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The 16 Best Ever Performances By A Player On A Losing Team

The 16 Best Ever Performances By A Player On A Losing Team
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By Balls Team
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They say the history books are written by the victors, something that also applies to the world of sport. When looking back at some of the all-time great individual performances, they are nearly always associated with win on the biggest stage. Of course, that isn't always the case.

Shane Walsh's performance in yesterday's All-Ireland final will go down as one of the greatest the GAA has ever seen, but it was not enough to stop Kerry from lifting the Sam Maguire. Despite a mammoth showing, he has little to show for his efforts.

Great performances by players on losing teams are sooner forgotten than those that led to victories. Here are some of the greatest individual displays we've ever seen that went unrewarded by victory.

Where should Walsh's display at Croke Park rank on this list of individual brilliance that just wasn't enough?


Shane Walsh

2022 All-Ireland Football Final

Shane Walsh will have woken up this morning wondering how doesn't have a Celtic cross in his back pocket. He was in absolutely stunning form in the loss to Kerry, ending the game with a personal tally of 0-9.

That is an quite the feat in itself, but the in which he got those scores makes it even more impressive. Of his nine points, five would come off his right football and four off his left foot. He kicked a 45 with the right early in the game, with most other dead balls being struck off the left.


Not only that, but some of the scores he get from play were simply out of this world.

David Clifford was named as man-of-the-match after a cracking performance of his own, but there is a real argument to be made that Shane Walsh deserved the accolade despite ending up on the losing team.



Patrick Horgan

2019 All-Ireland Hurling Quarter-Final
Patrick Horgan

Horgan has long been one of the top hurlers in the country, but his form in the last couple of years have been on another level. An All-Star for the previous two years, his quarter final performance in 2019 all but guaranteed a third honour in a row.

With Cork highly fancied against old rivals Kilkenny, Horgan stepped up to the plate again. First, he nailed a penalty passed Eoin Murphy for just the second score of the game. Later in the first half, after amassing a number of frees and an outstanding point from play, Horgan got through the Kilkenny full-back line, only to be taken down. Instead of waiting on a referee's decision, the Glen Rovers man retained his poise, and buried the ball passed Murphy from his knees.

Later, with the game getting away from Cork and badly needing inspiration, Horgan scored one of the great goals ever seen in Croke Park. He ended up with a personal total of 3-10.



Unfortunately for Horgan, his teammates weren't up to it in a surprise quarter-final exit to a rejuvenated Kilkenny, and his wait for an elusive All-Ireland goes on.


Padraig Kelly

1993 All-Ireland Hurling Final

The last man from a losing team to win man of the match in an All-Ireland final, Kelly played three matches in Croke Park in 1993 and was man of the match in all of them.


He starred in Sarsfields' All-Ireland club final victory in March, was brilliant when a youthful Galway shocked Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final in August, and was then good enough to be awarded MOTM in the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny, despite the fact that Galway lost out thanks to PJ Delaney's late goal.

Despite all this, he did not win Hurler of the Year, a prize which went to DJ Carey (who was very subdued in the All-Ireland final).

If someone has a dusty, grainy old VCR of Kelly picking up his bit of Waterford Crystal off Ger Canning at the sombre 'losing banquet', please, I'm begging you, as an act of public service, put the damn thing up on YouTube.


Brett Lee 

2005 Ashes, 2nd Test

One of the most heroic final stands in cricket. England were coasting to victory in the second test in Edgbaston in 2005. In their second innings, Australia needed to hit a target of 282 runs, but at the end of play on Saturday, they were on a miserable 175 for 8, down to their final few men. Naturally, these were specialist bowlers and thus unlikely to keep the English party waiting for long. Lee and Warne dug in, and managed to get to 220 for 8 before Warne was bowled out on 42.

They needed 62 runs from their final partnership, still a near impossibility. However, Lee, and his new helper Kasporowitz, withstood some ferocious balls from Harmison and Flintoff, and kept coming back. When Lee took Ashley Giles for a couple of boundaries in the 56th over, it began to dawn on horrified English supporters that they might not win this. By the time they were down to only needing single figures, the dismay and distress around the Birmingham ground was overwhelming.

They had fallen short, Before Lee (43 not out) could walk back to the pavilion past all the jubilant (and relieved) English players, Freddie Flintoff made a bolt for him to offer his respect.

Anne Harris in the Sunday Independent, whose late husband Aengus Fanning was a cricket fanatic, swooned about the efforts of Lee and Warne.

For decades to come, people will talk of the nobility of Australia at Edgbaston, when, routed by the English (who had ignominiously thrown away the first Test at Lord's) their two champions, spin bowler Shane Warne and fast bowler Brett Lee, batted as though for their lives. Brett Lee took blow after blow to his body from the fierce balls of Flintoff, the Lancashire tank. Time and again, Lee staggered to his feet - for all the world like Muhammad Ali under George Foreman's hammering.

The fact that the last Australian was dismissed only two runs away from victory makes it all the more heroic to me. Maybe that's because I am a woman and victory seems to matter less to women but cricket is a country of the mind, where, to quote Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind, "Men are men . . . and women too."


Thierry Dusautoir

2011 Rugby World Cup Final

Rugby has long lent itself to these fantastic displays of resilience in the face of adversity. Sergio Parisse has combined being one of the most heavily praised sportsmen on the planet with losing 90% of the (international) matches he plays in. Richie Gray, likewise. Same for Keith Wood between 1995 and 1998. Most English journalists went nuts about Simon Shaw's display in the second Lions test in Pretoria in 2009. Stephen Jones, never afraid to let his emotions cloud the issue, famously gave Shawsey a rating of 10 for his performance.

Dusautoir was amazingly influential in the 2011 World Cup final, scoring a second half try and earning the Man of the Match award. Helped by some home town refereeing from Craig Joubert, New Zealand managed to survive their own choke and squeak through 8 - 7. Dusautoir later won the IRB International Player of the Year for 2011.


Franco Baresi

1994 World Cup Final

Italy has always been a very demanding football country. Despite the fact that they came within a penalty shoot-out of winning the 1994 World Cup, most fans still wouldn't have given their manager Arrigo Sacchi the time of the day. You suspect that the fact that Sacchi didn't get to parade around as a World Cup winner was the saving grace of not winning the final for most supporters.

In five tinker-heavy years between 1991 and 1996 that made Rafa Benitez look like Giovanni Trapattoni, the manager never picked the same team twice. And one of his biggest selection gambles came in the World Cup final in the Rose Bowl. At the age of 34, in the twilight of his career, having just recovered from a knee operation a month (yes, one month) before, Baresi had played in the opening two group games, only to get injured against Norway. That was thought to be that. The football world was shocked when he was recalled on the eve of the final.

Barely able to run, Baresi proceeded to give a display of defensive excellence that was both cool and heroic, as an Italy team beset by injury (Baggio wasn't fit either at this stage) held the Brazilians to 0 - 0 draw after extra-time.

Typically, Baresi was one of the Italian players to miss in the shoot-out, striking the ball (again like Baggio) high over the bar. Unlike Baggio, he fell to his knees immediately head in his hands.


Joe Canning

2008 All-Ireland qualifier

A second entry for the Galway hurlers (and not even the last one). They were hot favourites for the 2008 qualifier against an unhappy Cork team in some disarray. All the buzz was about their young sensation Joe Canning, making his Championship debut after his year in self-imposed exile in the wake of the 2006 county final fiasco.

Both Galway and Canning were slow to start, but he finally arrived with a bang when he manufactured a superb goal for himself, escaping the attention of Diarmuid O'Sullivan.  The only downside for Galway were the fourteen other players on the pitch, particularly the other forwards, who needn't have bothered togging. Their boss Ger Loughnane strode around the touchline with a mixture of aloofness, mystification and disgust on his face. As Galway struggled and Cork grew emboldened, Canning rose to the challenge, mounting a one man resistance, and began knocking over points from all angles. After one of his long range scores in the second half, co-commentator Michael Duignan described the performance as "one of the greatest I've ever seen."

Galway lost 0 - 23 to 2 - 15. Canning scored 2 - 12, a fair chunk of those scores coming from play. Despite being his championship debut, it remains arguably Canning's best performance for Galway.




Matt Connor

1980 All-Ireland semi-final

Matt Connor's signature performance and he didn't even end up on the winning team. The goals were flying in back in August 1980 as Kerry set about securing their third All-Ireland on the trot.

Connor was at his classy, elegant best as he hit an incredible 2-9 but Offaly still lost a high scoring game by five points. Gaelic football could be a harum scarum business in the Micheal O'Hehir era and many of the protagonists made it look that way. However, time seemed to stand still for Connor and the ease with which he made space for himself is still striking.

This game, far more than the 1982 All-Ireland final, represents him at his best.


Colm Cooper

2013 All-Ireland semi-final

A corner forward for most of his career, there was always something hugely exciting about his switch to centre forward. Cooper's performance in the first half of that semi-final had sportswriters purring. You suspect he even had Guardian-reading cosmopolitan types, who's sporting pallet is usually restricted to watching Spanish and German football and listening to Football Weekly, luxuriating in the majesty of his play. Perched in 'the hole' (not previously a known concept in Gaelic football, but he seemed to operate in one that day), Cooper directed Kerry's attack with a style and a nonchalance not often seen in such high octane encounters. Time stood still when he got the ball.

The final score, Dublin 3 - 18  Kerry 3 - 11, inspired a great line from Irish Times journalist Malachy Clerkin "if Kerry could sue a scoreline for libel, the damages would be immense."


Seamus Callanan

2015 All-Ireland semi-final

Seamus Callanan

Given the preponderance of Galway hurlers on here, it should come as a relief to supporters to see Galway responsible for inflicting defeat on one of these tragic heroes.

With the rest of Tipp's highly regarded forward line gone AWOL, it was left to Callanan to carry the fight to the Galway backline in 2015's rollercoaster semi-final.

Galway hit a hot streak and dominated Tipp around the middle third. That Tipperary got within a point was almost solely down to Callanan, who hit a remarkable 3-9 out their tally of 3-16, his second championship hat-trick in a row against Galway.

He probably would have a fourth too but for John Hanbury's blunt approach to upending him in the final ten minutes.


Peter Canavan

1995 All-Ireland final

Possibly more famous than it should be considering the massive bulk of his scores came from placed balls.

He nailed eleven of Tyrone's twelve points as they went down narrowly, and controversially, to a nervy Dublin side who finally crawled over the line after a few agonising misses.

Canavan became an icon after his performances for Tyrone in the mid-1990s. For years after he was the first name on the team-sheets when pub talk turned to consider the best team never to win an All-Ireland.

Thankfully, he is no longer eligible for selection on that team.


Franz Beckenbauer 

1970 World Cup semi-final

International football lends itself more to heroic displays on losing sides than club football, because the best players don't get to bugger off to the best teams after a few good performances.

Possibly the most achievement laden person in football history, Beckenbauer was not usually associated with gutsy moral victories. In an inversion of the treatment usually accorded to Irish footballers, his attitudinal qualities were overshadowed by his decorous technical ability. But he was gutsy too, in that undemonstrative German way.

Against Italy in the 1970 World Cup semi-final, Beckenbauer fractured his clavicle. However, these being the barbaric, pre health and safety days, when you were only allowed two substitutes, Beckenbauer was forced to remain on the pitch. He simply tucked his arm into a sling and played on for the entire 120 minutes of the 'Game of the Century. The West Germans fell to a late Gianni Rivera goal near the end of extra time.


Chuck Howley

Super Bowl V, 1971

America loves winners. It follows that the MVP in the biggest game of the year should be drawn from the victors. This has been true for every year except one. Back in 1971, Chuck Howley of the Dallas Cowboys took home the MVP award but no Super Bowl ring. Howley was also the first non-quarterback to pick up the award.

The reputed shiteness of the game notwithstanding, this is still a singular achievement. He pulled off two interceptions and recovered a fumble as his team went down 16-13.

He had no time for such shallow baubles either. He refused to accept the award because it was meaningless once his team lost. That may partly explain why no losing player has been offered it since.


Michael Meehan

2008 All-Ireland quarter final

The purists' day out. The 2008 All-Ireland quarter final between Kerry and Galway is recalled far more than the common or garden All-Ireland quarter final.

It is a response that Galway, in particular, often seem to generate, even in defeat. The Connacht champions received more plaudits than Kerry for the attractive nature of the game - after all they were ones that suffered for their art, eschewing cynicism altogether and going down by five points. It's something Galway have since abandoned under Kevin Walsh, but with no extra success.

The rain came barrelling down so heavily and the sky grew so dark that spectators could barely see the play and Croke Park officials were forced into switching on the floodlights unusually early.

It didn't hamper either set of forwards. 1-21 to 1-16 was the final count, an astonishing scoreline in the circumstances. Michael Meehan kicked ten points and was handed his bit of Waterford Crystal afterwards, despite the going home on the losing side.


Sean O'Brien

2013 November Series against New Zealand

Before 2016 came and "changed everything", Ireland had a good one hundred and whatever years of not beating the All Blacks. In that time, many Irish players have put in many tragically heroic performances. In 1992, after enduring possibly our worst Five Nations ever, St. Mary's centre Vinnie Cunningham scored two tries and one of the least celebrated Ireland sides came within three points of beating them in Dunedin (the following week Ireland were hammered 59-6). Brian O'Driscoll played brilliantly against them in 2006 and 2010. Cian Healy was magnificent in Ireland's controversial loss in Christchurch in 2012.

But 2013 would go down as  the most harrowing loss of all, one marked by several sensational performances from Irish players, shaking off the cobwebs of a dreary and depressing display against Australia. Rob Kearney and Conor Murray were exceptional, Rory Best deserves honourable mention for playing on (briefly) with a broken arm. However, the supremely authoritative, all action style of Sean O'Brien took home the Man of the Match award. The Rugby Blog summed up his display.

It was his drive which put the All Blacks on the back foot before Rory Best crashed over. He made 19 tackles, second only to Heaslip in that area, and was ever present at the breakdown, even outshining Richie McCaw on the day. His physicality in the tackle contributed to Rob Kearney’s breakaway try.


Joe Cooney

1990 All-Ireland hurling final

We end with yet another stunning performance from a Galway hurler in an All-Ireland final that was all in vain.

Galway seems to specialise in these type of performances. And not just in hurling. PJ Smith, the Galway goalkeeper was Man of the Match in the 1973 All-Ireland football final, a game won by Cork. Michael Meehan was MOTM when Galway went toe to toe with Kerry in the driving rain in that purists' wet dream of a game in 2008.

Joe Cooney delivered an absolute masterclass in the first half of the 1990 All-Ireland final, the hurling equivalent of Cooper's display against Dublin last year. As he told the Laochra Gael makers, he had "one of those days, every time I put out my hand, the ball seemed to land in it." Cooney scored a series of sensational points and kicked a goal to leave Galway well in command at half time, It was a performance that had the TG4 montage makers purring.

Galway, going for their third All-Ireland in four years, and with Tony Keady back after his, ahem, absence the previous year, were strong favourites against a Cork side who had surprised Tipp in Munster and had little to recommend to them other than natural cockiness, a few talented players, and their own venerable 'tradition.'

However, a glut of goals from John Fitzgibbon, Kevin Hennessy and Tomas Mulcahy in the second half gave the Munster champions an unlikely victory. It's a game that is this day is difficult to  believe Galway list.

If you have a spare couple of hours, you can watch the whole remarkable match here.



SEE ALSO: The Best Current Footballer From Each Of The 32 Counties

best player from every county in ireland

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