Opinion: whether they like it or not, some players' nicknames are better known than the names on their birth certificates
GAA culture is besotted with nicknames. They can stand as informal tokens of affection, carry messages and act as distinct forms of communication between players, backroom teams and supporters. From wordplay to rhyme, GAA nicknames arise in various ways.
Nicknames are used as a way to bond with individuals, which in turn are used to express the pride that GAA supporters associate with players. They are not just empty word categories but can add flair and content to sports narratives, especially live broadcasts. Whether they like it or not, some players' nicknames can take precedence over the names on their birth certificates.
The Rock and Pebbles
Cork dual star Diarmuid O'Sullivan earned his nickname as The Rock because of his overwhelming, immovable presence in the Rebels' hurling defence. His younger brother Paudie, of a smaller stature became known as Pebbles.
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Monaghan manager Séamus 'Banty' McEnaney got his nickname from his father. Having two bones sticking out of his chest as a child in a condition nicknamed by his doctor as pigeon chest, McEnaney Senior declared "it's a banty hen we have so," and now it is easy to forget his name is Seamus. When he opened his first bar in 1987 in Carrickmacross, it was called Banty’s Bar.
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Famed for his hurling and football exploits with Tipperary in the 1960s and 1970s, Michael 'Babs' Keating was named so because there were three boys named Michael in his school and he was the youngest.
Former Kildare footballer Eamonn 'Leper' Callaghan had his nickname attached to him since his schooldays. He was the only boy in his group that didn’t have a nickname so he was tasked by his friends to open up a page in the dictionary and Leper was the first word on the top of the page.
Kerry footballer Eoin 'Bomber' Liston gained his nickname from an apparent childhood resemblance to soccer legend Gerd 'Der Bomber' Müller, who scored 68 goals in 62 caps for West Germany. While Liston’s nickname has innocent origins, it caused an incident on a plane in 2018 when a friend tried to get his attention and yelled ‘Bomber!’ to a packed airplane. The flight captain had initially considered turning the plane around but the confusion was quickly cleared up upon landing, with the aid of a quick Google search.
From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Sean O'Rourke, Eoin 'Bomber' Liston tells his side of the 2018 plane incident story
Dublin star Sinéad Aherne once carried the nickname 'Sin-nerd' around with her before her team-mates eventually settled on just 'nerd.' It was a friendly nod to her study habits on away trips to matches, in which she would be stuck into textbooks in preparation for exams.
The Flying Doctor
An All-Ireland winner with the cursed Mayo football team of 1951, Padraig Carney became known as ‘The Flying Doctor’, an epithet that stuck after Mayo had him flown home from America for the league final of 1954.
Michael 'Brick' Walsh inherited his nickname from his older brother who was named ‘Block’ in the schoolyard. As Waterford’s all-time hurling championship appearance record holder, ‘Brick’ is an apt metaphor for a man who is tough, durable, an essential part of a greater whole.
From RTÉ 2fm's Game On, Damian Lawlor talks about Michael 'Brick' Walsh's 2019 decision to retire from the Waterford intercounty hurling panel
The prowess of Kilkenny All-Star TJ Reid gave way to a novel nickname for his younger brother Richie who was known many years ago in Ballyhale as ‘Captain Underpants’ because he was only a chap trying to fill a man's underpants
Nudie and Ducksy
The provenance of some nicknames are unknown and Monaghan’s Eugene 'Nudie' Hughes is one that comes to mind. The most decorated handballer in GAA history, Michael ‘Ducksy’ Walsh, assumed his nickname from his brother and father though its origins have been lost in the mists of time.
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