Rory McIlroy, Pat Jennings and Tony McCoy chosen as Northern Ireland living legends
Rory McIlroy, Pat Jennings and Tony McCoy have been selected as Northern Ireland sport's top three living legends.
The choices were made by an expert panel, headed by former world boxing champion Barry McGuigan, as part of a HARP campaign to celebrate sport in Northern Ireland.
McGuigan joined respected sports broadcasters Jackie Fullerton, Adrian Logan and Graham Little to debate the three Northern Ireland sporting heroes who merited being included on an illustrious list entitled 'Living Legends: Giants of NI Sport'.
The suggested criteria to help the panel decide their top three was that candidates had to have reached the highest point in their sport, made an impact internationally and be a household name.
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A whole host of names were discussed before four time major golf winner McIlroy, the Northern Ireland football team's record appearance holder Jennings and 20-time jump jockey champion McCoy were selected.
McGuigan, who had been considered for the shortlist himself 30 years on from beating Eusebio Pedroza to become world champion in front of a record-breaking television audience of 20 million, admitted he found it extremely difficult to choose the trio given how many sporting greats hailed from Northern Ireland.
"Coming up with three giants of Northern Ireland sport was a nigh on impossible task for myself and the rest of the panel because the number of sporting heroes to come from Northern Ireland is incredible," said Barry, who is the manager of current boxing world champion Carl Frampton.
"Having competed myself in sport and still being heavily involved in the business, I found it extremely difficult to eliminate people from the short list.
"I could go on and on about sporting greats who didn't make the list from Dame Mary Peters to Willie John McBride and Mickey Harte to Martin O'Neill and Carl Frampton to Dennis Taylor.
"Also it is worth noting that we couldn't include great heroes like George Best who had passed away because we had to come up with three living legends.
"Ultimately a choice had to be made for the top three and overall I believe the three legends we selected in no particular order, Rory McIlroy, Pat Jennings and AP McCoy, are deserving of the Giants of Northern Ireland sport mantle.
"When you look at what Rory has achieved in his career to date it is astonishing. In my view even though he is only 26 he has already gained legendary status.
"Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke are great representatives for golf and Northern Ireland and have of course won a major each as well as many other tournaments, but Rory goes above and beyond that.
"He has won four major titles already, dominated golf in Europe and America, and while he still has a long way to go to pass the major record of Jack Nicklaus (18), I truly believe there is even bigger and better things to come from Rory and it will be a pleasure to watch.
"What Pat Jennings achieved in his sporting career was phenomenal. This is a man who played at the highest level for over 20 years, shone for Northern Ireland at two World Cup finals and is still the record caps holder for his country.
"His consistency as a goalkeeper for Northern Ireland over the years was outstanding and when he played his club football his performances were exceptional too.
"He won FA Cups with both Tottenham and Arsenal plus other honours and is still involved at Spurs which is wonderful to see.
"Then there is AP McCoy. Like Pat his longevity at the top of his sport commands total respect. AP won the jump jockey title an amazing 20 times. That's 20 years being the best jump jockey in horse racing, one of the most challenging and dangerous sports of all.
"I attended the premiere in Dublin of the documentary Being AP recently and it was painful to watch what he went through both in terms of the injuries he suffered and having to keep his weight down.
"He's a remarkable man and an iconic sporting figure.
"All three aren't just great sports stars, they are great men as well who have done Northern Ireland proud."
Barry added it was his hope that the HARP campaign would generate great debate among sports fans here in terms of who their top three Living Legends would be.
He said: "I know from my own experiences that sport can bring people together and all three of these giants that we have selected have certainly done that in Northern Ireland.
"The HARP campaign is absolutely fantastic and I am delighted to be involved. I remember 35 years ago HARP sponsoring my fights back in the day when I was a nipper.
"They have always been wonderful supporters of sport and it is brilliant that they are championing the giants of Northern Ireland sport, especially at a time when everyone in the country is so excited about the BBC Sports Personality of the year event coming to Belfast. I hope and am sure out choices will provide plenty of debate for sports fans across Northern Ireland."
Watch the HARP Living Legends panel in action on our Facebook.