This week is the final People Sport of 2018 and with that in mind, Seamus Duke picks out his ten sporting highlights of the year …
Tiger bites back!
At the end of 2017 Tiger Woods was 1,199th in the world golf rankings. Word was that his back surgery had been successful and that he was going to have one last attempt to get back playing at the top level.
As the year went on he improved with almost every week and soon he was in contention in the big tournaments. He finished second in one major and fourth in another, and his first win in five years came at East Lake in the Tour Championship. The scenes as he came up the 18th hole that day will never be forgotten as tens of thousands of people swarmed around Woods as he completed win number 80 as a professional. One of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time.
Treaty win epic hurling championship
It was probably the greatest All-Ireland hurling championship we have ever seen. With every passing week there was one classic match after another. A young Limerick team, brilliantly managed by John Kiely, battled their way to the final where they met the defending champions Galway. Needless to say it was a thriller with Limerick winning their first title since 1973 amid scenes of wild celebration that continued in the Treaty City the following evening when upwards of 100,000 people attended the homecoming. A hurling year that may never be equalled.
Clann take neighbours’ crown
County Senior Football Finals are usually dour and drab affairs but not this one. Brigid’s played their part too and Senan Kilbride’s goal early in the first half was fantastic. But once Clann got going in the second half they were on fire and goals from veteran Johnny Dunning and a class lob from Cathal Callinan sealed the win for Clann. It was a personal triumph for Clann captain Donie Shine who scored 1-7 on the day. One of the best county senior finals we have had.
Athleague winning the hurling for the first time in 11 years and the wins for Fuerty and Kilglass Gaels were also highlights of the club year.
Ireland’s Grand Slam year!
What a year it was for Irish Rugby. The Grand Slam was achieved with a magnificent 24-15 win against England at Twickenham but to my mind it was won in the dying seconds of our opening match against France in Paris when Johnny Sexton dropped that goal in horrible conditions to pip the home side. It was an incredible score.
Ireland went on to beat Australia and then the All Blacks in November. Johnny Sexton claimed World Rugby Player of the Year while Joe Schmidt claimed the Coach of the Year award and Ireland were named Team of the Year. Do we dare to dream for 2019?
Irish Hockey’s fairytale story
In common with most sporting fans, I would have no more than a passing interest in hockey but the Irish women’s team changed all that last summer. As they made steady progress through the World Cup in the UK the interest was rising all the time and to get to a World Cup final was some achievement. It has raised the profile of the sport here and it was a superb tournament for the players. Hopefully they can progress and kick on from there.
Underdogs lap up Leinster title
What more can I say? This was something that happens once in a lifetime in sport where the little guy takes on the big guy and wins. Everyone was hoping that they would be able to rattle Kilmacud but outside of North Longford no one was seriously expecting them to win the Leinster final but that they did! A week later the parish that most people had never even heard of was known nationwide and the players appeared on The Late Late Show. The sporting story of the year for me.
France on top of the world!
Most sporting fans were apprehensive about the World Cup being staged in Russia, however it was superbly well organised and there were plenty of exciting games as well. It looked at one stage that football might have been ‘coming home’ as England had a great run and to get to the semi-finals was far better than any of the experts predicted they would do. But from early in the tournament France looked a formidable outfit and so it proved when they accounted for Croatia in a high scoring final.
Rob Cross stuns Taylor
At this time of the year the PDC World Darts Championship dominates our sporting screens and it is marvellous entertainment. On the 2nd of January 2018, Rob Cross came from relative obscurity to lift the world title. In the process he spoiled a fairytale finish to the greatest career in darts history as he easily beat Phil Taylor in what was his last ever game at this level. But Cross played brilliantly and was the deserved winner of the £1.8 million pound first prize. It’s big business now: the 2019 winner gets £2,500,000!
Elliott dominates Cheltenham
Just when you thought that the Irish could not break any more records at the Cheltenham Festival, 2018 saw 17 winners for the visitors, which broke the record set the previous year. Not bad when you consider that the Irish didn’t win either the Champion Hurdle or the Gold Cup. We had become used to Willie Mullins taking the trainers’ award in recent years but Gordon Elliott was the main man in 2018 and he saddled an incredible eight winners over the week.
Rocket Ronnie the best ever?
When Stephen Hendry says that Ronnie O’Sullivan is the greatest player that has ever played the game of snooker then that’s good enough for me. When the moody and enigmatic O’Sullivan is on his game he is unbeatable and in winning his seventh UK title recently he was back to his brilliant best. If he arrives in Sheffield in the mood he won’t be beaten in the World Championships. However, we all know he is unpredictable but what a player. We will never see his likes again.