The name game: Ranking the best nicknames in Irish sport

Counting down the top 50 iconic nicknames in Irish sporting history.
The name game: Ranking the best nicknames in Irish sport
Alex 'the Hurricaine' Higgins

To have any chance of whittling Irish sport’s iconic nicknames down to 50, a few arbitrary ground rules are needed.

It may be controversial, but nicknames derived from names are disqualified. So no Keano, no Duffer, no Ringy, Dalo or Goldie, no Paulie or Drico or Gaillimh, or indeed 95% of rugby nicknames. Even Rog and JBM fall foul. And, I suppose, Christy O’Connor ‘Junior’.

This ruling causes some gender imbalance issues, as ladies football and camogie are big on shortening surnames, while our most famous sportswomen tend to be known only by their first names: Sonia, Katie, Derval, and so on. Perhaps there is a certain dignity about women that shuns the foolishness of nicknames. Or maybe it’s the patriarchy again.

We’ve also decided to keep the list largely contemporary, as many of the magnificent 20th century nicknames have faded from the collective memory: Donal ‘Duck’ Whelan, Dick 'Droog' Walsh, Patrick 'Wedger' Meagher, William 'Billex' Moloney, Ned 'Sailor' Grey. And maybe we should encourage Paddy Healy’s ‘Hitler’ tag to go quietly too.

Some quality nicknames haven’t taken hold beyond their sport, so Thomas ‘Madra’ Chamney and Pat ‘The Jugger’ Hooper are unlucky to miss out.

Others, while well established locally, haven’t always travelled widely. So I've been persuaded to omit Michael ‘Skippy’ Cleary and Nicky ‘God’ English.

What we’re looking for here is a certain amount of ingenuity coupled with ubiquity. If you type the nickname into Google, you should have a fair shot at landing your target. So with the proviso that we’ve inevitably missed a few open goals, here’s the chosen 50, in reverse order of iconicism.

50: Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden

The Grand National winner followed in the footsteps of his father, also Niall and known as ‘Boots’, as did younger brother ‘Socks’. A shoe-in for inclusion.

49: ‘Ginger’ McLoughlin

Mick Hucknall famously argued that gingerism is a form of racism. The English are notorious gingerphobes. Tesco once had to withdraw a Christmas card with a red-haired child on Santa Claus’ lap and the words, ‘Santa loves all kids. Even ginger ones.’ Presumably, much of that was on Gerry’s mind when he carried half of England over the line with him at Twickenham.

48: The Bullet with the Mullet

Defying all aerodynamics science, Ciarán Ó Lionáird’s breakthrough year in 2011 was achieved while carrying the significant weight of a retro haircut.

47: Cora ‘Duckie’ Staunton

Cora 'Duckie' Staunton
Cora 'Duckie' Staunton

In the style of all our female icons, she has earned ‘Cora’ billing by now. But her old nickname has seen a renaissance since the start of the ‘Duckie Down Under’ era.

46: Aidan ‘Taggy’ Fogarty

The new Astaire danced the nation through the explanation recently. His brother was Froggy, so he became Tadpole, and that evolved into Taggy. Nobody said any of this had to make sense.

45: Shane ‘Cake’ Curran

Not necessarily a fondness for the work of Mr Kipling, but because everything came so easy, was a piece of cake.

44: Wayne ‘Pocket Rocket’ McCullough

A small man with a big appetite for punishment.

43 Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett

Carrying the flag for the entirety of the Laois massive, from Wooly Parkinson to Beano McDonald to Picky Maher. Has kindly inspired a million ‘cheesed off’ intros.

42: John ‘Bull’ Hayes

‘Go on Bull ’tis your field’.

41: Jim ‘Tough’ Barry

Earned the tag during his early boxing years, before becoming the founding father of Corkness, training 12 All-Ireland winning teams, including the ‘66 famine-busters, after which he coined the famous ‘mushrooms’ theory.

40: Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin

Followed his brother to school one day, presumably in the manner of a small, curious, friendly bird. So the name stuck. Just pips his forward colleagues, PJ ‘Fingers’ O’Connell and Fergal ‘Tuts’ Tuohy.

39: Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney

Suffered with a ‘pigeon chest’ as a young fella. “It’s a banty hen we have’, his father said to the doc. And that was that.

38: Mono McCarthy

How many people knew his actual name was William? Demons’ beloved 80s guard got his billing from a resemblance to Manolito in The High Chaparral

37 ‘Bonner’ Maher

'Bonner' Maher
'Bonner' Maher

This branch of the Mahers had the foresight to get in early with a nickname before the clan produced a flood of countymen. Born of a childhood fondness for Packie Bonner rather than Cormac ‘The Viking’ Bonnar.

36: John ‘Blondie’ Horgan

Another iconic head of hair.

35/34: Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley/Dan ‘The Man’ Shanahan

A formidable flyweight fighter and a deadly Déise destroyer. Boyz II Men. Girl, you know we belong together.

33: The Black Pearl Of Inchicore

Of course it couldn’t stick now, dating to a time when you could identify the handful of black men in the country. But in the case of Paul McGrath it was always affectionate, so shouldn’t be scrubbed from history.

32 James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick

The consensus from Ballyhale is a shortening of Charlie, as in cartoon character Charlie Brown in Peanuts, who he was meant to resemble.

Although the blond eyelashes of a Charolais bullock also come up in the debate. Others say he likes tea. Whatever it is, he never got on the ball without Marty

mentioning it.

31 Chris ‘Back’ Lawn

This formidable Tyrone defender probably wouldn’t get the nod, except his twin brother Stephen, a forward, was, magnificently, known as ‘Front’ Lawn.

30 Tim ‘Horse’ Kennelly

As strong as a… Cements his place for inspiring the designation of Seamus ‘The Pony’ Moynihan.

29: The Dodger

A superstar DJ.

28: Church

A proper DJ. The name is a legacy of Cian Healy’s days playing in the Churchill Cup, seemingly.

27: Star

Kieran 'Star' Donaghy
Kieran 'Star' Donaghy

Simple as. As he explains in his book, Kieran Donaghy picked this up early doors in Tralee for, basically, starring for the Ireland U17 basketball team, then togging for the Austin Stacks junior Cs the next day.

26: Jack ‘Nonpareil’ Dempsey

The original Jack Dempsey, born John Edward Kelly in Kildare, world middleweight champion from 1884 to 1891. A life cut short by TB, but seemingly a craftsman ‘without compare’.

25: Sheamus

Wrestling superstar Stephen Farrelly has tried them all on for size: Irish Curse, The Celtic Conqueror, Galldubh, SOS. But Sheamus fits just fine.

24: ‘King’ Henry Shefflin

Regal.

23: Mouse Morris

The name dates to his jockeying days. Mickey Mouse, geddit? The great shame is that our racing tipster Darren continues to baulk at the moniker Nous Norris.

22 ‘Hotpoint’ Hayes

Where did it all go wrong for Tipp’s legendary hurley carrier? It’ll all come out in the wash someday.

21: ‘Bomber’ Liston

Called after Gerd ‘Der Bomber’ Muller, but did the German goal poacher’s nickname ever cause a security alert on a flight to Cork?

20: The Rock

If he and Dwayne Johnson had to shoulder it out for sole use of the name, would you back against Sully? Bonus points for bequeathing ‘Pebbles’ to brother Paudie.

19: Michael ‘Ducksy’ Walsh

Ireland’s greatest handballer inherited Ducksy from his father and it stuck so tight that it was reportedly the name used at the altar for his wedding vows.

18: The Jackal

Carl 'the Jackal' Frampton
Carl 'the Jackal' Frampton

Carl Frampton and the name that delivered a thousand headlines. Rise of the Jackal, The Day of the Jackal, Raising the Jackal. Return of the Jackal.

17: Eugene ‘Nudie’ Hughes

Nudie, a name as embedded in Monaghan lore as Patrick Kavanagh. And all above board, he’s been called it since he was a boy.

16: Tullow Tank

He’s from Tullow and he is, to all intents and purposes, a tank.

15: Conna Maradona

Of all the Maradonas — The Maradona of the Carpathians (Hagi), The Maradona of the Balkans (Murati), The Maradona of the Bosphorus (Emre), The Maradona of the Lowlands (Schifo), The Maradona of the Desert (Al-Owairan), or The Maradona of the Caucasus (Kinkladze) — none rolls off the tongue better than Liam Kearney’s.

14: The Sammon of College

Big Conor’s nickname from his UCD days remains the single best endorsement of a third level education.

13: The Rattler

Hurling’s annals could fill any list on its own. Billy ‘Long Puck’ Murphy, Con ‘Bacchus’ O’Leary, Tommy ‘The Rubber Man’ Doyle, Jimmy ‘The Wren’ Kelly, Dessie ‘Snitchy’ Ferguson, Dave ‘Daw’ McGrath. But none evokes an era of dusty squares and hot kitchens better than Mickey ‘The Rattler’ Byrne.

12: The Claw

Flirts with disqualification for its derivation from Clohessy, but stays in since any supervillain with an air of menace would happily adopt it.

11: Michael ‘Babs’ Keating

'Babs' Keating
'Babs' Keating

The youngest of three Michael Keatings in his primary school. And almost certainly the most divisive.

10: Notorious

Does what it says on the tin.

9: Axel Foley

The late great Anthony 'Axel' Foley
The late great Anthony 'Axel' Foley

Eddie Murphy knocked three movies out of the name, but Anthony made it his own.

8: The Celtic Warrior

Steve Collins was once up there with the Guinnesses and Kerrygolds among Ireland’s most famous exported brands.

7: Chairman of the Boards

Those days pounding out record miles on the plywood ovals of America gave Eamonn Coghlan three Sports Illustrated covers — and one of the coolest nicknames around.

6: Bubbles O’Dwyer

'Bubbles' O'Dwyer
'Bubbles' O'Dwyer

Whether it’s down to him being a hairy baby, or because of his ‘bubbly’ shape as a youngster, it’s certainly one of the greatest effing nicknames in Ireland.

5: Chippy Brady

Liam Brady 'Chippy'
Liam Brady 'Chippy'

“My mother told Arsenal’s chief scout that I’d be OK as long as I was given lots of chips, so the chief scout said: ‘We’ll call him Chippy’.”

Done deal.

4: The Gooch

The Gooch
The Gooch

Finding anybody who owns one of the 1980s ‘Goochie Dolls’ Colm is seemingly named after continues to prove as elusive as the man himself. Looks like Gaybo never gave one to everybody in the audience.

3: Clones Cyclone

Barry Mcguigan 'the Clones Cyclone'
Barry Mcguigan 'the Clones Cyclone'

Bonus points for international recognition. And for being a Big Tom song.

2: Brick Walsh

Michael 'Brick' Walsh
Michael 'Brick' Walsh

Another hand-me-down, this time from an older brother. Michael was Brick to Paul’s Block. There has been no known utterance in a GAA commentary of the words ‘Michael Walsh’ to identify this man, without ‘Brick’ attached.

And while many sporting legends have skills named in their honour — Cruyff, Panenka et al — it’s a select band with one named after their nickname.

1: The Hurricane

Some greats are born with the perfect name to encapsulate their talent, such as Best. Others, like Alex Higgins, must wait for someone else to coin it.

Making up the Hot 100

Buff Egan, Yvonne ‘Crazy’ Byrne, ‘Teeny’ Catriona Cormican, Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan, Terence ‘Sambo’ McNaughton, Peter ‘The Great’ Canavan, Eamonn ‘Leper’ Callaghan, Diarmuid ‘Gizzy’ Lyng, Anton ‘Blue Panther’ O’Toole, 'Shaggy’ Horgan, Stephen ‘Sleeves’ Elliott, Fionnuala ‘Flying Finn’ McCormack, Michael ‘Hopper’ McGrath, ‘Trigger’ McAteer, ‘Gorta’ Comerford, Martin ‘Kojak’ Conroy, John ‘Tweek’ Griffin, Danny ‘The Flying Postman’ McDaid, Pádraig ‘The Flying Doctor’ Carney, ‘Greener’ Kerr, Phil ‘Fan’ Larkin, Ger ‘Redser’ O’Grady, ‘Pillar’ Caffrey, ‘The Kid’ Cronin, ‘Rackard’ Cody, Sinead ‘Nerd’ Aherne, ‘Nutsy’ Fenlon, Roisin ‘Yankee’ Friel, Nicole ‘Spud’ Cronin, John ‘Rinty’ Monaghan, Tony ‘Mushy’ Buckley, Conor ‘Bieber’ Murray, Sean ‘Nugget’ Cronin, Noel ‘Buddha’ Healy, Tommy ‘Two Litre’ Griffin, Kieran ‘Fraggy’ Murphy and Kieran ‘Hero’ Murphy, Brian ‘Sid’ Whelahan, Eamonn ‘Trollier’ Dillon, Eoin ‘Skinner’ Bradley, Greg ‘Rocky’ Creagh, Olcan ‘Cloot’ McFetridge, David ‘Dotsy’ O’Callaghan, Kevin ‘Chunky’ Hayes, David ‘Jinksy’ Beggy, Ryan ‘Ricey’ McMenamin, Larry ‘The Brother’ O’Gorman, Donal ‘Dodge’ O’Grady, Billy ‘Juicy’ Farrell, Seán ‘Telly’ Tobin, Pat ‘Aeroplane’ O’Shea, Anthony ‘Larry’ Finnerty, Dermot ‘Strimmer’ McArdle, Seanie ‘Jelly’ Johnston.

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