Billy Coleman or Ronan O'Gara: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

The Echo wants you to help decide who the best Cork sports star is since 1970
Billy Coleman or Ronan O'Gara: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

Your votes will decide the winner and give you a chance to win a €200 shopping voucher.

Billy Coleman or Ronan O'Gara? 

The Echo is running a fun contest from here until March 11 where you can vote for your favourite Cork stars since 1970 and pick the winners in each round until we're left with an overall Rebel Legend winner.

There are 32 contenders, with Cork's most famous rally driver and Munster's out-half supreme going head to head today.

This poll will be open until 8am on Sunday morning.

Here's the case for each of the Leeside stars and keep checking here for the updates on the winners in each round.

BILLY COLEMAN

BILLY Coleman put Millstreet on the map during a glittering rallying career spanning nearly two decades.

His name became synonymous with the sport. not only all over Ireland, but across in the UK and further afield, too.

Coleman, a true icon of the sport, is best associated with exploits in the British Rally Championship, the Irish Tarmac Rally Championship, and the National Rally Championship.

But, he thrilled spectators and won the admiration of rival drivers at World and European levels, as well, when he revved up in Monte Carlo and Corsica.

In all, records show Coleman drove in 128 races, winning 29 times and was a regular figure on the podium.

Coleman’s glory seasons came in 1974 and a decade later.

Just five years into his ever-blossoming career, the ‘Millstreet Maestro’, as he became affectionately known, Coleman swept to the British title in ’74 in his trusty Ford Escort RS 1600 Mk1.

His father Paddy had the Ford main dealership in Millstreet and owned a garage, too. Little wonder then that Billy took a keen interest in driving.

Ten years later he was crowned Irish Tarmac champion after winning four of the six races, driving an Opel Manta 400, to again reflect his high level of consistency.

Coleman competed in the British championship between 1969 and 1987, lining up on 53 occasions and registering half-a-dozen wins with 14 podium finishes.

In the Irish Tarmac Championship, Coleman made 26 starts between 1979 and ’87, crossing the line first on 11 occasions with 13 podium appearances.

Between 1970 and ’84, he competed in eight races in the National Championship and took the chequered flag five times.

Billy Coleman in action at the Circuit of Ireland Rally.
Billy Coleman in action at the Circuit of Ireland Rally.

During his spectacular career, Coleman also drove Renault, Lancia, Fiat, Porche, MG Metro, and BMW, all a far cry from his first set of wheels in a Ford Cortina.

It was in another Ford, a crashed Escort, which was repaired and converted for the sport, that Coleman began to make the rallying world sit up and take notice.

And from there until his retirement in 1987 he was Ireland’s most successful and most respected rally driver.

Twenty years ago, the Billy Coleman Young Driver of the Year award came into being, the brainchild of the likes of Motorsport Ireland, Sport Ireland and Team Ireland.

Its aim is to motivate young Irish rally drivers to step up into the international arena and try to emulate the achievements of the man in whose honour the award is named.

RONAN O'GARA

WHERE do you start with a career like Ronan O’Gara’s?

When it came to dramatic conclusions the out-half usually took centre-stage and it wasn’t always with his trusty right boot either.

There was the afternoon on a bright day in D4, when O’Gara spotted a chink in the Leinster defence to cross for a game-clinching try in a memorable Heineken Cup semi-final in 2006.

And he managed to clear an advertising hurdle as well in celebrating with the thousands of Munster fans crammed into the old terracing.

O’Gara scored 13 points in the final against Biarritz in Cardiff on an afternoon, when Munster finally ended all the near-misses and heartache of being so close and yet so far.

But, he’s more associated with famous drop-goals in the colours of both Munster and Ireland, especially, when securing a first Grand Slam since 1948 with his heroics against Wales at the same Millennium Stadium.

In 2011, O’Gara snatched victory on two occasions in a week, first against Northampton Saints after 41 phases at Thomond Park and then away to Castres with another couple of nailed-on drop kicks.

And his penchant for holding his nerve and slotting difficult penalties and conversions was illustrated time and again during a glittering career.

In that same 2006 season, O’Gara silenced the Leicester Tigers crowd by smashing a penalty from his own half in a dramatic 21-19 victory at Welford Road and Saracens and Gloucester all felt the brunt of his prodigious kicking, too.

At his peak in 2006. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE
At his peak in 2006. Picture: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

O’Gara’s career ran along traditional lines, helping PBC to Munster Schools Senior and Junior Cup glory before attending UCC and then joining Cork Constitution.

But, it was with Munster that O’Gara first rose to prominence, debuting in 1997 as a 20-year-old and setting out on a Heineken Cup career which captured the hearts and minds of all followers.

Naturally, there were low points, as well, like the two final defeats to Northampton and Leicester, but O’Gara’s graph was on an upward curve.

Three years after his Munster debut, he was catapulted into the international arena as part of a raft of changes for the Six Nations game at home to Scotland.

In the green shirt, O’Gara won 128 caps and accumulated over 1,000 points, lining out against France the most, 16 times. 

Fittingly his coaching life began there, too. 

He was also selected on three Lions tours in 2001 to Australia, 05 to New Zealand and in 09 to South Africa.

O’Gara called time on his playing career in 2013 and immediately turned his attentions to coaching, beginning as defence coach with Racing 92 in Paris, where he stayed for four years.

Such was his impact that the powerful and all-conquering Crusaders from Christchurch in New Zealand came calling for his services as assistant coach and O’Gara helped them to back-to-back titles.

These days he’s head coach at La Rochelle in France.

O’Gara’s contribution to rugby was recognised in 2018, when he was inducted into World Rugby’s Hall of Fame.

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