Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's greatest ever sports star: Part one - George Best and Peter Canavan

By Steven Beacom

To celebrate the 20th Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards, on January 26, 2015, we want YOU to decide Northern Ireland's greatest sports star ever. Starting today, in alphabetical order, and continuing daily we assess the 20 legends shortlisted by a judging panel. See voting details below.

George Best (Football)

From his balance to his bravery, breathtaking Bestie had it all

Watching George Best play football was a mesmerising experience.

He had skill, speed, strength, goalscoring ability, bravery and, above all, the balance of a gymnast which made defenders the world over look silly.

As he dribbled past them with a shimmy here and a swerve there, they would be left on the seat of their pants wondering what had just happened.

Viewed as the greatest player of his generation, many including Brazilian legend Pele believe he was the best footballer of all time.

In his latter years Bestie played for a host of clubs from Hibs to San Jose Earthquakes, but it is his legendary period with Manchester United for which he is remembered and revered.

Having been spotted as a 15-year-old by United's respected Northern Ireland scout Bob Bishop, Belfast boy George went on to take the sporting world by storm winning league titles and scoring at Wembley as the Red Devils became the first English side to win the European Cup in 1968, beating Benfica in the final.

The same year Best, who netted 179 goals and made hundreds more in 370 appearances for United, was named European Footballer of the Year.

Best, who lived the high life, played 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals, and against Scotland in 1967 he gave what is commonly regarded as the greatest individual performance ever witnessed at Windsor Park.

Unfortunately George had his demons and suffered from alcoholism. In 2005, aged 59, he passed away after multiple organ failure, leading to heartfelt tributes from fans and footballers alike across the globe for this sporting icon.

 

Peter Canavan (Gaelic football)

Born winner 'Peter the Great' possessed class and character

Known affectionately as 'Peter the Great', the Tyrone native is considered one of the finest players in GAA history and Ulster's number one of all time.

He could dictate a game like few others before him or since and loved to be in the heat of battle, scoring goals and points or simply making space so that team-mates could profit.

Small in stature compared to some opponents he may have been, but he was teak- tough, capable of handling the physical challenges that came his way, be it when playing for Tyrone or Ireland in the International Rules Series.

It's no surprise given his ability, combined with an insatiable desire for success, that he became one of Ulster's most decorated stars in the sport, winning two All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals, six All Stars awards - more than any other Ulster player - four provincial titles, and two National Leagues, as well as a host of other awards.

Often the most influential figure on the pitch and a mighty big game performer, Canavan scored 11 of Tyrone's 12 points in the 1995 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship final defeat to Dublin.

Eight years later, in 2003, he captained Tyrone to the first All-Ireland title in the county's history.

Having inspired the team on the pitch, he gave an emotional and memorable speech at Croke Park when he collected the Sam Maguire Cup.

In 2005, Canavan helped Tyrone claim another All-Ireland crown before calling time on an incredible county career.

The father of four, now aged 43, moved into management with the Errigal Ciaran club he'd served so well as a player. Later he would take charge of Fermanagh and is now the manager of Cavan Gaels.

 

Our outstanding Top 20

George Best (Football)

Peter Canavan (GAA)

Darren Clarke (Golf)

Peter Doherty (Football)

Joey Dunlop (Motorcycling)

Carl Frampton (Boxing)

Mike Gibson (Rugby)

David Healy (Football)

Alex Higgins (Snooker)

Paddy Hopkirk (Rallying)

Pat Jennings (Football)

Jack Kyle (Rugby)

Dave McAuley (Boxing)

Willie John McBride (Rugby)

Tony McCoy (Horse Racing)

Graeme McDowell (Golf)

Barry McGuigan (Boxing)

Rory McIlroy (Golf)

Sean O'Neill (GAA)

Mary Peters (Athletics)

Thousands of you have already voted for Northern Ireland’s greatest sports star ever. If you haven’t voted yet click here

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