Poll: Who is the greatest Irish rugby captain of all time?
Rugby fans are flat out trying to pick the perfect team for The Irish Times Fantasy Rugby League at the moment but if you had to choose one of the great Irish captains to lead your Fantasy Rugby team, who would it be?
It’s certainly not an easy decision, as although the success of the Irish team has been limited in terms of silverware, we have had some great players and mighty captains over the years, from Doctor Karl Mullen, the captain of the 1948 Grand Slam winning side, right through to the man who will wear the armband in the Six Nations next month, Munster’s Paul O’Connell.
Your choice of captain depends on what qualities you’re looking for, of course. Would it be an obvious leader like O’Connell, Ciaran Fitzgerald or Willie John McBride, or someone like Brian O’Driscoll, whose deeds on the pitch spoke louder than words ever could?
Like O’Connell, O’Driscoll and McBride, Tom Kiernan captained the Lions as well as his country, while although a lot of his international career coincided with a barren period for Irish rugby, Keith Wood always stood out as a great captain as well as the world class player he was in his prime.
It was a tough task, but we’ve narrowed it down to five choices from which to pick your fantasy captain (vote in the pool at the bottom of the page) and remember to select your Fantasy Rugby Team on The Irish Times website before the 2.30pm deadline on Saturday, 1 February to be in with a chance of winning the top prize of €4,000 as well as many other prizes.
Doctor Karl Mullen
Born in Wexford, Mullen captained Ireland 15 times and emerged victorious on ten occasions. He will be best remembered for captaining Ireland to one of only two Grand Slams we have won in our history in 1948.
A hooker, Mullen also captained the Lions in 1950 as they took on the All-Blacks and Australia in one tour, losing 3-0 to the All-Blacks but beating Australia 2-0. Fittingly, he lived long enough to see Ireland capture a second Grand Slam in 2009 before passing away at his home in Kildare a month later.
Willie John McBride
Arguably more renowned as a captain of the British and Irish Lions than Ireland, the Ulster man wore the green jersey 63 times over 13 years, an impressive innings in an era when there were fewer internationals than there are today.
Willie John captained Ireland 11 times and tasted victory on five occasions and toured with the Lions a record five times between 1962 and 1974, captaining the side for the 3-0 defeat of the Springboks in his final tour in 1974.
McBride remains as one of the most celebrated players in the history of the sport and belongs in any conversation regarding the best captains this country has ever produced.
Captained Ireland in 19 of the 25 games he played for Ireland and led them to Triple Crown success in 1982 and 1985, which was a far bigger deal back then than it was when we were winning them for fun in the early to mid-noughties.
Like Mullen, Fitzgerald was a hooker (something of a running theme in this discussion) and went on to coach Ireland between 1990 and 1992, a period which included the Rugby World Cup in 1991, when Ireland were knocked out after suffering a devastating defeat to Australia at Lansdowne Road.
‘Fester’ lost more games than he won in the 38 games he captained Ireland, but in an era where Ireland were far from world beaters, he still stood out as world class, illustrated by his starring role in the 1997 and 2001 Lions Tours and his selection as the inaugural IRB World Player of the Year in 2001.
Often tried to do more than he probably should (probably the only hooker in World Rugby who frequently attempted drop goals) but his leadership was never in doubt and he scored 15 test tries, including one which foiled England’s hopes of a Grand Slam at Lansdowne Road in 2001.
He’s soon to be Ireland’s most capped player of all-time, he’s Ireland’s leading try-scorer of all time, he has captained Ireland in more games (83, won 52) than any other player and he is unquestionably one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
Captained Ireland to Triple Crown success on four occasions and enjoyed probably his best season when Ireland finally landed the Grand Slam in 2009. Had the captaincy controversially taken away from him around this time last year, but he remains as influential as ever and we won’t know what we’re missing until he’s gone.
That day won’t come until the summer at least, however and we live in (admittedly faint) hope that he might even hang around for a while after that.