Where Does Brian O'Driscoll Rank Among Greatest Irish Sportsmen?

Tristan Barclay@@tjbbarclayContributor IFebruary 19, 2014

Where Does Brian O'Driscoll Rank Among Greatest Irish Sportsmen?

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    Brian O'Driscoll is almost half-way through his final RBS Six Nations for Ireland. The centre has amassed 138 Test caps in an international career that spans nearly 16 years.

    O'Driscoll's performances for Leinster have yielded three RaboDirect Pro12 titles and three Heineken Cups, a record not even matched by his great international teammate Paul O'Connell.

    But where does 'BOD' rank among the best sportsmen Irish history has to offer? Ignoring the North/South divide to take the Emerald Isle as a whole, here we run the rule over Ireland's greatest sporting names.

10. Two-Time Major Champion Rory McIlroy

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    Golfer Rory McIlroy just sneaks into our top 10, thanks to his two major championship wins and former world No. 1 status.

    His star might have slipped since the heady heights of 2011 and 2012, but McIlroy deserves to be remembered for his wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. To take those titles at such a tender age—he is still only 24—is a demonstration of sheer talent over experience.

    McIlroy has time on his side to climb the list of greatest Irish sportsmen, but this week he slipped to No. 7 in the world. He'll need to notch up another few major championship wins before he can reach Brian O'Driscoll levels of greatness.

9. Lions Captain Paul O'Connell

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    Munster and Ireland lock Paul O'Connell has almost matched Brian O'Driscoll pace-for-pace in a title-laden rugby career.

    The current Ireland captain has two Heineken Cups and three RaboDirect Pro12 titles to his name, just one short of O'Driscoll's haul.

    O'Connell has 89 Ireland caps, making his debut in the 2002 Six Nations Championship. He has toured with the British and Irish Lions three times, edging out O'Driscoll to captain the squad on the 2009 tour to South Africa.

    There is no denying Paul O'Connell is a giant of Irish rugby, but O'Driscoll's sheer number of caps compared to O'Connell sees "BOD'" leaving "POC" behind in the greatness stakes.

8. Grand National Winner AP McCoy

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    It is difficult to think of a title jockey AP McCoy has failed to win. The Cheltenham Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, King George VI Chase—they're all trophies in McCoy's cabinet. 

    But surely his biggest win came in the 2010 Grand National. Riding Don't Push It, McCoy won by five lengths, his first victory at the world-famous Aintree race in 15 attempts. After the race, McCoy summed up his fighting spirit:

    If you get enough goes at something and you keep going, once you're in there you've always got a chance.

    McCoy was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010, the first jockey ever to win the coveted award. He was named Irish broadcaster RTE's Sports Person of 2013, a title O'Driscoll has won only once, back in 2009.

7. All-Ireland Champion Jimmy Barry-Murphy

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    One of the Gaelic Athletic Association's most iconic players, Jimmy Barry-Murphy won All-Ireland medals in both hurling and Gaelic football during the 1970s and 1980s.

    A "dual-player," Barry-Murphy turned out for St. Finbarr's, playing both hurling and Gaelic football for the club on Cork's south side. During his hugely successful time at "the Barrs," "JBM" won the All-Ireland championship twice for both hurling and Gaelic football.

    His county career as a dual-player at Cork brought just as many trophies. Five All-Irelands for hurling with another for Gaelic football mean that Jimmy Barry-Murphy goes down as one of the biggest stars in GAA history. 

6. Champions League Winner Roy Keane

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    Roy Keane is a footballer who will be remembered as a legend among Manchester United fans. His reputation among followers of Irish football, however, might be less stellar.

    Keane's record means he deserves inclusion in this list. As a no-nonsense midfielder for Manchester United, Keane won seven Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the 1999 UEFA Champions League. His relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the strongest captain/manager partnerships in the game.

    For Ireland, Keane's record is a little more dubious. Dissatisfied with the standard of facilities and preparation of the squad, he famously walked out of the 2002 Ireland World Cup team. His feud with manager Mick McCarthy kept him away from the Ireland set-up, and when Keane did eventually return, he did not receive the captain's armband.

    Keane now has a chance to make amends for his chequered international career, working as Ireland manager Martin O'Neill's assistant. If Keane can help bring qualification for another major tournament, perhaps all will be forgotten.

5. Lions Veteran Willie John McBride

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    For most players, selection for just one British and Irish Lions tour would be enough of an honour. The fact that Willie John McBride managed to make the squad for five tours tells you all you need to know.

    McBride's first Lions call-up came in 1962, the same year as his Ireland Test debut. That was a 16-0 loss to England at Twickenham. McBride fared little better on the Lions campaign in South Africa, where the tourists lost a four-Test series 3-0, drawing one match 3-3.

    McBride's real claim to greatness came on the 1974 Lions tour to South Africa. McBride captained the squad in what was to be his last tour, leading his men to within one victory of a series whitewash.

    The Lions won 21 of their 22 matches, falling short in the final Test. It finished in a draw, meaning McBride left South Africa as an undefeated captain.

4. Eight-Time All-Ireland Winner Paidi O Se

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    Paidi O Se was one of the most recognisable men in the country after winning 10 All-Ireland medals, eight as a player and two as a manager.

    The Kerry Gaelic football legend is perhaps best known for his part in the "four in a row" series of All-Ireland wins for the county. They took the title each year from 1978-81.

    Such was Ireland's love for O Se, his untimely death in 2012 brought tributes from the president, government ministers and other great sporting personalities.

    As reported by Newstalk.ie, GAA President Liam O Neill said:

    There was hardly a person on the island of Ireland, never mind in the GAA, who did not recognise or know of Paidi O Se, such was his contribution to the Association and to Irish life over a prolonged period.

    His excellence on the field of play in what was the greatest football team of all time still stands out to those of us who saw it and his passion for the game in no way ended with the completion of his playing days.

3. Three-Time Major Winner Padraig Harrington

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    Padraig Harrington comes in at No. 3 thanks to his victories at the 2007 and 2008 Open Championships.

    Throw in his 2008 PGA Championship and you'll see that Harrington is the greatest Irish golfer of modern times (with apologies to Rory McIlroy).

    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.

2. European Player of the Year George Best

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    Described by the Irish Football Association as "without doubt the most talented individual ever to don the green shirt of Northern Ireland," George Best is remembered as one of the world's greatest footballers.

    Winner of the 1968 European Cup with Manchester United, Best was perhaps the first true footballing superstar. He joined United in 1961 aged just 15, made his league debut at 17 and went on to win two First Division titles.

    Best's decision to leave United in 1974 aged just 27 deprived world football of one of its most gifted stars, but the Northern Irishman continued to turn out for his country until 1977. He eventually lost his battle with alcoholism in 2005 but will forever be remembered for his outrageous talent on the pitch.

1. Record Six Nations Try Scorer Brian O'Driscoll

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    You have to be a special talent to top this list and Brian O'Driscoll certainly fits the bill. Ireland's record cap-holder, former captain and Six Nations Grand Slam winner is surely the greatest sportsman ever produced by the island.

    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.

    Perhaps the only blemish on O'Driscoll's record is his failure to win a second Six Nations title. The 2009 victory was a Grand Slam, but O'Driscoll has been unable to break the Welsh dominance of the Championship in recent years.

    O'Driscoll retires at the end of this season. With three matches remaining in the Six Nations 2014 and Ireland unbeaten, who would bet against O'Driscoll signing off with another title?