1 Brian Corcoran (Cork)
A textbook example of a player mounting a successful comeback. Following Cork’s exit from the 2001 championship, Corcoran shocked the hurling world when he announced his retirement from club and inter-county hurling. He had been their star performer for years, winning two hurler of the year awards, but he decided he had enough after a disastrous defeat to Limerick with injuries and family commitments the reasoning behind his decision. He made his return in early 2004 and ended the season with the All-Ireland in tow, scoring a memorable clincher at the end against Kilkenny having reinvented himself as a full-forward. He won a third All-Ireland medal in 2005 before he retired for good having cemented his status as one of the best players of all-time.
2 Jimmy Keaveny (Dublin)
Keaveny is a Dublin folk hero, and with good reason – but it could’ve been very, very different for the stocky (think that’s a fair adjective) full-forward who scored two goals and six points in the 1977 All-Ireland final against Armagh. Keaveny had retired in 1973, having resigned himself to never adding a second Leinster medal to the one he picked up in 1965, but his retirement proved short-lived as new manager Kevin Hefferman lured him back into the fold the following year. It turned out to be a very wise choice as he played on for the rest of the seventies and won a heap more Leinster titles, as well as three All-Star awards and three All-Ireland medals in four years.
3 Seamus Darby (Offaly)
Darby is a GAA legend because of one fateful swing of the boot, hitting the iconic goal that denied Kerry the five in-a-row in 1982. But it may or may not surprise you to learn that he had already won another All-Ireland medal exactly a decade beforehand. He disappeared off the scene in 1976, but was drafted back in in 1982 by Eugene McGee. He wasn’t just an impact sub, starting matches in Leinster before injury curtailed his impact in the All-Ireland semi-final. He was fit enough to come on in the second-half of the final against Kerry, and he wrote his name into history with his late goal against the Kingdom. Alternatively, see Offaly goalkeeper Martin Furlong who also came out of retirement in his thirties to play his part in their 1982 success.
4 Stephen O’Neill (Tyrone)
I remember where I was when I heard that Stephen O’Neill had made a dramatic return to the Tyrone panel ahead of the 2008 All-Ireland final (in the house, but that’s beside the point). The Tyrone legend announced his untimely retirement in January of that year as injuries had got the better of him, but his fitness improved and he was called upon ahead of the final against Kerry. At a team meeting to discuss the merits of his return, Owen Mulligan said ‘this is Stevie O’Neill we’re talking about’ and the rest is history as Tyrone claimed their third All-Ireland in six years. O’Neill played a part in their success, assisting in Tommy McGuigan’s goal, but he turned down a medal as he said he hadn’t earned it.
5 Noel McGrath (Tipperary)
Noel McGrath underwent surgery after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in April 2015. After a particularly difficult period of chemotherapy, he was unable to leave his bed for ten days, but he made a full recovery and he was soon back doing what he does best – hurling with Tipperary. He received a standing ovation when he came on as a substitute n Tipperary’s 0-26 to 3-16 defeat by Galway in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, and he won a third All-Star for his performances at midfield as the Premier County won the All-Ireland title in 2019 with a brilliant victory over Kilkenny. He only recently turned 30 so he should be donning the blue and yellow for years to come.
6 Dinny Allen (Cork)
Dinny Allen’s intercounty career looked to be over when he was culled from the Cork panel in 1986, but he had one last swansong when he was brought back into the panel in the wake of their 1988 defeat to Meath. Billy Morgan entrusted the 36-year-old with the team’s captaincy, and the decision paid off for all parties as they went all the way in the championship, defeating Mayo in the final. After 17 years of trying, he had finally won an All-Ireland medal.
7 Michael McCarthy (Kerry)
We had to get a Kerry man in somewhere along the line. Mention must go to Tadhg Kennelly, who took time out from his AFL career to win an All-Ireland title in 2009, but his dangerous, and apparently pre-meditated challenge on Nicholas Murphy in the final was a blot on his copybook. Instead we’ll give the nod to their defender Mike McCarthy, who retired after their hammering of Mayo in the 2016 decider. He says he had no intention of ever coming back, but something twinged in him after their Munster final replay to Cork in 2009. Kerry were in dire straits, but he was in brilliant form for his club and decided to give it another go, and he helped turn their season around in his new role as centre-half back as they went on to win their third Sam Maguire in four years.
8 Frank McGuigan (Tyrone)
McGuigan spent most of his twenties in America, but he had one last swansong with Tyrone (can ye guess what it is yet). The Ardboe legend announced himself as a gifted footballer in the early seventies, starring as Tyrone reached the All-Ireland minor final in 1972. He was still only 22 when he went to New York as an All Stars replacement in 1977 and decided to skip the flight home. He returned to star in the ‘Frank McGuigan final’ in 1984, scoring 11 points from play in the Ulster final against Armagh, which later named among one of the top twenty GAA moments of all-time by RTE. A serious car accident ended his career – he badly smashed his leg when he drove his car into a wall coming home from a pub that November – but at least he got to produce a performance for the ages in his short-lived return to Tyrone colours.
9 Diarmuid Connolly (Dublin)
Say what you like about Dermo, the man did love a comeback. He returned from suspension to play a starring role in the second-half of the 2017 All-Ireland final against Mayo, hitting one of the greatest points I’ve ever seen in my life and winning the free-kick which Dean Rock converted right at the end. He took a year out in 2018 and there was some surprise when he returned to training in July 2019. Connolly ended up featuring in both the All-Ireland final and All-Ireland final replay as Dublin secured the five in-a-row.
10 DJ Carey (Kilkenny)
Arguably the most gifted hurler of all-time, an injury-hit DJ Carey ruled himself out of playing any part in the championship in 2002, which sparked rumours that he was set to announce his retirement. However, when Kilkenny failed to score a goal in the Leinster final, he realised that he still had plenty to offer and was parachuted back into the panel. He played a major part in the last couple of matches that year – who can forget his brilliant point from the sideline against Clare in the final, a game in which he contributed a personal tally of 1-6.