portal_normal EE STRUCTURE orgcat: /PUBLICATIONS/EE-ECHO/SPORT

portal_normal PUBLICATION STRUCTURE cat: /publications/ee-echo/sport

portal_normal CATEGORY STRUCTURE category: /PUBLICATIONS/EE-ECHO/SPORT

portal_normal STRUCTURE section: corksport

portal_normal getURLCurrent: /web/eveningecho/corksport/detailedstory?p_p_id=DetailedStory_WAR_portalsuite&p_p_lifecycle=0&_DetailedStory_WAR_portalsuite_arg_detailstory_uuid=8edb1011-e370-454d-97bd-595edc7b1a00

portal_normal getPortalURL getURLCurrent: http://www.echolive.ie./web/eveningecho/corksport/detailedstory?p_p_id=DetailedStory_WAR_portalsuite&p_p_lifecycle=0&_DetailedStory_WAR_portalsuite_arg_detailstory_uuid=8edb1011-e370-454d-97bd-595edc7b1a00

portal_normal getPortalURL: http://www.echolive.ie

portal_normal domain: http://www.echolive.ie

STRUCTURE EE_062016_general_layout.tpl - url: /corksport/From-Paolo-Maldini-to-Declan-Daly-the-art-of-picking-your-favourite-players-8edb1011-e370-454d-97bd-595edc7b1a00-ds

STRUCTURE EE_062016_general_layout.tpl - section: corksport

STRUCTURE EE_062016_general_layout.tpl - orgcat: orgcat = /PUBLICATIONS/EE-ECHO/SPORT

Henrik Larsson of Barcelona tussles with Paolo Maldini of Milan in the 2004 Champions League. Picture: INPHO/Getty Images
Henrik Larsson of Barcelona tussles with Paolo Maldini of Milan in the 2004 Champions League. Picture: INPHO/Getty Images
SOCIAL BOOKMARKS

From Paolo Maldini to Declan Daly... the art of picking your favourite players

RATING the greatest players of all-time is always tough.

How important are trophies? In NBA terms, Michael Jordan’s six championships with the Bulls are more impressive than LeBron and his three rings.

And some competitions are more prestigious than others. Maradona’s World Cup-winning efforts give him an edge over Messi for many.

In any team sport, you’re reliant on the rest of the squad to make you shine. Dan Marino didn’t get his hands on the Vince Lombardi bauble with the Dolphins but is an iconic quarterback regardless.

Still, he’s hardly better than Tom Brady or Joe Montana, the driving forces behind multiple Super Bowl triumphs for the Patriots and 49ers respectively.

Much more fun is picking your favourite players. That’s a more emotional and intuitive selection. Often it’s shaped by your own experience on the pitch or your heroes from childhood.

Any ‘best of’ must have sound logic behind it. Your favourite players are all yours.

As social media copes with the sporting shutdown, there are a host of viral threads on Twitter asking your top-four footballers, the best you’ve seen on a country-by-country basis or an All-Star 15 from clubs or counties.

In my book, football is Gaelic and the association version is soccer, but here we’re going for our four favourite soccer players, by two. A top-four Irish and non-Irish.

The first three were instant selections. Declan Daly, Henrik Larsson and Paolo Maldini.

Paolo Maldini of Italy and Jason McAteer of Ireland battling for the ball in the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland
Paolo Maldini of Italy and Jason McAteer of Ireland battling for the ball in the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

The two Europeans are absolute legends, the type who pop up in FIFA computer games as icons. Yet Daly was a legend in my young eyes going to Turner’s Cross with my father.

He was tough and hard-working, didn’t have any ego, and his tenacious defensive efforts were aspirational for a young full-back. It probably helped that he was captain, which meant I got to accompany him onto the Cross when I was a mop-haired mascot in 1991.

Cork City captain Declan Daly leads the team out in 1991, accompanied by mascot Éamonn Murphy.
Cork City captain Declan Daly leads the team out in 1991, accompanied by mascot Éamonn Murphy.

Daly wasn’t as skillful as Patsy Freyne or Pat Morley, or as explosive as Davie Barry and John Caulfield. Yet whenever he pulled on a Cork City jersey he gave it everything.

As a fan, there have been numerous harrowing defeats but few worse than Tom McNulty’s goal denying Daly the chance to lift the league on home turf against Dundalk in 1991.

Thankfully, Daly got to collect league and cup titles in the years after.

George O’Callaghan, a different character to Daly, was a real entertainer. A playmaker and occasional showboater he was a joy to watch and always great craic to interview. Georgie wore the number 10 jersey when I was starting out at the Echo. Halcyon days.

George O'Callaghan celebrates a goal.
George O'Callaghan celebrates a goal.

Though they are both among Cork’s greatest sons, Roy Keane and Denis Irwin were never favourites. The simple reason was an anti-Premier League bias.

Cork City and Celtic mattered, and though I was a Sheffield Wednesday fan for no particular reason in the early 90s, I certainly didn’t like big English clubs. To be fair to Wednesday, they had a few terrific campaigns taking on the best, including a league cup win at Wembley over United when Irish midfielder John Sheridan hit the net.

The Celtic team under Martin O’Neill was massively popular, stacked with talent and dominant personalities.

Larsson, unquestionably, was the most gifted of them, a lethal weapon and selfless team-mate, who proved his worth with Barcelona too. Being at Celtic Park when he hit the net twice for Barca against his old side was tough to take!

Neil Lennon was a cult hero but also an under-rated midfield general with the Hoops, while Alan Thompson was always capable of delivering when it mattered. Thompson hammered in seven Old Firm goals, topping his three red cards at Ibrox, but he also rifled home a winner in another Celtic-Bara game I was lucky enough to attend, knocking them out of the Uefa Cup in 2004.

Celtic's Alan Thompson scores against Rangers. Picture: Maurice McDonald
Celtic's Alan Thompson scores against Rangers. Picture: Maurice McDonald

Robbie Keane and Paolo Di Canio also wore the four-leaf clover. Keane didn’t get the appreciation he deserved from Irish fans for his consistent excellence and Di Canio was nuts in the best possible sense. He was capable of anything and impossible to take your eyes off.

Favourite Irish players: Declan Daly, George O’Callaghan, Neil Lennon, Robbie Keane.

Cork City players congratulate Declan Daly (right) on becoming a dad at training last night. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Cork City players congratulate Declan Daly (right) on becoming a dad at training last night. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

Favourite rest of the world: Henrik Larsson, Paolo Maldini, Alan Thompson, Paolo Di Canio.

Henrik Larsson fires a header goalwards.
Henrik Larsson fires a header goalwards.