Now that the dust has settled and we are well and truly into the New Year, lets take a moment to look back on some of the sports moments from 2014. Last year was another really successful year for Irish sport both nationally and internationally. Below outlines just some of that success through multiple categories – Individual Performances (both over and under 25), Team Performances, Teams of the Year & Coach/Manager Performances.
Individual Performances – Under 25
McIlroy had a stellar 2014 and is very much one of the top sports people not just in Ireland but the world. Rory, as he is fondly called, is seen by most as the best in the game and won his third major in July when he won the Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club. The awards didn’t stop there however, in August he won the PGA Championship in Kentucky USA. To cap off an impressive year, McIlroy played an important role in Team Europe retaining the Ryder Cup in Scotland in September with Irish man earning 3 valuable points for Europe.
Michael McKillop is a middle distance runner and Paralympic athlete who competed in Beijing 2008 and London 2012 winning Gold at both events. Last year saw more Gold for the Ballymena native as he came first in the IPC Athletics European Championship in both the T38 800m and T38 1500m in Swansea back in August. McKillop is no stranger to success, as he is also a two time IPC Athletics World Champion on top of his Paralympic and European success!
Ryan Mullen is an up and coming Irish athlete after winning silver in the under 23 TT at cycling’s world championships last year. Mullen finished seventh in the event in 2013 and showed his improvement when he shrugged off wet conditions to set the best time in the 36.15 kilometre solo test. He easily bettered times of other riders who had the benefits of dry roads, and went into the hotseat at the finish as provisional race leader. Having been quickest at the two intermediate checkpoints, it looked all but certain that he would win, but was pipped in the last section by 0.48 seconds by Australian Campbell Flakemore (who is two years older). The future is certainly bright for this young cyclist!
Stephanie Roche will surely never forget 2014! The Dubliner hit headlines after scoring a wonder goal for her club side Peamount United in the Woman’s National League of Ireland back in the 2013 season which saw her effort get shortlisted for the 2014 FIFA Puskas Award for best goal of the season along with Columbian & Real Madrid star James Rodriguez and Dutch & Man United striker Robin Van Persie for their efforts at the World Cup. Roche came second at the awards, losing out to Rodriguez, but to be shortlisted with stars such as those mentioned is nothing short of incredible and a massive achievement. In June of last year Roche also signed for newly-promoted Division 1 Féminine team ASPTT Albi in France.
Individual Performances – Over 25
Martyn Irvine is one of Ireland’s top cyclists and 2014 was another successful year for the Northern Irishman. A 7 time Irish national track and road champion, Irvine signed a contract to ride with the United Healthcare team in 2013. In February 2014, Irvine won a silver medal in the scratch race at the 2014 UCI Track Cycling World Championships – a huge achievement!
Jason Smyth is currently one of Ireland’s most successful Paralympian’s having won two gold medals at Beijing 2008, two Gold medals at London 2012 and a further two more gold medals at 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships. Smyth’s lucky number continued for him last year as again he won a further two gold medals at the 2014 IPC European Championships in Swansea at 100m and 200m level. Here’s hoping that the lucky number continues for the Derry man!
Jonathan Sexton was instrumental in Ireland’s success in 2014 that saw them win the Six Nations back in March, two tests in Argentina in June and a clean sweep of victories in the November internationals. His best performances came at pivotal times – he scored 17 of the 22 points in the 20-22 victory against les bleus in Paris that sealed the Six Nations on the last day of the Championship. Added to this his man of the match performance against South Africa in the 29-15 victory at the Aviva Stadium and Sexton had his best year yet in the Ireland jersey. The Dubliners year was also recognised worldwide as the only northern hemisphere player to be shortlisted for the ‘Player of the Year Award’. Leinster fans will certainly be happy to have him home!
Katie Taylor has long been a favourite in Ireland and last year was another to remember for the Bray native. On 24th November, Taylor won her fifth straight lightweight title in South Korea at the 2014 AIBA Women’s World Boxing Championships, defeating Yana Allekseevna of Azerbaijan, finishing with a final scoreline – 40-36, 39-37, 39-37 – in her favour. That makes Taylor the current Irish, European, World and Olympic Champion in the lightweight division – definitely one of Ireland’s best!
Donegal (3-14) – Dublin (0-17), Croke Park, Dublin
Many wrote off this semi-final encounter as simply a warm up for Dublin and the men in blue would walk into the final. How wrong those predictions were as Donegal, who were under intense pressure from Dublin for the first 20 minutes, steam rolled their way to victory with a really strong second half. Dublin kicked 10 wides in the second spell which was a story in itself. What’s most telling is at one stage it looked as if Donegal might be heading for a thrashing, similar to what they endured against Mayo in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final. Much credit must be given to Jim McGuinness for his organisational and tactical nous. This was certainly one of the best performances Croke Park has seen in some time!
Germany 1-1 Ireland, Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen
When thinking of performances in 2014 it is hard to look past this one. Ireland, who at the minute are ranked 65th in the FIFA World Rankings, travelled to Gelsenkirchen in Germany tasked with taking on Germany in a qualifier for Euro 2016 (who are currently ranked number 1 in the world). Oh and they are the World Champions. We forgot to mention that! A fantastic defensive effort from Ireland as well as some stuttering attack from the Germans saw both teams go in at half time all squared. However, Toni Kroos broke the deadlock in the 71st minute. Ireland battled hard but couldn’t seem to break the German defence until John O’Shea, who was earning his 100th cap on the night, equalized late into injury time to earn Ireland a valuable point. The three point turn around – Ireland earning a point and Germany losing two – could prove crucial in a group that is so tight in terms of qualification. This performance will live long in the memory and every Irish soccer fan will remember that night in Gelsenkirchen!
Ireland 26-23 Australia, Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Ireland were in a good place when the Wallabies came to town on the second last weekend in November. Having beaten the Springboks and Georgia over the previous two weeks, Ireland were looking for a clean sweep of the Guinness Series for the first time since 2006. The home side couldn’t have asked for a better start – racing to a 17-0 lead inside the first quarter thanks to tries from Simon Zebo and Tommy Bowe, the latter running from coast to coast after a beautifully read intercept on the Irish line. Australia obviously hadn’t read the script however and came straight back with a flurry, with tries from Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley. Both sides were locked at 20-20 at half time and the game looked like it could go either way but Ireland kicked two penalties to Australia’s one in the second period to see it through in the end. The atmosphere was magic!
Teams of the Year
Cork Ladies Football Team
It was another strong year from the Woman’s Cork team that saw them lift the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship against Dublin in Croke Park in late September. Winning by a single point 2-13 to 2-12, Eamonn Ryan’s side looked all but finished as they trailed by 10 points with only 15 minutes left on the clock. However, the resilience shown in turning over that deficit and going on to win the Brendan Martin Cup illustrates that they are a class above the rest. The Rebels dispatched Mayo and Armagh en route to the final and are deservedly one of the teams of 2014.
Ireland Cricket Team
The Irish Cricket team came up with some fantastic wins in 2014 with victories over the West Indies and Zimbabwe who are both test countries. The test against the West Indies, who were the reigning ICC World Twenty20 Champions, took place back in February in Jamaica. The home side started strongly with an early pair of sixes from powerful batsman Dwayne Smith before Ireland began to stem the tide with Clontarf’s Alex Cusack claiming a key wicket off Chris Gayle for 18. The West Indies lost experienced batsman Marlon Samuels as he was stumped by Ireland’s Gary Wilson as the visitors sensed an opportunity. Kevin O’Brien and Tim Murtagh both finished strongly for Ireland as they restricted the West Indies to 116 for 8 from their 20 overs and knew they needed less than 6 runs an over to topple the hosts. Andrew Poynter came to the crease and combined well with Ed Joyce in a 58 run partnership that brought victory within sight for Ireland. O’Brien was introduced next to see out the win as Poynter fell for 32 from 30 balls as Ireland recorded one of its finest ever victories. A few weeks later in March – Ireland again faced a test country in the form of Zimbabwe. Paul Stirling hit 60 off 34 balls with nine fours and a six, and despite a late flurry of wickets Ireland edged to 164-7 with a bye off the final ball after Zimbabwe scored 163-5. Ireland’s recognition as a test nation is surely just around the corner after another fantastic year!
Ireland Rugby Team
2014 was certainly one of the best enjoyed by the men in green for a number of years. Many wondered how it would pan out with 2014 being Brian O’Driscoll last year (he retired in March from international duty). But while last year signalled ‘life after Brian’, 2014 was also the first full year of ‘life with Joe’. In Joe Schmidt, Ireland possess the best coach the world over. Mix that with an exciting squad capable of genuinely beating anyone on their day and you’re on to a winner. Having the world’s best coach and an exciting team is all well and good, but how did Ireland rank last year? Not bad actually. Not bad at all! In March they wrapped up the Six Nations Championship beating France in Paris for the first time since 2000. In June they travelled to South America where they beat Argentina twice in a two test series. In the November Internationals Ireland really showed how good a team they have become under Schmidt when they put both the Springboks and the Wallabies to the sword! This team has serious credentials heading into 2015 and are definitely one of the teams of the year for 2014.
Irish Woman’s Rugby Team
In what was a fantastic year for woman’s sport in Ireland another team shone brightly on the world stage – Ireland’s Woman’s Rugby Team. The season started strong with a resounding 59-0 victory over Scotland followed by a win over Wales (14-6). The first loss of the season came away against England in Twickenham (17-10). They picked themselves up however and put in another good performance against Italy winning 39-0. The tournament finished away in France where Ireland narrowly lost 19-15. In July Ireland racked up another good performance in their World Cup Warm up match against Wales running out comfortable winners 27-7. In August Ireland went to France for the Woman’s Rugby World Cup. An impressive win against a strong USA team (23-17) was backed up by the single best performance of not only the year but possible by any Irish team when they beat New Zealand (ranked number 1 and favourites for the trophy) 17-14. In their final group match they saw off Kazakhstan 40-5 which saw them top their group and into the semi-final. Unfortunately Ireland were beaten by a really impressive England (7-40).
Paul McGinley was Europe’s captain as they retained the Ryder Cup against the USA in Gleneagles last year. While McGinley’s role was in the capacity of captain, he makes our cut as team captains don’t play in the tournament itself, but rather act like a Manager would and supports them in all other facets of the game. Defeating the Americans who have players on their team sheet such as Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk & Phil Mickelson is no easy feat and in doing so McGinley gets our nod as one of the managers of 2014.
Joe Schmidt has long been hailed as one of the best in the business – guiding Leinster to two Heineken Cup victories as well as Pro 12 glory. Last year was Schmidt’s first full season in charge of the national team and wow was it a year to remember. The New Zealander guided Ireland to the Six Nations Championship in March after overcoming France in Paris on the last day of the tournament in a thrilling 20-22 win. Ireland won two from two in South America against a tough and vastly improved Argentina since their inclusion in the Rugby Championship in June. Ireland emphatically broke down the Boks in a comfortable 29-15 win at the Aviva Stadium. However one of Schmidt’s best victories came in the last game of 2014 against Australia. It was a classic that will long be remembered be all who were there (see Top Team Performances above) and illustrates Irelands ability to mix it with the best. While victories are easy to quantify – Ireland played 10 games in 2014 and won 9 of them, a 90% win ratio! What isn’t so easy to quantify is the impact a coach can have on a team. Schmidt’s appointment has been exactly what Ireland have needed to reach their best. What is most pleasing about the man from the land of the long white cloud is the extended squad he has now built. The two tests in June against Argentina were used to blood many good and exciting players such as Luke Marshall, Rhys Ruddock and Kieran Marmion. Fast forward five months later and Rhys Ruddock played a starring role in Irelands November clean sweep. Schmidt has built an extensive squad for the first time in Ireland’s history and in doing so he has guided them to the top table of international rugby. Expect Schmidt to be a highly sought after commodity for the top job on the Lions tour to his native New Zealand in 2017!
The former inter-county footballer guided Kerry to yet another All-Ireland Football Championship beating Donegal 2-9 to 0-12 in Croke Park in this year’s final. Fitzmaurice isn’t a stranger to success with the Kingdom, winning the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship as a player in 2000, 2004 & 2006. In his first year in management, Kerry won the All-Ireland in 2009 with Fitzmaurice a selector under the then manager Jack O’Connor. 2012 was his first year at the helm and he guided Kerry to a Munster title. However it was his achievements in 2014 that make him one of the Managers of the Year, guiding Kerry to win the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time since 2009.