The Kings of the Defence

NIALL Gartland counts down the greatest defensive players since the millennium

1 Seamus Moynihan (Kerry)

ONE of the all-time greats. Moynihan was a hugely talented player whose trademark was his lung-bursting runs out of defence. Won three All-Stars, two in the half-back position, and won the Footballer of the Year award when Kerry won the All-Ireland title in 2000. Massively respected by his peers, he was a likeable and fair player as well. Finished his career in style by winning his third All-Ireland medal in his final game in the green and gold, when Kerry demolished Mayo in the 2006 showdown.

2 Tomás Ó Sé (Kerry)

WIDELY considered as one of the best players in the modern game, O’Sé was the longest serving intercounty player when he hung up the boots in 2013. His longevity alone was remarkable, obviously, but it was his all-action performances in the half-back line on the big day that earned him his reputation. He always stood up to be counted, and was one of Kerry’s best performers in their bitterly disappointing All-Ireland defeats to Tyrone in 2005 and 2008. Well able to take a score as well.

3 Lee Keegan (Mayo)

YES, the Celtic Cross has eluded him, but it hasn’t been for a lack of guts, effort or talent. Keegan is a simply phenomenal player and won his fifth All-Star last year, overcoming a serious hip problem that seemed to slow him down in previous seasons. Keegan is the highest scoring defender in intercounty football history, which is some statistic. He’s scored goals in All-Ireland finals, nullified the best players in the business, and never gives an inch. A remarkable footballer.

4 Jack McCaffrey (Dublin)

IT’S a shame that McCaffrey ended his Dublin career prematurely, because he was one of, if not the most exciting player in the game. His speed alone made him such a dangerous attacking threat, and he bounced back from a cruciate injury to play a vital part in Dublin’s road to five All-Ireland titles in-a-row. Absolutely sensational on the big day as well – he was hugely influential in Dublin’s win over Tyrone in the All-Ireland final in 2018, and even better in the replay encounter against Kerry a year later, scoring 1-3 from play. Hugely likeable as well.

5 Kieran McGeeney (Armagh)

AN icon of Armagh football, McGeeney captained the team to their one and only (so far) All-Ireland win back in 2002. A rock in the centre half-back position, McGeeney’s leadership qualities brought him right to the very top of intercounty football, and it’s no surprise that he’s now managing the Orchard county. He won three All-Stars Awards, six Ulster Senior Football Championship medals and also received the 2002 Texaco Footballer of the Year award in a glittering career.

6 Conor Gormley (Tyrone)

IT’S strange to say that a three-time All-Ireland winner and three-time All-Star is underrated, but Gormley sometimes didn’t get the same recognition for his abilities as certain rival players. But it’s fair to say he was an absolutely incredible man-marker. While his best season in the Tyrone jersey was 2008 (in our view), his famous block on Stevie McDonnell’s goal-bound shot in 2003 will never be forgotten. A real no-nonsense defender who was a nailed-on starter for Tyrone for more than a decade, and is still playing for his club.

7 Darren Fay (Meath)

THE eptiome of an outstanding full-back, Fay first came to prominence when winning an All-Ireland medal in his first season in 1996. Even as Meath’s fortunes waned in the noughties, he maintained his personal standards and won a GPA-GAA All-Star in 2007. He was renowend for his physique and athleticism, but he was also a brilliant ball carrier. Had a few difficult days out against Padraic Joyce and John McEntee, but on the whole he had a magnificent career.

8 Karl Lacey (Donegal)

DONEGAL broke through the glass ceiling during Jimmy McGuinness’ tenure from 2011 and 2014, but Karl Lacey had already established himself as one of the best players in the country. Lacey put together a run of 41 consecutive championship appearances between the 2004 and 2013 (and it would’ve been more only for injury) and he won his first of four All-Star awards in 2006. Of course, he was integral to their All-Ireland success in 2012, kicking the insurance point in the quarter-final win over Kerry and having a great game in the All-Ireland final as well. Won the Footballer of the Year award to cap it all off.

DONEGAL GREAT…Karl Lacey won four All-Stars with Donegal

9 Keith Higgins (Mayo)

THE Mayo team of the last decade has been bed-rocked by their mean and unyielding defence, and Keith Higgins won the admiration of all for his consistency at the back from the very start. He won the Young Footballer of the Year award in 2006, but he really made his mark during the ‘noughties’. His duel with James O’Donoghue in the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final was box office viewing, and he finished his career with four All-Stars and eight Connacht titles. An accomplished hurler as well, he captained his team to the Nickey Rackard title last year.

10 Sean Marty Lockhart (Derry)

TOUGH as old boots, Sean Marty Lockhart was an exceptionally tenacious defender for a county that has produced plenty of them down the years. Enjoyed great battles in his day with the likes of Peter Canavan and Oisin McConville. He was held in great esteem throughout his career and represented Ireland in the International Rules series in 1988, 1999, 2001 and 2004.

Won three league medals with Derry and an Ulster Championship in 1998, and was basically the prototypical wing-back.

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