The Greatest Ireland XV Of The Professional Era
Since the dawn of the professional rugby era in 1995, Irish Rugby has produced some serious talent.
The likes of Keith Wood, Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell have all worn the famous green jersey over the years, but who makes the list of greatest players of the professional era?
When you look back at some of the talent Ireland has produced, it’s a lot more difficult than you think. In the last 10-15 years the national team and provinces have enjoyed huge success, producing a who’s who of talent, making the selection process incredibly hard.
Regardless, we’ve decided to have a go anyway…
1. Jack McGrath
There’s no doubt in our minds if it wasn’t for his injury problems, Cian Healy would be right up here challenging McGrath, but Jack’s consistency over the last number of years gets him the nod. A solid scrummager, powerful on the ball and a tackling machine.
2. Keith Wood
Keith Wood single handedly redefined the role of the hooker. One of the greatest players to have ever played the game, no other Irish player even comes close to taking his spot here.
3. John Hayes
The Bull perhaps overstayed his stint in an Irish jersey, due to a lack of tighthead’s in Ireland at the time, but on his day was one of the very best. A monster of a man at 6ft 4in and 128kg and the first Irish player to reach 100 caps.
4. Donncha O’Callaghan
94 caps and two Lions tours, O’Callaghan is still going strong at 38 in the Premiership for Worcester. Big, reliable and a menace in the lineout.
5. Paul O’Connell
An inspirational leader and a monster in the lineout. O’Connell is another player on this list that will go down as not just one of Ireland’s greatest ever players, one of the best the world has ever seen.
6. Stephen Ferris
Ireland have produced a incredible amount of top class back-rows over the years and Ferris was one of them. Some big competition here but the 2009 Lion gets the nod, despite having his career cut short by injury. A giant among men.
7. David Wallace
On his day David Wallace was one of, if not the best seven in the world. His ability to read the game, freakish strength and blistering speed made him a nightmare for any opposing ten. Gets the nod over Sean O’Brien.
8. Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip has been a constant in the Irish back-row for the last decade. The Leinster man is a tireless worker and a brilliant rugby brain, amassing almost 100 caps and touring in two successive Lions tours, starting 5 out of 6 tests.
9. Conor Murray
Another difficult call here between Murray and former Munster man in Peter Stringer. Stringer was nothing short of brilliant for Ireland during his 98 caps, but Murray has overtaken him in the last year or so.
10. Ronan O’Gara
One of the most argued questions in Irish sporting history, Sexton or O’Gara? For us, there’s one winner and that’s the Munster man. O’Gara is the all-time highest points scorer for Ireland and is the fourth highest points scorer in the history of International Rugby Union. Sexton still has time to overtake him, but for now it’s ROG that gets the nod.
11. Denis Hickie
The Leinster flier scored a sensational 29 tries in 62 appearances for Ireland and is without doubt one of the quickest players Ireland has ever produced. An absolute nightmare for defenders, Hickie gets the nod on the left wing.
12. Gordon D’Arcy
O’Driscoll’s partner in crime. A gifted player, with a real eye for the gainline, D’Arcy suffered like a lot of players on this list with reoccurring injuries, but when fit and in-form could mix it up at the highest level.
13. Brian O’Driscoll
Don’t really need to explain ourselves here. One of the greatest players Ireland and the world has ever seen.
14. Tommy Bowe
The Ulsterman has been unlucky throughout his career with injury, but when fit can mix it up with the world’s very best. A devastating finisher, with blistering pace and unrivalled power, Bowe gets the nod on the right wing any day of the week.
15. Rob Kearney
When Rob Kearney was a the peak of his powers in 2009, he was arguably the one of the best fullbacks in the world. Injury blighted and lacking form for the last few years, but has dominated the Irish fullback jersey for so long, it’s difficult to take it away from him.