Top Irish sports stars

Ireland has had countless sporting heroes throughout the ages. World boxing champions, Olympic gold medalists, Champions League winners, Grand Slam leaders and golfing major victors.

Despite its relatively small population, Ireland has always been able to compete with the world’s best, and sometimes even bring home the silverware.Irish sports stars. Image copyright Ireland Calling. Photo copyright Brian O'Driscoll - Mrgoggins90, Sonia O'Sullivan - Geher, Roy Keane - Paul Fry, Padraig Harrington - Steven Newton , Vincent O'Brien - Getty images.

Take a look at the list below of the achievements of some of our favourite sporting sons and daughters.

Pádraig Harrington

Pádraig Harrington. Photo copyright  Steven Newton CC2PGA golfer who has won back to back Open titles in 2008 and 2009. He also won the PGA Championship in 2008 and has represented Europe in the Ryder Cup on several occasions, winning the competition four times.

Harrington lifted the World Cup of Golf in 1997, winning the team event with his partner Paul McGinley. The Dublin born star is also the only player to have been partnered with Tiger Woods in a tournament on more than five occasions, and have a better aggregate score.

Brian O’Driscoll

Brian O'DriscollCaptain of the Ireland rugby side from 2003 until 2012, as well as captaining the British and Irish Lions for their 2005 tour of New Zealand.

O’Driscoll is Ireland’s all-time leading try scorer and won the IRB World Player of the Year in 2001, 2002 and 2009 and the Dubliner of the Year award in 2008. He captained Ireland to their Grand Slam (where one team not only wins the league, but also wins every game they play) victory in the Six Nations rugby tournament in 2009 and was voted World Rugby Player of the Decade (2000–2009) by the magazine Rugby World.

Joey Dunlop

Joey DunlopWorld champion motorcyclist from Ballymoney, Northern Ireland. He won the Ulster Grand Prix 24 times and voted the fifth greatest motorcycling icon ever by Motorcycle News.

He won the TT Formula One world title five years in a row from 1982 to 1986. He was awarded an MBE for his contribution to sport and an OBE for his charity work with orphans. Dunlop was tragically killed in 2000 after a crash during a race in Estonia.

George Best

George BestUndoubtedly the most talented football (soccer) player to come from Ireland. Best won the European Cup with Manchester United in 1968 and scored 137 goals in total for the club. The scout who first spotted Best as a teenager in Belfast immediately phoned his manager, Matt Busby and told him: “I think I’ve found you a genius!”

Best became the first celebrity footballer and dated a string of glamorous women including several Miss Worlds. He was known as the ‘fifth Beatle’ by the British media, but his playboy lifestyle finally caught up with him in 2005 when he died from alcohol related illness.

Roy Keane

Celtic Tree Pendants

Roy KeaneThe captain of the Irish national football (soccer) team during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Cork born Keane was an intimidating midfielder whose ferocious reputation struck fear into his opponents. He captained Manchester United during the most successful period in their history, winning seven Premier League titles and four FA Cups.

Many Irish people fell out with Keane in 2002, when he walked out on the national team just days before the World Cup after falling out with the manager Mick McCarthy about the preparation of the team. Keane later became the national side’s assistant manager in 2013.

Sean Kelly

Sean KellyHugely successful road cyclist during the 1980s. Kelly held the world number one position for six years and won 193 races throughout his career.

He also won an impressive 14 stages of the world renowned bike race, the Tour de France. Kelly was born in Tipperary and worked as a farm hand and a bricklayer before becoming one of the most famous sportspeople ever to come from Ireland.

Sonia O’Sullivan

Sonia O'Sullivan. Photo copyright Geher CC2Olympic silver medalist in the 5000m at the 2000 games in Sydney. O’Sullivan showed a flair for athletics as a youngster in Cork, and went on to become one of the elite athletes in women’s middle distance running in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

She won gold medals at the World Athletics Championships in the 5000m in 1995 and the European Championships in the 3000m in 1994. She also achieved double gold at the European Championships in 1998 in Budapest, winning the 10,000m and 5,000m races.

Christy Ring

Christy RingWinner of eight All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championships, nine Munster Senior Hurling Championships and three times winner of the National Hurling League.

Ring played for his home town club, Cork throughout the 1940s and 50s and is regarded as one of the greatest hurling players of all time. A bridge over the River Lee in Cork is named after him, and there is a life-size statue of him at Cork airport.

Vincent O’Brien

Vincent O'Brien. Photo from BBCArguably the best horse trainer in history from anywhere in the world. O’Brien began training steeplechasers and hurdlers in the 1940s and his horse Cottage Rake won the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup three years in a row. Another of O’Brien’s horses won the Champions Hurdle three years running.

He also won the Grand National in three consecutive years, and with a different horse each time. O’Brien then switched to flat racing and became the most successful trainer in British and Irish horse racing history. In 2003 a poll in the Racing Post newspaper voted him the greatest influence in horse racing history.

Paul McGrath

Paul McGrathFootball legend in the 1980s and 90s. McGrath played in every game of Ireland’s successful World Cup campaigns in 1990 and 1994, including the famous 1-0 wins over England and Italy, where McGrath bravely blocked a shot from Roberto Baggio with his face.

He played for Manchester United and Aston Villa and won both the FA Cup and League Cup in his career. McGrath was also named PFA Player of the Year in 1993.

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