Your chance to win tickets to the All-Ireland hurling and football finals as the Irish Independent selects its unsung heroes
Published 29/01/2011 | 05:00
IT'S only when records are checked that the full range of outstanding talents, who have decorated the GAA fields across the country over many years without ever getting onto the Hogan Stand as All-Ireland winners on a late September Sunday, becomes fully apparent.
Winning an All-Ireland senior medal is the ultimate target for every player, but, for many, it can be no more than a dream since their fate is largely decided by geography. There are still several counties who have never won an All-Ireland senior title in either code and, frankly, that's likely to remain the case long into the future.
However, the importance that every county plays in the overall shape of Gaelic games should never be under-estimated, nor should players from the so-called weaker counties be regarded as being somehow less important than the rest. Not that All-Ireland disappointment is confined to weaker counties.
Many big empires have struggled for long periods while smaller neighbours thrive. Offaly, for instance, are a shining example of a small county performing big and being rewarded, as their outstanding achievement in winning three senior football and four hurling All-Ireland titles between 1971 and 1998 underlines.
Today, the Irish Independent begins our 'Unsung Heroes' promotion, where we recall and recognise the many exceptional talents who played for their counties over an extended period without winning an All-Ireland senior medal.
We carry nominations for goalkeepers, the full-back and half-back lines in football and hurling and will repeat the process for midfielders, half-forwards and full-forwards on Monday.
We are inviting readers to submit their best teams, drawn from the extensive lists, with All-Ireland tickets, plus overnight accommodation in Dublin, as the prizes for two winners whose teams coincide with the choice of our expert panel (winners to be decided by draw in the event of there being more than two entries with the correct teams).
Given the sheer scale of the field, we are confining it to players who performed since 1960. We are also restricting it to players who have retired.
Obviously, there are lots of worthy candidates from older players who are still chasing All-Ireland glory, but while the dream remains alive, they aren't eligible for consideration in this promotion.
Many of the 'Unsung Heroes' have played in a variety of positions, in which case we have nominated them in what we deemed to be their line. We have also spread the nominations over the five decades as equitably as possible.
There's no need to look beyond goalkeeper in both codes to see how difficult it will be to select the teams.
In 1984, Roscommon's Aidan Brady was chosen as No 1 on the best football team not to have won an All-Ireland title in the first 100 years of GAA activity, but several of the other contenders will also have their supporters.
Armagh's Brian McAlinden was, in 1993, chosen as best Ulster goalkeeper of his generation by a range of experts, including Brian McEniff, Peter McGrath, Jimmy Smyth, Peter McGinnity, Sean McCague and Eamonn Coleman (RIP). In latter times, Fergal Byron was a huge contributor to the resurgence of Laois, while various others will have their supporters too.
The goalkeeping position is just as competitive in hurling. Seamus Durack (Clare) won two All Star awards in 1977 and 1981, a feat replicated by Joe Quaid (Limerick) in 1994 and 1996. His cousin Tommy (RIP) is also a major contender, having been Limerick's No 1 for 17 seasons, during which he won one All Star award.
Durack was part of a great Clare team that won two National League titles in 1977-78 and is joined on the nominations' list by many of his colleagues. That squad is generally regarded as one of the best never to win an All-Ireland title; nor did they make the Munster breakthrough, losing to Cork in the 1977-78 provincial finals.
Clare were unlucky to come up against Cork's three-in-a-row team at a time when there were no second chances for teams that lost in the championship. Jackie O'Gorman, Johnny McMahon, Ger Loughnane, Sean Stack, Sean Hehir and Gus Lohan are all challenging for places in the 'Unsung Heroes' defence, but are up against super talent drawn from Wexford, Limerick, Galway, Dublin, Waterford, Antrim, Tipperary, Offaly and Down.
Galway have several contenders, many of whom are drawn from the 1960s and early 1970s before a powerful squad emerged which ended the 57-year All-Ireland famine in 1980.
However, a new generation of multi-talented Galway hurlers who didn't win All-Ireland medals has now emerged, including Sean Treacy, Joe Rabbitte, Eugene Cloonan, Kevin Broderick, Alan Kerins and Ollie Canning.
Dublin started the 1960s with high hopes of All-Ireland success, but were denied in 1961 when they lost the final by a single point to Tipperary on a day when, rather unusually, victory went to the team who failed to score a goal while conceding one.
Not surprisingly, the Dublin defence is well represented in the nominations with goalkeeper, Jimmy Gray and the entire full-back line of Des Ferguson, Noel Drumgoole and Lar Foley challenging for places on the final selection.
Not that it's confined to players who came close to winning the All-Ireland final. Among the full-back line performers who deserve to be recognised are Sean Cullinane, Tom Feeney and Damien Byrne (Waterford), Bill Maher, Cyril Duggan and John Bohane (Laois), Stephen Francis and Ned Dervan (Galway), Vinny Holden (Dublin) and Paddy Branniff (Down).
The half-back line is equally competitive. Apart from the strong Clare contingent, there are rivals from several major hurling strongholds, while Pat Dunney represents weaker territory in Kildare. Dunney and his colleague, Tommy Carew are included in both the hurling and football nominations, which underlines the depths of their natural talent.
Waterford's Pat McGrath, father of current Waterford stars, Ken and Eoin, is also a strong contender in the half-back line. The younger McGraths are still hoping to win that elusive All-Ireland title, but, in football, there's an unusual situation involving Liam O'Neill and his son, Kevin.
Liam is nominated in the half-back line for his exploits with Galway, while Kevin is challenging in the half-forwards after a fine career with Mayo. Galway figure heavily in the football nominations after losing All-Ireland finals in 1971-73-74, while Mayo's continued failure to make the big breakthrough sees them with lots of contenders too.
The football list is more extensive than hurling, drawing from every county except Kilkenny. It's probably not a list a Kerry footballer would aspire to joining, but Connie Murphy, an All Star in 1989, and Karl O'Dwyer (1998 All Star) are included. Both were involved with Kerry during uncharacteristically lean times, but O'Dwyer later enjoyed provincial success with Kildare, helping them to a first Leinster title for 42 years in 1998 and a second crown two years later.
His colleagues, Brian Lacey, Sos Dowling, John Finn, Glenn Ryan and Anthony Rainbow are also challenging for defensive positions in what is a highly competitive environment.