The Greatest Irish XV Of The Professional Era
Since the dawn of the professional rugby era in 1995, Ireland has produced some of the greatest rugby players the world has ever seen.
The likes of Keith Wood, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell have all worn the famous green jersey over the years, but who makes the list of greatest players of the professional era?
When you look back over the years, it’s a lot more difficult than you think. In the last ten years or so the national team and provinces have enjoyed huge success, producing a who’s who of talent, making the selection process extremely difficult.
Regardless, we’ve decided to have a go anyway…
1. Jack McGrath
There’s no doubt in our minds if it wasn’t for his injury problems, Cian Healy would be right up here challenging McGrath, but his consistency over the last number of years gets him the nod. A solid scrummager, powerful on the ball and a tackling machine.
2. Keith Wood
Keith Wood single-handedly redefined the role of the hooker. One of the greatest players to have ever played the game, no other Irish player even comes close to taking his spot here.
3. John Hayes
The Bull perhaps overstayed his stint in an Irish jersey, due to a lack of tighthead’s in Ireland at the time, (nothing’s changed there!) but in his day was one of the very best. A monster of a man at 6ft 4in and 128kg and the first Irish player to reach 100 caps.
4. Donnacha O’Callaghan
94 caps and two Lions tours, O’Callaghan is still going strong at 37 in the Premiership for Worcester. Big, reliable and a menace in the lineout.
5. Paul O’Connell
An inspirational leader and a monster in the lineout. O’Connell is another player on this list that will go down as not just one of Ireland’s greatest ever players, one of the best the world has ever seen.
6. Peter O’Mahony
A tough call here between O’Mahony and Stephen Ferris. Had Ferris not been ravaged by injury throughout his career, he might have taken this spot but we have the give the Munster man the nod here. A future Irish captain, and current Munster captain, the Corkman has been a tireless leader for Ireland throughout the years. Currently recovering from a devastating knee injury, suffered in the Rugby World Cup, O’Mahony will no doubt soon be back to his very best this season.
7. David Wallace
On his day David Wallace was one of, if not the best seven in the world. His ability to read the game, freakish strength and blistering speed, made him a nightmare for any opposing ten. Gets the nod over Sean O’Brien.
8. Jamie Heaslip
One of Ireland’s most underrated players, Jamie Heaslip has been a constant in the Irish back-row for the last decade. The Leinster man is a tireless worker and a brilliant rugby brain, amassing 88 caps and touring in two successive Lions tours, starting 5 out of 6 tests.
9. Conor Murray
Another difficult call here between Murray and former Munster man in Peter Stringer. Stringer was nothing short of brilliant for Ireland during his 98 caps, but the 2013 Lions tourist gets the nod here from us.
10. Ronan O’Gara
One of the most argued questions in Irish sporting history, Sexton or O’Gara? For us, there’s one winner and that’s the Munster man. O’Gara is the all-time highest points scorer for Ireland and is the fourth highest points scorer in the history of International Rugby Union. Sexton still has time to overtake him, but for not it’s ROG that gets the nod.
11. Denis Hickie
The Leinster flier scored a sensational 29 tries in 62 appearances for Ireland and is without doubt one of the fastest players, trickiest players Ireland has ever produced. An absolute nightmare for defenders, Hickie gets the nod on the left wing.
12. Gordon D’Arcy
O’Driscoll’s partner in crime. A gifted player, with a real eye for the gainline, D’Arcy suffered like a lot of players on this list with reoccurring injuries, but when fit and in-form could mix it up at the highest level. Gets the nod over Kevin Maggs.
Don’t really need to explain ourselves here. One of the greatest players Ireland and the world has ever seen.
14. Tommy Bowe
The Ulsterman has been unlucky throughout his career, but when fit can mix it up with the world’s very best. A devastating finisher, with blistering pace and unrivalled power, Bowe gets the nod on the right wing any day of the week.
15. Rob Kearney
When Rob Kearney was a the peak of his powers in 2009, he was arguably the best fullback in the world. Injury blighted in the last few years, but dominated the Irish fullback jersey for so long, it’s difficult to take it away from him.