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31st Dec 2017

The hardiest GAA players in each county

Niall McIntyre

GAA Royal Rumble. Don’t try this at home.

The hardiest boys in the land.

Just imagine it for a second. Noel Connors and Johnny Small are slugging it out in the corner of the ring. Sean Murphy is climbing the top ropes and getting the crowd going as he does it. He’s lining up Diarmuid Gizzy O’Keeffe for a frog-splash.

Mickey Burke is getting booed for eye-gouging Paul Murphy in the earlier rounds. Out of nowhere comes Jack Savage to a cacophony of noise.

The cream of the country’s GAA players are beating the lard out of each other. Small feisty wizards are catching big burly boys off guard with speed and movement.

There’s thrills, there’s spills, there’s a winner. Joe Brolly is going nuts in the commentary box, “Don’t do it,” he roars as Pádraic Maher lines Colm Boyle up for a clothesline over the top ropes.

Precision beats power and timing beats speed.

This is how we imagine it would pan out if all counties sent one representative – their toughest, hardiest, strongest, most stubborn individual to bring home the bacon.

32 players start in the ring. Here’s how the action goes.

32. Sean McVeigh (Antrim)

The Antrim footballer, who plays hurling with Donegal, picked the wrong battle here. He made a beeline for Neil McGee from the minute the bell rang.

His roughhouse tactics cost him dearly. The Gaoith Dobhair dinger McGee saw McVeigh coming from a mile away, grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, and with the help of Brendan Rogers, the Saffron stalwart suffered the ultimate indignity of getting turfed out over the top ropes first.

He attempts to re-enter the ring, but Joe McQuillan spotted his intentions from a mile away. Game over for Antrim.

31. John Small (Dublin)

The crowd couldn’t believe it. The Dublin bear went into the rumble as the 6/4 favourite. He left after 12 seconds with his tail between his legs and a sore back. Colm Boyle and Jack Savage teamed up to send him packing.

Good tactics from the lads. How would any man survive against Small in a one-on-one? Just like St.Vincent’s getting knocked out of the Leinster club, this game is wide open now. It’s game on now.

Small started pointing fingers and heckling the referee. Jim Gavin jumped into escort him away.

He wasn’t a happy camper.

30. Paddy Maguire (Leitrim)

The Glencar Manorhamilton man got caught up in the madness. He went in all guns blazing, clocking Conor Devaney with a clinker to the chin. He got excited. He got too excited. Just like his sticky corner back play in the yellow of Leitrim, he was physical, he was robust, he was ferocious. He turned too many heads.

Damien Comar got angry and sent him flying. But it could have been any one of them.

Good luck.

29. Barry Gilleran (Longford)

The Longford man followed the Leitrim man over. The tall, rangy full back was sent packing early on. He couldn’t be faulted for a lack of effort. He could be faulted for his game plan. Left himself wide open, as the more shrewd operators hatched away in the corner.

A brave effort, a gallant effort. But not enough in the end.

28. Andrew McCrave (Louth)

The 2016 Louth hurler of the year fancied his chances. His county fancied his chances. He’d been working hard in the gym in the build-up. He’d even got a few tattoos. The tough man look was nailed. He didn’t fare too badly, but the might of the other heavyweights overwhelmed the Wee county rep.

27. John Henderson (Wicklow)

The son of the Kilkenny legend with the same name, the Wicklow midfield maestro has played many a game for his county with broken bones. Tough as nails, he mightn’t be the biggest package, but he sure as hell packs a punch.

His own honesty sewed the seeds for his own downfall here. He didn’t back down. He didn’t hide. He did pay the price.

Slán abhaile go Cill Mhantáin.

26. Joe Bergin (Offaly)

The big Seir Kieran giant suffered a similar fate to John Small. Hotly tipped, heavily targeted. Stephen Attride put the finishing touches to the Faithful challenge.

The tattoo did him no favours.

They ganged up on him. He’s a gonner.

25. Seán Quigley (Fermanagh)

What did he expect when he was eating pizza the night before the big fight? Get out of here.

24. Seán Murphy (Carlow)

The plucky Carlow midfielder went head first into every battle. He hassled, he harried, he punched, he pumped, he dogged. Eventually, he paid the price for his efforts when a battle-weary Murphy was taken out by his Kilenny namesake Paul.

He had the crowd on side from the minute the bell rang to the minute he left the arena. Did his reputation no harm.

He fought the good fight.

23. Tom Condon (Limerick)

A teak tough corner back. He wasn’t taking any bullshit in the ring. Ger Canning was to blame for his early exit, calling him the best corner back still standing. Moments later, the commentators curse wreaked havoc. Condon paid the price.

At least he lasted longer than Joe Bergin.

22. Charlie Vurnon (Armagh)

The all-action midfielder was in the thick of it from the word go. Shipped a few heavy hits in the early stages but ploughed on regardless.

Lean as they come, a new breed GAA player, he was primed for this one.

Paddy Brophy used all of his brawn to cut his evening short. Kieran McGeeney shook his head in the crowd.

21. Kevin McKernan (Down)

Done the Mourne men proud. Their livewire midfielder built up a frightening head of steam in the early stages, recklessly flinging his body into dangerous situations.

Didn’t give a damn about his own well-being. Left everything in the ring. Joe Brolly was lapping his ambition up. He was proud of his fellow Ulsterman.

Went toe to toe with Colin Walshe. Went out over the top ropes.

20. Tommy ‘Jogger’ Doyle (Westmeath)

The Jogger was well aware hurls weren’t allowed in the ring, yet he wielded his 36″ camán at every opportunity. Claimed a few scalps, catching Tom Condon on the sly with a ferocious dig into the ribs.

Karma bit him in the arse when Mickey ‘The Honey Badger’ Burke speared him into the abyss. Mickey had left his weapon at home. He was angry the Westmeath man hadn’t done the same.

Burke bicep curled him out of the action.

A creditable effort.

19. Mickey Burke (Meath)

Burke flexed over Doyle’s sprawled body. He boomed his chest out to the crowd. Ross Donovan came from behind and decked him. The snake.

18. Gary Brennan (Clare)

Honest as the day is long, the human wrecking ball that is Gary Brennan attempted to take on too much here. Weary, legless, boll*xed by the end of it, he couldn’t do any more.

17. Colm O’Neill (Cork)

The crowd cheered him for every punch. He punched with the power of ninety men. Has came through three Cruciate operations to be still at the peak of his powers. This was a bridge too far, but the people’s fighter won many admirers.

16. Colin Walshe (Monaghan)

Plodded around the ring ready to kill. Devastated Damien Comar with a shoulder. That man Ross Donovan came back to destroy him with a thunderbastard of a shoulder.

15. Brendan Rogers (Derry)

Paid the price for beating Chrissy McKaigue in the preliminary rounds. The man was still in a hoop.

14. Cian Mackey (Cavan)

Don’t let that innocent face fool you. Mackey is hard as nails. He’s tough as an overcooked steak. Was coasting until Cathal McCarron caught him with a cheap one to the crowd’s frustration.

13. Paddy Brophy (Kildare)

Used every bit of muscle, smarts, dark arts learned over in Australia to get this far. Send Neil McGee to the canvas with an early jab. Just couldn’t keep it going.

Did the Lillies’ proud.

12. Stephen Attride (Laois)

The former high level cross country runner with St. Abban’s Athletic club flirted around the outskirts of the action. Covered every blade of grass in the ring. Could stay going forever, until Barry John Keane gobbled him up mercilessly.

Did the O’Moore county proud.

11. Conor Devaney (Roscommon)

Pulls the lumberjack look off like a champ. Plays like it, too. An animal of a man. Never shirked a challenge, never flinched for a second. The Rossies’ can be proud of their bloodied warrior, who was obliterated by Galway’s very own Incredible Hulk, Damien Comer.

10. Diarmuid ‘Gizzy’ O’Keeffe (Wexford)

With those flowing locks, this man was born to be a wrestler. His yellow belly turned to a bright red fire. Head down, shoulders back, he thrown his weight around to sheer exhaustion.

He went out on his own sword, giving Brian Cody the middle finger and attempting an RKO on Paul Murphy. The Kilkenny corner bac had eyes in the back of his head, grabbed ‘Gizzy’ by the hair on his head and thrown him out like a rag doll.

9. Colm Cavanagh (Tyrone)

Looked like he was going to stay all day, Donovan of Sligo ended his evening early. Solid effort.

8. Ross Donovan (Sligo)

A true underdog story. Sligo weren’t supposed to do this well. Ross Donovan, though, that lad is the hardiest buck in the land. The whole of Mayo will remember the day he creased Jason Doherty with a shoulder in the Connacht championship. Doherty had Colm Boyle well warned before this one, and Boyler got rid of his challenge.

7. Paul Murphy (Klikenny)

Look at the size of those legs.

6. Noel Connors (Waterford)

Look at the size of those legs.

5. Barry John Keane (Kerry)

Knows every trick in the book does the Kerryman. A real ‘cute hoor’ if there ever was one. Barry John held his cards close to his chest in the early stages. When Paddy Maguire was bursting around the ring like a dog in heat, Keane was tucked away in the corner, making friends, not enemies.

He hedged his bets on a late run. His patience paid off. Thrown in a few cheeky digs, like a lad who wants to be involved in a fight but didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of it.

Neil McGee saw the danger and lost his patience with the Kingdom man.

4. Neil McGee (Donegal)

Barry John Keane smashed him with a brass knuckle just before his exit. Ruled out by his physios.

3. Damien Comer (Galway)

Did to 28 men what he had done to Diarmuid O’Connor earlier in the year. Relished the intensity, the fire and the battle. Took victim after victim. Eventually, the Tribesman ran out of gas. The Incredible Hulk had been brought down.

2. Colm Boyle (Mayo)

It’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.

Boyler never said die, but when it came down to a one-on-one with a man who matched his intensity and ferocity, but held the advantage of about 4 inches and 3 stone, there was only going to be one winner.

He did leave his mark. He did do Mayo proud.

1. Pádraic Maher (Tipperary)

Enough said.

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