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18th Sep 2013

Mayo v Dublin: Top five Mayo players since 1989

Yesterday we brought you our top five Dublin players since 1995 and today, with a bigger timeframe to consider, it’s Mayo’s turn.


Yesterday we brought you our top five Dublin players since 1995 and today, with a bigger timeframe to consider, it’s Mayo’s turn.

Mayo may not have won an All-Ireland title in over half a century but nobody can deny that they have been dining at the top table for some time now.

No team apart from Kerry have appeared in more All-Ireland Finals than the green and red in the last 25 years and they’ve been in Division One in the National League longer than anyone else.

Just as it was extremely difficult to separate five Dublin players from the rest over the last 18 years yesterday, it was equally as hard to compile a similar list of the most esteemed Mayo players from the past 24 years, but without further ado and again, in no particular order, here’s who we plumped for in the end.

James Nallen

Now an integral part of the Mayo backroom team, Jimmy Nallen was as stylish and as elegant a defender as you could ever come across in his playing days.

A fixture in the Mayo team from the mid ‘90s up until his retirement a few seasons back, Nallen announced himself on the national stage with a brilliant goal in the All-Ireland semi-final victory over Kerry in 1996, one of two years in which he won an All-Star (the other year was 2004).

Endured something of a chastening experience against Declan O’Sullivan in the 2006 final but apart from that he was as solid as a rock and alongside another Mayo legend in Ciaran McDonald (more on him anon) he managed to fit a club All-Ireland title with Crossmolina into a distinguished career.

Keith Higgins

Higgins should feature in the Mayo colours for a good few years yet, but he has already established a reputation as one of Mayo’s finest defenders and has been, pound for pound, one of the top defenders in the country in the past few years.

It’s a long time ago now but Higgins appeared in the All-Ireland Final defeat to Kerry in 2006, the same year he captained Mayo to All-Ireland under-21 glory and was named as the Young Footballer of the Year.

Versatile enough to have been named in Mayo’s half forward line in the last two games, he’s also one of the fastest players in the country and if he puts in a good showing on Sunday, he’ll be in line for his second All-Star in as many years.

Liam McHale

Mayo fans will still tell you that they would have won the All-Ireland Final replay against Meath in 1996 had McHale not been picked out as the chief aggressor with Colm Coyle in a 29-man brawl and sent off and they might have a point.

Liam McHale walks from the pitch after being sent off 1996

One of the best midfielders of his era, the big Ballina man had plenty of presence but also wonderfully deft hands thanks to his basketball career with his hometown club and while he spent most of his time at midfield, he was also a capable full-forward whenever he was sent into the edge of the square.

McHale’s Mayo career began in the mid-80s and included All-Ireland Finals in 1989, 1996, (when he won an All-Star) and 1997 and he was also a member of John Maughan’s backroom team for the All-Ireland Final in 2004.

Ciaran McDonald

No footballer in Mayo, arguably in Ireland, has a bigger cult following than the mercurial McDonald, who will surely go down as one of the best footballers to watch in the modern era.

Capable of striking extraordinary passes and putting over beautiful points – predominantly with the outside of his left boot – McDonald was Mayo’s talisman in their journey to the 2004 and 2006 All-Ireland Finals having scored a goal in his first final appearance against Kerry in 1997.

His appearance on the pitch – various styles of blonde hair, tattoos, socks pulled up, flashy boots – led many opponents (including the Australian International Rules team) to mistakenly believe that he was flaky but he was strong as an ox and extremely difficult to dispossess when on the ball, which tended to be very often.

Such was his status that as recently as last season there were calls for him to be brought back to the Mayo set-up, but although he’s played his last game in the green and red, it will be a long time before he’s forgotten about by football fans in Mayo and beyond.

Alan Dillon

Along with Andy Moran, Dillon is the only member of the current squad to have played in both the 2004 and 2006 All-Ireland Finals, having been virtually ever present in the Mayo starting XV since his Championship debut in 2003.

Dillon scored a goal in the 2004 final and won the first of his All-Stars in 2006, following up with a second last year. When on form – and he’s normally ultra-reliable – he makes Mayo tick with his clever use of possession, astute kick-passing and he’s usually good for at least two points from wing-forward.

Still a key man for Mayo ten years after his debut and likely to be the subject of close attention from the Dublin half-back line on Sunday.

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