Throughout the history of Gaelic football, there have been periods when certain teams were able to show dominance and build their fame through legendary games. It is difficult to identify a ranking order. The best teams in the history of the sport are related to successes and great individual players.
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It can be said that the Gaelic Games have come a long way from a small happening to a big sports event nowadays. Let’s have a look at the greatest teams which shaped this way and contributed great memories that GAA fans could experience in the past and will in the future.
Meath (1987 to 1996)
The team from County Meath is inextricably linked with the famous coach Seán Boylan. Boylan took over a team that had not won a title since 1967. With three successive Leinster titles from 1986 to 1988, the team broke into the sport’s elite and went on to win the All-Ireland title twice at Croke Park.
A third title would later follow, taking Boylan’s squad’s overall record to as many as five finals in nine years of three titles. Only in 1990 and 1991 did the team fail to make the final. The team became famous, however, for a series of matches in the preliminary round against arch-rivals Dublin. The teams fought on equal terms, and the first three games each ended in a draw after extra time.
In what was an extremely tight battle, Meath were able to bite through with a point in the fourth match to defeat Dublin. The third title came in 1996, when the team was already getting on a bit, and it was then quickly over with the successes in County Meath. This golden generation, however, was so dominant that it was certainly one of the best GAA teams of all time.
Tyrone (2003 to 2008)
When it comes to defence, it is often said to have the ability to win championships. The Donegal side only briefly wielded the sceptre, but will forever be remembered as one of the most dominant defensive machines to ever grace the sport. Tyrone were taken over in 2003 by U21 coach Mickey Harte, who had previously won All Ireland Championships with the youth side.
In the years between 2003 and 2008, the team was thus the antithesis to the attack-minded play of the Kerry side. Tyrone found themselves among the favourites each year and claimed three championships in that short span (2003, 2005 and 2008). Tyrone’s style of play was not appreciated by all enthusiasts, as it was a very destructive defensive game.
The so-called “blanket defence” caused offensive coaches to despair, and also gave rise to a discussion as to which style of Gaelic football should be respected and which should rather be disregarded.
Kerry (1975 to 1986)
County Kerry have one of the most successful teams in the whole of GAA history. But the period between 1975 and 1986 saw the golden generation of the team at the helm, who went on to win a magnificent collection of titles for themselves. Mick O’Dwyer oversaw the team and its attacking style, developing a playing formation against which other teams of the time had no answer. Kerry was geared to defeat other teams by many points difference.
The team was considered perhaps the best team of all time in its time, and won no less than eight All Ireland titles during that period. From 1984 to 1986 was Kerry’s dominant period, with three consecutive titles. However, as even great teams have to come to an end, this team was not fresh enough after the mid-1980s and the following years no Kerry team was able to match their success.
Kerry (2000 to 2011)
But County Kerry once again came back in leaps and bounds as the years of the 2000s arrived. In Kerry, offence was still the trump card and part of the team’s philosophy. The team won five All Ireland titles and could have won more had it not been for the simultaneous emergence of the Tyrone team at their best to trouble Kerry time and again in the finals. From 2004 to 2009 Kerry were always in the All Ireland final, still a feat the 1970s team had failed to achieve.
What made this team stand out once again was the level of competition found. Mayo, Cork, Dublin and especially Tyrone had strong teams that could have won more titles in other eras. Kerry, however, only managed to leave these opponents behind once in a while and still managed to put together the best team of the era.
Dublin (since 2011)
The team that was able to secure the top spot has so much dominance that no team has been able to extend before. In the period up to the present day, Dublin have won eight All Ireland titles, and between 2015 and 2020 they even won six titles in a row, also an unprecedented achievement. In the process, the team still has the best prospects for the future, even years later.
It will be a monumental task to knock the Dublin team off its throne, as the accumulation of players and talent has reached new heights. Dublin, as a centre for work and business, attracts many young people and so eventually the best players also come to the national capital.
They form an outstanding pool of talent that could be successful for many years to come. It is hard to say what will happen to the sport in the upcoming years, but Dublin will remain in the title picture.
Every great team must always be seen in the corresponding time period and it is difficult to compare eras. All the teams mentioned were great, but the decision for Dublin as the currently best team was not difficult to make.