The greatest Irish athletes of all time
St. Patrick’s Day is here again, and now is the perfect time to shine the spotlight on the finest athletes born and raised on the Emerald Isle. From ferocious football stars to potty-mouthed pugilists, these sons and daughters of Erin had the kind of careers that have made others green with envy.
The term "legend" is tossed around rather freely these days, but it fits Robbie Keane like a glove. The Tallaght native scored 251 goals over an 18-year international career that included stints with some of the top teams in Europe, as well as a six-year stretch in the MLS with the LA Galaxy. As impressive as Keane’s club career was, it pales in comparison to what he accomplished as a member of Ireland's national team, for whom he holds records for most caps (146) and most goals (68).
If you put 10 novelists in a room for an hour we guarantee you they couldn’t come up with a more Irish-sounding name than Padraig Harrington. The son of a lifelong duffer, Harrington had a year for the ages in 2008 when he became the first European player to receive the Jack Nicklaus Award as the PGA Tour’s most outstanding golfer after winning The Open Championship and the PGA Championship. The Dublin native has since won three more international events and he represented his beloved Ireland at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Some people collect stamps or baseball cards. Katie Taylor collects gold medals. “The Bray Bomber” won her first gold in 2005 when she walloped Eva Wahlstrom to capture the European Amateur Boxing Championship. She would go on to capture 17 more, including Ireland’s only gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she served as her country’s flag bearer. Taylor turned pro in 2016, and has since won WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO world titles. She is currently the undisputed lightweight champion and has been named the top pound-for-pound boxeron the planet by BoxRec.
Love him or hate him, it’s hard not to admire Conor McGregor’s rags to riches story. “Notorious” grew up in a working-class family in the suburbs of Dublin and toiled as a plumber’s apprentice before discovering he had a God-given gift for beating people within an inch of their lives. His impressive MMA skills have helped him claim multiple titles and rake in $42 million in career earnings. Not bad for a guy who thought he would be earning a career with a pipe wrench, rather than his fists. McGregor has headlined five of the six most lucrative pay-per-view events in UFC history and continues to be one of the biggest draws in his sport.
Keen for another Keane? You’re in luck. Roy Keane rounds out our lists thanks to his wizardry on the pitch. The fearless midfielder won 19 major trophies during his 18-year club career, most of which was spent with Manchester United. No less an authority than Sir Alex Ferguson called him "the best midfield player in the world of his generation" and Pele named him to the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living footballers. Following his playing days, Keane served as assistant manager for Ireland’s national team from 2013-18, and remains close to the game as a respected television analyst.