Saturday 16 December 2017

Star weddings, that flag and a Taylor-made win in London

IT CAME just when we needed it most – a genuine Taylor-made Irish victory amid the golden end of summer.

Just looking back at it all brings warm memories, with the whole nation getting behind Katie Taylor in a way that had not been witnessed since Italia '90.

It was the sports moment of the year. Or just the moment of the year, plain and simple.

The three bronze, silver and gold parties made possible by her plucky talent at the London Olympics rewrote our year completely after the gutting disappointment of the Euros earlier in the summer.

Her home town of Bray, Co Wicklow, was transformed into 'Katie Town', as thousands turned out to watch on the big screen, sick with nerves.

What Katie did was to give us back our self-esteem – and more. Is it any wonder she was named Sportswoman of the Year?

It was a far cry from Euro 2012 – when Irish fans were left dejected, but still singing, after three crushing defeats.

Even Mick Wallace made it to Poznan – despite his tax woes. The blond bombshell posed for pictures with fans at the Italy match despite the furore back home.

In fact, the only real star to emerge from the Euros was that famous "Angela Merkel Thinks We're at Work" flag, which became a Twitter sensation.

The cheeky tricolour was later auctioned off for a good cause, raising €15,800 for the Children's Medical and Research Foundation in Dublin and the Oscar Appeal for Oscar Knox, a Belfast boy with a rare disease.

The flag fluttered in the Aviva again in October during the World Cup qualifier against Germany – which ended in further humiliation.

Ireland's poor performances put the manager's job in jeopardy. Come October, Giovanni Trapattoni appeared to offer a quiet prayer as Ireland took on the Faroe Islands. Anything other than a straight win was unacceptable. The team delivered, and Trap stayed on.

Something similar happened in February, when newspaper headlines quipped: "The Chinese are here, look busy", for the arrival of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.

There was much talk of economic opportunities, although concerns were voiced about the country's dubious human rights record.

Nevertheless, the welcome carpet was rolled out and, under the deadpan gaze of Chinese officials – who dared not even smile – Xi tried his hand at hurling, one-handed, in Croke Park.

But no matter if the Chinese don't step forward to help us resuscitate the Celtic Tiger – because there's a new Tiger in town. His name is Rory McIlroy.

The boy wonder's dominance on both sides of the Atlantic was a massive story in what pundits were describing as a truly transformational golfing year.

In dramatic fashion, he helped Europe claim the Ryder Cup and his stellar play around the globe cemented his place as world number one.


He even had something for the celebrity watchers, with his antics off the golf course.

In March, the dubiously named 'Wozzilroy' roadshow touched down in New York – as Rory joined girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki at Madison Square Garden to watch her take on Maria Sharapova in an exhibition match. By special invitation, McIlroy took to the court with a sheepish grin, to try out a whole new ball game.

Later our attentions turned to rugby, as Leinster made it two years on the trot. Fans enjoyed the sight of brothers Dave and Rob Kearney holding aloft the Heineken Cup with teammates, including Brian O'Driscoll.

Rob Kearney was announced as the ERC Player of the Year for 2012, although unfortunately he has ended the year battling injury. But during the victorious Heineken Cup campaign he started all nine European matches, scoring six tries.

Another rugby player hit the news with some celebrity nuptials during the summer.

Model Aoife Cogan and Gordon D'Arcy exchanged vows at St Macartan's Cathedral in Monaghan.

There was widespread sorrow later in the summer at the death of literary icon and national treasure Maeve Binchy in her home in Dalkey, Co Dublin.

The novelist died following a short illness. Her husband, writer Gordon Snell, her brother William and sister Joan led hundreds of mourners including Oscar-winning actress Brenda Fricker, who starred in the screen versions of some of Binchy's books. As Binchy's hearse left the churchyard, mourners who had listened outside in the rain formed a guard of honour and burst into spontaneous applause.

Peals of laughter filled an outdoor amphitheatre at Lough Key Forest Park near Boyle, Co Roscommon, in August as Sky One premiered its new comedy 'Moone Boy', a semi-autobiographical account of actor Chris O'Dowd's childhood in Boyle.

"I am absolutely bricking it," was the rather indelicate way the star of 'Bridesmaids' and 'The IT Crowd' put it. But there was no need – the show became a comedy sensation.

Earlier in the year, O'Dowd's now wife, TV presenter Dawn Porter, seemed to be doing all she could to impress her new Irish in-laws ahead of the wedding.

Dawn subsequently announced that she was calling herself "Dawn O'Porter" as a nod to her new Irish connections. Then her husband posted a picture of his new wife in her wedding lingerie, which sent Twitter into overdrive.

She's not alone in hankering to be Irish. When Jon Bon Jovi flew in to announce his headline gig at Slane next year, locals did a double take.

He was the only act to ever take a tour of the village of Slane itself, stopping off for a drink with his host Lord Henry Mountcharles.

Ever complimentary, he expressed his wish to be Irish. "I've said it 100 times," he said. "There is something about Ireland that is more special to me than just about any other place."

With the summer over, thoughts turned to Croke Park, where Galway had hoped to bring an end to a 24-year drought when they made it to the All-Ireland hurling final against Kilkenny – but despite a tense draw and a replay, it was not to be.

The star of that show was Kilkenny player Henry Shefflin, who got another All- Ireland medal, giving him an unbeaten tally of nine. He is now regarded as the greatest hurler of all time.

There were ecstatic scenes again in Croke Park with Jimmy McGuinness winning matches and bringing Sam back to Donegal again – claiming the county's second All-Ireland senior football title at the expense of a devastated Mayo.

But one event that should have been a celebration of music instead turned into a story of violence and public drunkenness.

Chaos descended on the Phoenix Park for the Swedish House Mafia gig, with mud the least of the revellers' problems.

Nine people were stabbed, several were left in a critical condition and two young men died of other causes.

"Absolutely disgraceful, appalling and simply scandalous," was how the Taoiseach described the events surrounding the concert.

Irish Independent

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