a few tea towels. He will be remembered for his fondness of overhauling the team at half time, which was so great that FIFA introduced a cap on substitutions in friendlies. Erickson was not shy to dish out call ups. Caps were handed out willy-nilly to players who were never fit to wear the shirt. Michael Ricketts, Alan Thompson, Andy Johnson and Francis Jeffers were all given a go and none lasted as long as a sweaty Sven under the sheets.
Nevertheless, England is not the only country to be associated with short lived international careers. Northern Ireland has had its fair share too. Consider the Irish team which played it’s very first international against England in 1882. Two members of the team (Buckle and McGaw) failed to add to their tally of one cap after the game and only 4 of the team went on to win more than 3 caps; although taking into consideration the team lost 13-0 maybe this wasn’t such a bad thing!
One cap wonders aren’t just a thing of the past though. John Cowan (1970), Liam Coyle (1989), Paul Williams (1991) and Trevor Wood (1995) all failed to impress on their international debuts. Rory Hamill who came on against Canada in 1999 found his international career but similarly short. Another debutant that night, Glenn Ferguson, went on to win 5 caps.
Against Spain in 2002 Northern Ireland fielded two substitutes who are unlikely to be seen in the green shirt again? Lee McEvilly and Pat McCourt got 27 and 16 minutes of action respectively. McCourt may never grace the shirt again but should McEvilly continue to impress with Wrexham (who turned down an offer from Bradford for him in June) then he may re-enter the fold.
One player who looks as likely to adding to his international tally as you or I is Brian McClean. A glitch (IFA terminology for disastrous mistake) means that the Motherwell man is not and never was eligible to play for Northern Ireland.
As a Northern Ireland team full of withdrawals headed out to America for a confidence boosting, money spinning tour, Lawrie Sanchez took with him a bunch of raw uncapped youngsters to give them a chance to impress. Six players made their international debuts either in New York or Chicago. Sammy Clingan and Jeff Hughes impressed and deservedly played against both Uruguay and Romania.
Of the other four who only featured in one game, who will be confined to the history books as a one cap wonder? Will it be Kyle Lafferty, seen as many as James Quinn’s long term successor? Alan Blayney who joins Michael Ingram and Alan Mannus in the queue behind long standing duo Taylor and Carroll? Or either of the Dungannon born pair of Mark Hughes and Sean Webb
One thing is for certain, whether you win one cap or 119, pulling on the green shirt of your country is unparalleled in terms of achievement and pride. Let’s hope to see some of this pride shine through in the Euro 2008 qualifiers.