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Friday 27 April 2018

An A to Z of the sporting year

Weird Wide World of Sport

Dave Devereux

Joe Canning celebrates scoring Galway’s winning point in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary
Joe Canning celebrates scoring Galway’s winning point in the All-Ireland semi-final against Tipperary

Irish sport has had more ups and downs than a scaffolder in 2017, from the high of Katie Taylor being crowned world champion to the low of the soccer team being unceremoniously dumped out of World Cup party by Denmark.

We've witnessed some mind-numbingly boring games on the GAA fields, but also saw swashbuckling Galway finally reach the Holy Grail and Dublin win three-a-row in a tension-filled, thrilling All-Ireland decider.

Others have excited and frustrated in equal measures, from rugby stars to showjumpers, from rowers to jockeys.

Here's an A to Z of all that was good and not so good for Irish sport in 2017.

A... is for Aidan O'Brien. The Ballydoyle maestro won all before him in 2017, setting a new world record by training 26 Group 1 winners in a calendar year, winning eight of the ten Irish and English classics in the process. A remarkable achievement by a talented and unassuming trainer.

B... is for Billy Walsh, who picked up the Best Coach award after the 2017 AIBA World Championships. Following a successful Olympics in Rio the previous year, the Wexford man led the USA to silver and two bronzes in Hamburg, a great achievement when you consider America had only managed to win just one bronze in the previous three championships. Ireland's loss is certainly America's gain.

C... is for Conor Murray. The Munster and Ireland scrum-half excelled for the British and Irish Lions on their tour in New Zealand, becoming the first northern hemisphere player ever to have scored four career tries in tests against the All Blacks.

D... is for Dublin, who continued their dominance by winning their third consecutive All-Ireland title, with a late Dean Rock free getting them over the line against Mayo. Can anybody stop the Boys in Blue in 2018?

E... is for Evens, the best price you'll get for the Dubs to make it four All-Ireland wins in a row next year. There's a fair chance it will happen, but I think I'll keep the money in my wallet for now. If you believe in fairytale endings, you can get 6/1 on luckless Mayo finally ridding themselves of the curse.

F... is for farce, the only word to describe the contest between Floyd Mayweather Jr and Conor McGregor. Of course the guys in the ring got exactly what they wanted, bucket loads of cash, while anybody who bothered to tune in to the pantomime were left feeling short-changed.

G... is for Galway, who won their first Senior All-Ireland hurling title since 1988 when overcoming Waterford on a scoreline of 0-26 to 2-17 in emotionally-charged Croke Park in September.

H... is for horse racing. As is the norm these days it was a wonderful year for Irish racing. As well as Aidan O'Brien's record-breaking achievements, National Hunt trainers Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott dominated at the Cheltenham Festival. Robbie Power had a year to remember in the saddle, winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup on Sizing John and the Irish Grand National aboard Our Duke.

I... is for incredible pieces of skill, which we saw plenty of in this year's hurling championship. From Joe Canning's stunning match-winning score from the sideline in the semi-final against Tipperary to Austin Gleeson's audacious pick up and point in the Munster semi-final, there was plenty to choose from.

J... is for Joe Canning. Surely nobody in the country could have begrudged the supremely-talented Canning the spoils of success as he ended his long wait to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup. The 2017 Hurler of the Year is one of the best players of a generation and it would have been a travesty if he hadn't won the big one.

K... is for Keane. Even the most ardent sports fans would struggle to name most assistant managers, but love him or hate him Roy Keane always attracts attention. Some times you have to wonder if he is just rolled out to deflect attention from the shortcomings of manager Martin O'Neill.

L... is for losers. For every triumph there has to be a loser and unfortunately for Mayo that was their lot again this year. They took the scenic route to Croke Park and again small margins denied them from celebrating an emotional All-Ireland success. Instead they were left lamenting a heartbreaking loss and licking their wounds.

M... is for McClean. Derryman James McClean somewhat controversially won the RTE Sportsperson of the Year award, but whatever your views on that, there's no doubting he provided magical moments for Ireland, scoring some crucial goals, none more so than the winner against Wales in Cardiff.

N... is for no-hopers, something which is increasingly evident in the All-Ireland Senior football championship. It holds very little interest until it gets to the latter stages with the cannon-fodder having to suffer unmerciful beatings in the early part of the summer, which is becoming increasingly difficult to stomach.

O... is for oval ball, something which Mayo ladies' football legend Cora Staunton will be getting accustomed to on her adventure in Australia.

The four-time All-Ireland winner has made the move Down Under to play Australian Rules football with Greater Western Sydney Giants and good luck to her in an exciting new chapter.

P... is for phenomenal, the best word to describe the jaw-dropping achievements of Cork dual star Rena Buckley, who made history by winning an 18th All-Ireland medal when captaining the Rebel county camogie team to a one-point win over Kilkenny.

Q... is for quality, something the Republic of Ireland were seriously lacking in the humiliating defeat in the second leg of the World Cup play-off in the Aviva Stadium. The Danes, and Christian Eriksen in particular, certainly had quality though as they tore us to shreds in a 5-1 thrashing.

R... is for rowing, a sport which is on the crest of a wave in the Emerald Isle at present, with the Skibbereen club leading the way. Paul O'Donovan won gold in the lightweight men's singles sculls at the World Rowing Championships in Florida, with club-mates Mark O'Donovan and Shane O'Driscoll striking gold in the lightweight men's pairs category. Paul's brother Gary and another Skibbereen rower, Denise Walsh, also won medals during the year.

S... is for showjumping. The Irish team of Shane Sweetnam, Bertram Allen, Denis Lynch and Cian O'Connor produced an outstanding performance to become European champions in Gothenburg. O'Connor also won individual bronze to wrap up a successful championships.

T... is for Turner's Cross, the home of double winners Cork City. The Leesiders had an incredible season, winning the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title as well as retaining the FAI Cup, winning the first-ever double for the club.

U... is for unlikeliest victory ever, something which Killahara Castle achieved earlier this month. The 200/1 shot made history when winning at Thurles, becoming the biggest priced winner at an Irish meeting. If only I'd had a few quid on.

W... is for world champion. Katie Taylor won the vacant WBA lightweight title by beating Anahi Sanchez in Cardiff in October and followed it up with a convincing points victory over Chicago's Jessica McCaskill. 2018 promises to be an even more exciting year for the Bray boxer.

X... is for x-rays, something which Ruby Walsh has become well accustomed to after numerous falls. The Kildare man is on the sidelines at the moment after breaking his leg in a fall at Punchestown last month. Of course some punters talking through the pockets would have you believe he parts company with his steed on purpose. I'd like to see them jumping off a horse travelling at 30 miles an hour.

Y... is for youth, something which is badly needed if the Irish soccer team are to have a realistic chance of mixing it with the big boys. Players like Andy Boyle, Callum O'Dowda, Daryl Horgan, Seán Maguire and Kevin O'Connor have plenty to offer, so it's not all doom and gloom if they're encouraged to pass the ball instead of aimlessly hoofing it forward.

Z... is for zzzzzzzzzz. After racking my well-worn brain trying to compile this list I'm badly in need of a bit of shut eye.

Happy New Year!

Wexford People

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