Tuesday 16 July 2019

The 2018 sporting year from A to Z

Paul Brennan reflects on the sporting year that was 2018, which took us from a miracle Super Bowl touchdown to a not so dead ‘dead’ footballer, and from a very lucky no.13 horse to not so lucky golfer making a 13 on one hole

Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale scores the only try of the autumn international rugby test against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. The score helped Ireland to a 16-9 win, and only Ireland’s second ever victory over the All Blacks and first win on Irish soil
Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale scores the only try of the autumn international rugby test against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. The score helped Ireland to a 16-9 win, and only Ireland’s second ever victory over the All Blacks and first win on Irish soil
MMA fighter Conor McGregor
The ‘Newbridge or Nowhere' campaign in Kildare before the 2018 Super 8s qualifier
Rowing world champion Sanita Puspure

A is for Anonymous, as in the type of letters filling shoe-boxes under the beds of several Gaelic games managers. In August, Eamonn Fitzmaurice stepped down as Kerry football team manager and disclosed that he had received quite a few anonymous and not very complimentary letters from Kerry GAA supporters more than willing to commit their opinions and grievances to paper but less than willing to put their name to it. Other football and hurling managers confirmed they too have received 'letter bombs'.

B is for Brawl. No, not that one...or that one...but the one that occurred in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas in the early hours of Sunday, October 7. Actually, brawls plural would be more accurate. First, there was the UFC 229 lightweight title fight between champions Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor inside the octagon. Then, after McGregor tapped out in the fourth round, there was the brawl outside the cage when Khabib launched himself into McGregor's team. And finally there was the third brawl back inside the octagon when McGregor was attacked by an interloper into the cage. All in a day's work, really, in the mad world of UFC.

C is for Cajones, which is what Doug Pederson, Corey Clement, Trey Burton and Nick Foles displayed in spades on February 4 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Who? What? Rewind to Super Bowl LII between defending champions, New England Patriots, and Philadelphia Eagles. Late in the first half Eagles coach Pederson called for the 'Philly Special', a trick play that resulted in quarterback Foles catching a touchdown pass from Burton, the first ever Super Bowl TD by a QB. It was one of the gutsiest plays ever in the NFL and helped the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title.

D is for Dominant, as in Sanita Purspure, the Cork woman who won gold in the women's single sculls final at the World Rowing Championships in September. It was a remarkable achievement for the 36-year old Latvian native, topped only by the more remarkable comment by Minister for Sport Shane Ross who said: "Today we saw a performance of great tenacity and assurance as Dominant Puspure dominated her rivals in a brilliant single sculls final." The good minister had taken his cue from a media report headlined 'Dominant Purspure powers to world rowing gold for Ireland'.

E is for Eldrick, or Tiger to you, me and the rest of the planet. Yes, Mr Woods was back playing some great golf shots in 2018 and whipping up a frenzy of Tigermania like it was 2000 all over again. He didn't add to his 14 Majors, though he did finish second in the PGA Championship, but it was the scene of the huge gallery following him up the 18th hole of his victory in the Tour Championship in East Lake, Atlanta in September that proved to everyone that even an aging, diminishing Tiger is still a bigger draw than all the young lions out there on tour.

F is for Fernando, as in Fernando Nuno La Fuente, who for about three days in November was the most famous soccer player in Ireland. The Spaniard had played with Ballybrack FC in the Leinster Senior League but when the south Dublin club wanted to get a match postponed someone decided to kill off Fernando in a road traffic accident. Not literally, of course, just a little white lie. Fernando had just moved to Galway and news of his demise had been greatly exaggerated.

G is for GOING, GOING, GONE. Almost. At Cork GAA County Convention in December the Board's long-serving Secretary Frank Murphy stepped down after 46 years in the post. It was a long goodbye for Murphy - both from his initial indications of departure a few years ago, and the amount of tributes that came his way from Convention on the night. The man himself described it all as a "remarkable journey" but it's one that's not quite over yet. A new board has been set up to run the Pairc Uí Chaoimh stadium with one Frank Murphy as its secretary.

H is for Hockey, the sport that gripped the nation for a couple of weeks in late July/early August. Ireland reached the women's World Cup final in London, losing to the Netherlands but winning the hearts and minds of the nation after they took home the silver medals. For that heady fortnight we were all experts on our short and penalty corners, and we knew our Nicola Dalys from our Nicola Evans. Then, needless to say, we quickly forgot all about it again and returned the beautiful game to its rightful custodians, Pembroke Wanderers, Belfast Harlequins and Minister Shane Ross.

I is for Indecision, as in that displayed right across the year by Declan Rice, the West Ham footballer who has been at the centre of a tug of love/war over which international team he will declare for. Eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland through the grandparent rule, but born and bred in London to English parents, Rice is still sitting on the fence over whether to opt for the Three Lions or the Boys in Green. Perhaps new Ireland manager Mick McCarthy can do what recently departed boss Martin O'Neill couldn't do and persuade the 19-year old to throw his lot in with the Republic. It's said the FAI are "confident."

J is for Jacob, which comes from the Hebrew for supplanter, meaning to overthrow or replace. Jacob is also the first name of Stockdale, the Irish winger who scored the all-important try that helped Ireland overthrown and beat New Zealand for the first time. November's test match in Dublin was a battle between the top two ranked teams in world rugby, and while the win didn't see Ireland supplant the All Blacks as No.1, we can surely expect a few baby boys born next August to be called Jacob.

K is for Keane, as in Roy, Robbie and Peter. The first ended his role as assistant manager of the Republic of Ireland soccer team when Martin O'Neill departed ways with the FAI in November. Robbie replaced him as assistant coach to new manager Mick McCarthy. In October, Cahersiveen native Peter Keane was ratified as manager of the Kerry senior football team, taking over from Eamonn Fitzmaurice having just managed the Kerry minor footballers to a fifth successive All-Ireland title in September.

L is for Ledecká, the most successful dual sports person since Teddy McCarthy. Ester Ledecká is the 23-year skier and snowboarder from the Czech Republic who won gold medals in the super-G in alpine skiing and in the parallel giant slalom in snowboarding at the Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang back in February. In doing so she became the first person to win two gold medals at the same Winter Olympics using two different types of equipment (skis and a snowboard).

M is for Marley - Bob Marley - the Jamaican reggae musician who was to appear on the new team jersey of Bohemians FC until the Dublin club's plans were scuppered by image rights issues. Having played a gig at Dalymount Park in 1980, Marley has always been held in high affection by The Gypsies, and the club had designs, literally, to release a new away jersey with an image of the dread-locked Rastafarian on it. Alas, an problem with a license for the image meant Bohs had to pull their plans and leave their fans, ah, waiting in vain, for what would've been one of the coolest soccer jerseys ever.

N is for Newbridge. And Nowhere. As in Newbridge or Nowhere, which pitched up (pun intended) in July when the All-Ireland Qualifier between Kildare and Mayo caused a bit of a stir to say the least. Drawn out first to face the Mayo men, it was a reasonable assumption by the Lilywhites that they would have home advantage in St Conleth's Park. Dem was the rules after all. Croke Park's CCCC felt otherwise and fixed the game for Croke Park. Cue a huge standoff until the 'GAA' backed down and Kildare won. Incidentially they won the game too, dumping Mayo out of the Championship.

O is for Overspend, which depending on whose figures you believe could be upward on €40 million. We refer, of course, to the escalating and eye-watering final cost of the redeveloped Pairc Uí Chaoimh, which appears to have jumped from an original projected cost of €70m to €110m according to the latest tot up. To which all we can say is if the Cork footballers and hurlers can find a similar scale of improvement in their performances then everyone else should be afraid, very afraid.

P is for photo finish, which is what happened after 40 horses jumped 30 fences and raced over 4 miles and 514 yards at the Aintree Grand National in April. After all that there hardly the thickness of a race card between the noses of Tiger Roll and Pleasant Company at the winning post. The former was in the hands of Davy Russell, the affable and steely 38-year old Cork jockey, the latter under the then 21-year old David Mullins from Kilkenny. At the famous Elbow, Russell and Roll looked set for a hands down 10-length or more win until Mullins and Company started to eat up the ground. A nervous wait ensued as the stewards considered the photographic evidence until the horse wearing no.13 was declared the winner of the most famous and valuable steeplechase race.

Q is for Quaid, without whom Limerick wouldn't have reached the All-Ireland hurling final and ended their 45-year wait to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup. In the 72nd minute of their semi-final against Cork, it was 1-26 apiece when Seamus Harnedy received the sliotar in front of the Limerick goal and lined up what would, surely, have been the game winning goal. Cue Nickie Quaid, the Limerick goalkeeper, coming out to flick the ball away with perfect precision and timing as the Cork forward was about to shake the net. "Seamus Harnedy must have felt like a seagull had swooped on his house keys," is how Vincent Hogan described it in the Irish Indo. 'Nuff said.

R is for records, as in the 11 Premier League records broken by Manchester City on their way to winning the Premier League title in May. They included the biggest title-winning margin, the earliest title success, the most points (100), most goals (106), most wins (32), most consecutive wins (18), most away wins (16), best goal difference (+79), highest average possession (71%), most passes (28,242), and most consecutive PL Manager of the Month awards for Pep Guardiola (4).

S is for Sam. No, not Maguire but Bennett, the Irish cyclist who won three stages in this year's Giro D'Italia. Yes, we're all a bit cynical about professional cycling but it's always been easier to believe the sprinters, who look distinctly human on the climbs, than the GC contenders who ride like mountain goats on motorbikes. Anyway, the Carrick-on-Suir man pedalled his way to a hat trick of stage wins at the Giro - bettering Stephen Roche's two Giro stage wins in 1987, and becoming the first Irish man to win multiple stages of a single grand tour since Sean Kelly at the 1988 Vuelta.

T is for TIMING. Or bad timing to be precise. On Friday, June 15 Spain were scheduled to start their World Cup campaign against their Iberian neighbours Portugal. Two days before that, on the Wednesday, La Furia Roja sacked their manager Julen Lopetegui. His crime? Negotiating a contract to take over as Real Madrid manager without the knowledge of the Spanish Football Federation, and having his new job announced on the Tuesday. Spain subsequently went out of the World Cup at the Last 16 stage and Lopetegui duly went to Real Madrid...where he managed for 138 days before getting the sack.

U is for UNESCO, which, in November, added hurling and camogie to its list of protected cultural activities around the world. "Hurling is considered as an intrinsic part of Irish culture and plays a central role in promoting health and well-being, inclusiveness and team spirit," UNESCO said of the thing that joins Mongolian knuckle-bone shooting, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, and tightrope walking in Korea, on the list. We reckon Joe Canning would excel in any of those.

V is for Voltage, as in Rob 'Voltage' Cross, the former electrician who won the PDC World Darts Championship back in January. The then 27-year old was the then 20th seed playing in his first World Championship in the Ally Pally, and after beating the defending champion Michael van Gerwen he then thumped Phil Taylor 7-2 in the final. Think Longford or Down winning the Sam Maguire this year and you have an idea of what Cross achieved.

W is for Weeshie. For two decades Aloysius 'Weeshie' Fogarty was the Harry Carpenter, the Howard Cossel, the Jimmy Magee of Kerry sport. He was the host of the long-running weekly Terrace Talk radio programme, he was a Gaelic football co-commentator, he was a newspaper columnist, he was an author and archivist. He was quite simply one of the most recognised and respected people in Kerry and among GAA folk across Ireland. In November he passed away at the age of 77. He will be missed for much longer than that.

X is for X-factor, which is what David Clifford brought to an otherwise fairly meh Super 8 campaign by the Kerry footballers this summer. His late goal against Galway in Croke Park was typical of his predatory instincts in front of goal, but his late, late equalising goal against Monaghan a week later was off the charts in terms of what the Fossa man is capable of. The teenager was rewarded with the Young Footballer of the Year award in November, as well as collecting the first of many All Star awards to come.

Y is for YIKES! Which is what everyone exclaimed over and over on April 5th, otherwise known as 'Masters Thursday'. Why? Because Sergio Garcia took thirteen - yes, 13 - shots to play one hole of golf. Happens to the best (or worst) of us, right? In Sergio's case, however, it just happened to be at the US Masters in Augusta. It just happened to be on the par-five 15th, one of the most famous holes on the course. And Garcia just happened to be the defending champion. The 13 strokes put the Spaniard into the record books for the joint highest score ever on a single Masters hole and the biggest tally - by two - on the 15th. "I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and unfortunately the ball just didn't want to stop," he said, of the car crash in slow-motion that didn't want to stop either.

Z is for Zabivaka, the name of the mascot at the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Loosely translating as "the one who scores", Zabivaka represented an anthropomorphic Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus) with brown and white fur, wearing a T-shirt with 'Russia 2018' on it, and orange goggles. As far as we can recall he didn't win the Golden Boot award.