In the summer of 1998, Irish underage football was riding high under the tutelage of former St Patrick's Athletic manager Brian Kerr. The year before Kerr's Malaysian Marvels had finished in 3rd place in the FIFA World Youth Cup (under 20s). They had lost 1-0 to eventual winners Argentina and a team packed of future world stars such Walter Samuel, Riquelme and Cambiasso. In the early part of the summer, Ireland won its first ever UEFA competition when the under 16s won their European Championships. In July, Kerr and Ireland did something no other nation had done before as they completed the European youth double by winning the under 18 title in a dramatic penalty shoot out against Germany in Cyprus.
So what happened these lads? Of the 18 squad members, 6 of them went on to play for the senior Republic of Ireland side but now aged 32-34, there are more retired than active. Let's look at their career paths
Alex O'Reilly (West Ham United)
O'Reilly saved a penalty in that penalty shoot out but the London born keeper never made the breakthrough at West Ham, slowly falling through the league structure in England on various loans and short-term deals. He gained some level of celebrity by playing the goalkeeper on Sky One's drama "Dream Team". After a spell with Athlone Town in 2008, he was last seen as England's goalkeeper in beach football!
Thomas Heary (Huddersfield Town)
Heary spent 5 years as a regular with Huddersfield Town before returning home to play for Bohemians where he spent another 5 injury ravaged seasons. His last year with Bohs saw them win the double. He was released by Pat Fenlon and played for Dundalk, Galway United and Limerick until injuries forced his retirement in 2010.
Keith Doyle (St Patrick's Athletic)
The only home based played in the squad, Doyle was already a league winner with St Pats in 1998 and repeated the following year. He moved on to Shamrock Rovers for a long spell there but never really reached any level of success. He last played in the League of Ireland for UCD in 2006 and works in Dublin now.
Jason Gavin (Middlesbrough)
Gavin went on to play Premier League football with Middlesbrough but again drifted down the English pyramid last playing for Bradford in 2005. He was signed by Roddy Collins at Shamrock Rovers but moved to Drogheda United after their 2005 relegation. He would win the League of Ireland title with Drogheda in 2007 before that team broke up and he headed for an 18 month spell with St Pats. In 2010 Gavin effectively retired from professional football and headed to Australia to play for Stirling Lions (where he remains today).
Richard Dunne (Everton)
After a troubling start to his career with Everton, Dunne moved to Manchester City where he established himself as a fans' favourite for both club and country. He has played for Ireland over 70 times now and none better than in a scoreless draw with Russia in September 2011 on the way to qualifying for Euro 2012. After 3 years with Aston Villa, Dunne signed for QPR last week. It will be his first time playing outside the Premier League at club level.
Barry Quinn (Coventry City)
Industrious midfielder Quinn made a decent career from the game spending 10+ years in England with Coventry and Oxford primarily. He was one of the first of the squad to play for the senior national side too earning 4 caps in 2000 (while with Coventry). He ended his football career in the lower reaches on non-league with Brackley Town and retired in 2011.
Ger Crossley (Celtic)
Crossley's fall into early retirement was quicker than most. After being released from Celtic he played with Hamilton, Galway United, Shelbourne and Cliftonville for short periods before retiring in 2004. His legacy is still there though as the Belfast lad was of the first from the 6 counties to declare for the Republic. Before Marc Wilson, Shane Duffy and Darren Gibson, there was Ger Crossley.
Stephen McPhail (Leeds United)
McPhail was a regular for Leeds for a number of years as his technical ability shone through, winning his first Ireland cap in 2000. Although only playing 10 times, he was called up to the squad as recently as 2008 by Giovanni Trapattoni. He has spent the past five years with Cardiff City although missed nearly all of last season through injury. Having been released, he is currently a free agent.
Richie Partridge (Liverpool)
Long touted as the 'next big thing' of Irish football, Partridge failed to make the breakthrough at Liverpool. He did have a long career in the English football leagues though p[laying for teams like Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham and Chester. He last played professionally for The New Saints in the Welsh league in 2011, retiring at the end of that season due to injury. Oh and he married Michael Owen's sister if you're into celebrity gossip
Robbie Keane (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
The heartbeat of the European champion youth team, Keane was earmarked as a star from long before those championships. his career has seen him be part of several multi-million pound transfer deals as he took his talents to Coventry, Inter Milan, Leeds, Tottenham, Liverpool, Celtic, West Ham, Aston Villa and now the LA Galaxy. Has made more international appearances, and score more international goals, for Ireland than any other player. A national treasure, Keane missed a penalty in the final shoot out.
Liam George (Luton)
George scored the winning penalty and his distinctive dreadlocks made him an instant star in Ireland. He never really lived up to that though and his career took him to clubs as varied as St Patrick's Athletic, Atlanta Silverbacks and FC United of Manchester. George retired from football in 2010 and is now a practicing physiotherapist in Luton.
Paul Donnelly (Leeds United)
Donnelly left Leeds after his initial contract expired and went on to play successfully in the League of Ireland for St Patrick's Athletic before moving on to Dundalk and Kildare County where he began coaching. Never a noted scorer, Donnelly had no hesitation in talking a penalty in the shoot out, dispatching with aplomb. He works as a taxi driver in Dublin.
Ryan Casey (Swansea)
Yet another player who played for St Patrick's Athletic(in total 6 of the 18 man squad played for the Inchicore side at one time or another), Casey floated around the League of Ireland before retiring after a spell with Longford Town in 2008. He now works as the FAI Regional Development Officer in Sligo.
Alan Quinn (Sheffield Wednesday)
Quinn, older brother of current international Stephen, had a long and successful career with Sheffield Wednesday and then their cross-city rivals Sheffield United. He earned 8 caps between 2003 and 2007 but was never really a fixture on the international scene. Injuries forced Quinn to retire after 3 seasons with Ipswich Town in 2011. He is now living in Dublin and recently completed his UEFA B coaching badge.
Dean Delaney (Everton)
Delaney was released by Everton in 2000 was moved onto to Port Vale, playing sparingly for 4 years. After a move back home he became Shelbourme's goalkeeper and was part of their 2005 league winning squad. One of the few players who played with Shelbourne before their financial collapse to play for them in the First Division, Delaney remained popular with the Dublin club's fans. He was released at the end of the 2012 season and currently plays for Bohemians.
David Freeman (Nottingham Forest)
Freeman was a late replacement for Damian Duff who was named in the original squad but had to cry off. After leaving Forest for the league of Ireland he scored the winning goal in the 2003 League Cup for St Patrick's Athletic before moving on to play for clubs such as Drogheda United, Dublin City, Longford Town and Shelbourne. He retired during the 2011 season and works in Dublin.
Gary Doherty (Luton Town)
After impressing with Luton, Doherty was bought for £1 million by Spurs in 2000 and became a regular as his versatility saw him deployed as both a centre back and a centre forward. After 4 years with Spurs he moved to Norwich City where he spent another 6 years. Playing over 30 times for the Republic of Ireland senior team, Doherty became a cult figure among Irish fans. Only this week he was rewarded with a new contract by Wycombe Wanderers
Ronnie O'Brien (Middlesbrough)
Few players can boast of as varied a career as Ronnie O'Brien. Released by Middlesbrough in 1999, he was immediately signed by Italian giants Juventus! In 3 years with them O'Brien only played 3 times (all in the Inter-toto Cup) as he was sent on loan to clubs including Swiss side Lugano and Dundee United. After his release from Juventus, O'Brien tried his luck in the MLS with Dallas Burn (later FC Dallas) and he immediately became an important cog for them. Voted into the MLS best XI in 2004 he would go on to play for FC Toronto and San Jose Earthquakes before retiring in 2008. He's now a coach with FC Dallas. O'Brien became a bit of a celebrity in 1999 as he topped a poll for Time Magazine's Person of the century, causing the magazine to change their voting.
Whatever happened throughout their careers, they're one of the very few Irish footballers who can call themselves European champions.
Balls.ie - Irish Sports Website