Denis Irwin or Olive Loughnane: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

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Denis Irwin or Olive Loughnane: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

The Echo Rebel Legends started out with 32 sports people who shone on Leeside and beyond since 1970.

DENIS Irwin or Olive Loughnane? 

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 pair of sports people who achieved at international level duelling today

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

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

DENIS IRWIN

IN his second autobiography, Sir Alex Ferguson reflected on the great players he had managed and how he might compile a best 11, but there was one name he was sure of...

“Honestly, I would say Denis Irwin would be the one certainty to get in the team,” he said, “I called him an eight out of 10.

“At Highbury in one game he had a bad pass back and [Dennis] Bergkamp came in and scored.

“After the game the press said, ‘You must be disappointed in that pass back,’ but I said, ‘Well, one mistake in 10 years isn’t bad.’ He was an unbelievable player.” 

Whether or not you like Ferguson, you can’t argue that he didn’t know his football, so such an endorsement is as high praise as a player could wish for.

Having grown up in Argideen Lawn in Togher, Denis Irwin would progress to Coláiste Chríost Rí, even though it was a Gaelic football nursery and hurling was his first love.

In the classroom, he had a grá for mathematics and no doubt some of that right-brain quality had a part to play in his success at chess. He represented Cork at the Community Games and, one would imagine, if his talent on the playing fields hadn’t been spotted, he would have applied himself to chess in such a way that he would have excelled at that too.

And that was the bottom line with him — he was proof that hard work really did earn its rewards. It’s not to say he had no natural talent — his GAA prowess proved that he had — but there have been many players who have had the raw materials and then failed to channel them in the best way.

Ever since the early days at Everton – whose academy his name adorns – excellence was his calling card.

While some players may have played out of their skin once a month and been fairly average the rest of the time, Irwin was constant.

In 12 years at United, his position as a starter was only ever really under threat in his final two seasons as age caught up with him.

His total of 529 appearances is the seventh-highest in United’s history and gives an average of 44 games a season from 1990 until his departure to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2002.

That he made it at United was a testament to his durability. Released by Leeds at the age of 20 in 1986, he could have wilted and simply returned home.

Instead, he resolved to show then-manager Billy Bremner what a mistake he had made. Leeds did realise it, too — Eric Cantona’s transfer to Old Trafford in 1992 actually came about after Howard Wilkinson had rung Ferguson enquiring as to Irwin’s availability. Quite what made him think Fergie would be receptive is another matter, though.

Twice, in 1993-94 and 1998-99 — the famous treble season — he was in the Premier League team of the year while he also made the cut in the second-tier side in 1989-90, the campaign where Oldham Athletic played United in the FA Cup semi-final and Irwin caught Ferguson’s eye.

Denis Irwin is tackled by England's Lee Sharpe at Wembley in 1991. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Denis Irwin is tackled by England's Lee Sharpe at Wembley in 1991. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

That he was included in the first division team in 2002-03, when he was ostensibly winding down his career at Wolves, speaks volumes.

There’s a video on YouTube where, as part of a Smirnoff promotion, Irwin had to choose his all-time Manchester United 11. If you look at it, you’ll see him go out of his way not to pick himself rather than being seen as — to use Ferguson’s description of Paul Ince — a big-time Charlie. Such modesty wasn’t false, and it was absolutely in keeping with the way he played.

OLIVE LOUGHNANE

OLIVE LOUGHNANE carried the torch for Irish women race walkers on the world stage, appearing in four consecutive Olympics, half-a-dozen World Championships and two Europeans.

In a distinguished career, which began in 1999 and finished after the London Olympics in 2012, Loughnane set the example for others, notably, Gillian O’Sullivan, to follow.

Her walking highlight was obviously the gold medal in the 20kms at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009.

On the day she finished second behind Russia’s Olga Kaniskina in a very creditable performance, but Loughnane was elevated to first after the winner was stripped of her title because of doping violations.

Loughnane produced a season’s best time of 1.28.58 in chasing Kaniskina and fending off the threat posed by China’s Liu Hong.

Even though it took all of seven years for authorities to prove Kaniskina was a drugs cheat Loughnane had no doubt saying it was worth the wait.

She attended the European Championships in Amsterdam in 2016 to gladly rise on to the podium and accept the gold medal from Seb Coe, the former middle-distance great and then IAAF President.

A clearly emotional Loughnane, 40 at the time, spoke of her delight.

“There’s value in sentiment and it was great to share the moment with all the Irish fans here,” she said.

Ten years earlier Loughnane had set out to test herself on a global scale by competing in her first World Race Walking Cup in France, just squeezing into the top 100.

She was 24, when debuting in the Olympics in Sydney, finishing in 35th spot in a time of 1.38.23 and that set in a motion a sequence of higher placings and quicker times.

This was highlighted by seventh in her third Games in Beijing, crossing the line in 1.27.45. in a 2008 season that also produced a sixth-placed finish in a World Cup race in Russia.

She carried that form into the following season, when Loughnane crossed the line in fourth in a European Cup race in France, clocking 1.34.52 in the process.

Apart from her gold medal in the Worlds, representing Ireland in four successive Olympics was another huge thrill.

Olive Loughnane, in 2016, with daughter Eimear and her gold medal. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Olive Loughnane, in 2016, with daughter Eimear and her gold medal. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Fittingly, she bowed out after her final Games in London at the age of 36 and spoke about her experiences after retiring.

“My first Olympics was before I got married, so you go home and the party continues for a bit,” she said.

“Then my last two Olympics, I had my daughters, so it was about catching up with family again. So it depends what stage you’re at in life.

“When I was in Sydney, I was working full-time. I would have been a lot less mature then and the financial support I had kicked in towards the end of my career.

“But I think I went back to work pretty quickly after the Sydney Olympics. After the London Olympics, I was on career break. It was different. It took a while before I went back to work,” Loughnane added.

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