A Year to remember!
CHRISTMAS is now over for another year and unfortunately for me I've edged one step closer towards a half century. Anyone with a birthday around the tail end of December will testify as to what a bummer it really is.
Anyway, after almost two weeks holidays incorporating ludicrous amounts of food, refreshments and TV movies, cabin fever has well and truly taken hold. I'm now more than ready to get back to work on Thursday to start into 2014. But before I do, and before we flip over the page to begin the new year, let's look back at what was a wonderful sporting 2013.
Dublin dominated the football headlines right from the outset in January. Their commander-in-chief for much of the previous 60 years, Kevin Heffernan passed away early in the month. His magical presence, however, hung over the Metropolitans right throughout 2013, culminating in them making a clean sweep of National League, Leinster and All-Ireland titles. His beloved St Vincents captured Dublin and Leinster Club Championship crowns and are favourites to reach the upcoming All-Ireland final.
It could even be argued that the Dublin hurlers were spurred on to Leinster glory by the great man. Heffernan was also remembered before the latest instalment of the Dublin Kerry saga along with the late Paídí O'Sé. Both sets of players were inspired by their respective hero and as if by tribute they served us up one of the best games in living memory which Dublin won in an epic finale.
Don't ask my why I started the column with the big ball. Maybe it's just habit. But 2013 will long be remembered for the small ball game.
It was absolutely magical. From Limerick's win and jubilant pitch scenes in Munster to Dublin's historical resurgence in Leinster...and that was only for starters.
In an unlikely Phase 2 qualifier game Kilkenny knocked out Tipp in a classic at Nowlan Park, only for the Cats to go out at the quarter-final stage against Cork.
Jimmy Barry had revived the Rebels in 2013 and after losing Munster to Limerick they pipped Dublin in a wonderful All-Ireland semi-final and started the final as favourites.
And then we had Clare...what a fairytale! Written off after losing in the Munster semi to Cork, Davy Fitz stuck to his guns and persisted with his gameplan. And how it paid off. His young guns were magnificent in July, August and September - but especially in both final and replay.
Cork tried their damnedest by notching 3-16 in both games but it was The Banner's year. At age 19 Tony Kelly won Young Hurler and Hurler of the Year but even he was upstaged by another teenager, Shane O'Donnell, who bagged three goals in the opening 20 minutes of the replay after a surprise inclusion in the starting line up. The Boys from the Banner could be here for a while. 2014 could never produce the same again. Could it?
After a bright opening in Portlaoise Louth's championship petered out with defeats to Wexford and Kildare. Meath, meanwhile, got to the Leinster final only to go down to Dublin and later to Tyrone. Both are happy to be plying their wares in this year's Division 2. And maybe another final day derby classic at home for Louth in Navan!
On the local scene Newtown Blues surprised many outside Newfoundwell with their performances during the summer and ran out worthy winners of the Joe Ward Cup after beating all the fancied sides en-route.
The Geraldines at last fulfilled their undoubted potential by going the whole way in the Intermediate grade in county and province and their journey has by no means finished yet.
Monaghan side Truagh are up next in the last four at the end of January and even though they start as outsiders, you'd find it difficult to back against them after some gutsy performances. The junior title went to in-form side Hunterstown who prolonged their excellent season by reaching the provincial decider.
In soccer the year was dominated by Trapattoni failing to get us to Rio and then being replaced by Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane. The future of ticket sales at the Aviva certainly looks bright but it remains to be seen how much this unusual cartel can revive Ireland's international fortunes.
In the Airtricity League it was Dundalk who defied all the odds by competing for the title right up to the very end. Stephen Kenny's side were not meant to be in that position but sensationally almost pulled it off. Drogheda managed to reach the final of all three cup competitions but some cruel luck meant they finished the year empty-handed. Dundalk at least can look forward to European football in 2014.
We finish the last column of the year with the oval ball and perhaps the biggest sporting disappointment of 2013.
The heartbreaking last gasp defeat to the All Blacks in November still hurts and the recent news that Sean O'Brien could miss the entire Six Nations with a shoulder injury doesn't help.
And finally, as Shane MacGowan says, 'I've got a feeling this year's for you and me'.
Let's hope so!