Winning an All-Ireland senior football championship medal is seen as the pinnacle of one’s Gaelic football career.
Year in, year out, players strive to get the best out of their careers living in the hope that one day they will be lucky enough to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand.
However, for every Colm Cooper, there is a Ciaran McDonald out there. Men who tried and tried and tried, dined at Gaelic football’s top table, but for some reason or another never quite got over the line.
With that in mind, we’ve picked out four of the all-time great footballers dating back to 1990 who were desperately unlucky not to win an All-Ireland medal.
One of the most iconic footballers in Cork’s history. Colin Corkery was known for being a deadly accurate full-forward who could kick off both feet and turn on a sixpence despite possessing a larger frame than most inter-county footballers.
A prodigious talent, Corkery played three years at minor in the late eighties and was expected to transition seamlessly onto a Cork senior setup who were consistently contesting All-Ireland finals. However, Corkery opted to head for Oz in 1990 to try his hand at Aussie Rules with Carlton. Unfortunately, for him, Cork would go on to win a second successive senior All-Ireland that year after finally defeating Meath in a final.
Corkery would return to Ireland and make his Cork debut in 1993 where he scored 2-5 against Clare. However, despite picking up an All-Star award in his maiden season, Cork fell short in the All-Ireland final against Derry.
Corkery will forever be remembered as one of the most gifted forwards ever, a renaissance man who returned from a heart condition to captain the Rebel county to provincial glory in 2003 and while he never lifted the big prize with Cork, Corkery did manage to pick up two All-Ireland club titles with his beloved Nemo Rangers.
A classic cult-hero.
One of the finest midfielders of the century, Ciaran Whelan had the ability to dominate midfield and drive at the heart of the opposition’s defence like an enterprise train at full-pelt, just take a look at his goal against Armagh in the 2002 All-Ireland semi-final.
The Raheny man stood out from the rest due to his often nasty snarl coupled with his trademark goalkeeping gloves. The Dublin great has proven to be a fantastic analyst having been one of RTE’s main pundits for over a decade now.
Probably the unluckiest man in Ireland in that Whelan joined the Dublin panel in 1996, a year after winning the All-Ireland, before retiring in 2010, a year prior to winning it back.
In between then, the Raheny man had to contend with years of heartbreak in the sky blue jersey. However, don’t mistake his lack of All-Ireland medal for a lack of talent as Whelan was one of the finest midfielders of a generation.
It is fair to say that injuries robbed us of seeing just how great Michael Meehan could have been. Hailing from a footballing dynasty in Caltra, both of Meehan’s elder brothers Declan and Tomas starred for Galway en route to All-Ireland title victories in 1998 and 2001 while six brothers, including Michael, were involved during Caltra’s only All-Ireland club success in 2004.
However, while their family possessed plenty of footballing talent, Michael Meehan was seen as a phenom to many during the early part of his career, winning All-Ireland U21 medals three years apart in 2002 and 2005 where he scored 0-9 in the semi-final followed by 3-2 in the final against Down. Unfortunately, his inter-county career, in many ways, coincided with a low period for Galway football. In the 2002 final, he scored 0-5 against Dublin while still a minor.
Having just missed the 2001 All-Ireland success, Meehan was drafted into the team in 2003 before retiring in 2018. He battled a persistent ankle injury that derailed quite possibly the prime years of his career. Despite this though, he was still able to put in some memorable performances like the 2008 All-Ireland quarter-final where he hit 0-10 against Kerry in Croke Park amidst one of the biggest storms the Jones Road venue has ever seen.
One of the most naturally gifted forwards the game has ever seen, Meehan will go down as one of Galway’s greatest ever forwards.
One of the toughest players to play the game, Kevin Cassidy is still producing the goods, winning Ulster club footballer of the year in 2019 following his performances at full-forward for Gaoth Dobhair en route to a maiden Ulster title. In his prime though, Cassidy was one of the greatest wing-backs of the modern era.
A Donegal debutant in 2002, Cassidy proved influential as the Tir Chonaill men reached an Ulster final before taking Dublin to a replay in the All-Ireland semi-final and the youngster’s performances were rewarded with an All-Star award following his first full season.
Despite some discipline issues that forced him out of the team in 2006, Cassidy returned in 2007 to lead the side to a National Football League title, the county’s first success since 1992. The following year he was named Donegal captain proving just how much of a leader he was.
Cassidy announced his intention to retire in 2010, however, the appointment of Jim McGuinness saw him stay on for another season. It proved to be a defining season in his career as Cassidy claimed a much-deserved maiden Ulster championship medal before kicking one of the most famous points in Donegal’s history to send them into the All-Ireland semi-final.
Unfortunately, a dispute with McGuinness following his involvement in the book; This Is Our Year, saw Cassidy exiled from the team that eventually went on to win the All-Ireland title, a cruel twist on a player so great. However, despite never winning the big prize, Cassidy will still go down as an all-time great.