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The Longest Serving GAA Players Who Are Still Active At Inter-County Level

The Longest Serving GAA Players Who Are Still Active At Inter-County Level
By Conor Neville
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1990s nostalgics endured a tough morning as news broke of Dick Clerkin's retirement from inter-county football.

Clerkin may not be synonymous with the decade but he did at least play some inter-county football at the very tail end of it. He was the last active inter-county player of whom that could be said.

The National League used to begin before Christmas in those days and Clerkin featured in the opening few games of Monaghan's 1999-00 League campaign.

His crown as the longest serving player still active in the inter-county game travels west...

Obviously, if you've any suggestions for currently active players who've gone on longer, throw them in down here.


Mark Breheny


With the departure of Dick Clerkin from the inter-county scene, the longest serving yet-to-retire player in Gaelic football is Sligo's Mark Breheny.

When Clerkin made his first appearance for Monaghan, computer nerds were still fretting about Y2K. By the time, Mark Breheny first kicked a ball for the Sligo seniors, those fears had already proven unfounded.

He made his debut against Meath in a National League match in 2000. It was the same National League in which Dick Clerkin began his county career but Breheny's opening bow fell the wrong side of Christmas.


In the sixteen intervening years, he's played in five Connacht finals, winning one in 2007. He captained the side in the 2016 season. This year's qualifier win against Leitrim was his 50th championship match for Sligo.

Breheny continues a grand tradition of Sligo players going on forever. Eamonn O'Hara made his championship debut against Galway in Markeiwicz Park in 1995 and was still playing in the Connacht Final in 2012, coming on for Shane McManus early in the second half.

And even his omission from the 2013 panel was carried out in the face of his own vigorous protests. When most lads with eighteen seasons under their belt fail to turn out for a nineteenth it's usually their own doing. Not so with O'Hara.



Christy Toye

Kieran Cunningham tweeted recently that Christy Toye made his Donegal debut before Oasis were formed. And while it may feel like that sometimes, this timeline is not strictly accurate.


It's truer to say that Oasis were still, even four years on, mired in a post-Be Here Now funk. Toye made his Donegal senior debut in a League match against Louth in 2001.

With a host of Donegal players quitting after the 2016 championship, Christy has been on retirement watch all
autumn. But as of yet, there has been no announcement.


Stephen Cluxton


Those not intimately acquainted with Sligo football were inclined to offer Cluxton as the answer to the longest serving Gaelic footballer still active.

It was Dublin manager Tommy Carr who first decided to give Cluxton his chance in the No. 1 shirt for the Dubs. He played in the Dubs' championship against Longford that year.

While, he was absent from the big games against Kerry that summer, he would take over the shirt full time in 2002.


Dermot Brady

Paul Barden was Longford's final link to the 1990s and unlike Dick Clerkin, he actually played in the '99 championship. But he called it quits after the 2014 season.

Since then, Longford's longest serving player has been Slashers' defender Dermot Brady. Still operating at the heart of the defence in the 2016 season, Brady made his senior championship debut against Wicklow in a qualifier in Aughrim in 2001.


Colm Cooper

It's hard to think of Cooper as old but almost fifteen years after his first appearance for the Kerry seniors, he is one of the longest serving players in the country.

He exploded onto the scene in 2002, terrorising Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final and Armagh in the first half of that year's final.

He had only made his Kerry debut five months earlier when he featured in Kerry's 1-9 to 1-5 victory over Laois in the final week of April 2002. He scored 1-2 that day.


Sean Cavanagh

Another whose retirement was tipped following Tyrone's loss to Mayo in the All-Ireland quarter-final but Mickey Harte has said he has "no doubt" that Cavanagh will line out for Tyrone in the 2017 season.


His inter-county career precedes even Mickey Harte's managerial reign. Art McRory and Eugene McKenna were still taking the team when Cavanagh was first tossed into the mix in Clones.

Cavanagh made his championship debut against Armagh in May 2002. He was a hero from the off. In the final minute with Tyrone trailing by three, he plucked a ball from the air and blasted the ball past Benny Tierney into the left han corner.


Michael 'Brick' Walsh

Michael 'Brick' Walsh is an interesting case. He's been a leader in the Waterford hurling setup for thirteen years at this stage.

But his first appearance in Waterford colours at senior level was in 2002. For the Waterford footballers.

Ex-Waterford football manager John Kiely recalled a scintillating performance for the footballers in the 2002 qualifiers against Roscommon. Sadly, Waterford went down by eight points.

I also remember him in the qualifiers the next year in 2002, against Roscommon, and he gave an absolute exhibition of football, playing in the forwards.


Ciaran McKeever + Andy Mallon

Armagh have a few old timers to go with the younger fellas who are floundering in the championship of late.

They were All-Ireland champions when Andy Mallon made his debut against Donegal in the 2003 National League.

He was part of the Armagh side that dominated the Ulster championship in the middle of the noughties (the days when they moved the match to Croke Park). Though, they never returned to All-Ireland glory and were occasionally pipped by qualifier kingpins Tyrone in the latter stages.

He has kept soldiering away in the 2016 championship, togging for Armagh in the defeat to Laois in the qualifiers.

Ciaran McKeever made his debut even longer ago in 2002 though he was not part of the side which won the All-Ireland.


Alan Dillon + Andy Moran

Both Andy Moran and Alan Dillon made their debuts for Mayo back in 2003.

Moran, who has played more Mayo matches than any other player in history, made his debut in the inauspicious surrounds of Newcastle in Co. Down.

He told the Mayo News he was delighted to equal James Nallen's appearance record in the League this year. He  has obviously since passed the record.

To be honest with you, I’m chuffed by that, I have to say. I don’t know ... when I started out in 2003, I never thought I’d get there. I made my debut up in Newcastle in County Down. So listen, that’s a massive honour for me. I didn’t realise that it happened, and I suppose it’s nice that is has.

Dillon, meanwhile, began around the same time, but made his championship debut before Moran in the 2003 championship against Sligo.


Jackie Tyrrell

The holy trinity of Shefflin, Walsh and JJ have all stepped away in recent years but another prominent figure from that time has yet to give up the dream of winning another All-Ireland title for Kilkenny. By doing so, he will equal Henry Shefflin's haul of 10. It remains to be seen whether he'll be around for the 2017 season.

Jackie Tyrrell was added to the Kilkenny panel for the 2003 season, winning his first All-Ireland that year. Eight more have followed even if his contribution to the final one of those in 2015 consisted of a rousing half-time speech rather than anything done on the field of play.


Paul Finlay

It was noted in research that Ulster provides a large number of players who began their careers around 2003 and 2004 and who are still battling away. This gives credence to the view that the game just seems to matter more up there.

Paul Finlay began his inter-county career back in the 2003 season. His championship debut came against the reigning All-Ireland champions Armagh.

He was back with the Monaghan panel this year, denying rumours that he'd ever retired.


Seanie Johnston

While the phrase 'long-serving' probably jars with the hard cases who haven't forgiven Seanie for his two season with Kildare and his brief hurling career, Seanie's debut nonetheless occurred many, many years ago in 2003.

Mattie Kerrigan was still the Cavan manager when he made his debut against Fermanagh. It was an unhappy opening bow in the championship as Cavan were downed by three points in the qualifiers that day.


Ross Munnelly

A worthwhile and important shout from the readers. Ross Munnelly won a Leinster title in his first year for Laois back in 2003. It was easy this playing for Laois lark. Alas, they have failed to build on that success, losing the next two Leinster finals before falling back into the pack in the province.

Still, Munnelly has still led the way for the county and very often hits hot streaks of point scoring from play. He delivered an especially scintillating 35 minutes of football against Dublin in the 2013 Leinster championship.

Read more: Monaghan Legend Dick Clerkin Retires With A Beautifully-Written Farewell Column

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