Paul McGrath is one of the greatest heroes in Irish sporting history. McGrath was a marvelous centre-back with a lot of class and his skillful displays week-in, week-out were second to none of today’s footballers. McGrath certainly ranks high among the great defenders in the history of Manchester United.
Paul McGrath’s 14-year long career was greatly hampered by injuries and off-field problems. His book, Back from the Brink: The Autobiography is a very interesting read for both his admirers as well as the younger fans who barely know him. Back from the Brink, which was also 2007’s number one best-seller, reveals stories about his dependence on alcohol and the culture which was encouraged in those time’s dressing rooms of having one or two after the match. He also gives insights into the pre and post Fergie era and many other interesting behind the scenes stories from his playing days.
Paul McGrath was the first black player to captain the Ireland national team. He won 83 caps for his country and scored eight goals, but that is just tip of the iceberg. His brilliant performances in the national team jersey earned them a place in Euro 1988, their first major international tournament. He was ever present in Irish team that participated in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. His extraordinary display, despite excruciating knee problems in the 1 – 0 win over the 1994 World Cup favourites Italy, is still regarded as one of the greatest defensive performances of all-time. It’s a testimony to McGrath’s natural athletic ability that he was able to booze as much as he did, hardly train and then go out and have great Roberto Baggio in his back pocket for 90 minutes.
Here are a few quotes on Paul McGrath by people who rated him highly in the footballing world.
‘’He was an exceptionally skillful and styling defender, with marvelous innate athleticism, a man whose abilities stood comparison with any central defender in the game’’
“People talk about the lack of goals I scored against Man United and the reason for that was Paul McGrath, he was too good.”
– Ian Rush
“Paul McGrath played football as though he was wearing a silk smoking jacket with a crystal glass in his hand.”
– Philip Quinn
“Not only was Paul a hero to the Irish nation, he was a hero to every single one of us who played with him on the Ireland team.
– Andy Townsend
“Big Paul McGrath showed all the qualities demanded of us for half an hour in Giants Stadium that day. For him the word big is appropriate. Known for his poise, his ability on the ball, his unique gift for reading the game, Paul displayed these qualities on this day. One other huge asset was his courage. When the Italians did get sight of the goal, Paul presented a final, insurmountable obstacle. Paul inspired us as much as in the end he demoralised Roberto Baggio and the other Italian players “
– Roy Keane on Ireland’s famous 1-0 win over Italy.
“If I could sign any player from the past it would be Paul McGrath. Although we probably couldn’t afford his bar bill’’
– Paul Simpson
“Paul McGrath is one of the all-time greats. Someone to compare to Bobby Moore. He’s one of the best players I ever had.”
– Jack Charlton
“He is the hardest defender I have ever played against. A true gentleman. When we beat Italy 1-0 in the giant stadium in the 1994 World Cup, if any young lad is aspiring to be a centre-half, get the DVD of that game and watch Paul McGrath. It was the best performance I have ever seen, he had [Roberto] Baggio in his pocket for 90 minutes. He was absolutely awesome.
– John Aldridge
“C’mon, let me take you for a little jog, then see how it feels.’ and Paul’s saying, ‘No Jim, my knee’s too sore today’ But I’m pushing. ‘C’mon Paul, let’s go out and try …’ I encouraged him, rightly or wrongly. And he ended up playing. ‘Best player on the pitch as usual.’ “
– Jim Walker
“Never has a man so vulnerable been so reliable. The love the nation had for McGrath might have flowered because of his weaknesses and his charm but it stemmed from his majesty.
– Dion Fanning
“Paul had this really nonchalant way of defending. He could just sally through a game. A ball would come into the box and he’d just back-heel it to safety … I dithered over whether I should play him or not, because Rush and Dalglish were a handful. I just wasn’t sure that he was ready for them. I played him in the end and he was magnificent. Honestly, he just walked through the game. Never gave Rush a kick. And of course, Ian Rush never would score against United while McGrath was playing. We actually gave Liverpool a bit of a doing that day, came back from 1-3 down to draw 3-3. I know it doesn’t sound great defensively, but McGrath was superb. It told you a lot about him.’’
– Sir Alex Ferguson on McGrath after returning from a serious injury
‘’Class personified and a wonderful athlete. You could see he was going to be a big star’’
– Eoin Hand
‘’Paul was probably the best player I have ever played with… He made it all look so bloody easy’’
– Mick McCarthy