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They Say Sport & Politics Should Never Mix But They Go Hand In Hand

The old saying goes that sport and politics should never mix but quite frankly the two go hand in hand and always have done. 

Ireland has a long history of its athletes turning their hand to politics and it’s something that continues to this day.

The top story in sports stemming from the 2020 General Election was most definitely the elimination of sitting Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross. However, what may have gone slightly under the radar was the election of former Mayo footballer Alan Dillon the 33rd Dail Eireann.

With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a look at some other Irish athletes who stepped into the world of politics following retirement.


Paddy Holohan


The former UFC flyweight was forced into retirement a little over three years ago following the realisation of a rare blood disorder.

A local hero in Jobstown, Holohan had spoken of the area and it’s people in glowing terms through the years, so it came as no surprise when he was announced as a Sinn Fein candidate in the 2019 council elections. It was even less of a surprise to see him top the polls in the Tallaght South constituency.

Despite being in politics for less than a year, Holohan has already found himself in hot water following controversial comments made on his podcast ‘No Shame’. The former UFC fighter has since been suspended by the party.


Peter Ryan


peter ryan cycling

Athlete, Paralympian, role-model, Tipperary’s person of the year and now elected councillor. Peter Ryan’s story is truly an inspirational one. If you don’t know it by now you can read it here.

The Fine Gael representative was elected to Tipperary council on the fifth attempt in 2019 and is now trying to combine his plans for Tokyo 2020 qualification with the everyday tasks that come with being in public office.

Speaking to Pundit Arena in December 2018, Ryan talked about having more to offer and wanting to help people. This could be the perfect career move for him.

“I know I have more to offer now, there is a genuine drive to do good things while I am on this earth,” Ryan told Pundit Arena.

“If I grow at the talking I can go into different avenues, not full time but I want to keep it going because there’s a need for it in society.

“I want to help people. My favourite thing about talking is the one-on-one connections, how someone can relate to my struggles. I guarantee you I won’t be doing something that doesn’t make sense to me. I want to be driving for things.

“I’m in the space now where I have to kick on and my story is one of my strongest tools.”


Kenneth Egan


The 2008 Olympic silver medalist was re-elected to the South Dublin County Council following his successful debut run in 2014. The Fine Gael man will act as a representative for his local area of Clondalkin.

The former boxer’s mantra is to ‘Keep it Real’:

“I want to make a difference in my local community. My motto is and always has been to ‘Keep it Real’ and I intend to follow this on my political journey. Through my voluntary work with sports groups, I see the issues that young people face and I am concerned about their future. My main goal is to be a voice for the people of our community.”


Ivan Canning


Not as high-profile as his famous brothers, Joe and Ollie, but Ivan Canning was also elected to the Galway County Council following a successful campaign out west.

The Canning family is obviously a hurling dynasty. Not only are they one of the country’s premium hurley makers but Joe is widely regarded as one of the greatest to ever play the game whilst Ollie was an All-Star in his day.

While Ivan Canning never reached the height of his brothers on the inter-county field he is still the holder of six Galway Championships and four All-Ireland medals as a goalkeeper with his club, Portumna which qualifies him for our list.


Jack Lynch


Probably the most famous Irish athlete to crossover into politics. Lynch is widely regarded as one of GAA’s greatest ever dual stars. He won eight Munster titles (six hurling, two football) and six All-Ireland’s (five hurling, six football) with Cork.

After retiring, Lynch entered politics and left a lasting legacy across the country serving as a TD for Cork from 1948 until his retirement in 1981. Throughout that span he served as Minister for Finance and Education as well as being the leader of Fianna Fáil from 1966 until 1979, serving two-terms as Taoiseach between 1966-1973 and 1976-1979.


Jimmy Deenihan


Deenihan spent nine years with the Kerry footballers and it proved to be a very fruitful period winning five All-Ireland titles and seven Munster crowns captaining the Kingdom as they completed the four-in-a-row in 1981.

Two years after lifting the Sam Maguire as captain, Deenihan was elected to the Seanad before later being elected to the Dáil as a Fine Gael TD at the 1987 general election.


Trevor Ringland


Former Ulster player, Trevor Ringland, made 31 appearances for the Irish national side, scoring an impressive nine tries in that span. He represented Ireland at the maiden Rugby World Cup in 1987 and toured with the British and Irish Lions in 1983.

A qualified solicitor, Ringland was Vice-Chairman of the Ulster Unionist Party’s East Belfast branch and was later nominated as the UUP and Conservative Party’s joint candidate for the 2010 UK General Election.

Ringland has done more than most politicians in the north to try and bring the two communities together and was embroiled in controversy in 2010 when he publicly asked newly elected UUP leader, Tom Elliott, if he would attend an All-Ireland final in Dublin if an Ulster team was playing, Elliott refused and Ringland later resigned from the party.


Justin McNulty


Full-back on the Armagh side that claimed their only ever All-Ireland title back in 2002 as well as winning five Ulster Championships with the Orchard County.

McNulty has also delved into inter-county management. he was appointed as an Armagh selector under Paddy O’Rourke in 2009 before taking over as Laois boss in 2010 and guiding the O’Moore County to promotion to Division 1.

McNulty was elected as an MLA for the  Social Democratic Labour Party in his local constituency of Newry and Armagh in 2015. The All-Ireland winner was recently at the forefront trying to secure funding for Northern Ireland’s Curriculum Sports Programme which was in jeopardy due to the ongoing political impasse.


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