Given the year that’s in it, all rugby-related talk invariably revolves around the impending Rugby World Cup, and understandably so. But once the tournament concludes on Halloween night with Paul O’Connell lifting the Webb Ellis Cup (one can dream), and the disappointing performances of one, or more, of the top-tier nations is overanalysed to death, the British media will turn its attentions, with heady excitement, to the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand.
As a history student, I’ve always been interested in the impact Irish people have had around the world. Whether as a large community, building New York into the city it is today, or as individuals, climbing up to prominent positions in foreign armies or political offices, the Irish have left an indelible mark in nations far afield.
This habit of leaving lasting legacies in foreign fields is not exclusive to politics or as navvies. Unsurprisingly, as a nation that loves it so much, sport is another aspect where an Irish influence can be seen abroad, not just in Manchester or Liverpool, but places on the other side of the globe, such as New Zealand or South America.
As such I thought this would make for an interesting series of posts; Irish people that have achieved lasting sporting legacies in foreign nations.
Today’s post will focus on Patrick McCarthy, who aided in the foundation of one of South America’s largest and most famous football clubs.
Growing up in Westmeath, I didn’t know one end of a hurl from the other, and prior to 2004, the taunt that we “couldn’t kick a ball for shite” either was hard not to justify. So as a kid, nostalgia for Westmeath’s glory days was impossible because they didn’t exist since actual success is needed to fuel those rose-tinted Kodak moments.
As the maternal half of my family hails from Offaly, I was fed on a diet of tales of Offaly’s halcyon days, which were not solely confined to one code. Whether it was Séamus Darby denying Kerry the five in a row in 1982, Johnny Pilkington pulling on a fag just moments before running out onto Croke Park, or the hurlers serving Babs Keating the largest slice of humble pie this side of Birr in 1998, it seemed apparent that Offaly were quite successful at inter-county level, if not more than other counties.
Before Dessie Dolan, Rory O’Connell, John Keane and the summer of 2004, the idols in my head were exclusively Offaly players of old, afforded a mythical status by the impressionability of youth. There was the great Matt Connor, a Herculean colossus cruelly cut down by the gods in his prime; Paddy McCormack, a tough “hoor” who would cut through a man in a manner befitting his nickname, “The Iron Man from Rhode”; Brian Whelahan, the only then-active member of the Team of the Millennium and the game’s first positional polymath long before Tommy Walsh featured in Brian Cody’s schemes; and the Dooleys, Joe, Billy and Johnny, the deadliest fraternal triumvirate to hurl since the Rackards.
In my mind, Offaly’s successes seemed unique somehow, seemingly more special than those of other counties. Simply put, Offaly was the little county that could; one of the most remarkable success stories in recent GAA history, which makes their decline in recent decades all the more tragic.
Sport is one of the few aspects of life where winners are clearly defined. In film, literature and other fields, competition doesn’t exist naturally but is artificially promoted. Regardless of who wins an Oscar or the Man Booker Prize, there will always be disagreement on the merits of the winner. Sport does not have such a problem. There are winners and there are losers, it is the very nature of the thing.
And yet, one of sports fans’ favourite pastimes is to rank teams or players from different eras in terms of brilliance. “What team was the greatest of all time?” “Would such a player from the 1940s be as brilliant in the modern game?” Compiling such lists is ultimately a pointless exercise given the entire nature of the discussion is highly opinionated and hypothetical. Yet as pointless an exercise as it is, it doesn’t deter people from regularly engaging in it.
I’m no different. Given how exciting the football championship has been thus far, I thought I would attempt to rank the 10 greatest football teams of all time. My sole criterion was that a team had to win at least two All-Ireland titles with largely the same squad.
Some sides far exceed that. Numerous Kerry sides through history have regularly done it but that is Kerry. So consistently brilliant since the early days, only their truly remarkable sides make this list. There are sides ahead of them with less All-Irelands but given how rare success has come to other teams, once-in-a-generation teams from other counties hold greater weight, given that after their decline success has been scarce or even non-existent. Essentially, quantity wasn’t the most important aspect. An enduring legacy in GAA history was the most crucial deciding factor.