- Lifestyle & Sports
- 20 Dec 18
The Irish men's rugby team dominated; so did the Dubs (again); and the women's hockey team surprised the world. 2018 was full of incredible Irish sporting success with one miserable major exception.
It's doubtful even the most optimistic of Irish rugby supporters could have anticipated just how bountiful 2018 would turn out to be. The 21st century has certainly been a boom time for the sport in Ireland, but this year was simply imperious stuff.
Having edged out France during an opening day clash in Paris, courtesy of a final moment drop goal by Johnny Sexton, Ireland blew away the remainder of the opposition: Englandıs nine-point deficit in the climactic St. Patrick's Day clash in Twickenham was the closest anyone got.
The victory secured our third ever Grand Slam, following on from the back-to-back Six Nations titles collected in 2014 and ı15, and confirmed Joe Schmidt as the man with the Midas touch. On the provincial front, it was a similarly bright story, with Leinster achieving a truly incredible double by capturing both the Champions Cup and the Guinness PRO14.
All of which begged the six million dollar question: will the players finally be able to replicate their Six Nations and provincial form on the biggest stage of all, next yearıs Rugby World Cup in Japan?
There was huge optimism heading into the World Cup campaigns of 2007, ı11 and ı15, only for Ireland to come a-cropper each time. A 28-17 Autumn International victory against Argentina recalled our famous wobbles against them in previous World Cups. Any fears though were blown away by a historic, thrillingly comprehensive 16-9 home victory over the All-Blacks, when heroic shifts from Peter OıMahony and Devin Toner meant we kept them tryless.
We could scarcely ask for a better platform from which to mount an assault on the world title next year.
THE KEANE EDGE IS BLUNTED
While the rugby teamıs ascent continued, the Irish soccer sideıs slide in the opposite direction continued mercilessly. When one recalls the euphoria in the Aviva when Shane Duffy put us ahead in the second leg of the World Cup play-off against Denmark last year, itıs hard to imagine it could have unravelled so spectacularly.
But unravel it did. Lax defending from a corner led to the concession of an equaliser, and from there the Danes - led by the brilliant Christian Eriksen ð proceeded to inflict a crushing 5-1 humiliation. If it seemed like the Martin OıNeill and Roy Keane era had reached its natural conclusion, the FAI had other ideas and the dynamic duo remained in situ. The national side took on the dimensions of a soap opera, albeit one where the script-writers were stretching credibility to the limit.
A whistlestop tour of low-lights included: O'Neill's ill-fated flirtation with Stoke in January; Keaneıs summer bust-up with Harry Arter; the leaked WhatsApp message of Steven Ward describing the same incident; and the ongoing uncertainty around Declan Rice's international future.
It all culminated in a series of dismal autumn performances, including an unmerciful 4-1 slaughtering by Wales in Cardiff. Our Nations League campaign ended in relegation to Division 3, resignations from O'Neill and Keane and the appointment of Mick McCarthy as manager, with Stephen Kenny - now the 'ex-manager of Dundalk' - as his anointed successor. Things can only get better, right? They have to!
MORE DUB DOMINANCE / LIMERICK REACH THE PROMISED LAND
The All Ireland football championship was in dire need of a shot to the arm mid-summer - and duly received it when a massive national controversy erupted over Kildare losing home advantage in their qualifier game against Mayo. The 'Newbridge Or Nowhere' campaign eventually culminated in a stirring victory for the Lillies, who will be hoping to re-emerge as serious challengers to Dublin in 2019.
Jim Gavinıs charges, meanwhile, cruised to another All Ireland. Unlike previous years when they had to come through titanic struggles with Mayo and Kerry, this summer no one laid a glove on the Dubs, who rounded out an impeccable campaign with a comfortable six-point victory over Tyrone.
It re-emphasised their status as one of the all-time great sides, and although Brian Fenton and co. are going for an unprecedented five-in-a-row next year, no team has ever been in a better position to achieve that historic feat.
In hurling, it was an altogether different story. The new league format in Munster and Leinster facilitated a series of absolutely thrilling encounters between the gameıs top sides. Fittingly, arguably the greatest championship in history, concluded with a rip-roaring final between Limerick and Galway, with the Treaty county ultimately prevailing by a point to end a 45-year famine.
It was a hugely emotional occasion, with The Cranberries soundtracking the on-pitch celebrations in the year of Dolores O'Riordan's untimely passing. Looking ahead to next year, a repeat of this summerıs epic hurling championship looks on the cards, with six or seven teams feeling they can take Liam MacCarthy. To which we can only say: yes please.
HOCKEYING THE OPPOSITION / BRAWL THAT YOU CANıT LEAVE BEHIND
Undoubtedly the most unexpected success story of the year was the journey of the Irish women's hockey team at this summer's World Cup in London. In a tale that would scarcely have been dreamt up in even the most outlandish Hollywood script, the amateur side made it all the way to the final.
Though they were comfortably beaten by Holland, the team returned home to the proverbial heroes' welcome. There was even the obligatory controversy when sports minister Shane Ross opportunistically chose the moment to announce an increase in funding to the sport.
Elsewhere, another great Irish sporting success story was coming to an end, as Conor McGregor was defeated by Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 in Las Vegas. After claiming victory, the Russian - infuriated by McGregor's personalised pre-fight insults - climbed out the Octagon and aimed a dropkick at McGregor's teammate, Dillon Danis, sparking brawls both inside and outside the cage.
The result: international uproar that eclipsed even McGregorıs cameo at UFC 223 in Brooklyn, when he threw a handtruck at a bus transporting fighters from a promotional event. Even in defeat, the Crumlin man remains an unrivalled controversy magnet.
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 26 Nov 18