Denis Irwin    
since Jan 98.

Full Name Denis Joseph Irwin
Position Defender Squad Number 3
Date of Birth 31st October 1965
Place of Birth Cork, Ireland
Height 5' 8"    Weight 10st. 10lb.

Previous Clubs - Apprentice at Leeds in 1983League debut Jan 84.
Transfered to Oldham Athletic in May 86.
Signed Pro for United - 8th June 1990 Transfer Fee - £625,000
Represented his country in the 94 World Cup in America.
First Team Debut - 25th August 1990 vs Coventry City (h)
The Times: Football: Ferguson's Gem still sparkling 
David Maddock -- meets a key figure in the Old Trafford success story

Denis Irwin is annoyed. His smile is not quite so bright and his eyebrows turn up, slightly. Irwin is preparing for a television interview set up by his sportswear sponsor, a situation in which it is obligatory these days to sit with the company's logo emblazoned at every conceivable camera angle. But the Manchester United full back has a modest disposition and the particular item of clothing offered is not to his liking.

For Irwin, though, there are no tantrums, no cross words, just a polite request for a less gaudy garment and, eventually, with no fuss, he gets his way. It is typical of the man.

The Ireland international was in at the start of the Alex Ferguson revolution at Old Trafford and has spent 7 1/2 years collecting a formidable haul of silverware. Ferguson describes him as his "little diamond", a player he believes was his best transfer bargain.

And yet, until November 4, Irwin had never grabbed the headlines. The unassuming 32-year-old from Co Cork has gone about his business of becoming one of the most honoured footballers in the FA Carling Premiership with barely a second glance. "I like it that way," he said. "I'm not shy, I'm not retiring, but, I am a fairly quiet person and it suits me to have that 'nice' image.

"To be honest, it's a false image, one that's been created in the papers because I don't talk to them much. The supporters don't know me, so they accept that view of my personality. I'm not complaining. I know I don't get any headlines, but I'll leave that to the forwards, because when the stick is being dished out, they're usually first in line as well."

Irwin found himself the subject of plenty of headlines that day in November. His moment came against Feyenoord in the European Cup Champions' League, when, with only a few minutes remaining, he was the victim of a sickening challenge by Paul Bosvelt.

Irwin was taken from the field on a stretcher with torn medial ligaments, the "tackle" being widely condemned as an act of premeditated violence that could have finished Irwin's career. "I was angry because it was such a bad challenge," Irwin said. "Even when I was lying on the floor, I was having a right scream at the referee because he didn't do anything about it.

"There was a lot of pain, too. Players are always getting stretchered off and then sprinting straight back on again, so the fans probably don't recognise that a player can get hurt. The thing with knee injuries is that you know they can finish your career.

"The thought was there, that it was serious, and I really didn't know how bad it was. It wasn't until the physio told me in the dressing-room that it was probably the medial ligaments that I knew it would be OK."

The Irishman is softly spoken and does not seem to harbour any feeling of aggression towards Bosvelt. However, he admits to a certain resentment against the Feyenoord player. "He sent a fax to me, apologising for the tackle, so you have to give him credit for that," Irwin said. "After seeing the challenge on television, he said that he realised just how bad it was, but that it was out of character. If I'm honest, I thought it was a terrible challenge and there is no place for that against a fellow professional. But there's no point dwelling on the past, I have been lucky with injuries, and even this one has only kept me out for six weeks. Overall, I've been lucky really."

Irwin is referring to his career when he says this, and the fact that the lay-off has been the longest in his career. He feels almost a sense of incredulity at what he has achieved, after being released by Billy Bremner from Leeds United as a young man.

Ask Irwin his greatest moment in the sport and he thinks first of the Cup Winners' Cup win, then United's first championship in 27 seasons, then the double, then the double again. Along with Brian McClair, he is the longest-serving player at Old Trafford.

He puts his success down to continuity, both on the pitch, with only three managers in his illustrious career, and off it. His home life is stable and he has two children - Liam, 5, and Lauren, 2, with a third on the way.

"The pressures within the game these days are immense, especially at a club like United," he said. "When I came here there was pressure, especially because we hadn't won the league for so long, but since then it has gone through the roof.

"Television has a lot to do with it. Every challenge, every action, is analysed now, and every player is a household name. Manchester United have gone on to a different level, with this incredible commercial success. We are massive everywhere, and the demands on a player are incredible.

"It is a pressure a player cannot deal with constantly - you need a release. I just go home and shut the door, play a bit of computer chess. The family is important because they act as a release for me and keep me going."

But how long for? Irwin is the exception to the rule at Old Trafford, the "old man" keeping his place in the face of stiff competition from young pretenders such as the Neville brothers. He is in contention to return to action in the high-profile FA Cup third-round tie against Chelsea on Sunday.

And yet. "I was thinking recently, how it just creeps up on you. It only seems likes yesterday when I came here and now I'm 32. It just creeps along and soon your career is over. I'll just keep playing until I can't get into the side any more."

Honours with United

1991 League Cup - Runner-up
1991 European Cup Winners Cup - Winner  
1991 European Super Cup - Winner
1992 League Cup - Winner
1992 Football League Div. 1 - Runner-up
1993 F.A. Premier League - Winner
1993 F.A. Charity Shield - Winner
1994 League Cup - Runner-up
1994 F.A. Premier League - Winner
1994 F.A. Cup - Winner
1995 F.A. Premier League - Runner-up
1995 F.A. Cup - Runner-up
1996 F.A. Premier League - Winner
1996 F.A. Cup - Winner
1996 F.A. Charity Shield - Winner
1997 F.A. Premier League - Winner
1997 F.A. Charity Shield - Winner
1998 .....?

International Honours
Country - Republic of Ireland
Full International 'B' International - 1 cap
Under-21 - 3 caps
Youth International
Eire Schoolboys

Current Record: 1990 - 1997
Total Apps:  359     24 goals

                 Apps     Goals
League   263          16
FA Cup    32           6
LCup       28           0
Europe     32           2

"Andrei Kanchelskis had the hardest shot at United and Paul Ince really improved but Denis is the best striker of a dead-ball because he can spin the ball. He can bend it better than Ryan Giggs." -Peter Schmeichel

The first name on the teamsheet, Denis Irwin is Manchester United's Mr Dependable. Signed from Oldham in June 1990 for a paltry £625,000, Irwin has made the number three shirt his own with a series of understated performances. A failure at Leeds in the early eighties, Irwin has developed into one of the most respected full backs in the Premiership and can operate on either side of the

defence. He made the first team at Leeds, but after three years, Billy Bremner gave him a free transfer to Chesterfield before Joe Royle brought him to Oldham. Cork-born Irwin caught Alex Ferguson's eye during the 1990 FA Cup semi-finals when Oldham took United to a replay. A keen golfer and self-confessed Oldham fan ever today, Irwin racked up over 200 appearances in his five
years at Old Trafford and has become a fixture in the Republic of Ireland squad, playing in the World Cup finals in America. Like a number of other Premiership full backs Irwin is also the master of the dead ball, a free kick specialist, nurtured and coached by Alex Ferguson, into one of the most feared in the Premiership. In recent years United have had a plehtora of free kick experts
- Cantona, Giggs or Kanchelskis were capable of scoring from 25 yards or less but frequently United skippers have turned to Irwin when searching for salvation. His opener in the FA Cup semi-final against Crystal Palace and another against Liverpool in a classic 3-3 draw stand out. Four goals made him United's leading FA Cup scorer in 1994-95 as they made it to Wembley.

United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel is an admirer of Irwin's technique, he says:

"Andrei Kanchelskis had the hardest shot at United and Paul Ince really improved but Denis is the best striker of a dead-ball because he can spin the ball. He can bend it better than Ryan Giggs."

Howard Wilkinson's enquiry about taking Irwin back to Elland Road led to Eric Cantona's

transfer in 1992 and United fans were to relieved to hear that Irwin signed a three year contract in April 1995 as other stars were leaving the club. Manager Alex Ferguson says:

"Denis is the one player I just would not sell. We have some great players at the club but if someone had to vote for pure consistency in every game of a season then Denis would be our player of the year."

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