With All-Ireland club final day almost upon us, we take a look at the sides who have lit up the competition over the last few years.
1: Birr (Offaly)
Honours: All-Ireland: 1995, 1998, 2002, 2003
Provincial: 1994, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2007
County: 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
Given the dire state they are in now, it is often forgotten that throughout the 90’s Offaly was one of, if not the, strongest hurling county in Ireland, and Birr was the backbone of that success. From 1995 to 2003, they won 4 All-Irelands and just about everything else going. They not only had team of the millenium’s Brian Whelehan, but his brothers Simon and Barry, the Pilkington, Hannify’s, Daithi Regan, Joe Errity, and a host of other inter-county level stars. As near a complete hurling side as possible, if only the county had something similar now.
2. Portumna (Galway)
Honours: All-Ireland 2006, 2008, 2009, 2014
Provincial; 2003, 2005, 2007
County:2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2013
Rule number one of having one of the best club sides of the last 25 years: have one of the best hurlers of the last 25 years (Joe Canning) in the team. Add in his equally brilliant brother Ollie in the backline, speed merchant Damian Hayes and his similarly effective, if slightly less mobile brother Kevin, as well as the combative Andy Smith and you have one hell of an unit. Throughout the 00’s and this decade they have always been hovering around All-Ireland glory and they may not be done yet.
3. Ballyhale Shamrocks (Kilkenny)
Honours: All-Ireland 2007, 2010, 2015
Provincial: 2006, 2008, 2009, 2014
County: 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014
Rule number one of having one of the best club sides of the last 25 years part 2: have THE best hurler of the last 25 years (Henry Shefflin) in the team. It’s a testament to the obscene quality of the side however, that Shefflin didn’t even particularly stand out. That’s what happens when you have the likes of TJ Reid, Michael Fennelly, Cha Fitzpatrick, Colin Fennelly et al vying for attention alongside you. What makes Shamrocks’ story so amazing is that they were a small country club that produced 2 golden generations: having one obscenely talented group of players in the 70’s and 80’s (backboned by the Fennelly’s) and another 25 or so years later with the sons/relatives of the original. If there is one regret of the team it’s that, given their outrageous talent, they should possibly be at number 1 on this list. Circumstances conspired against them at times, but they were an exceptional team regardless.
4. Athenry (Galway)
Honours: All-Ireland 1997, 2000, 2001
Provincial 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004
County: 1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004
We’re going back a bit here, but this is a team that should not be easily forgotten. The brilliant young Eugene Cloonan was the star of the show here, ably assisted by the giant Joe Rabbitte at centre forward. In defence Brian Feeney was a rock alongside young whippersnapper Brian Higgins. Cloonan tormented no less a player than Brian Lohan in his first All-Ireland victory and they followed it up with another against Doora Barefield three years later. 2001 was a diferent story, as a fantastic Graigue Ballycallan side contrived to lose an All-Ireland in injury time. What that should not obscure though is the quality of opposition they were up against.
5. Sarsfields (Galway)
Honours: All-Ireland 1993, 1994
Provincial 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997
County:1992, 1993, 1995, 1997, 2015
Talk about delving into the midsts of time, this was a side that featured 2 members of the last Galway senior team to win an All-Ireland. It certainly helps when you have the likes of Joe Cooney and Michael “Hopper” Mcgrath in your team, but there was also the not inconsiderable presence of 1993 All-Ireland man of the match Padraig Kelly as well as Joe McGrath and others.
1: Crossmaglen Rangers (Armagh)
Honours: All-Ireland 1997, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2011, 2012
Provincial 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015
County 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014,] 2015
One of the all-time great GAA stories. So much so in fact, that the BBC, of all people, made a documentary about it. No club suffered more in the troubles in Northern Ireland than this one, and yet no-one has achieved as much in the intervening period. Whether the name be Kernan, McConville, McEntee, or whoever else what will stand the test of time is one of the greatest club sides ever.
2. Nemo Rangers (Cork)
Honours: All-Ireland 1994, 2003
Provincial: 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2010
County: 1993, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2015
One of the great survivors of club sides, they won 5 All-Ireland titles in the first 20 years of the competition. While they have been exceptionally consistent over the past 25 years, they may consider the return of 2 All-Irelands from 7 provincial wins a somewhat paltry return. Their biggest star in recent years would have to be the Matt Le Tissier esque Colin Corkery who, despite the fact he hardly ever seemed to move was able to conjure up physics defying scores regardless.
3. St Vincents (Dublin)
Honours: All-Ireland 2008, 2014
Provincial: 2016, 2013, 2014, 2007
County: 2007, 2013, 2014 2016
Four provincial championships and 2 All-Irelands in the past 8 years, they will be kicking themselves that they’re not going for a third in a few weeks time. Certainly when you have the likes of Diarmuid Connolly in your ranks you can be guaranteed to be towards the latter stages of any competition but the strength of the side lay not just with Connolly, but the all-round depth of the squad from Ger Brennan in defence, to Eamonn Fennell in midfield and Tomas Quinn up front.
4. Corofin (Galway)
Honours: All-Ireland 1998, 2015
Provincial: 1991, 1995, 1997, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2016
County: 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 20132014, 2015, 2016
Remarkably consistent in winning 14 county championships over a period of 23 years their 2 All-Ireland victories were won in completely different eras, with the first powered by the likes of Ray Silke and Martin McNamara, who went on to capture Galway’s first inter-county success in 32 years that summer. The second, inspired by Gary Sice, was a comfortable victory over this year’s hopeful Slaughtneil.
5. Kilmacud Crokes (Dublin)
Honours: All-Ireland 1995, 2009
Provincial: 1994, 2005, 2008, 2010
County: 1992, 1994, 1998, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2010
Like Corofin this was a side that spanned different eras. Their first All-Ireland was masterminded by future Offaly and Dublin supremo Tommy Lyons back in 1995. Their second was won many moons later in 2009 with a superstar line up containing the likes of the O’Carroll Brothers, Mark Vaughan and Johnny and Darren McGee. One of the Dublin superclubs with numerous outsiders the only stain on their success is the belief that given their assortment of riches they could have won more. Perhaps in future years they will add to their tally.