Sandy Fitzgibbon v Denis Irwin: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

The Echo wants you to help pick the best Cork sports star since 1970 to be in with a chance to win a €200 voucher
Sandy Fitzgibbon v Denis Irwin: Vote for your favourite Rebel Legend

Vote for your favourite Rebel Legends each day.

SANDY Fitzgibbon or Denis Irwin? 

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

We started with 32 contenders and are now into the last 16, with another tough choice for you to make. 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 updates on the winners in each round

SANDIE FITZGIBBON

The sport of camogie has always been a relatively successful one for this county and the outstanding Sandie Fitzgibbon made a huge contribution to that success.

Sandie enjoyed a very successful career which included winning seven consecutive senior county medals with her beloved Glen Rovers.

She began playing with the Glen as a nine-year-old and won her first All-Ireland minor medal in 1978 at the age of 14.

Sandie was born in 1964 and was one of a sporting family of six sisters and one brother.

Her successes in camogie are nothing short of amazing and her most notable achievement was playing in 13 senior All-Ireland camogie finals with Cork.

At club level she won 10 Cork senior medals with Glen Rovers that included the seven-in-a-row between 1990 and 1996.

Fitzgibbon also has eight Munster Senior Championship medals and just to round off her club career she won four Senior All-Ireland medals in 1988, 1990, 1992, and 1993.

There is no doubting Sandie played with and against the best during her career and she looked back on it with mixed emotions.

“I would say losing six All-Ireland titles in a row was the most disappointing for me, but in a nutshell, it was the same for all my team-mates,” she said.

At no stage did Sandie ever feel that she wouldn’t reach the Holy Grail with the Rebels.

“Thank God our luck changed, and it was a dream come true when I captained Cork to win the All Ireland title in 1992.”

After playing at the top for 17 years Sandie decided to call it a day in 1997 at the age of 33.

“When you play at the top level for a long time it really does take a great deal of commitment and I felt at that time I could no longer give it the dedication that was required to play at inter-county level.”

Two years later after giving Glen Rovers 26 years of incredible service she decided it was time to bow out.

Sandie was also a top-class basketball player and she helped the North Presentation School win the All-Ireland Cadet title in 1978.

At senior level, she helped Blarney win four National League titles and three National Cups, and she also played with Lee Strand in Tralee where she helped them win national league and cup honours in her three years with the Kerry club.

Her basketball skills were dazzling and despite being only 5' 6" she had the ability to wreak havoc on court.

Indeed, Sandie’s talent is still spoken about in basketball circles and to represent your country at the highest level of the sport speaks volumes of her skills.

Amazingly, throughout her playing career, Sandie mixed camogie and basketball and was never fazed by the demands.

The busiest week of her career came in October 1990.

Picture: Denis Minihane
Picture: Denis Minihane

On Sunday she played an All-Ireland club camogie semi-final with Glen Rovers in Derry and immediately after the game travelled to Boston to play three senior internationals with Ireland.

Having returned to Ireland on Friday she had only two days to prepare before lining out with Glen Rovers in the All Ireland camogie final.

Sandie once again showed her incredible commitment and skills as the Glen defeated St Paul’s in the decider.

In 2000 Sandie was presented with the Millennium award in Cork for her achievements in sport, an award she so richly deserved.

There are many legends in the sporting world on Leeside, but the name of Sandie Fitzgibbon will always be remembered with affection as one of Cork’s finest.

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.

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