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Thursday 26 April 2018

The luck of the Irish? Our five biggest sporting heartaches

New Zealand's Ryan Crotty is congratulated by Aaron Cruden, 10, after scoring a late try.
New Zealand's Ryan Crotty is congratulated by Aaron Cruden, 10, after scoring a late try.
Thierry Henry's infamous handball in the play-off game in Paris

Garreth Murphy wades through the pain

You'd think we’d be used to it by now.

Yesterday’s last gasp defeat to the All Blacks in added time was a crushing disappointment for Irish sports fans, but it’s hardly the first time triumph was snatched away from us at the last second.

Irish sport is littered with examples when a massive, morale boosting victory is taken away from us at the second whether it be down to bad luck, bad management or just sheer badness.

The luck of the Irish? You’re having a laugh. So in no particular order, here’s some of the worst Irish sporting disasters on a national scale.

THIERRY HENRY’S HANDBALL

The play-offs for the World Cup 2010. We lost the first leg in a rather inglorious fashion in Croke Park 1-0 to a Nicolas Anelka goal.

France were the favourites and everyone expected us to suffer another defeat in Paris. Nobody told the players, though. The Republic of Ireland took the game to France in a glorious fashion, pressing high and not giving them a second to settle.

Robbie Keane (who else?) scored the  equaliser and we should have won the game in normal time. In extra time, with penalties beckoning, Thierry Henry deliberately handled the ball – twice – before William Gallas squeezed it home.

Although it was a handball so blatant that Diego Maradona would have been embarrassed to claim it, the goal stood. We lost the run of ourselves in aftermath of the match, with Government ministers calling for a rematch.

The only good thing to come out of the whole debacle was that France crashed out in the first round of the World Cup, embarrassing themselves in the process with defeats to South Africa and Mexico.

2002 WORLD CUP

Where to begin? Although the new management team of the Republic of Ireland would rather the words ‘2002’ and ‘World Cup’ would be removed from the average Irish sports fan’s vocabulary, the whole thing was a bloody mess. From Roy Keane’s departure in Saipan to the eventual defeat on penalties to Spain, the whole thing was a bloody shambles.

Keane’s interview with Tommie Gorman was particularly hard to take – we were all willing the best midfielder in the world to return to the squad and build a few bridges with boss Mick McCarthy. But nope - never happened.

So even when we got over that disappointment, the fact that we slipped out on penalties to a very dodgy Spain side was made even harder to take – especially seeing as the game was tailored made for the likes of Keane. Will there ever be a better opportunity to get to a World Cup semi-final? There, I’ve said it.

Grown men weep at the memory.

1991 WORLD CUP RUGBY QUARTER FINAL v AUSTRALIA

It was the pre-professional era. Irish rugby wasn’t exactly in rude health. We weren’t expected to trouble the pre-tournament favourites, Australia, much beyond the starting whistle. Yet again, an Irish team rose to the challenge. Although Australia looked stronger over the course of the game, Ireland wouldn’t let them go quietly and hung grimly on 15-12 down with five minutes on the clock.

Then a miracle happened. The ball popped up to speedy flanker Gordon Hamilton, who belted down the pitch, leaving Wallabies legend David Campese scratching his head.

Forty yards later, Hamilton looked to secure Ireland a famous sporting victory and Lansdowne erupted in a classic old-school style celebration. When Ralph Keyes scored the conversion, it looked like Ireland were bound for the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Michael Lynagh had other ideas, though, and his quick thinking led to a Wallabies attack, which he ultimately converted. Australia 19 Ireland 18.

Heartbreaking stuff.

MICHELLE SMITH’S TRIPLE GOLD MEDAL HAUL 1996

Despite being an island, we’d never been much cop at swimming.

So when Michelle Smith won three gold medals at 1996 Atlanta games, we thought our time had come. But almost as soon as she collected  her three gold medals and one bronze medal, the whispers started.

Allegations of doping marred the victory and while they were never proven, Smith was banned in 1998 for four years for tampering with her urine sample using alcohol.

She did not lose her medals but most sports fans are not inclined to celebrate her achievements.

These days, Smith trades under her married name of Smith de Bruin and has retrained as a barrister. Handy for those legal battles.

RORY MCILROY'S 2011 MASTERS FINAL-ROUND MELTDOWN

Poor Rory. In 2011, the young golfer looked to have the Masters sewn up in 2011. He had led since the first round, shooting a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 .

Things really fell asunder on the final day. He shot the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the third round of the Masters Tournament.

His utter collapse at the tenth hole – shooting a triple bogey – is still too painful for many Irish golfer fans to watch again.

McIlroy never recovered and he looked on the verge of tears at the 11th.

He eventually limped home with a final round of 80.

To his credit, Rory won the 2012 PGA Championship by a record eight strokes but he’ll probably still have nightmares about 2011 for the rest of his days.

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