For all the brilliant athletes Ireland has produced, none has had a greater impact over such a sustained period of time than a man who has become the most important Irish athlete ever, Ronan O'Gara.
Quantifying a statement such as that is easiest when you just slam hard, cold facts down peoples throats.
Check out Ronan O'Gara's incredible resumé.
- O'Gara is the only player to score over 1,000 points in the Heineken Cup
- O'Gara is Munster's highest points scorer ever with over 1,750 points
- Two time Heineken Cup winner with Munster ('06 and '08)
- Ireland's highest points scorer ever
- The Six Nations highest points scorer ever
- Fifth highest points scorer ever in International rugby
- Two times Irish representative on the prestigious Lions touring squad ('01 and '06)
- And now, Grand Slam winner with Ireland ('09)
O'Gara has not only made his mark at every level he has played at, in every tournament he has participated in, he has dominated the scoring charts in all of them. He is not only mentioned in the same breath as Rugby legends like Dan Carter and Michael Lynagh, he has scored more points than them! There is a realistic chance that if O'Gara manages to stay fit for a few more seasons, and maintains his high level of scoring and clutch ability, he could conceivably become the highest points scorer in International rugby, ever.
The man is, simply put, a winner. Naturally, Ronan is surrounded by a talented support case for both Munster and Ireland, however what sets him apart is that he it the clutch performer that has pushed both teams to success at every level.
O'Gara has taken a difficult skill, goal kicking in rugby, and made it look relatively easy. It is a shock when he doesn't make a kick. The clutch element of so many of those kicks are what makes his achievements stand out all the more.
A last minute drop goal to beat Argentina in 2004. The 2003 last minute conversion against Gloucester, in a game known as 'the Miracle Match'. The last minute penalty from inside his own half against Leicester in 2006. O'Gara is never shaken by the moment. As Ireland drove forward against Wales with only three minutes left in last Saturday's Grand Slam decider, it was almost inevitable it would come down to O'Gara having to take a shot at goal for the winner. And he did. And, he did. His drop goal sent all of Ireland into party mode. The funny thing is, from the moment it left his boot, there was never any doubt.
O'Gara quite literally took an entire nations hopes on his shoulders and kicked Ireland to the 2009 Grand Slam.
The most important athlete in Irish sporting history. The great part is, hopefully starting with this years Heineken Cup, there's so much more to come.