- 20 Mar 20
Our columnist selects his personal highlights of an action-packed decade.
10. CORK LADIES WIN SIX-IN-A-ROW
7. CORK AND CLARE DRAW IN 2013 HURLING FINAL
This game was just one of a series of rip-roaring classics in a summer we were sure wouldn't be equalled for years - until, unbelievably, the switch to league formats in Munster and Leinster in 2018 produced yet another campaign filled with unforgettable encounters.
This magnificent game between two new contenders, freed from the shadow of Kilkenny and Tipp, ebbed and flowed until Donal O'Donovan's last gasp equaliser for Clare - who would win another epic in the replay - set new standards for preposterous melodrama. For good measure, it also produced Marty Morrissey's iconic "Holy Moses!" moment on RTE radio.
6. ROBBIE BRADY'S GOAL AGAINST ITALY
We went into Euro 2016 hoping to make amends for our dismal showing at the Euros four years previous, where we'd emerged with the joint-worst all-time record at the tournament. Although Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane's Ireland certainly didn't have anywere like the all-round quality of Jack Charlton's team, or even Mick McCarthy's, they had a solid counter-attacking game-plan and unconquerable spirit.
That Italy had already made it through to the last 16 has to be taken into account, even if too much has been made of their supposedly much-weakened line-up: any side that posts world class operators like Bonucci, De Sciglio and Bernadeschi is still a formidable outfit. It looked like our chance had gone when Wes Hoolahan fluffed a glorious late chance, but - showing the iron resolve that was undoubtedly the team's finest attribute under O'Neill - the team fashioned a highly dramatic winner when Hoolahan floated in a sublime cross for Robbie Brady to head home.
The emotional scenes of Brady embracing his partner and brother afterwards added to the power of a remarkable moment for Irish football.
5. KILKENNY AND TIPP DRAW IN 2014 HURLING FINAL
For the third year in a row, the All Ireland Hurling Final ended in a dramatic draw. What gave this game the edge, though, was its sheer quality: such was the exceptional brilliance of the attacking play, neither side hit a wide in the final 20 minutes. It looked like Tipp had finally overcome their hoodoo against the Cats with Bubbles Dwyer's last-minute 65, only for Hawkeye to intervene and judge the shot wide.
And as for the result in the second game? Well, for many years, there were only three certainties in life: death, taxes - and Kilkenny winning replays under Brian Cody.
4. KERRY BEAT MAYO IN 2014 SEMI-FINAL REPLAY
Like many a great GAA game, this one was surrounded by controversy in the build up: the staging of an American Football game in Croke Park meant the replay between football rivals Kerry and Mayo had to be moved to the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. It unfortunately meant thousands of fans had to miss out, but there was an unbelievable atmosphere for this epic encounter, which went the full 12 rounds into extra time.
Mayo were easily the most charismatic GAA team of the decade, and I have genuinely lost count of how many classic games they were involved in, but this was yet another occasion when they came up agonisingly short. In the end, sensational displays from star attackers James O'Donoghue and Kieran Donaghy finally got the Kingdom over the line.
This game truly had everything: thrills, spills, brilliantly erratic commentary from Tommy Carr - and the unforgettable sight of a burly Mayo supporter being hauled off the field by the combined force of his daughter and a security team.
3. DONEGAL SHOCK THE DUBS
Remarkably, number 3 on our list happened the day after number 4! Jim Gavin's Dublin were unbackable favourites going into this football semi-final clash, although - as I debated with Joe Brolly in an interview in the weeks before - I felt Jim McGuinness' Donegal were the team best equipped to take out the reigning champions, as opposed to Mayo or Kerry.
Mind you, I still didn't think they'd actually win, and it certainly didn't look on the cards when the Dubs raced into an early 0-9 to 0-4 lead. But then Ryan McHugh struck for a goal just before half-time, and Donegal had their opponents right were they wanted them. The second half proved a Mourinho-esque tactical masterclass from Jim McGuinness, as Donegal continually picked off the Dubs on the counter-attack.
It was an afternoon that elevated McGuinness to the pantheon of all-time great football managers alongside Mick O'Dwyer, Kevin Heffernan and Sean Boylan - and prompted Jim Gavin to do the defensive tightening that would propel Dublin to an unprecedented five-in-a-row.
2. DUBLIN AND MAYO'S 2016 BATTLES
For me, this was the most vital Irish sporting rivalry of the decade and the one that produced the most drama and excitement. With Leinster a wasteland and Kerry continually coming up short against their greatest rivals, it seemed the Dubs were nicely on course to have Gaelic football all to themselves.
Well, Mayo had other ideas and that vanguard of iconic warriors - Keegan, Boyle, Higgins and co. - refused to bend the knee throughout no less than five enthralling encounters between 2015-17. Any of the games from that period could have made the list, but I happened upon the 2016 replay on Eir Sport recently and I sat through it, utterly gripped, the way one would sit through a classic album or movie.
Amidst an electric Saturday evening atmosphere in Croker, as the skies turned an autumn red, the action-packed highlights reel included Lee Keegan's iconic goal; the inexhaustible Diarmuid O'Connor slamming over a defiant point; Diarmuid Connolly coolly slotting a crucial penalty following Robbie Hennelly's unfortunate fumble; several death-defying Mayo surges; and final, decisive contributions for the Dubs from Cormac Costello and Michael Darragh Macauley.
"Epic" barely cuts it!
1. SHANE LONG'S GOAL AGAINST GERMANY
I was lucky enough to be present for this incredible occasion - my friend Rory and I having secured tickets for Ireland's hotly anticipated showdown against the world champions. We were both on our phones as Darren Randolph launched his defence-splitting pass towards Shane Long, but the surge of excitement in the crowd quickly made us pay attention. What happened next is seared into my memoray, as Shane Long raced through and drove the ball past a despairing Manuel Neuer.
Of course, there'd been virtually no expectation beforehand that we'd get a result, let alone win, and the final, excruciating 20 minutes remain the longest of my life. The sense of euphoria afterwards was unreal - sport being one of the few occasions we find ourselves hugging total strangers - and a detour into Toners on Baggot St revealed patrons literally dancing on tables. The only time the chaos subsided was when we collectively paused to hear a Roy Keane TV interview, in the manner the devout receive a papal address.
Here's to similar highs over the next decade!