Everyone dreams of climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand and lifting the Sam Maguire but not everyone can claim to have done it.
However, winning alone should not be the standard by which somebody’s career is held by. Many have left an undeniable legacy on Gaelic games despite never winning an All-Ireland.
In light of that, here is our 21st century XV to retire without an All-Ireland medal.
1 – Fergal Byron (Laois)
One of a select few goalkeepers in the last 20 years to pick up an All-Star award despite not winning an All-Ireland. Laois reached three Leinster finals in a row during the noughties with Byron a standout figure in a physically dominant team who possibly should have achieved more in the game.
Big Gary Connaughton runs him close here but he made it into our hardman XV so we’re opting for Byron this time around.
2 – Andy Mallon (Armagh)
As reliable as corner-backs come, Andy Mallon was as good a man-marker as anybody throughout the 2000s. Unlucky to have made his debut as a 19-year-old in 2003, the year after Armagh’s All-Ireland win, Mallon was pipped to the Young Footballer of the Year award by Sean Cavanagh. He won an All-Star in 2005 but probably should have won more.
Was pivotal to Armagh’s All-Ireland U21 title in 2004, their only success at this age-grade.
3 – Paddy Christie (Dublin)
Described by many as the heartbeat of Dublin football throughout the county’s leanest ever period. Christie was a tough and uncompromising full-back who played the game to the letter of the law. Respected by all who come across him, Christie’s work with transforming Ballymun Kickhams as well as their neighbouring college DCU has gone down in modern-day GAA folklore.
4 – Sean Marty Lockhart (Derry)
One of the finest defenders Gaelic football has ever seen. The majority of forwards from the last 20 years will freely admit they didn’t get much from Sean Marty Lockhart, particularly the Ulster marksmen whom he built a reputation of keeping quiet. Lockhart also holds the distinction of being the most capped Irish International Rules player ever, no mean feat whatsoever. A must-have on this team.
5 – Aaron Kernan (Armagh)
Aaron Kernan could defend and attack in equal measure. In many ways, a transcendent wing-back who embodied a lot of the modern-day features required to make it as an inter-county half-back. Kernan was named Young Footballer of the Year in 2005 and should have received an All-Star for his troubles. Unfortunate to join the Armagh panel during the latter half of his father’s successful run with the county.
6 – Glenn Ryan (Kildare)
You always need an inspirational figure at centre-back and not many come as inspirational as Glenn Ryan. Held in the highest regard in his native Kildare, Ryan is, without doubt, one of the best to never climb the steps of the Hogan Stand.
7 – Kevin Cassidy (Donegal)
The biggest travesty in modern GAA history is the fallout that led to Kevin Cassidy’s dismissal from the Donegal panel prior to the 2012 season. Cassidy was pivotal throughout the noughties and was still shining as late as 2011 when his last-gasp winner against Kildare sent Donegal into the final four. Would certainly have started at wing-back in 2012 in a perfect world. One of the biggest injustices.
8 – Ciaran Whelan (Dublin)
If Kevin Cassidy’s lack of All-Ireland was the biggest injustice then Ciaran Whelan’s must be the unluckiest.
Whelan linked up with the Dublin senior panel in 1996 when an ageing team, coming off the back of a long-overdue All-Ireland win, had to contend with a messy managerial change. This led to one of the bleakest periods in the county’s history, Whelan, however, was one of the top midfielders in Ireland throughout it all and was unfortunate to retire in 2010 before the good times returned once more.
9 – Dermot Earley (Kildare)
Like his father before him, Dermot Earley is widely recognised as one of the greatest midfielders of a generation to finish without an All-Ireland title. A supreme athlete who could dominate games, Earley is an easy selection in this team. He won two All-Stars, eleven years apart, in 1998 and 2009. A major achievement.
10 – Johnny Doyle (Kildare)
Johnny Doyle won an All-Star in 2010 and twice finished as the championship’s top scorer in 2008 and 2010. A devastating full-forward who was just as dominant out the field where he could dictate the tempo of the game at a canter. Doyle was also deceptively brilliant in the air. Another shoo-in on this team.
Doyle is also fourth on the all-time championship-leading scorers charts.
11 – Ciaran McDonald (Mayo)
You can’t compile one of these teams without Ciaran McDonald. A dominant force throughout his career. He was virtually untouchable on the field between 2004 and 2006.
12 – Benny Coulter (Down)
A walk-on in this team for many of the same reasons as Doyle.
Benny Coulter is the greatest forward to come out of Down since they won their last All-Ireland in 1994. A dominant underage prospect, Coulter made a name at senior level in the full-forward line, however, in the latter end of his career, he proved that he could play further out the field and as good a fetcher as there was on the inter-county scene.
13 – Paddy Bradley (Derry)
One of the highest scorers in championship history, Paddy Bradley was as deadly a forward and as accurate a finisher as we’ve seen over the past 20 seasons. With a mesmerising left foot that continually wowed spectators, Bradley could both score and assist and was a star of Ulster football throughout the 2000s.
His county teammate Enda Muldoon is desperately unlucky not to have made it alongside him.
While we're all missing #AllianzLeagues action; GAANOW Rewind remembers the 2000 Allianz Football League Final! 20 years ago the inspirational Anthony Tohill scored a brilliant goal & captained @Doiregaa to overcome @MeathGAA in a replay to be crowned Champions! pic.twitter.com/AX9kImvZKh
— The GAA (@officialgaa) April 2, 2020
14 – Andy Moran (Mayo)
Our most recent retiree, Andy Moran left an undeniable legacy on Gaelic football. From his super-sub appearance in the 2006 All-Ireland semi-final to his 2017 Footballer of the Year season, aged 35, Moran is without a doubt one of the best forwards the game has seen in recent history.
15 – Mattie Forde (Wexford)
At times, it seemed as though Mattie Forde could score from anywhere. The championship’s top scorer in 2004, he was also pivotal in Wexford’s run to the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final tearing Armagh apart in the final 10 minutes of their quarter-final meeting. Recognised throughout Ireland as one of the great forwards of the modern era.