From Lisa to Messi – and Lowry to Lavin – SEAMUS DUKE takes a look back over the past year and selects 10 sporting highlights of 2022…
In the Roscommon SFC, surprise winners Strokestown had begun to blossom after a so-so group showing. With young guns Colm Neary and Shane McGinley leading the way, they beat Oran in the quarter-final, and then surprised Roscommon Gaels in the semi-final.
With the final against Boyle heading for extra-time, sub Tony Lavin wrote his name into the history books when he scored the winning point in the dying seconds to give Strokestown their first senior title since 2002. The long wait for Boyle goes on after what was a memorable championship.
Lisa boxes clever
When Aoife O’Rourke won the European title in 2019 and went on to represent Ireland at the 2020 Olympic Games, it was one of the greatest sporting feats that we had seen in the county for many years. Her younger sister Lisa was to create her own headlines in 2022 by lifting a sensational world title, following in the footsteps of Kellie Harrington and Katie Taylor. With the next Olympics in mind, the future for Lisa and Aoife (who added another European Gold to her collection this year) is brighter than ever.
The 2022 All-Ireland SFC semi-final between Armagh and Galway will be remembered for many years. After a late, great Armagh comeback – they were six points and one man down heading into the final minutes – the game went to extra-time, after which they were still level: Galway 2-21 Armagh 1-18. For the first time in history an All-Ireland semi-final was to be decided by penalties, Matthew Tierney scoring the decisive spot-kick. A tough way to lose, but a truly breathtaking day at Croke Park.
When hurling is played at its best, there is no better spectacle in any sport. In the 2022 Munster senior final, Limerick and Clare served up one of the greatest games in living memory. Limerick were hot favourites to win another title but Clare didn’t read that script, and with the brilliant Tony Kelly in devastating form, they were always within a point or two. Limerick were just about the deserved winners on a 1-29 to 0-29 scoreline. A memorable classic.
Queen of Cheltenham
County Tipperary’s Rachael Blackmore not only became the first female jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, she also won six times at the festival to become the first female to win the leading jockey award.
In 2021 Rachael rode Minella Times to win the Grand National, becoming the first female ever to win the most famous chase in the world. At Cheltenham 2022, Rachael steered Honeysuckle to win her second Champion Hurdle in a row, and then went on to partner A Plus Tard to win the Gold Cup. Four more wins saw her name written into the history books.
Taylor a tonic
It was another astounding year for Katie Taylor. The Bray woman is now up there with our greatest ever sports stars. She defended her world title twice this year and came through both tests with flying colours. So what lies ahead for Katie in 2023? Will that big fight in Croke Park happen? It would be a great way to go out for a superstar of Irish sport and the leading female boxer in the world.
Lowry on course
Shane Lowry hadn’t won a big title since winning the British Open in 2019 at Portrush. One of Shane’s favourite tournaments is the BMW Championship at Wentworth. His record there is excellent, with several top ten and top five finishes.
This year torrential rain meant there was no play at all on the Friday, with the tournament fought out over three rounds. The Clara man shot 66, 68 and a brilliant closing round of 65 to win by a shot from Rory McIlroy and John Rahm.
There were lots of shocks as countries like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Morocco and many more tasted glory on the biggest stage of all. Morocco in particular were outstanding as they became the first African country to reach the semi-finals.
The final capped it all off beautifully. We saw the changing of the guard as the young prince (Mbappé) – who is certain to assume the mantle of the world’s best player – shared the spotlight with Lionel Messi, who is now surely confirmed as the greatest player we have seen in this or any other era. They say that fairytales don’t come true, but when Messi lifted that trophy into the night sky on Sunday last, it capped a truly spectacular career. We have been privileged to have seen him.
The 25-year-old Mote Park man produced one of the sporting performances of the year when winning the Ras Tailteann in June. Riding for the All Human/Velo Revolution team, Daire produced a brilliant display of tactical cycling to sweep to the title by 51 seconds. Even though Daire did not actually win any of the five stages, he was always up with the leaders and the team did a marvellous job to bring him home as the winner. Great celebrations followed in Roscommon.
Rocket still firing
Ronnie O’Sullivan is probably the greatest snooker player ever. This year he equalled Steve Davis’s record of 30 Crucible appearances. O’Sullivan reached a record 20th quarter-final and a record 13th semi-final before defeating Judd Trump 18-13 in the final to equal Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles. Aged 46 years and 148 days, he became the oldest world champion in the sport’s history. A true legend of snooker, it is always a pleasure to watch O’Sullivan in full flow.