Sinead Kissane: 2013 wasn't all black for Irish sport, but that day in the Aviva really was
Roald Dahl's 'Tales of the Unexpected' was first published in 1979. The year Brian O'Driscoll was born. The Ireland star had his own tales of the unexpected from 2013. January was a starting point; he unexpectedly lost the Ireland captaincy. A month later delivered a high point. He got a surprise phone-call from his wife the morning of Ireland's 6 Nations game against England; his first baby was on the way.
A low point? The title of one of Dahl's Tales is 'Neck'. Some would say Warren Gatland had plenty of that when he blindsided everyone by dropping O'Driscoll from the Lions team to play Australia in the final Test. O'Driscoll said he was so shocked he never asked if he was on the bench. "A kick in the guts" is how he succinctly put it. Another player who got a surprise tap on the shoulder from his manager this year was Clare's Shane O'Donnell. Different news. Stunning outcome. A few hours before the All Ireland Hurling Final replay, O'Donnell was informed by his manager Davy Fitz that he was starting the final. You know how this played out. Three goals. The Liam MacCarthy Cup. Garda escorts. 'The Late Late Show'. Stardom. It was a perfect sub-plot in a summer of hurling the likes of which no one saw coming.
In Gaelic football it wasn't just the action that was breathtaking. But the reaction. Like Joe Brolly's infamous outburst. The RTE pundit was apoplectic in studio after Tyrone's Sean Cavanagh rugby-tackled Monaghan's Conor McManus during their All Ireland Football quarter-final. Brolly's stinging attack went personal with his "you can forget about Sean Cavanagh as far as he's a man" comment. He later apologised to Cavanagh. But you have to admire Brolly for standing up for the spirit in which the game should be played.
2013 certainly threw us curve-balls in the oval-ball game. Ronan O'Gara's axing from the 6 Nations squad came at a time when Ireland needed him. Who thought the flirtation between Johnny Sexton and Racing Metro would actually result in him moving to Paris? Or O'Gara following him?
It was another Corkman who really ambushed us. The Roy Keane and Martin O'Neill appointment was this week voted the greatest sporting moment of 2013 according to the Pembroke Communications' Sports Sentiment Index. When the rumours started that Keane could become O'Neill's sidekick, it almost felt like Saipan again -- the sense of 'could this really be happening?'
We got a double shot of shock last month at the Aviva Stadium. No, not the sight of Keane celebrating goals in a friendly. But when the Irish rugby team played like the best team in the world against, well, the best team in the world. Then the crushing disbelief with that late New Zealand try. No team pulls off a killer win like the All Blacks. Or like Munster in the south of France. Or Connacht in Toulouse.
While Rory McIlroy switched to a new sponsor in a jaw-dropping deal, others embraced the Just Do It attitude; the Ireland women's rugby team with their historic Grand Slam while Simon Zebo produced one of the "did-you-just-see-that?" moments with his back-heeled flick in the 6 Nations. Not entirely surprising was Tomas O Se's decision to retire from football. A few weeks after his announcement, Tomas attended Ronan O'Gara's Testimonial Dinner in Cork. While everyone was there to celebrate O'Gara, the first person Brian O'Driscoll spoke about when he was interviewed on stage was Tomas.
In a room full of stars, he singled out the Kerryman and congratulated him on a great career.