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25th Sep 2023

The 15 best Gaelic Footballers since 2000 that have not won an All-Ireland

Very Ulster-heavy


Every team has them, the heroes that will be talked about forever but, in the grand scheme of things, on the rest of the island, they’ll remain relatively unsung.

It’s sad, some of the talent that has passed through the inter-county game without so much as a sniff of an All-Ireland.

Plenty of them have won All-Stars, sure, but they never got the big one. It’s heartbreaking but beautiful too, to think that these superstars will remain forever just like us, wishing they could’ve gotten there but the holy grail will always evade them.

Here are the 15 men that really deserved more. Here is a team of 15 true champions but, when all is said and done, they never were champions.

1. David Clarke (Mayo)

Class act.

2. Sean Marty Lockhart (Derry)

Sean Marty Lockhart gets away from Steven McDonnell 8/7/2007

Gifted with a bigger back pocket than any defender in the land, completely necessary too so he could place all the best forwards neatly inside.

Sean Marty Lockhart is one of the finest backs of all time. He had it all. He was lightning quick, nimble on his feet as he sprang around on his toes, and he was as strong and as explosive as they come.

He never feared marking the biggest names. He just relished it and, one by one, he gobbled them all up in an era when every back had to fend for themselves.

3. Barry Owens (Fermanagh)

Barry Owens 11/3/2007

I’ll never forget standing in Healy Park as a really strong Derry team were looking to brush aside Fermanagh en route to an Ulster final back in 2008.

The Erne county were hanging in but looked desperate when they sprang Barry Owens, their prized full back, from the bench and threw him in at the edge of the Derry square. I laughed, slagged a few green jerseys beside, game over this was.

Barry Owens scored the goal that sparked a famous win for Fermanagh.

Mostly though, he was an uncompromising defender that could catch the ball over the head of any man. Two All-Stars is no mean feat and doing it with Fermanagh, who are still waiting on provincial success, is special.

4. Keith Higgins (Mayo)

Keith Higgins dejected after the game 5/9/2015

Can play anywhere in the back line, has even played in the forward line. Tight, aggressive, explosive.

When Keith Higgins turns over the ball – and he usually does – Mayo are only going in one direction and it sure as hell isn’t sideways or backwards.

5. Lee Keegan (Mayo)



The best defender in the country at present. The best attacking half back in the country for the last while.

Lee Keegan is a bloody gem possessed with absolutely everything that is needed to become a quality footballer. It’s hard to believe he’s such a gem without an All-Ireland still.

6. James Nallen (Mayo)

James Nallen celebrates 27/8/2006

A legend, a leader, a warrior.

This man is synonymous with the number six jersey and he’s etched in the Mayo crest too. He had it all, all the tools to hold the line with unshakable steel and all the ability to play out from the back with pure quality.

7. Paddy Keenan (Louth)

Louth’s only ever All-Star.

Ghosted around the pitch undetected and racked up huge, beautiful scores from anywhere.

He drips of class with a seeming ability to make time stop so he can weave his way magically through a tunnel of trips and shoulder tackles, unfazed and unstoppable. He was a master of space and a magician with a football, and dominated for Louth for 11 years.

8. Ciarán Whelan (Dublin)

Ciaran Whelan 3/8/2009

Imposing, ruthless, and fearless.

Bullied the opposition. He put his stamp all over midfields like he had no time for messing about. He was strong in the air, stronger on the ground.

Burst forward like a torpedo and played on the edge. A menacing prospect.

9. Padraig Clancy (Laois)

Padraig Clancy 4/2/2012

A rangy nuisance whose hands never seem to fail to make contact with the ball.

Could reach for a size five through a key hole and bring it back out with him if he had to. A neat footballer in the bargain too.

10. Enda Muldoon (Derry)

Delicious is the word.

From when he was guiding Ballinderry to All-Ireland success in 2002, to spreading inter-county backs on toast throughout an effortless career, Enda Muldoon has always done everything with style and grace.

Has perhaps the best hands in the country, he’s both feeted, he can score, he can curl over free kicks from the ground and he’s the best passer of a ball maybe there ever was.

Enda Muldoon celebrates the end of the game 19/6/2011

11. Ciarán McDonald (Mayo)

Ciaran McDonald 20/5/2007

Maybe McDonald is the best passer actually.

Anyone who needs this explaining to them is not a football person.

12. Benny Coulter (Down)

Benny Coulter 9/7/2011

He’s a powerhouse, he’s direct as nothing normal and he’s full of conviction and accuracy.

A legend of a player that could be deployed anywhere in the front six to play any role. Never got the championship success he deserved.

13. Declan Browne (Tipperary)

Declan Browne4/9/2005

The quintessential forward that carried his team for years.

Everyone knew he was the man that needed silenced and yet no-one could shut him up. Declan Browne ploughed through some dark days but lit them up every time with moments of magic.

14. Paddy Bradley (Derry)

Paddy Bradley, Brendan Donaghy and Paul Duffy 16/5/2010

Was being double-marked long before the concept of being double-marked was even a thing.

It was like he had superglue in his hands, he was played some dreadful balls down through the years and most of them stuck to him and most of those were sent over the bar and between the posts before any of his markers could even set themselves.

He’s destroyed some of the best of them in his day and he was never kept on the periphery no matter how many men were hanging off his bullish shoulders. Probably never got the appreciation he deserved in Derry but, as a footballer, there was and will be very few full forwards as good as him.

15. Conor McManus (Monaghan)


Probably one of the most important footballers in Ireland right now.

In an era of mass defences and zonal marking, Conor McManus finds space, he finds ball, and he finds scores.

He’s a passionate fecker too that he can turn on a sixpence and he doesn’t need an angle to score, he just needs half a yard.

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