Today is St. Patricks day and that means that I will be headed to my local to drink my annual Guinness, while watching some UEFA Champions League football. Its is on a fine day like this that I am thankful for the Irish, and as this is a sports blog, specifically thankful to the Irish sport stars over the years. Ireland have produced some crackers, have stolen hearts at the FIFA World Cup, the ICC Cricket World Cup and of course even the Rugby World Cup. Without chatting to much, to celebrate St. Patricks day in true All Things Jabu style, we select the top 5 (From 5 different sports) Irish, excluding Northern Ireland, sportsman.
5. Sean Kelly – Cycling
A winner of the Vuelta Espana in 1988 as well as points winner in 80, 85, 86 and 88, coupled with winning the points classification in the Tour de France on four occasions already makes him a great. The fact that he raced in South Africa under a pseudonym in 1976, as a protest to apartheid, makes him even more legendary.
He also won a few other stage races, but we all know that the grand tours are the only ones that make a telling difference in your career stats. In 2006 he truly cemented his iconic status in the land of the clovers as he formed the first Irish professional cycling team, the Sean Kelly An-Post Chain Reaction team, giving opportunities to young Irish and Belgian cyclists.
4. Katie Taylor – Boxing
Ireland have only won 9 gold medals in the history of the Olympic Games. In 1992 they won a gold medal through boxing, in 1996 they won a controversial triple gold through Michelle Smith, with many doubts still existing over the banned swimmers record back then. It was a massively long wait after that but in London in 2012, Katie Taylor brought back the 9th and the first honest medal in 20 years.
The now 28 year old began boxing at the age of 12 and won 16 Amateur titles (World and European) in a space of a decade, being the undisputed best in the 60kg weight class and when she went to London became the first ever Olympic female lightweight champion. Oh you want some more? She also has 19 caps for the Republic of Ireland ladies national football team, scoring 2 goals!
3. Roy Keane – Football
He might not be looked on as favourably in Ireland, but his record alone merits inclusion in this list. Let the numbers do the talking, 7 FA Premier League titles, Four FA Cup Titles, the 1999 UEFA Champions League title. This is an impressive collection, but what made it more impressive is the no lines hardman approach that embodied his football.
He may have gone out in spectacular fashion from United and Ireland, but the battles with Patrick Vieira, the no nonsense tackles and the mouth of a sailor make Roy Keane one of the finest sportsman ever produced by the Irish.
2. Padraig Harrington – Golf
Well Rory McIlroy will play for Ireland at the Olympics, the fact that he is Northern IRish excludes him from the list. The excellent alternative of course, is Padraig Harrington, so appropriately named for an Irishman. Harrington’s four-hole play-off victory over Sergio Garcia at the 2007 Open saw him become the first man from the Republic of Ireland ever to win the Claret Jug.
His win a year later at Royal Birkdale was arguably even more special. Despite injuring his wrist two weeks prior to the tournament, Harrington pulled through to claim his second major title. He became the first European since 1906 to retain the Claret Jug, a feat which will take some beating. He also added the PGA Championship to that title in 2008 to get him to a major haul of three, something very few golfers can boast.
1. Brian O’Driscoll – Rugby Union
First, O’Driscoll’s club record is jaw-dropping itself. Three Heineken Cups, three RaboDirect Pro12s (or various version of it), one Amlin European Challenge Cup—O’Driscoll’s won every title up for grabs in Irish club rugby.
Then there are his performances for Ireland. His 26 Six Nations tries are a tournament record. His 130 caps are an Irish national record. He was shortlisted for the IRB Player of the Year award three times, narrowly missing out to other greats of the game in Keith Wood, Fabien Galthie and Richie McCaw.