Rugby has firmly taken hold of the hearts and minds of the Irish public. This is the clear result of the latest analysis of attitudes to Irish sport and the preferences amongst the population conducted by Pembroke Communications…

The recent successes of both the international rugby team and the provinces has propelled rugby from what was perceived as a minority and somewhat elitist sport into the mainstream and firmly into the hearts of the Irish general public.

Irish rugby is currently blessed with outstanding once in a lifetime sportsmen like Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell who have both captained the Lions. Neither courts controversy and both have impeccable public personas which underpin their popularity.

Rugby has been superbly marketed at international level and both Munster and Leinster have both developed a mass following and a “brand identity” though concerted marketing campaigns. Ulster are not far behind. Rugby at provincial level is organized professionally, marketed professionally and played by professionals. This makes a huge difference.

One of the explanations why our current rugby heroes are so popular may be down to the fact that O’Driscoll and O’Connell are seen as national heroes rather than local ones and have proven themselves to be amongst the best in the world. In contrast, the GAA is built on local rivalries and GAA stars do not seem to fully transcend county boundaries. 


When questioned, over 70% of Irish people believe that the greatest Irish sporting achievement of 2009 was Ireland winning a first Grand Slam since 1948.

This was considerably ahead of any other sporting feat of the last year, with Leinster’s breakthrough Heineken Cup success ranked second at 5.9% and Kilkenny’s four in a row hurling success at 5.1% – the same figure that voted for Shane Lowry’s Irish Open win and Ireland’s unbeaten World Cup soccer campaign.

When it came to who we thought was our greatest current Irish sports star, rugby captain Brian O’Driscoll was miles out in front of his nearest rival with 34.8% of people picking the Leinster star from a celebrated and decorated list.

Major winning golfer Padraig Harrington was in second place on 19.3% with female boxing sensation Katie Taylor in third place. Munster and Ireland’s Paul O’Connell was in fourth place on 8% during his year as Lions captain and inspirational second row during a Six Nations campaign.

Manchester City and Ireland soccer goalkeeper Shay Given was the highest ranking international soccer star in fifth place on 6.7% while no GAA player appeared in the top five.

It is now also very obvious that Katie Taylor, so long unrecognized for her achievements, is now firmly established in the Irish psyche and has moved mainstream. Taylor received 62.9% of votes as Ireland’s most admired female sports person, with Derval O’Rourke featuring strongly and Nina Carberry surprisingly and Mayo footballer Cora Staunton on the list.

Unsurprisingly, due to its dramatic and history making nature, over 60% of those questioned put Ronan O’Gara’s winning drop goal against Wales in Cardiff as the single most iconic sporting moment of 2009 with Brian O’Driscoll’s runaway try against Munster in the Heineken cup semi-final second place. Tadgh Kennelly’s post match celebratory jig after Kerry’s All-Ireland victory came in third place on 6.9% as a moment that stuck in the public’s consciousness.

Pembroke Communications conducted research amongst 600 Irish adults during the period from October 16 to November 2, 2009. Research results were gathered from of a mix of online responses and face to face interviews. There was an almost 50-50 male-female split of respondents (49-51). Founded in Dublin in 1980, Pembroke are an autonomous member of the Publicis QMP Group. Pembroke is also an affiliate of MSL with 54 offices in 28 countries and 67 network agencies worldwide.