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The 32 Mount Rushmores | Offaly's greatest sportspeople

The Off The Ball team have already, and not without controversy, picked the Irish sporting Mount ...

The 32 Mount Rushmores | Offal...
Other Sports

The 32 Mount Rushmores | Offaly's greatest sportspeople

The Off The Ball team have already, and not without controversy, picked the Irish sporting Mount Rushmores for Cork and Mayo, and this week the task has fallen on to select the four greatest sports stars of all time from my home county of Offaly.

This is proving no easy task, given the Faithful County, was the first in the country to have an All-Star player in every position in both hurling and gaelic football, is also home to a major golf winner in Shane Lowry and host of other sporting high-achievers in their respective sports.

Ahead of revealing my final selection on tomorrow morning's OTB AM I've whittled the selection down to twenty in preparation for some likely "constructive criticism" of my picks. I've yet to settle on a final four so would love your feedback on either the Off The Ball or my own twitter accounts ahead of the reveal.

Here's the 20 contenders to have their faces carved into the side of Croghan Hill tomorrow.


Shane Lowry celebrates winning the Claret Jug during day four of The Open Championship 2019 at Royal Portrush Golf Club.


GOLF - Shane Lowry

The champion golfer of 2019, one of Ireland's most beloved sports stars and probably Offaly's biggest achiever on the international stage. Lowry followed in the footsteps of Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy by winning the Mullingar Scratch Cup ahead of becoming just the third-ever amateur to win on the European Tour by defeating Robert Rock on a playoff to land the Irish Open at Baltray in 2009.

The Clara man followed up that success with victories at the Portugal Masters three years later and the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2015. 2019 started with a win at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship before landing his major major by lifting the Claret (now Clara) Jug after taking The Open in some style at Royal Portrush in July.

From a family of sporting pedigree, his father Brendan and uncle Sean Lowry were both key members of the Faithful's football teams in the 70s and 80s and Shane is a regular at Clara and Offaly games in both codes.

Seb Daly/Sportsfile






HURLING - Brian Whelehan

The only active player to have voted onto hurling's team of the Millennium in 2000, the man known as "Sid" amassed eight All-Ireland titles (four All-Ireland Club SHC with Birr and two All-Ireland SHC and two All-Ireland MHC with Offaly) across a glittering 21-year career.

Whelehan, considered to be among the best half-backs to ever play the game, was also the first hurler to be named Player of the Year twice (1994 and 1998) as well as collecting All-Stars in 1992, '95, '98 and '99. His best performance in the green, white and gold was possibly against Cork in 1999 while he scored 1-6 from play after being switched to the forwards due to illness during Offaly's 1998 All-Ireland final win over Kilkenny.

He captained Birr to Offaly and Leinster club success at just 20 in 1991 and went on to win 12 Offaly championships, 7 Leinsters and four All-Irelands with his club before being inducted into both the Leinster and GAA's Hall of Fames.




HURLING - Johnny Dooley

Joined by his brothers Billy and Joe in the Offaly forward line in the 1990s, Johnny scored four goals and 190 points across his 98 appearances for the team in league and championship. His goal from a free in the 1994 All-Ireland final sparked the Faithful's revival in scoring 2-5 in five minutes to pip Limerick to lift the Liam McCarthy Cup.

The Seir Kieran clubman was also part of Offaly's 1998 All-Ireland winning team and collected All-Star awards in 1994, '95 and 2000.

Dooley was a key member of a golden era of hurling for the county - ending up with two All-Ireland Senior medals, two All-Ireland minor medals, a National Hurling League and Leinsters at minor, under-21 and senior.






Stylish, two-footed, dynamic, Matt Connor is frequently picked in all-time selections. As a 20-year-old, Connor scored 2-9 in Offaly's loss to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final in 1980 and was part of the side which ended the Kingdom's bid for five-in-a-row in '82.

“A good player should have the skills of the game mastered, and no-one perfected them better than Matt Connor,” said legendary commentator Michael Ó Muircheartaigh of the Walsh Island clubman when he was inducted into the GAA's Hall of Fame. While 1982 winning manager Eugene McGee hailed his influence on the team of the late 70s and early 80s: “Offaly would not have won an All-Ireland title without Matt Connor in that era because we wouldn’t have even gotten to one without him."

Connor is a three-time All-Star recipient and won three Leinster titles with Offaly as well before serious injuries from a car accident ended his career at just 24.




GAELIC FOOTBALL - Martin Furlong

Furlong kept goal for Offaly between 1966 and 1985 and was part of the All-Ireland winning sides of 1971, 1982 and 1982.

In addition to being part of all three of Offaly's teams to lift the Sam Maguire, the Tullamore 'keeper was named Footballer of the Year in 1982 and he collected four All-Star awards across the 70s and 80s.

The New York-based publican also helped Offaly defeat Cork for a breakthrough All-Ireland minor football success in 1964 with that team going on to form the core of the senior winning teams in '71 and '72.

While Seamus Darby's late goal stole the headlines, Furlong's save from Mikey Sheehy's penalty prove just as crucial when the Faithful stunned Kerry in 1982.




The 'Iron Man from Rhode', Paddy McCormack, was full-back on Offaly's back-to-back All-Ireland Football winning sides of 1971 and '72 but he played in all 15 positions for the Faithful across his three decades playing senior inter-county.

Known as one of the tightest markers and toughest players in gaelic football history, he was part of five Leinster Championship winning teams and collected an All-Star in 1972.

Paddy bought his first greyhound after Offaly's Sam Maguire in 1972 and was inducted into the Irish Greyhound Hall of Fame earlier this year. Across his nearly five-year training career, McCormack was a handler to serial winners such as Lolos Choice and Odette.





I would have found it difficult to leave Jimmy Barry Murphy out of the Cork selection last week and have huge respect for players that excel across two different codes.

Kilcormac/Killoughey clubman Currams is in a most unique club of holding All-Ireland senior winner's medals in both hurling football and is to date (and likely will be the only) Offaly player to win All-Star awards in both codes. To put that achievement into context, only four players in the history of the awards have collected gongs in both hurling and football.

A marauding wing-back in football, he was a member of the 1982 All-Ireland winning gaelic football teams and was a midfielder on the Offaly team which lifted the Liam McCarthy in the previous year.



CAMOGIE - Elaine Dermody

A close call this one between Elaine and her former team-mate Michaela Morkan with the Drumcullen attacker just getting the nod.

Dermody was captain and full-back on the Offaly team which lost out in the 2001 All-Ireland Junior final but her switch to the forward line later in the decade proved a key driving force in the Faithful's climb from the junior to senior ranks.

She landed a Soaring Star after leading the team's scoring in winning the Premier Junior crown by defeating Waterford in 2009 and followed that up with an Intermediate Star after their win at that grade and completed the sweep of All-Star awards in 2013 by being awarded one at senior level.


Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE


BASKETBALL - Susan Moran

Sue Moran is widely regarded as the greatest Irish women’s basketball player ever. She helped Sacred Heart, Tullamore to two All-Ireland Schools Basketball titles (scoring 52 and 48 points) in those finals.

Moran joined the NCAA Division One programme at St Joseph’s in Philadelphia and led the team in scoring and rebounds for four consecutive years before being drafted by women's NBA side New York Liberty in 2001.

In her final year in college she was the fourth-top scorer in all of US College basketball - averaging over 22 points a game. After leaving New York, Moran also played in Spain, New Zealand and Australia late in her career and also represented Ireland from underage to senior level.

Sue is now the head-coach at St Joseph's and was inducted into their and the Irish Basketball Hall of Fame.


Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE




A talented dual player, who has represented the Faithful County in both camogie and ladies football, Mairead Daly was the key player in Offaly's 2013 All-Ireland Junior Championship win (their first since landing the senior in 1981).

The Cloghan native and St Rynagh's clubwoman, who was just 17, grabbed both goals in Offaly's win over Wexford at Croke Park which saw them complete the season as All-Ireland, Leinster and Division Four League champions.

Daly was also rewarded with the player of the year award after a remarkable breakthrough season and has maintained a high-standard for Offaly in the seven years which have followed. Currently recovering from a cruciate ligament injury, Daly is expected to rejoin the panel next season.





The first of two selections likely to cause Midlands' border disputes, 2012 double Paralympics champion Mark Rohan is from the Offaly side of Ballinahown - though he represented Westmeath club Castledaly and the Lake County's under-21s in gaelic football.

"Maybe if I'd have gone to school in Ferbane (rather than Athlone) I would have played for Offaly because my mother's parents were Offaly," Rohan told Paul Kimmage in 2014. "And my grandfather was staunch Offaly and all belonging to him were Offaly and it was all I ever heard growing up: 'Offaly! Offaly! Offaly!'

"But I was now a Westmeath player and he never forgave me. And the slagging used to drive me mad: 'Westmeath? What have they ever won? The only Westmeath men who've played in Croke Park are Foster and Allen!'

That aside, Rohan is worthy of consideration for either the Offaly or Westmeath sporting Mount Rushmores given his achievements at the London Games in 2012. 11-years on from a spinal injury in a motorcycle accident, he took gold medals in both the Men's road time trial H1 and in the Men's road race H1 events.


Seb Daly/Sportsfile

PARASWIMMING - Nicole Turner

From Garryhinch, near Portarlington, and a former member of the Laois Marlins swimming team, Turner is keen to stress that she represents both Offaly and Laois when swimming for Ireland.

The youngest member of the Irish team, the teenager carried the Irish flag at the closing ceremony at the Rio Paralympics, after narrowly missing out on a medal in the 50metres Butterfly S6 in finishing fifth.

The 18-year-old, who is targeting a medal at the Toyko Games, again showed her potential at the World Para Swimming European Championships in 2018 in taking silver in the 50-metres Butterfly event.


Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE


ATHLETICS - James Nolan

A two-time Olympian, James Nolan ran for Ireland at senior international level for 12 seasons. The Tullamore man, who is now a coach and team manager to the Irish Paralympic team, displayed his potential by winning a silver medal in the 800-metres at the European Youth Games in 1993 before going on to compete at the World Junior and World Indoor championships in the three years which followed.

Having been fourth at the European Indoors in '98, Nolan went on to take silver at both the European under-23s in '99 and 2000's European Indoors before taking part in his maiden Olympics in Sydney in 2000.

Nolan also ran in the 1500-metres semi-finals at the Athens Games in 2004 and retired after missing out on a place in Beijing in 2008.


Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE


ATHLETICS - Pauline Curley

At the age of 39, Tullamore Harriers' star Pauline Curley completed the marathon at the Beijing Olympics is what remains the highlight of her storied career. The Killeigh native was on holidays with her family when she got news of a last-minute change to the qualification process which saw her "B" time good enough to qualify for a place in China.

In 2015 she went on to become the oldest Irish winner of the Dublin Marathon and National champion at 46 years and 231 days and over 10 years after her first National Marathon crown.

Curley was also a member of the Irish team, which also included Sonia O’Sullivan and Catherina McKiernan, that took bronze in the 1997 European Cross Country Championships in Italy.



RUGBY - Peter Bracken

Leinster prop Peter Dooley (from Birr) was also in major consideration for this nomination but I've opted to go with former Champions Cup winning prop Peter Bracken.

Having started his professional career at Munster, Bracken was a tight-head prop for Connacht for five seasons before helping Wasps overcome Leicester in the 2007 European final. Bracken also represented Harlequins and Bristol late in his career.

"The scrum doctor" twice toured with Ireland (to Argentina and Canada) but was never handed a cap by then coach Eddie O'Sullivan. Now a highly respected scrum coach, he was part of the backroom team for Ireland women's World Cup campaign in 2014 and Ireland's Six Nations win in 2015.


Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE


RUGBY - Niamh Kavanagh

A close call between Niamh Kavanagh and former Ireland captain Jeanette Feighrey for this nomination, but Walsh Island's Kavanagh gets the nod for her part in Ireland's historic Grand Slam title win in 2013.

The UL Bohs' clubwoman, who was previously a Division Four League winner with Offaly's ladies footballers, burst onto the international scene in 2011, scoring tries in her first two Six Nations games against Italy and France. She cruelly missed out on playing at the 2014 women's Rugby World Cup after picking up an injury in Ireland's warm-up game against Wales.

Kavanagh also won multiple inter-pro titles with Munster and Munster Cup, All Ireland League and All Ireland Cups with UL Bohs at club level.


Harzand ridden by jockey Pat Smullen wins the Investec Derby during Derby Day of the 2016 Investec Epsom Derby Festival at Epsom Racecourse, Epsom.


RACING - Pat Smullen

A nine-time Irish flat jockey champion, the Rhode man spent his entire career as the preferred rider for Dermot Weld.

The undoubted highlight of his career was landing the 2016 renewal of the English Derby at Epsom aboard Harzand while he also enjoyed major victories on Rite of Passage in the 2010 Ascot Gold Cup and Fascinating Rock in 2015's Champion Stakes.

In Ireland, Smullen was a winner of the Derby, Oaks, St Ledger and the 1000 Guineas, and also has the Matron Stakes, Pretty Polly Stakes, and three Tatersalls Gold Cups on his CV.

Pancreatic cancer forced Pat to retire from the saddle last year and he's helped to raise over 2.5-million Euro for cancer trial research.



GREYHOUND RACING - Mick the Miller

Admittedly I've stretched the parameters slightly by including a greyhound in the long-list but there's justification for doing so. Killeigh's Mick the Miller became the first dog to ever win the English Greyhound Derby twice (in 1929 and '30), which was a feat that remain unmatched for over fifty years.

A victor in 19 consecutive races, he remains the only dog to have completed the treble of the English classics - the Derby, Cesarewitch and St Ledger.

Mick, who is immortalised by a bronze statue in his home village, also holds the distinction of breaking six world records during his career and was the first to ever run the 525 yards in under 30 seconds.


Seb Daly/Sportsfile


SHOW JUMPING - Darragh Kenny

Currently ranked inside the top ten in show-jumping's world rankings, Belmont's Darragh Kenny is an Irish medal prospect for next summer's Olympics in Tokyo.

The Florida-based rider was key part of Ireland's Aga Khan winning team at the RDS in 2015 and on an individual level is a multiple winner in five and four star events in recent years.

Now a veteran of the Irish team, he's also previously represented his country at the World Games, Junior European Championships and Young Rider European Championships.


Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile


BOXING - Grainne Walsh

Previously a Women's National League player with Shamrock Rovers, Tullamore's Grainne Walsh switched her focus to boxing after meeting Katie Taylor at the opening of the Spartacus Club in 2012.

The 24-year-old welterweight is a multiple Irish welterweight champion and took bronze at the EU Championships in 2017 before landing another medal at the European Games last year.

Locked with fellow national champion Grainne Desmond in a battle to qualify for Toyko, Walsh will be hoping to recover from a hand fracture to book her spot at the rescheduled Games in 2021.


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Brian Whelehan Darragh Kenny Grainne Walsh Johnny Dooley Mark Rohan Martin Furling Matt Connor Mick The Miller Offaly Paddy McCormack Pat Smullen Shane Lowry Susan Moran