Century's best: Gaelic footballer


Jack O'Shea (Kerry) - Whereas success can never be wholly satisfactorily measured in medals and trophies, the game's glittering prizes are usually what inspire great performances and performers. O'Shea's athleticism, work-rate and competitiveness shouldn't detract from his skills as a footballer. As well as being a reliable ball-winner in high-pressure situations, he had a scoring record unparalleled by a centre-fielder in the modern game. Even within the context of football's most successful team, he was outstanding, a fact borne adequate testimony by his winning four Footballer of the Year awards - twice as many as his closest rivals. In addition, his leadership on the field was exemplary, and, even if it may be slightly unfair to his predecessors who never had a competitive international outlet, mention should also be made of O'Shea's imperious displays for Ireland in the International Rules series, particularly in 1986 and '90 in Australia where his legend as a footballer stills burns brightly.

Mick O'Connell (Kerry) - Despite his career coinciding with one of Kerry's lean periods, O'Connell won four All-Irelands, including 1959 when he captained the side, and lost five finals. He remains celebrated as one of the game's greatest stylists. A peerless fielder of the ball, he played virtually all his career at centre-field where he combined his aerial prowess with immaculate kicking. Capable of sending inch-perfect passes over 50 yards, he was also a fine dead-ball kicker. A shy, retiring man from Valentia island, his dedication to pure football and the mystique that was created around him made O'Connell the nearest football came to having an iconic personality in the mould of Ring.

Sean Purcell (Galway) - Although Purcell is primarily remembered as a brilliant centre forward whose accuracy from frees complemented his ability to lead the attack, he was an extraordinarily versatile footballer - the closest the game has come to emulating the virtuoso adaptability characteristic of many great hurlers - and played what some regarded as his best game for Galway at full back against the Mayo team which won two All-Irelands in the early 1950s. In his more conventional role, Purcell's intuitive play-making - partly facilitated by a powerful punched pass - was particularly noticeable in the partnership with Frankie Stockwell which was at the heart of the 1956 All-Ireland success.

Kevin Heffernan (Dublin) - His impact as manager of Dublin in the 1970s has tended to obscure his influence as a player. A fast and free-scoring corner forward, Heffernan was tactically innovative and the major leadership figure, with his club St Vincent's, as Dublin negotiated the transformation from a dormitory team for players from other counties to a native-based outfit. Although he won only one All-Ireland, captaining the 1958 side, he was acknowledged as one of the great forwards throughout his career.

Dick Fitzgerald (Kerry) - Five-time All-Ireland medallist and a seminal influence on both football in general and Kerry teams of the period. An All-Ireland winner as a 16-year-old in 1903, he went on to captain the teams which won back-to-back titles in 1913 and '14. In the latter year, he wrote the GAA's first coaching manual How to Play Gaelic Football. His career ended early, disrupted - as was Kerry football - by the War of Independence.

Sean O'Kennedy (Wexford) - Captain, coach - on occasion he cycled 80-mile round trips to train the team - and prolific scorer with the first side to win four All-Irelands in a row, O'Kennedy was one of two brothers, Gus the other, from New Ross. The driving force behind the team which had emerged to challenge Kerry in 1913 and '14, O'Kennedy led Wexford to the next three All-Irelands, against Kerry, Mayo and Clare. He missed the 1918 final.