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Cult heroes - Paul McGrath

Monday 19th June 2017
Some club cult heroes are often not quite so talented but make up for it in other ways and capture the fans heart without being the best player on the field, others, however, are top draw footballers and create an instant love affair with the crowd with every passing game. Paul McGrath achieved this with Aston Villa, and then some.

McGrath's first English club was Manchester United where he spent the majority of the 80's and for the best part of his tenure was seen as one of the best defenders in the league. However, as Sir Alex Ferguson joined in 1986 McGrath's troublesome knee injuries began to get the better of the Irishman. He began to play and train less and less and his performances on the pitch seemed to dip. In fact, the pair seemed to struggle seeing eye to eye with McGrath's reported alcohol addiction also coming into play. He was offered a testimonial and a retirement package by Manchester United on Ferguson's recommendation, however, the centre-half turned down the offer and instead looked to continue his career elsewhere. He signed for Aston Villa with a big reputation and his personal life no secret to the world of football.

Paul McGrath signed before the Premier League era began but it was the first season of the new format that would showcase just how brilliant he was. Villa finished runners-up in the league to none other than his old club Manchester United. Despite being behind them in the standings McGrath was proving, at the age of 33, that he was still one of the best defenders around and even claimed the PFA player of the year trophy in the process. The man is still to this day regarded as one of, if not the best player to play for The Republic of Ireland and he remains within the highest esteem with Aston Villa fans and the club itself as a whole. His practically impeccable performances on the pitch coupled with his off-field persona made for the perfect hero for any club! He would reportedly only take part in light training due to his chronic knee issues and also regularly be heavily drinking before and after matches in what could only be described as an old school style of refuelling. Perhaps not the best practice but the Villa fans adored every part of their prized defender.

The man is still to this day regarded as one of, if not the best player to play for The Republic of Ireland and he remains within the highest esteem with Aston Villa fans and the club itself as a whole. His practically impeccable performances on the pitch coupled with his off-field persona made for the perfect hero for any club! He would reportedly only take part in light training due to his chronic knee issues and also regularly be heavily drinking before and after matches in what could only be described as an old school style of refuelling. Perhaps not the best practice but the Villa fans adored every part of their prized defender.
Villa won two League Cup titles in as many years in 1994 and 1996, naturally with Paul McGrath the linchpin to the side in the heart of the defence. Somewhat fatefully the first of those wins was a 3-1 score line against none other than Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United. A sweet spot of revenge perhaps for Paul McGrath to get one over on the boss who felt his playing days were done. The Aston Villa fans certainly loved the fact they had secured such a player and in turn be part of his fantastic career turn around, the player and the club truly did go together so well. He was and still is to this day loved and adored by the club for his exploits at Villa Park. The kind of status not many receive wherever they may ply their trade.

His fairytale journey with Villa came to a close in 1997, after which he played just two more seasons. The Irishman is still held as one of the best centre-halves the English league has seen and remains one of only two defenders to be named the player of the year in the Premier League Era.
Ryan Stewart

23 years old, Sport Journalism graduate living in Salford. Work in web content in Media city and always looking to break in to sports writing. Manchester United season ticket holder.


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