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Laois’s Mount Rushmore – Off the Ball’s unenviable task of picking our four greatest sports stars

How? Just how could you pick this?

Pick Laois’s best four sports people of all time. Well that’s what Off the Ball, Newstalk’s hugely popular sports radio show, will do tomorrow morning, Friday, June 5.

They have been running a series since the Coronavirus lockdown where they pick the best four sports people from each county in Ireland.

Mount Rushmore is the famous granite sculpture of four US presidents in South Dakota and has spawned countless conversations over the years as to who you’d have on your Mount Rushmore.

Now it’s Laois’s turn. Laois’s Mount Rushmore will be their choice of Laois’s four best sports people of all time.

All time is a difficult time period, given so few are in a position to comment authoritavely.

The criteria is the first starting point. The best? The most memorable? The most influential?

Tasked with being on the judging panel is well-known sports journalist Cliona Foley, originally from Abbeyleix, and Shane Keegan from Rathdowney, the highly-regarded soccer coach who contributes widely to the national media and has his own coaching podcast on the42.ie.

We’ll help throw the ball in for the Newstalk team here by putting together a longlist, in alphabetical order, across a wide range of sports. From cycling to boxing, rugby to soccer, athletics to Australian Rules and of course the GAA, we’ve narrowed it down to this. And even this is almost impossible.

Go on. Try and pick your top four.

Laois captain Colm Browne, referee Carthage Buckley and Wicklow captain before the infamous game in Aughrim in 1986

Colm Browne (Gaelic Football)

Laois’s first football All Star when he was named wing-back in 1986, the same year he captained Laois to the National League title.

A classy footballer who would have held his own in any era, he was also on the Portlaoise team that won the All Ireland club title in 1983 and spent two spells as Laois football manager – and a time in charge of Tipperary.


Tony Byrne (Soccer)

Born in Rathdowney in the mid 1940s, he moved to London at the age of 12 with his parents and went on to have a lengthy professional soccer career.

Starting out with Milwall, he then spent a decade with Southampton before moving on to Hereford and then Newport. He won 14 caps for Ireland between 1969 and 1973 as a left-back.

Honoured by the FAI in 2007, he died in 2016 at the age of 70 and his ashes were brought back to his native Rathdowney.


Pat Critchley (Hurling, Gaelic Football and Basketball)

Laois’s only hurling All Star and a man who played hurling, Gaelic football and basketball at a high standard.

A legend of the fine Laois hurling team of the 1980s, an All Ireland club football winner with Portlaoise in 1983 and a fine basketballer with the Portlaoise team in the national leagues in that decade also, he has also made an immense contribution to sport in this county and beyond in hurling, men’s and ladies football and basketball in his role as a coach.


PJ Cuddy (Hurling)

Laois’s record hurling goalscorer of all time and a real fan’s favourite of that 1980s era. The Camross man played for Laois for 16 years and along with Critchley was honoured in Croke Park on All Ireland final day along with 15 other players from the 1980s that didn’t win an All Ireland.

Played with Leinster and was twice an All Star replacement.


Gerry Culliton in the Ireland colours in 1961

Gerry Culliton (Rugby)

The Clonaslee man played minor hurling for Laois before switching his attention to rugby and winning 19 caps for Ireland in the 1960s.

Was capped in the second row and back row for Ireland and was on course to be capped in the front row late in his career before foot and mouth in Wales meant New Zealand didn’t travel to Europe on their scheduled tour.

After starting with Tullamore and then moving to Wanderers in Dublin, he came back to play and coach in Portlaoise and also played and was involved in coaching with the Clonaslee hurlers. Died in 2014.


Garrett Culliton in the 2008 Paralympics in the Birds Nest stadium in Beijing. He finished fifth in discuss, setting a new Irish record in the process

Garrett Culliton (Paralympic Discus)

Another whose father also appears on this list as Culliton’s dad Gerry is mentioned above.

Suffered a life-changing injury while playing rugby for Wanderers when he was just 21, leaving him in a wheelchair.  But he remained heavily involved in sport and represented Ireland in four Paralympic Games – 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008 – and only narrowly missed out on qualifying for London in 2012.

Previously worked with the Laois Sports Partnership and continues to be involved in wheelchair basketball as well as having completed the London and Chicago marathons.


Mick Dempsey (Gaelic Football and Hurling)

From one of Laois’s great GAA families, he enjoyed a fine playing career with the Laois footballers from the early 80s up to the mid 90s before then going into management and coaching.

In an incredible twist, he became one of the most respected hurling coaches in the country and was Brian Cody’s right hand man throughout Kilkenny’s domination of the game over the best part of the last 20 years.


TJ Doheny (Boxing)

There haven’t been too many Laois people crowned a world champion – but that’s what Doheny achieved in 2018 when he became the IBF super bantam weight champion by beating Ryosuke Iwase in his native Japan.

The Portlaoise native, who lives between Australia and his training base in Boston and travelled an incredible journey to becoming world champion, lost his title in April of last year when he was beaten by American fighter Daniel Roman.


Alo Donegan (Cycling)

Referred to as the Godfather of Irish cycling and the man that paved the way for Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly.

The Portarlington man secured his place in the history of world cycling in 1934 when he became the first person to break the hour for the 25-mile time trial which was treated as the unofficial World time trial record  He also set an Irish 50-mile record in 1946. Inducted into the Irish cycling Hall of Fame in 2012.


Anne Keenan-Buckley (Athletics)

Arguably the greatest runner Laois has ever produced. Competed in the 1988 Seoul  Olympics and enjoyed a lengthy career which also included World and European Cross Country titles.

Her World Cross Country bronze medal in 2002 was achieved at the age of 40 when she was Ireland’s second runner home behind Sonia O’Sullivan. Later coached many of the country’s top distance runners and spent six years as manager of Ireland’s Cross Country teams.


Tracey Lawlor (Ladies Football)

From the famed Emo GAA family she is one of the best ladies footballers of her generation

Was on the All Ireland winning team in 2001 at the age of 18 – though already in her fourth season.

Won All Ireland, Division 1 league and numerous Leinster titles with Laois – as well winning four All Star awards in a fine career.


Brian ‘Beano’ McDonald (Gaelic Football)

One of the main players in kick-starting a great era of Laois football. Played in three minor All Ireland finals and was a much-loved player right throughout Mick O’Dwyer’s spell as manager.

Injury curtailed his career but one of the first names you think of when you remember our greatest season in 2003. A magician with the ball and adored by supporters.


Bobby Miller (Gaelic Football)

Played for Laois from the late 1960s up until the early 1980s and was nominated for four All Stars in a row in the 1970s.

The Timahoe native was a hugely influential figure in Laois GAA and played a central role in the redevelopment of O’Moore Park in the early 80s when he was still a county player. Later had huge influence as a club and county manager, particularly with Eire Og in Carlow.

Sadly passed away in O’Moore Park in 2006 when he was managing Arles-Killeen.


Alison Miller (Rugby)

Her father Bobby is mentioned above, but Alison is a fantastic athlete too – having excelled in a wide range of sports before making her name on a global stage as one of the best ladies rugby players in the world.

Was prominent in athletics, gymastics and ladies football before switching over to rugby and becoming a star on the Ireland team that won a Grand Slam and reached the World Cup semi-final, famously scoring an unforgettable try in the quarter-final win over New Zealand.


Frank Moore (Rowing)

Just like TJ Doheny’s world title success, there’s very few Laois people who have competed in the Olympics.

Frank Moore from Emo, however, was involved in two Olympic Games as a rower. He was the spare man on the Irish coxed fours rowing team (made up entirely of members of An Garda Síochána) in Montreal in 1976 and then competed in the coxed pair in Seoul in 1988. In Montreal he carried the Irish flag at the opening ceremony. He won 14 national titles and two highly prestigious Henley Regattas, an elite event in the sport held on the River Thames.

After retiring from rowing, he excelled at cycling and in his professional career spent a time as chief superintendant of the Laois-Offaly Garda division.


Ross Munnelly (Gaelic Football)

Broke onto the Laois football team in that magical summer of 2003 and is still playing 17 years later.

Has all the records – most appearances, highest scorer. Has played for Ireland in the International Rules and has three All Star nominations.

Will go down as one of the all-time Laois GAA greats.


Tommy ‘The Boy Wonder’ Murphy (Gaelic Football)

Played for Laois when he was 16, won Leinster medals in the 1930s and 1940s and was named midfield on the GAA’s Team of the Milennium in 1999.

From Graiguecullen, the ‘Boy Wonder’ nickname hints at his legend. Regarded far and wide.


Christy O’Brien (Hurling)

The Borris-in-Ossory man is regarded by many as the finest Laois hurler of all time – with veteran local commentator Jack Nolan saying recently that he’s the best he’s ever seen.

Played with Laois for 18 years, won Railway Cups with Leinster, five Laois senior championships with Borris-in-Ossory, named on a best team of hurlers never to have won an All Ireland and inducted into the Leinster GAA Hall of Fame in 2019.

Respected far and wide.


Tom Prendergast in full flight against Wicklow in 1986

Tom ‘Curly’ Prendergast (Gaelic Football)

One of the most fondly remembered players of the Laois football team of the 1980s, winning a National League title in 1986 and playing in a Leinster final in 1981.

A really stylish half-forward, he was also on the Portlaoise team that won the All Ireland club final in 1983. Would surely have been considered for an All Star in 1986 had the rule at the time not prohibited players who had been sent off that season – as he was in the infamous loss to Wicklow in Aughrim.


Sue Ramsbottom (Ladies Football and Rugby)

Remembered as one of the best ladies footballers of all time, she was part of the All Ireland winning side in 2001, having lost or drawn seven previous finals.

Won a senior All Ireland club title with The Heath as a 12-year-old in 1986 and from there to being the star player with Laois for almost 20 years. Won seven All Star awards and was Texaco Player of the Year in that 2001 season.

An incredible athlete she also won three caps for the Ireland rugby team.


Brian Rigney (Rugby)

Another from a great sporting family, he was a late starter in rugby, only picking up the sport in his late teens.

His ability came to the fore quickly though and he rose through the ranks in no time, before going on to win eight caps for Ireland in the 1990s.

His international career was cut short by injury but he enjoyed a fine club career, being part of the great Shannon team of the mid 1990s before then being a driving force on the fine Buccaneers team of the late 90s. The last Laois man to play rugby for Ireland.


Robin Roe (Rugby)

From Borris-in-Ossory, he began his rugby in school in Kings Hospital before moving to Lansdowne. Was capped 21 times for Ireland and was on the Lions squad that toured South Africa in 1955.

Went on to serve as a Church of Ireland rector and was a chaplain in the British Army where he was honoured by the crown for his bravery. Worked as a rector in Surrey until his retirement in 1989 and passed away in 2010.


Nicole Turner (Paralympic Swimming)

At almost 18, she is the youngest on this list by some distance. But the Portarlington girl is a quality swimmer and prior to the Coronavirus was focused on competing in her second Paralympic Games having competed in five events in Rio de Janereiro in 2016 when she was Ireland’s flag bearer for the closing ceremony.

Finished fifth in the Butterfly final in the 2016 Paralympics and was a European silver medalist in 2018. Would have been heading to Tokyo as a genuine medal hope but has quickly re-focused on 2021.


  

John Taylor (Hurling)

Another of the 1980s team and singled out by Critchley in his book Hungry Hill as a Laois player who should have been honoured with an All Star during his playing days.

From the Portlaoise club he was a really stylish wing-back who played for Laois up until 1997 and was inducted into the Laois GAA Hall of Fame last year.


Zach Tuohy (Australian Rules)

Laois football’s loss has been Australian Rules’ gain. The Portlaoise man signed with one of Australia’s most famed clubs in 2009 and has since gone on to become one of the best Irish players ever to play the game.

Now with Geelong, only Jim Stynes and Tadhg Kennelly have made more apperances in the AFL Premiership than Tuohy. He also holds the all-time record for the most consecutive games played.

Played regularly with Portlaoise in his off-season – though he hasn’t done so since 2015. Is adamant that he will return to play with Portlaoise and hopefully Laois when he retires from the Australian game.

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