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Saturday 20 September 2014

Clare glory topped year that made me proud to be Irish

Home heroes created so many moments to cherish in a memorable sporting 2013

Rachel Wyse

Published 21/12/2013 | 02:30

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Clare goalscorer Shane O'Donnell is lifted by his team-mates as they celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy Cup Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Standing in a room full of people you associate with iconic moments in Irish sport is a surreal feeling. When you dream of meeting the heroes of days Irish people recall with great pleasure, you don't truly believe it could ever happen.

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See that's the thing about dreaming. In so many ways dreams are a gift fraught with danger. We all imagine we know our heroes and think we know how the conversation would go until the moment the dream becomes reality.

On Tuesday last in Dublin's Westbury Hotel my dreams knew such a fate. The 25th Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year awards was a magical event, one that brought together some of the greatest names in Irish sport. So many familiar faces, so many wonderful memories.

In tough times, the feats of these people replenish spirit.

Since joining Sky I have learned just how living away from Ireland changes perspective. I, like many others, look to home all the more for a sense of identity; to feel the pride which encourages me through the tough days.

The people I had the pleasure of meeting this week continue to give us so many reasons to be proud, so many reasons to smile and importantly so many reasons to never forget our origin.

Despite their genius they were humble to a person, unaffected by their standing. The expectations of this girl's dreams were long surpassed. It was an occasion I will cherish. In the words of an Irish icon, the day was "different class".

As the year draws in, let us reflect on another 12 months of memorable occasions.

Here, I choose my favourite Irish highlights of 2013.

THE BANNER IS BACK

When Clare emerged from the doldrums in 1995 to win their first All-Ireland hurling title in 81 years they offered something different. Epitomised by their leaders Ger Loughnane and Anthony Daly, they were men undaunted by the burden of their history. They were winners.

The 2013 All-Ireland champions are of the same mould. Young men assured of their capabilities, men who live for the game. They revelled in the occasion of an All-Ireland final, playing with a youthful freedom. They were worthy champions.

And off the field these young men are a credit to their families, their clubs and the people of Clare. They carry themselves with class and composure beyond their years. Should their desire for success remain as great as the level evident in 2013 the Banner will fly high for many years to come.

MAGNIFICENT MCCOY

November 7, 2013 was the day AP McCoy went where no man is ever likely to go again. Four thousand winners for a jump jockey is a feat no words can do justice to. McCoy is simply a freak.

He is a brilliant jockey, a genius in the saddle but unlike so many geniuses McCoy doesn't posses the flaw which encourages self-destruction. McCoy is a machine concerned with nothing only success. Feats of his past are for others to admire. Irrespective of the occasion, the track or the horse, McCoy knows only one way, concerned with one priority -- to be first across the line.

He was a most worthy winner of the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Year award.

We should all marvel at his skills and try to learn from his attitude as there will never be anyone like AP McCoy again.

KERRY V DUBLIN

For people of previous generations, Kerry-Dublin matches will always conjure images of iconic teams of past decades. The rich tradition of the rivalry between these counties is unrivalled in the GAA.

There is a magic around their history. After events in Croke Park on September 1 another generation had memories of their own to cherish. This was the finest game of Gaelic football I have ever witnessed.

The genius of Colm Cooper wasn't enough to halt an extremely powerful, well balanced Dublin team who refused to relent in their pursuit of Sam. The game also marked the end of a glorious Kerry career with Tomás Ó Sé's subsequent retirement. What a player Ó Sé has been.

His departure leaves a void; his feats arguably surpasses those of his late, great uncle Páidí and those of his older brother Darragh.

LIMERICK YOU'RE A LADY

This is how Muster finals should be. Sun-drenched days, packed stadiums and fans who know the value of a provincial championship.

Mid-July on the Ennis road saw the hurling people of Limerick welcome back the Munster Hurling Cup after 17 long years. A great sporting county relished the success over Cork and the subsequent pitch invasion and the rendition of 'Limerick You're a Lady' will live long in my memory.

This was celebration, GAA-style. Yes, we all appreciate the need to appear sophisticated in the face of competition from other sports but we should always embrace our uniqueness. This summer Limerick and its people reminded us all how it should be.

JIM BOLGER AND DAWN APPROACH

If Jim Bolger ever has moments where he doubts his ability or his own mind, then he hides it well. To be so self-assured is a great gift. In a sport where serious money is needed to make a lasting, meaningful impression, Bolger has done things his way and on his terms.

Anything this man got, he earned. Now a self-made man, the initial days of training were far removed from the surroundings and resources at his disposal today. He attributes his ability to train fillies to the circumstances of his early career when colts were simply out of his price range at the sales.

To survive he had no option but to become proficient in the handling of the female sex. The convictions of his own beliefs were never more evident than when he identified the potential of Galileo as a stallion.

When the opening classic of the 2013 Flat season rolled around, Bolger's confidence in Dawn Approach, a grandson of Galileo, was very evident and his champion duly delivered. After his Derby misadventure at Epsom, 17 days later Dawn Approach was sent out by Bolger to win the St James's Palace in Royal Ascot. His belief and trust in his horse yet again vindicated.

They don't come any more astute than Jim Bolger, a genius of our time.

HEFFERNAN'S WALK TO WORLD GOLD

The victory in August of Corkman Rob Heffernan at the 2013 World Athletics Championship was an undoubted highlight of the year for Irish athletics. Victory in Moscow was the culmination of years of hard work for Heffernan, evident in his gradual progression from Sydney 2000 onwards.

A step up to the 50km walk has seen Heffernan perform with remarkable consistency, finishing fourth at both the 2010 European Championships and the 2012 Olympic games. Narrowly missing out on medals would have broken lesser man. Heffernan got his just reward in 2013.

WOMEN'S RUGBY GRAND SLAM

In what has been an indifferent year for the fortunes of Ireland's male rugby team, our women led the way with victory over Scotland in their final game to achieve a historic Grand Slam success. Led by captain Fiona Coghlan, the team's achievements were recognised through the attendance of President Higgins at their game with France last March.

In the defence of their championship in 2014 Philip Doyle's side will play at the Aviva Stadium -- a development which will hopefully bring further awareness and recognition to an outstanding Irish team.

DOMINANCE OF WILLIE MULLINS AND RICHARD HUGHES

Willie Mullins credits his late father with showing him how to earn a living. I suspect his continued dominance of Irish jump racing indicates it wasn't the only thing he learned from the man.

Paddy Mullins knew success predominantly with horses in the National Hunt sphere but he knew how to handle Flat champions too, as he demonstrated though the exploits of Hurry Harriet and Vintage Tipple.

His son continues to maintain and even enhance the family traditions. Whether it be at Royal Ascot, Cheltenham or Punchestown they all come alike to Willie Mullins as he keeps on breaking records and set the bar for Irish jump racing.

A second consecutive Flat jockeys' championship for Richard Hughes is a remarkable achievement for a man breaking all the rules. Hughes stands 5ft 10ins and must maintain his riding weight below nine stone.

Hughes' unique style in the saddle was always recognised and in recent times he is enjoying the accolades his remarkable sacrifices deserve.

Irish Independent

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