In the Final Part of this week’s series in which Daniel McDonnell has counted down the Top 50 players in the League of Ireland between 2000-2020 based on their contributions during their time here, we’ve reached the Top 10. As well as ability, longevity, consistency, domestic and European achievements were key criteria in finalising the list.
10. Daryl Horgan
Years Active: 2010-2016
Clubs: Salthill Devon, Sligo Rovers, Cork City, Dundalk
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Honours: 3 Leagues, 1 FAI Cup, 1 League Cup (all Dundalk), 1 First Division (Cork)
Horgan was consistently good throughout his time in the league but the reason he makes the top ten is because of his pivotal contribution to Dundalk’s bar-raising European adventure in 2016. The Galwegian excelled against BATE Borisov, AZ Alkmaar and Maccabi Tel Aviv and shone against the stars of Zenit St Petersburg following an Irish call. That is a high standard.
9. Kevin Hunt
Years Active: 2000-2008
Honours: 2 Leagues, 1 FAI Cup
The Englishman was loved by Bohs fans and hugely respected by peers. He was a magnet for the ball with top-class positioning, and his football brain was subsequently employed by Manchester City and Liverpool for scouting purposes. Hunt turned down a move to Shels that could have yielded more silverware and he remained the standout player in weaker Bohs teams.
8. Stephen O’Donnell
Years Active: 2007-2018
Clubs: Bohemians, Cork, Galway, Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk
Honours: 6 Leagues (4 Dundalk, 1 Bohs, 1 Rovers), 3 FAI Cups (2 Dundalk, 1 Bohs), 2 League Cups (Dundalk), 1 Setanta Cup (Rovers)
A league winner with three clubs who scored the penalty that put Shamrock Rovers into the Europa League but it was at Dundalk where he became the player he should always have been. Stephen Kenny needed a midfielder with his attributes to knit the team together and O’Donnell was also a driving force for the dressing room culture. Former team-mates argue Dundalk’s success wouldn’t have happened without him. High praise.
7. Keith Fahey
Years Active: 2004-2008/2014-2015
Clubs: St Patrick’s Athletic, Drogheda, Shamrock Rovers
Honours: 1 FAI Cup (St Pat’s), 1 League Cup (St Pat’s), 1 Setanta Cup (Drogheda)
There were growing pains in his early years and an unhappy Drogheda experiment but it was in the second of three St Pat’s spells that Fahey went to another level. His displays in the league and in Europe in 2008 were of supreme quality and earned him a deserved ticket to bigger and better things. A diminished force was still good enough to help inspire 2014 cup joy.
6. Jason Byrne
Years Active: 2000-2006/2008-2017
Clubs: Bray, Shelbourne, Bohemians, UCD, Cabinteely
Honours: 5 Leagues (3 Shels, 2 Bohs), 1 FAI Cup,1 League Cup, 1 Setanta Cup (all Bohs)
The only back-to-back winner of the PFAI award this century and his relentless goalscoring won him caps under Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton. He would likely have broken Brendan Bradley’s magic figure of 235 goals were it not for a stint in Cardiff. Byrne’s record speaks for itself. It’s a challenge to find flaws in it.
5. Paddy McCourt
Years Active: 2005-2008/2017-2018
Clubs: Shamrock Rovers, Derry City, Finn Harps
Honours: 1 FAI Cup, 3 League Cups (all Derry)
The highest-placed player without a league winner’s medal but anybody who watched McCourt in full flight won’t be getting hung up on that. Few players have the capabilities to thrill in a manner that endures across generations but watching an on-song McCourt was a treat. Even in his twilight years at Harps, the class was permanent.
4. Wes Hoolahan
Years Active: 2000-2005
Club : Shelbourne
Honours: 3 Leagues
By his own admission, the playmaker wasn’t at his most dedicated while at Shels and perhaps it came too easy to him sometimes. He was only sporadically trusted with a central brief in a strong side but the good days demonstrated he had a skill-set that set him apart from everyone else in his Irish generation. And we saw that first hand with his swagger in a packed Lansdowne Road against Deportivo La Coruna
3. Owen Heary
Years Active: 2000-2013
Clubs: Shelbourne, Bohemians
Honours: 7 Leagues (5 Shels, 2 Bohs), 2 FAI Cups (1 Shels, 1 Bohs), 1 League Cup (Bohs, 1 Setanta Cup (Bohs)
The right-back was the definition of a leader and assumed responsibility in three excellent sides; Dermot Keely’s Shels, Pat Fenlon’s version and then under Fenlon at Bohs. He set the tone for those groups with a combative approach and a consistent level of performance and application that brought the best out of colleagues.
2. Glen Crowe
Years Active: 2000-2010
Clubs: Bohemians, Shelbourne, Sporting Fingal
Honours: 5 Leagues (4 Bohs, 1 Shels), 2 FAI Cups (Bohs), 1 League Cup (Bohs)
There’s no flawless way to compare the feats of great strikers. Byrne scored more goals than Crowe, but a canvassing of defenders who tried to stop both drew opinions that the ginger assassin was the superior finisher with stronger weapons in his arsenal. Crowe notched big goals in games that decided the destination of leagues and cups and struck 11 times in Europe in addition to playing twice for Ireland.
1. Joseph Ndo
Years Active: 2003-2014
Clubs: St Patrick’s Athletic, Shelbourne, Shamrock Rovers, Bohemians, Sligo Rovers, Limerick
Honours: 4 Leagues (2 Shels, 1 Bohs, 1 Sligo), 3 FAI Cups (all Sligo), 2 League Cups (1 Bohs, 1 Sligo), 1 Setanta Cup (Sligo)
What puts the Cameroonian at the top? Multiple reasons. He spent the prime of his career here, having played at a World Cup beforehand, and while not all of his years were glorious, he won leagues with three club, and thrived in cup finals and the European stage. Most people canvassed gave him a mention and Ndo combined the wow factor with the medal collection. That’ll do.