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rare species Only 14 current footballers with an All-Ireland winner's medal outside the capital


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Another one gone: Kerry’s Shane Enright celebrates Kerry’s victory over Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland final with team-mate Bryan Sheehan. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

Another one gone: Kerry’s Shane Enright celebrates Kerry’s victory over Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland final with team-mate Bryan Sheehan. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

Another one gone: Kerry’s Shane Enright celebrates Kerry’s victory over Donegal in the 2014 All-Ireland final with team-mate Bryan Sheehan. Photo: Dáire Brennan/Sportsfile

They are an increasingly endangered species, declining annually in number. On Monday afternoon, Brian Kelly announced his retirement from inter-county football via the Kerry county board's website, just a couple of weeks shy of his 31st birthday.

Three days earlier, Jonathan Lyne, another survivor of Kerry's 2014 All-Ireland winning squad, made public his decision to step away.

Yesterday morning, it was Shane Enright's turn to exit.

Kelly was Kerry's starting goalkeeper in their last Sam Maguire success, but more recently served as back-up to Shane Ryan.

Lyne, who kicked two points in Kerry's epic extra-time victory over Mayo at the Gaelic Grounds in the 2014 semi-final replay, didn't feature in the match-day panel for their shock Munster semi-final loss to Cork last year.

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Donegal's Michael Murphy. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Donegal's Michael Murphy. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Donegal's Michael Murphy. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Nor did Enright, Éamonn Fitzmaurice's most trusted man-marker during much of his stint as manager.

None of the three announcements were unexpected then.

But there could be further decay from the most recent group of Kerry players to lift Sam Maguire.

Despite the shortened off-season, the suspicion in the Kingdom is that further retirements are imminent.

Should that come to pass, and if Kerry shed more 2014 winners, it would leave just a dozen or so players with All-Ireland medals, other than those from Dublin, still playing football by the time the 2021 season begins.

At present, there are 14. The majority coming from that Kerry '14 squad.

The exact start date of the 2021 season is still unknown, but, currently, David Moran, Paul Murphy, Peter Crowley, Stephen O'Brien, Jack Sherwood, Paul Geaney, James O'Donoghue and Pa Kilkenny all retain the status of active Kerry players.

As does Tommy Walsh, who won his All-Ireland medal in 2009.

A head count from Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland panel shows just four remaining members; Michael Murphy, Neil McGee, Paddy McGrath and Patrick McBrearty.

An ever-shortening list of All-Ireland medallists is completed by a couple from Cork's 2010 group.

An All-Ireland winner at 19, Ciarán Sheehan returned after six years in Australia at the end of 2019. He togged out for Cork last season and is expected to do so again this year.

Eoin Cadogan also remains a senior inter-county player, albeit currently with Cork's hurlers.

Discounting Dublin, that's the sum total of All-Ireland winners still on the inter-county circuit.

So as they survey the competitive landscape for 2021, Dessie Farrell's players will see only a small number of opponents with first-hand experience of what it takes to win an All-Ireland, something they have managed themselves with tidal regularity.

It's notable that all 15 (including Cadogan) of the aforementioned are in possession of just a single Celtic Cross.

Which means that between them, Stephen Cluxton and James McCarthy have more All-Ireland medals than the rest of the inter-county scene combined.

In Kerry particularly, where, as Jack O'Connor once put it, "a man with four All-Ireland medals would quietly defer to another man who has five", it's an alarming trend.

How many of them make it to the starting gate for the 2021 season is open to speculation as big-name retirements clock up by the day.

Of the nine surviving Kerry medallists, just three started their Munster semi-final against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh; Moran, Murphy and Crowley.

Another three; Sherwood, Walsh and O'Brien, came off the bench although O'Brien, O'Donoghue and Geaney were all severely restricted last year by injury.

In Donegal, McGee, now 35, has already committed to next season and there is no question of Michael Murphy (left) or McBrearty stepping away. McGrath, meanwhile, has travelled a grinding road to recovery after an ACL injury suffered in Castlebar at the end of 2019, and after coming on as a substitute against Tyrone last year, may well decide to continue, preserving an important connection to Donegal's last triumph.

The recent retirement of Paul Kerrigan has deprived the Cork footballers of all but Sheehan from 2010, although Cadogan is expected to continue his epic inter-county career with the hurlers having survived a recent cull.

Other than its brevity, the most striking feature of the list is the age profile of those on it.

Ten of the 15 are aged 30 or over.

And of the five 20-somethings, Sherwood and O'Brien both turn 30 next month while Paul Murphy will hit that mark in August.

McBrearty is the youngest All-Ireland medallist from outside Dublin still playing, even if he is about to begin his 11th senior campaign.

At 27, Dublin would likely need to extend their run of All-Ireland dominance to 10 successive years to outlast McBrearty and hold a complete monopoly.

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But it's quite possible the number of active players from outside the capital with Celtic Crosses will be calculable using no more than the fingers on one hand by the time 2022 begins, should Dublin make it a seventh successive title this year.

If non-Dubs with All-Ireland medals are becoming an increasingly rare species, consider the status of Ross Munnelly.

On the same evening as Kelly marked the end of his stint with Kerry, Graham Reilly announced his time as a Meath player was also over.

That cut the last remaining tie to the Meath team that won the 2010 Leinster title in such controversial circumstances against Louth.

It leaves Munnelly, now 38, as the only active player with a Leinster medal other than the troves that rest in the homes of the Dublin squad.

It's a remarkable distinction.

Having made his debut in 2003, when Mick O'Dwyer brought Laois to their sixth and last Delaney Cup success in his first year in charge, Munnelly has not only outlasted the subsequently victorious Westmeath squad of '04, but now also the Meath panel who conquered Leinster all of six years later.


The Celtic Cross 15

David Moran (Kerry 2014)

Paul Murphy (Kerry 2014)

Peter Crowley (Kerry 2014)

Stephen O'Brien (Kerry 2014)

Jack Sherwood (Kerry 2014)

Paul Geaney (Kerry 2014)

James O'Donoghue (Kerry 2014)

Pa Kilkenny (Kerry 2014)

Michael Murphy (Donegal 2012)

Neil McGee (Donegal 2012)

Paddy McGrath (Donegal 2012)

Patrick McBrearty (Donegal 2012)

Eoin Cadogan (Cork 2010)

Ciarán Sheehan (Cork 2010)

Tommy Walsh (Kerry 2009)

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