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18 Of The Greatest Irish Sporting References In Film And TV History

18 Of The Greatest Irish Sporting References In Film And TV History
Balls Team
By Balls Team
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Those wonderful moments when Irish sport makes its mark on popular culture. We have sought to rank them on the basis of a mixture of global reach and unusualness.

18. Normal People

An obvious, and recent one, to start. In the television adaptation of Sally Rooney's novel Normal People, Connell Waldron - played for former Kildare minor footballer Paul Mescal - plays Gaelic football for his Sligo school. He also has a poster of Sligo footballer Pat Hughes on his bedroom wall.

17. Circle of Friends

Chris O’Donnell’s character in Circle of Friends was a top school’s rugby player. He looks to be wearing a St. Michael’s jersey but it’s not clear what school he played for as he attracts the eye of the Minnie Driver/Maeve Binchy character.

A true son of amateur era Irish rugby, he was the offspring of a doctor and fully intended to follow his old daddy into that profession.


16. Michael Collins


The harrowing, if somewhat inaccurately rendered, Bloody Sunday scene has been the subject of much discussion (if you wish to get a much better account of what happened that day, then get Michael Foley's spectacular book 'The Bloodied Field' as soon as possible) but we're interested in one of the less contentious moments from later in the film.

After nonchalantly informing Dev that the IRA could survive for no more than a few weeks, Collins wandered outside to kick ball with the kids in the back garden. Upon receiving the ball, he announced that 'now Cork has the ball' before promptly, nay deliberately, surrendering possession, a development he greeted by declaring 'and it's over to Galway.


15. The Van

Kicking off the Italia 90 series, there's an expected one here as Larry's family and their neighbours and friends gather to watch Ireland-Romania. Here's hoping that any future instalment of the series (which looks unlikely now) shows Marie Mullen's character meeting up with Packie Bonner.

14. Moone Boy

1990 was a big year in the world of Moone Boy. In the first series, Martin's feminist mother campaigned ardently for Mary Robinson in the Presidential election (which actually happened in November - the time sequencing was a bit off) and in the following series, it was time to see what the Moone family were doing during Italia 90. Going on holiday it transpired.


Young Martin remarked that he and the Irish team shared one similarity. They were both 'amazing at drawing'. True that.

13. Charlie



Three years after coaching Stephen Roche to win the Tour de France, Charlie arrived in Rome to collect the plaudits after being the inspiration behind Ireland's run to the World Cup quarter-final. Naturally, he did a lap of honour around the Stadio Olimpico afterwards, proudly holding the tricolour aloft.

The TV programme didn't portray any of this but did show Haughey's dodgy property developing supporters cursing Schillachi after the game and Haughey himself chastising the aloof and austere civil servant Dermot Nally for being the only person on the planet who didn't know that Ireland had just reached the quarter final of the World Cup..

Sadly, this famous encounter with Tony Cascarino and Andy Townsend in the dressing room afterwards wasn't portrayed (see here). Cas has told us that it DID actually happen as Quinny reported but it was tongue in cheek.


12. Family

A promising, if easily riled junior footballer himself, Charlo was lost, like so many other Roddy Doyle characters, to a world of petty crime, bad karaoke singing and hitting women.

He and his son attended a League of Ireland game in Dalymount Park between Bohs and Pats. An ardent fan of the Premier League, Charlo was deeply unimpressed with the fare on offer in the domestic game and both and he and his son agreed they'd be happier in the chipper.

11. The Quiet Man



One of the most celebrated films to contain an Irish sporting reference, John Ford won a Best Director Oscar for his movie about a handsome, wealthy American returning to discover his roots in Ireland.

It also features the historically dubious claim that 'the Mayo hurlers haven't been beaten west of the Shannon in 20 years.'

The Academy Awards were prepared to overlook this.

10. The Day Today

His Irishness was never disclosed but it was heavily inferred. Alan Partridge was unable to get over how small the triumphant and Irish accented jockey Mickey Doolan was.

9. Rooney

John Gregson played a dustman and GAA star in this 1958 adaptation of a Catherine Cookson novel. Remarkably, the GAA facilitated the making of this film by allowing Gregson to run out with the Kilkenny and Waterford teams before the 1957 All-Ireland final. Gregson was wearing a Kilkenny jersey for the part.

8. Blitz


In a scene almost as violent as the 1998 Munster hurling final replay, the greatest actor never to win an Academy award, Jason Statham did what he does best and beat the tar out of a number of assailants armed only with a hurley.

He then delivered the standard international definition of the game of hurling.

When Michael Cusack and the boys sat down in Hayes Hotel in 1884 they could only have dreamed that the ancient sport would be described in such glowing terms in a motion picture.

7. Game On

The mid-1990s British sitcom 'Game On' was often overlooked given the plethora of sitcoms attracting public attention around that time. It centred on a trio of housemates in their twenties.

Matthew was an unemployed but comfortable 'lad' who professes himself to a wild-partying ladies man, Martin was a straight laced, dweebish bank clerk, while Mandy was an ambitious but underachieving university graduate.

Ambitious 'man-eater' Mandy (played by Samantha Janus) recounted a childhood crush on none other than our then record goalscorer Frank Stapleton.

Such was her devotion that she wrote him a letter every six months professing her eternal love for him.


6. House of Cards (UK)

In the original British version of House of Cards back in 1990, the Tory spin doctor was played by cocaine addled former Irish out-half Roger O’Neill. The show was dotted with references to his previous career.

We’re guessing his time in the fabled No.10 jersey would have fitted in somewhere between Barry McGann and Tony Ward. After hurriedly flitting between cars when crossing the road at one point, he boasted to his girlfriend that “I had Phil Bennett with that (sidestep) at Lansdowne Road once.”

It seemed like a very strange and quirky piece of characterisation though there are probably many die hard Republicans/Leftists who hate rugby and who find it deliciously appropriate that an Irish out-half ends up working for the British Conservative party.

Francis Urquhart (the British version’s answer to Frank Underwood) ends up killing him and telling the audience (the fourth wall was crashed through in the UK version as well) that it’s best if we remember him as the “burning boy in that green jersey.”

5. A Shot at Glory

A couple of years after the dream of bringing Wimbledon to Dublin died (read all about it here), Michael Keaton’s American owner character Peter Cameron wanted to bring little Kilnockie to Dublin against the wishes of their fans and to the dismay of their hard-bitten manager Gordon McCloud, played by Robert Duvall.

The film was ‘A Shot at Glory’ and the year was 2001. Well, it was actually produced in 1999 but was only released two years later.

Cameron (Keaton) is mad to bring little Scottish club Kilnockie to Dublin because ‘they’re so hungry for professional football over there, they’ve a brand new stadium' (the writers were evidently assuming that Eircom Park would have been completed by the film’s release).

Duvall’s character is not impressed – ‘next thing you’ll be wanting us to play Gaelic football – use our fucking hands!’

4. CSI New York

For this iconic scene in CSI New York, they decided to overlay the hurling footage with the traditional musical accompaniment to Gaelic sport - gangsta rap.

3. American Sniper

A wildly popular one. According to the movie all US Republicans seemed to love, Chris Kyle, the man reputed to be the deadliest sniper in US military history, met his future wife in a pub adorned with a host of GAA jerseys.


2. The Life and Times of Tim

This is without doubt the weirdest, most brilliant League of Ireland reference in popular culture. Our own John Dodge has written about this fantastical reference in his best ever League of Ireland pop culture crossovers post (read here).

In HBO's animated series, 'The Life and Times of Tim', the bar owned by the titular character boasted a Kildare County poster on the bathroom door. There isn't a HBO series out there that couldn't be improved by a reference to a defunct League of Ireland club.


1. ER

Surely the greatest Irish sporting reference in pop culture history, it also wades unconsciously into the tricky area of GAA broadcasting rights agreements.

Nearly 20 years before the GAA did their infamous deal with Sky Sports, George Clooney's character Doug Ross told his colleague that he planned to kick back and relax by watching Irish hurling on ESPN.

Grab All Association.

See Also: Chance Encounter In Kerry Spurred Dave Grohl To Start Foo Fighters

best pop culture references irish sport

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