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Sean McGoldrick: The best players outside the ‘big 3’ still waiting to lift Sam Maguire

Dubln, Kerry, Tyrone and Donegal boast 90 active All-Ireland champions

Shane Walsh and Lee Keegan are both still waiting to lift Sam© SPORTSFILE

Tadhg Morley of Kerry celebrates with the Sam Maguire trophy this year© SPORTSFILE

Keith Beirne of Leitrim against Sligo last year© SPORTSFILE

Peadar Mogan of Donegal against Derry at St Tiernach's Park in Clones, Monaghan earlier this year© SPORTSFILE

Galway's Liam Silke against Derry at Croke Park last July© SPORTSFILE

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

For the first time in a decade there have been three different winners of the Sam Maguire Cup in consecutive seasons.

Kerry, the current champions, were preceded by Tyrone, while Dublin completed the six-in-a-row in 2020.

Not since Cork, Dublin and Donegal were crowned Champions in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively has this happened.

The fluidity of the All-Ireland series in that era is underlined by the fact that they were five different winners in as many seasons with Tyrone and Kerry winning in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

All wannabe Sam Maguire contenders will be hoping history repeats itself and there will be two different winners again in 2023 and 2024.

The success of Dublin, Tyrone and Kerry means they are approximately 90 active inter-county footballers who have achieved the ultimate goal and secured a Celtic Cross.

But outside this magic circle the story is bleak.

Tadhg Morley of Kerry celebrates with the Sam Maguire trophy this year© SPORTSFILE

The recent retirement of Donegal’s long-serving enforcer Neil McGee means that Michael Murphy, who captained the team to their 2012 All-Ireland victory and Paddy McBrearty are the only current inter-county players outside Dublin, Tyrone and Kerry who have won an All-Ireland senior medal on the field of play.

Cork dual player Eoin Cadogan, currently starring on the RTE Ultimate Hell Week The Professionals programme, was the last of the 2010 All-Ireland winning side to announce his retirement last November. However, he had focussed on hurling after 2014.

In this special feature we select the best 45 current inter-county players still striving for that golden moment in their careers and we name the best team.

Goalkeeper: Rory Beggan (Monaghan), Raymond Galligan (Cavan), Ethan Rafferty (Armagh) Beggan and Galligan have both won All Stars while Rafferty will be battling Kerry’s Shane Ryan for the number one berth on this year’s team. Galligan is arguably the most conventional of the trio and his long distance free-taking is exemplary. Though he wasn’t at his best this season the nod goes to Beggan for his overall body of work.

2: Chrissy McKaigue (Derry), Donal Keoghan (Meath), Oisín Mullin (Mayo) On current form, McKaigue is the obvious choice. As Derry captain he led by example in 2022, holding Darren McCurry, Jack McCarron, Paddy McBrearty, Keelan Sexton and Rob Finnerty to a combined total of 0-3 from play in this year’s Championship. Keoghan has been Meath’s best player for a decade while new Mayo boss Kevin McStay will build his defence around Mullin, who was named as Young Footballer of the Year in 2020 and 2021.

3: Brendan Rogers (Derry), Sean Kelly (Galway), Kevin Maguire (Westmeath) Rogers was outstanding in the Ulster series, particularly against Michael Murphy, though he proved no match for Damien Comer in the semi-final. Kelly did well as an emergency full-back while Maguire played a captain’s role for Westmeath in their historic Tailteann Cup success.

Galway's Liam Silke against Derry at Croke Park last July© SPORTSFILE

4: Liam Silke (Galway), Conor McCluskey (Derry), Sean Powter (Cork) All three have excellent credentials, though McCluskey was a revelation, particularly against Shane Walsh in the All-Ireland semi-final while Powter single handedly defied Kerry for long spells. But for his performances against Shane McGuigan and Sean O’Shea, Silke gets the nod.

5: Lee Keegan (Mayo), Jack Glynn (Galway), Ronan Wallace (Westmeath) No real competition here. Keegan is arguably one of the greatest players never to have won an All-Ireland medal. After a couple of fallow seasons he was back to his brilliant best this summer. Glynn had an outstanding summer as had Wallace, albeit in the Tailteann Cup.

6: John Daly (Galway), Garth McKinless (Derry), Iain Corbett (Limerick) Daly is the archetypical traditional centre-back; he was a revelation this year with his assists for key scores in Croke Park a vital tool for Galway. McKinless’ decision to link up with the Derry squad, having initially turned down the invitation, played a pivotal role in their rise under Rory Gallagher. Corbett has been a stellar performer for Limerick who made historic progress under Billy Lee.

7: Paddy Durcan (Mayo), Eoghan Bán Gallagher (Donegal), Jarly Óg Burns (Armagh) Though he hasn’t attained the same cult status as Lee Keegan, Durcan has been one of Mayo’s most consistent performers at the highest level. Gallagher and Burns are both fleet-footed wing backs who love to bomb forward.

8: Cillian McDaid (Galway), Gearóid McKiernan (Cavan), Conor Glass (Derry) McDaid’s decision to return to his native county after a brief sojourn in the AFL was a key factor in their drive to the final. His performance in extra-time against Armagh when he scored 1-2 and his four points from play against Kerry were headline-grabbing. Though McKiernan and in particular Glass also had their moments they did not reach McDaid’s levels.

9: Matthew Ruane (Mayo), Paul Conroy (Galway), Ian Maguire (Cork) Ruane had an indifferent 2022 by his own standards but class is permanent and so the former All Star just gets the nod over Galway veteran Paul Conroy. Maguire has been Cork’s most consistent footballer during a turbulent spell for the Rebels.

Peadar Mogan of Donegal against Derry at St Tiernach's Park in Clones, Monaghan earlier this year© SPORTSFILE

10: Stefan Campbell (Armagh), Peadar Mogan (Donegal), Diarmuid O’Connor (Mayo) Surprisingly Campbell didn’t start Armagh’s first game in the Ulster Championship but returned to play a pivotal role in their drive to the last eight. A versatile performer, Mogan can perform at either wing back and wing forward and as the most influential player in the first half of the Ulster final. O’Connor’s season was disrupted by injury but at his best he is an influential figure.

11: Rian O’Neill (Armagh), Daniel Flynn (Kildare), Ronan O’Toole (Westmeath) O’Neill’s versatility means he can perform in several pivotal positions. Outstanding at the start of the season, he returned to form in the qualifiers and was unstoppable against Donegal. Flynn has the potential to cause havoc in any defence while O’Toole played a pivotal role in Westmeath’s Tailteann Cup final win over Cavan.

12: Ethan Doherty (Derry), Rory Grugan (Armagh), Eoin Cleary (Clare) One of the unsung heroes of Derry’s historic Ulster Championship win, Doherty is a modern day wing forward who spent a lot of time back in defence playing a key role in the team’s link play. Both Grugan and Cleary had stellar seasons as well as evident by their All Star nominations.

13: Cillian O’Connor (Mayo), Jack McCarron (Monaghan), Jimmy Hyland (Kildare) O’Connor is the top scorer of all time in Championship football, yet one wonders are the multiple injuries he has endured beginning to bite. Had a nightmare quarter-final against Kerry but on form remains a proven score-getter. McCarron, in the League, and Hyland both had their moments but are are not as prolific as the Ballintubber native.

14: Damien Comer (Galway), Shane McGuigan (Derry), John Heslin (Westmeath) Comer cut a frustrated figure in the All-Ireland final as Galway decided not to use the direct route due to the presence of sweeper Tadgh Morley. But he wreaked havoc on the Derry defence in the semi-final. McGuigan was outstanding in the Ulster series while Heslin’s excellence has been evident for years.

Keith Beirne of Leitrim against Sligo last year© SPORTSFILE

15: Shane Walsh (Galway), Ryan O’Donoghue (Mayo), Keith Beirne (Leitrim) Walsh is now a shoo-in having replaced David Clifford as the highest profile Gaelic footballer without an All-Ireland medal. Subdued in the quarter and semi-final, he singlehandedly kept his side in the hunt. O’Donoghue was badly missed by Mayo this season and if Beirne was playing for a higher profile county he would be earning rave reviews.


Liam Silke (Galway)

Paddy Durcan (Mayo)

Ethan Doherty (Derry)

Shane Walsh (Galway)

Brendan Rogers (Derry)

John Daly (Galway)

Matthew Ruane (Mayo)

Cillian McDaid (Galway)

Rian O’Neill (Armagh)

Damien Comer (Galway)

Rory Beggan (Monaghan)

Chrissy McKaigue (Derry)

Lee Keegan (Mayo)

Stefan Campbell (Armagh)

Cillian O’Connor (Mayo)

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