At the end of another year of sporting highs and lows, takes a look back on an average 12 months for the Irish Harrington and the Irish boxers gave us something to celebrate
DOESN’T TIME fly. It seems like only yesterday that yours truly was reflecting on a pretty dire 2007 and while this year was slightly better it’s still not time to be frenetically waving tricolours from the rooftops.
While we had a few fine individual displays and some praiseworthy performances both home and abroad our national teams in the headline sports continued to fail to ignite on the world stage.
The obvious highlight was Pádraig Harrington becoming the first player, other than Tiger Woods, to win two majors in the same year since Mark O’Meara won the Masters and British Open in 1998.
The Dubliner may sound like a penguin on helium but the boy sure can play golf.
His incredible back-to-back victories have cemented his place as the greatest Irish golfer of all time, proving his Open success in 2007 was definitely no fluke.
There’s plenty out there that will still argue that Harrington’s achievement was somehow diminished by the absence of Tiger Woods in the two events but he proved last year in Carnoustie that he can beat the world’s top golfer.
Unfortunately he’ll just have to win one more major with Tiger in the field to finally silence the mindless boo-boys.
Elsewhere, it was a good year for boxers from the Emerald Isle. It makes a change from the plastered pugilism we’re used to seeing at three in the morning after the nightclubs close.
We showed our mastery of the ancient art with an exciting run at the Olympics, returning with a haul of three medals, with Kenny Egan, Darren Sutherland and Paddy Barnes briefly lifting the spirits in this doom-laden country.
The preparation and professionalism of the boxing team should be a example to all other competitors from this country.
Unfortunately the rest of the Olympics was a bit of an embarrassment for the Irish team.
The majority of our athletes seemed to go into the Games struggling with injury or with seriously interrupted preparations, resulting in a host of disappointing performances.
All we got to cheer was Róisín McGettigan and Alistair Cragg acquitting themselves pretty well by reaching finals but the bar simply has to be raised higher.
We need to be going to these world events harbouring hopes of returning with medals instead of just going along to make up the numbers.
But again it was in equestrian sports where we excelled, if that’s the right word, at embarrassment.
Denis Lynch followed in the footsteps of Cian O’Connor to leave the country red-faced and remind us that corruption is rife in this elite sport.
At least our boxers proved that as a nation we can punch well above our weight on the world stage with the right preparation and queen of the ring Katie Taylor showed that yet again.
The Bray woman saw off all-comers to retain her world lightweight title and was named AIBA female boxer of the year.
Hopefully, Taylor will get the chance to show her sublime skills in the Olympics in London in 2012 with ‘Inside Right’ confidently predicting her to return with the gold medal if given the opportunity.
It wasn’t a great year for our soccer or rugby teams, with both failing to set the world alight.
The boys in green have managed to get a few decent results on paper but the manner of their victories would hardly fill the nation with glorious expectation.
Unfortunately the Irish team have a centre about as rock solid as a Rolo. Darron Gibson and Glenn Whelan are decent players at a certain level but can’t be expected to control an international midfield.
Andy Reid is no world beater either but at least has the abililty to open up a defence with a thoughful pass. But we’ve all come to realise by now that there’s no point in wasting ink on the topic because Giovanni Trapattoni is the most stubborn and contrary man since Victor Meldrew.
The rugby boys are not looking quite so menacing as they did a couple of years back either.
After an awful World Cup and Six Nations Eddie O’Sullivan finally decided to do the noble thing and jump ship and although Declan Kidney would definitely have been ‘Inside Right’s’ choice for the job, the recent Autumn internationals wouldn’t fill you with confidence. However, we’re willing to put our feeling on ice on this one and return to the topic in the spring.
Thankfully, we had Kidney’s Munster to fly the flag for Irish rugby again with their superb Heineken Cup win.
On the home front Kilkenny’s awesome display against Waterford in the All-Ireland final was the highlight, and that’s not easy for a longsuffering Wexfordman to admit.
While feeling a degree of sympathy for the Déise you just had to sit back and admire the artistry of the Cats. ‘
Inside Right’ is fed up of hearing the virtues of Munster hurling.
Last year Waterford were the best Munster had to offer and look what Kilkenny did to them. No team in the country would have lived with them on that Sunday in September. It’s just a pity it wasn’t Cork.
From a totally personal point of view, seeing the Wexford footballers reach the All-Ireland semi-final brought an enormous sense of pride.
Jason Ryan’s achievement of bringing this magnificent bunch of players from apparent no-hopers to real title contenders deserves huge credit. Here’s to more of the same in 2009.
Ireland’s win in the International Rules was also something to savour. At least we’re the best in the world at something!
We also acquitted ourselves well in the Rugby League World Cup, qualifying for a semi-final play-off, but then again the squad was about as Irish as vindaloo.
Speaking of vindaloo, ‘ Inside Right’ better rush down to the butcher’s to collect the turkey before it closes.
The St. Stephen’s Day curry just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Pádraig Harrington, winner of two majors in 2008.
Kenny Egan, who returned from the Olympics with a silver medal.