Some savagely tough nuts have graced the fields of Ireland. Michael McMullan takes a look at home he recalls watching in action.

Brian McGilligan

THE fact Kevin Heffernan took him to the International Rules in 1986 after just one senior appearance tells you enough. Starting him at full-back ahead of Mick Lyons is another example of McGilligan’s reputation. The fastest man over 100 metres on the Derry team. One of the Connor brothers had a run at him as he bent to pick up a ball in a league in Tullamore. McGilligan didn’t budge. A man of concrete.

Brian Dooher

SCORER of one of the best points scored at Croke Park when he raced up the Cusack Stand side in an All-Ireland final win over Kerry. He was a total machine. He rode three tackles on the biggest occasion of the year before firing over. When he was injured and in the rehab group, he drove the standards so high the fellow injured men couldn’t until they were back to regular sessions for a rest.

Kieran McGeeney

IT was fitting that ‘Geezer’ was the man to lift Sam in 2002, with those big arms that typified the strength – both physical and mental – that he brought to the table. Looking from the outside, he was the man you’d want in the trenches with you. What sets him apart was the mental ambition to want to win an All-Ireland when many Armagh folk thought it was a pipe-dream. He backed up his ambition by throwing his body in the line time and time again in that role behind midfield.

Martin Gavigan

WHEN your nickname is ‘Rambo’ is a decent start to inclusion here. In Jerome Quinn’s book that charted the Ulster dominance in the nineties and seeing the cage Gavigan had to wear to get him back from a serious knee injury. Chat to some of the Derry lads of that era, they will always talk about Gavigan and the heart and soul he brought to the centre of the defence.

Mick Lyons

MET Lyons when Meath were on holiday in Gran Canaria after one of their All-Ireland wins. I never forget thinking he didn’t look that tall, but on the pitch he was a giant of a man. He was Sean Boylan’s sort of man. Another instance I remember was the day Cork’s Colm O’Neill clocked him on the jaw in the 1990 final. There was no dive. He wiped his jaw and headed back to full back before O’Neill was dismissed.

Larry Tompkins

ONE of my heroes growing up. He was tough, stylish, an excellent kicker and had a fantastic overhead catch. But, by God, he was made of granite. When I read his book ‘Believe’, by Denis Hurley, I got an even better insight to him. With every page I turned, it seemed to tell a story of an injury that was only matched by Larry’s sheer desire to beat it and get back playing again.

Páidi Ó Sé

I’D so love to have spent an evening in his company. It’s hard not to remember the footage from a mid-seventies Munster final when Dinny Allen hit him a scalp. Like Mick Lyons in the example above, he didn’t flinch but hit him a box back. He played football the hard way in the defence – on the wing or in the corner. By God, you’d love to have him on your team. Then there was the hell he put himself over the winter, touring the boards around West Kerry to shift the off-season pounds.

Paddy O’Rourke

I REMEMBER him kicking the ball up into the Hogan Stand on the final whistle of the 1991 All-Ireland final. His hand strapped up with tape as he lifted Sam up into the air. A warrior amidst the rest of the stars in a Down team that changed the face of Ulster football. At club level, he was one of the cornerstones as Burren twice stood as King of Clubs in the eighties. By day, he worked on building sites. In the evening he pulled the Down machine all the way to the biggest prize.

Vinny Corey

I REMEMBER seeing Corey in action in an Ulster final in Clones. 2007 I think it was. He was a teak-tough defender who emptied the tank. On this occasion, ‘Banty’ McEneaney threw him into full-forward in a bid to save the game and he had Tyrone men bouncing off him. Close friend Tommy Freeman spoke of him as the man who drove the standards through the roof. He also had the bravery to step in a manager post few wanted.


Conor Gormley

THAT block. It’s the only place to start with Conor Gormley. Tyrone looked over their shoulders for years as Ulster teams carried Sam north. When the 2003 final was in the mixer, Gormley didn’t flinch and closed the door on Stevie McDonnell’s comeback story. For years, I watched on at Gormley as the no-nonsense defensive type. He was playing senior club football up until recently and was a man you’d rather have with you than against you.

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