Rise And Rise Of Mr Dependable
How Leeds Missed Out Big Time With Defender
Thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson, we already knew Denis Irwin as ‘Eight out of Ten’.
From Oldham, in retrospect, comes an alternative insight into Denis Irwin, the full-back who squeezed in a promotion-winning Wolves season at the end of a career highlighted by his magnificent work at various points an hour or two north.
This was no instant success story. The Irishman was freed by Second Division Leeds in 1986 and subsequently picked up by a club who had never played in the top flight of English football. But what a star he became.
So where was the lift-off in his fortunes? Did he immediately impress his new team-mates? And was a Leeds legend with whom Wolves were only too familiar really credited with his move across the Pennines?
The little-known Ian Liversedge has some answers. He was Oldham’s physio at the time and paints an interesting picture in his autobiography, Life’s A Ball.
He says Irwin was ‘shattered and disillusioned’ when shown the door by Leeds after 70-odd first-team games, adding: “He went home to Cork and drank it dry!”
Liversedge continues: “Who would have thought that he would emerge from the bars near his home to play at the very highest level for Manchester United and the Republic of Ireland?
“He has (Oldham manager) Joe Royle to thank for that. Joe signed him after advice from Jim Cassell and his scouting team. Despite the free transfer, Joe saw exceptional talent and the deal was completed in May, which was unusual for us because we wouldn’t normally want to pay a player through the summer.
“However, Joe and chairman Ian Stott were so worried about losing him to another club that they felt it had to be done. Joe had assured him the club would make a lot of money from this lad.”
There was still winning-over of team-mates to be done after the new signing had struggled on the first day of pre-season on a stamina run.
“It was an easy pace but when we got to the top, Denis wasn’t with us,” the author says. “I jogged back down the hill and found him, really struggling for breath. It was an inauspicious start.
“Through careful nurturing, Joe transformed his fortunes. It is never easy when young impressionable lads are released by big clubs such as Leeds. They can easily fall by the wayside and it could have gone either way.”
In the event, Irwin played around 170 Oldham matches, helping the club to a League Cup final and the last four of the League Cup and attracted 20 good reports out of 20 when scouted by Manchester United.
The £625,000 he moved to Old Trafford for was full justification of the faith Oldham had in a player who Liversedge – a former England under-20 international and a young hopeful with Everton and Blackpool – says was not only an outstanding full-back but also an accomplished central defender when used there.
Irwin’s trophy-winning Old Trafford years are legendary and he added 56 Irish caps before giving Wolves two utterly solid seasons that took in a promotion triumph and an uncomfortable first taste of the Premier League.
Mischievously, with Oldham also plundering Leeds to recruit Andy Ritchie, Andy Linighan and Tommy Wright, the Boundary Park hierarchy referred to Elland Road boss Billy Bremner as their own best scout.