I’ll be honest. We probably wouldn’t be running this list if it wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day. But it is, so we are. The history of Irish athletes is far from fabled. Despite the large population of Irish-Americans, only reside 4 million people on the Emerald Isle, so don’t get your hopes up for a smorgasbord of talent. In fact, we will take you on a journey through time and obscure sports to get to 9. And we start off with John Daly, so set your expectations accordingly. Crack open some whiskey, start a fight, and let’s dip our toes in Ireland’s athletic legacy.
9. John Daly – Golf
You know you’re in for a hell of an assembly when you’ve got JD popping up on a list of the greatest athletes. Daly represents Ireland in a number of different ways. Sure, he’s got a PGA Championship under his belt, but he also embraces many of the things we associate with the Irish on St. Patrick’s day, like drinking and taking your shirt off. Can the UN make this guy an ambassador? Please?
8. John Treacy – Long-distance Runner
This guy lies on the opposite end of the spectrum from our dear, dear friend John Daly. Mr. Treacy runs marathons, having placed 2nd for the silver in the ’84 Olympics. Of course, there should be an asterisk by the name of anyone who medaled in the games before the Kenyans dominated, but still, he was the second fastest dude in the world. He parlayed that success into a quasi-political second career, serving on the board of the Irish sports council. If you challenge him to a race, you will lose.
7. Shaquille O’Neal – Basketball Player/Rapping Genie
Top o’ the mornin’ to ya, Mr. O’Neal. Of course, I am inclined to believe that he may have more African in him than green, but I’m sure we’d need to draw blood to be absolutely sure. Of course, seeing as how Shaq is the least Irish on this list, it’s of little surprise that he’s the most famous athlete. The Irish are famous for many things, and athletics does not top that list.
6. Damien Duff – Soccer
I’m going to just call this dude “Duffman” over the course of this entry. Duffman has played for three Premiere League teams: Chelsea, Newcastle United, and Fulham. Duffman has amassed 83 caps for the Irish national team and scored a goal against Saudi Arabia in the 2002 World Cup, which resulted in his being named Ireland’s MVP of the tournament. Duffman – OH YEAH!
5. Roy Keane – Soccer
Roy Keane has the distinction of being the only truly Irish athlete on this list that I had heard of before. Of course, since Ireland proper has less than 5 million residents, it’s not their fault that they don’t have a deep well from which to draw. In 1998-99, Keane captained Manchester United to the FA Cup, the Champions League, and Premiere League championships. He also repped the Irish well as he got kicked off of the national team for having chewed out coach Mick McCarthy (that MIGHT be an Irish name), saying, “You’re a f***ing wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. “ Hard not to like the guy. He’s like a grown up Tanner from The Bad News Bears.
4. Danica Patrick – Auto Racing
Sure, there are some athletes out there that are “more Irish.” Of that set, there may be a subset that are “more accomplished athletes.” However, I can give you an eighth pale white dude on this list (Shaq doesn’t count), or I can give you Danica in a state of semi-undress. For those unfamiliar with Patrick, she is the famous spokeswoman for GoDaddy.com. She also races cars or something, which sounds like a very nice hobby. Just kidding. She is active in both the Indy and NASCAR circuits. And her name is as Irish as anyone’s on this list. So there.
3. Ronnie Delaney – Track
If you’re not familiar with Mr. Delaney, you best bone up on your mid-century legends of track and field, Junior. Delaney ran the 1500 meters, and he ran it well. After Delaney’s gold medal at the Melbourne games in 1956, no other Irishman won the gold until Michael Carruth in Barcelona, 1992. That’s a tough stretch. But the Irish have grown accustomed to tough stretches.
2. Michael Carruth – Boxing
Where did you think this list was going to go after that previous entry? We take what successes we can get in the world of Irish athletics. As not above, Carruth took down the first Olympic gold in 36 years after beating Cuban boxer Juan Hernandez Sierra as a welterweight. He now works as a masseuse for an Irish soccer team. Those Irish. Real salt of the earth people. Except for Shaq. He’s a little aggressive about all the “Superman” nonsense.
1. George Best
While Ireland isn’t that well known for producing athletes, George Best is the exception. In fact, he is widely considered one of the best soccer players to ever play the game. Of course, he’s from Northern Ireland, which might not sit well with some. But he did drink himself to death, so that’s got to count for something.