A St. Paddy's Day Toast to Irish Athletes
Despite being a country of only four million people, Ireland has a rich and varied sporting history.
Additionally, with the United States being home to another 24 million people of Irish descent (23 million of which will be drunk by 10AM on Tuesday), I thought it would be appropriate to present to you 10 of the greatest athletes in Irish (and in two cases, Irish-American) history.
Damien Duff – Soccer
Duff, a winger, is most famous for his stellar performance for Ireland in the 2002 World Cup—being voted the team’s player of the tournament.
However, following the cup, Duff decided to re-sign with Blackburn Rovers rather than cash in with one of the larger European clubs, showing his loyalty to the team he joined in 1996 as a 17 year-old-kid.
The next year Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (who is not Irish) offered him and Rovers a ton of money and, suddenly, the word “loyalty” seemed like a childish concept.
In a little over a decade, Duff has played for three teams in the English Premier League (he joined Newcastle in 2006) and scored over 40 goals for his club teams. He has also added seven goals for his home country.
All of this is good and fine, but the reason Duff cracks the list of the top 10 Irish athletes is, purely and simply, his name.
How many professional athletes, Irish or otherwise, can claim a moniker that includes a first name shared with the spawn of Satan character from the 1976 classic The Omen, and a last name shared with the drink of choice of one Homer Simpson?
Those are some solid credentials.
Eamon Coghlan – Track and Field
Coghlan qualifies as one of Ireland’s greatest athletes as a result of winning a gold medal in the 5000 meters at the 1983 Track and Field World Championships in Helsinki.
He is still the only Irish male to win a gold at the World Championships.
However, Olympic glory eluded him as he managed no better than fourth in any Olympic competition.
He broke the world record for the indoor mile several times and, in 1994, Coghlan became the first man over 40 to run a sub four minute mile. He remains the only man to accomplish this feat.
John Daly – Golfer
Daly owns five PGA tour wins. More importantly, how many athletes can claim the following quotes as their own:
"There are probably some things I could do to keep my flexibility up, but I'd rather smoke, drink Diet Cokes and eat."
"Seems I used to do everything like I was on a mission. If it was alcohol, I wanted to drink 'til I couldn't see straight. If it was golf, I wanted to beat everybody's brains out. If it was driving, I can get there faster'n you can... I was stubborn as hell. I had no direction." (Yes, he said faster’n)
"I believe nicotine plus caffeine equals protein."
“My life is upside-down right now. No matter what I do, it’s wrong. I’m thinking of writing a new song. I’ll call it, ‘I guess it’s my fault, even when it’s not my fault.”’
But, with so many worthy Irish/Irish-American candidates, Daly ultimately claims a spot on this list because he can drink any Kennedy under the table.
John Treacy – Track and Field
Treacy, who is the current chief executive of the Irish Sports Council, is best known for his Silver medal in the marathon of the 1984 Olympics (also known as the last Olympic games before the Kenyans realized they could run really, really fast.)
Also, Treacy’s wife is named Fionnuala and he has a daughter named Caoimhe. In a related note, his neighbors refer to his family as “the triple word score clan.”
Sonia O'Sullivan – Track and Field
Sonia O'Sullivan never realized her dream of an Olympic gold medal. Regardless, there are some who consider her the greatest athlete in Irish history.
O’Sullivan did manage to win the silver medal in the 5000 meters in the 2000 summer games.
Sonia owns two world championship medals—a gold in the 5000 meters in 1995 as well as a silver in the 1500 meters in 1993.
She also has five medals from European championships (three gold and two silver), and four medals from the World Cross-Country Championships (two gold and two bronze).
Probably most impressively, her medals were spread across distances from 1500 meters to 10000 meters.
Shaquille O’Neal – Basketball
I know what you’re thinking and you’re just being a hater. Just because he doesn’t have a name like Liam or Seamus doesn’t mean he’s not Irish. His name is O’Neal—do I have to draw you a picture.
Anyway, his credentials speak for themselves. The 7’1”, 325 pound monster has won four NBA championships, one MVP and has played in 15 all-star games. He also won an Olympic gold medal in the 1996 games.
Unfortunately, he decided to play for the United States rather than the nation of his ancestors. (Which, it turns out, is not Ireland......my bad)
Ron Delaney – Track and Field
Despite struggling to qualify for the 1956 Olympic games in Melbourne, Delaney managed to use a crushing final sprint to win the gold medal in the 1500 metres—beating heavy favorite and local legend, Australian John Landy.
With his outstanding effort, Delaney set a new Olympic record while becoming the first Irishman to win an Olympic title in track and field since Bob Tisdall in 1932.
Following Delaney's 1956 triumph, no other Irishman won an Olympic gold until boxer Michael Carruth in the 1992 summer games.
That, ladies and gentleman, should tell you all you need to know about how difficult the list of “Top 10 Irish Athletes” actually is to compose.
Catherina McKiernan – Track and Field
McKiernan is a long-distance runner who won silver medals in the 1500 meters in four consecutive IAAF World Cross-Country Championships between 1992 and 1995.
Her best opportunities for Olympic glory were stalled by untimely injuries—causing her to miss the 2000 and 2004 games.
Dr. Pat O'Callaghan – Track and Field
Pat O’Callaghan was one of three brothers who paid their own fares to compete at the 1928 summer Olympics in Amsterdam. He beat favorites Malcolm Nokes of Great Britain and Oissian Skoeld of Sweden in the hammer throw to become the first athlete ever to win a medal for an independent Ireland.
He later repeated the feat with a gold medal in the same event at the 1932 games in Los Angeles.
Roy Keane – Soccer
Keane probably tops this list because he is the most successful soccer player in Irish history—and the Irish love their soccer.
In his 17-year career, he played in the League of Ireland as well as Scotland and, most notably, the English Premier League.
He is most famous for his eight year spell at Manchester United—whom he captained to a rare “treble” of the Premier League Championship, FA Cup, and UEFA Champions League in 1998-1999.
Despite his significant on-field achievements, Keane was almost as well known for his aggressive play and fiery nature which earned him a number of dismissals, sanctions, and suspensions.
Most famously, Keane was sent home from the Irish national team by coach Mick McCarthy for a series of indiscretions which included the following tirade against his coach.
“Mick, you're a liar... you're a f***ing wanker. I didn't rate you as a player, I don't rate you as a manager, and I don't rate you as a person. You're a f***ing wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country! You can stick it up your bollocks.”
(For more inane ramblings by Roy Keane consult your local library, or click here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2006/aug/24/sport.comment)