In light of another Dublin victory in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, their fourth since 2011, it is time for an update to this article which I published back in July 2015. I have retained the majority of the original article with a few small alterations here and there; most notably the addition of this current Dublin team into the mix. As such, that means one team leaves the fore and takes their place among the notable mentions (bye bye Cavan).
Seeing as I have already compiled a similar list for the football, it is only fair that it is hurling’s turn.
Unsurprisingly the traditional powers, the “big three” of Kilkenny, Tipperary and Cork dominate this list, each contributing two sides. All sides, with the exception of two, played during the latter-half of the 20th century because regardless of how fondly Lory Meagher is recalled, if that’s even possible nowadays, the 1920s are simply too distant an era to truly evaluate how great a side was.
Only one side from this century features for the simple reason that side has maintained such a miserly grip on Liam MacCarthy since 2000.
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.
Having written a lot about American soccer in a few of my previous posts, with my interest in sport that side of the Atlantic piqued I began looking into champions of the big three leagues in the United States, namely the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. I was particularly amazed at the spread of champions in American football.
Back on 1 February the New England Patriots won their fourth Super Bowl title, a triumph that has since been tarnished by the disclosure that balls were, in fact, deflated during the AFC Championship Game. It was the Patriots’ eighth Super Bowl appearance in total, their seventh since 1997. This number of appearances in the championship game is a joint-best record along with the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Cowboys and Steelers are two of the most successful franchises in NFL history. The Steelers have won six Super Bowls, four of which came in the 1970s and two in the last decade. The Cowboys are tied second on five, alongside the San Francisco 49ers. For a team that is top of the pile, six titles for the Steelers seems rather a small number, considering the Super Bowl has been going since 1967. Compared with the significantly younger Premier League in England, which was established in 1992, there is a startling difference.