SeanKelly_Liege84‘Best of’ lists always make for decent, if indefinitive, talking points.

There have been a rash of them of late, naturally enough, what with it being out with the noughties and in with the tens.

‘The Greatest Irish Sportsperson Ever’ (RTÉ One, New Year’s Eve) was unrelated to any particular era and will surely have to be updated at some stage, though probably not for several generations, by which time memories of Pádraig Harrington, the overall winner of the online poll, will be as select as those of Christy Ring (who came in at number 8).

Whatever about the placings – and the late Joey Dunlop’s installation in third spot was certainly the most surprising, though he was voted by those in the know as the world’s fifth-greatest motorcyclist of all time so who am I to argue? – the many curious absentees from the original shortlist of 32 (a dubious process of elimination in itself) generated the most comment.

Stephen Roche wasn’t there, likewise John Treacy, nor any number of brilliant Irish national hunt and flat jockeys, from Ruby Walsh to Kieren Fallon to Mick Kinane to Tony McCoy, who recently rode his 3000th winner; though training great Vincent O’Brien’s posthumous ninth place in the parade ring made him a richly-deserved representative of the sport of kings. Eamonn Coghlan didn’t make the cut either, ditto the likes of contemporary GAA greats such as Henry Shefflin.

In hindsight, a top 10 was probably too tight a shortlist given the country’s vast gamut of world-class achievers since recorded sport – and truly international competition – began. And it wasn’t as if a 20-strong selection would have stretched the otherwise bare RTÉ schedule on the night that was in it, or the Montrose budget, considering the footage required to showcase the best-of-the-rest is all on archive.

Better still, such was the vapid Yuletide fare served up by the national broadcaster (and not just ours) they could have put out a nightly countdown series of 10 hour/half-hour profiles on each of the chosen ones over the festive period.

Of the others feted, Paul McGrath opened the roll of honour; Sonia O’Sullivan slipped in there in seventh spot; Seán Kelly proudly and rightly flew the Carrick/Waterford/cycling flag in sixth; Roy Keane came in (but, shock, wasn’t interviewed) at five; the fast-living, slow-dying George Best was just behind his fellow Ulstermen Dunlop in the pecking order; and Brian O’Driscoll ran ‘Paddy First’ close in second.

Presented by Aidan Power (why?), who didn’t answer the question a few of us wanted to know – how many people actually voted; ‘…in their tens of thousands’ sounds like 20K to me – overall what should have been a fulsome Christmas treat was about as satisfying as a turkey without the trimmings.

The stuff memories are made of

Such was the slightly slapdash nature of the production that Jimmy Magee mentioned how Kelly – whose record of 193 pro’ race wins, including 22 classics, was bettered only by Eddie Merckx – won his one grand tour, the Vuelta a España, “in the mid-’80s”. Actually, it was 1988. It would be easy to suggest ‘The Memory Man’ must be slipping but Magee (above) deserves better, having brought Kelly’s career to life before, during and after his six straight years as world No1. Aidan Power he aint. By the way, if anyone knows where I could get a copy (for keeps) of David Walsh’s 1986 biography of Seán, aptly called ‘A Man For All Seasons’, please email – they don’t make them like they used to.