Football

Balls.ie's Top 10 Irish Sporting Moments Of 2020

Balls.ie's Top 10 Irish Sporting Moments Of 2020

You don't need us to tell you that it was a year unlike any other. Thanks to Covid, we lost the Olympics, the Euros, the Ryder Cup, the Dublin marathon, Up For The Match and even the Leinster Senior Cup. The All-Ireland football championship began on the last weekend of October and was decided on the 20th of December. We were lucky to have any sport at all.

It's a very difficult year to assess great Irish sporting moments. There weren't that many of them. The vast majority of individual sport was postponed. Same with indoor sport. But the interruption, and the staggered return, of sport across the year has given us all a chance to fully appreciate how vital it is for so many of us. Sport is not an opiate of the people: it is togetherness, community and self-expression. Crammed terraces in a vaccinated world is one of the only things we're asking Santa Claus for this year.

Without further ado, here's the Top 10 Irish sporting moments for the year of our lord 2020.  With this post, we aim to celebrate the 'jump out of your seat' moment over historical achievement, hence the omission of the All-Ireland wins by the Dublin footballers (lads and ladies). And while Liverpool's Premier League win was the biggest sporting moment on this island this year, this post celebrates moments created by Irish sportpeople.

10. Katie Taylor breaks the 2 million viewership mark while thrashing Gutierrez

Katie Taylor's victory over Miriam Gutierrez won't be analysed in great detail by future boxing historians - Taylor absolutely destroyed her Spanish opposition - but it was one of the most important evenings in her professional career. On a card with three women's title fights that Sky Sports placed on its youtube and facebook pages for all to see, Taylor was literally the main event, and she did not disappoint. Her professionalism and brilliance were on display for the whole world. She was the definition of 'locked in', and at 34, Taylor looked as ruthless and hungry in the ring as we can remember. Over 2 million people tuned to watch the fight on Sky Sports's various platforms on a night that proved women's boxing can be blockbuster.

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9. Shane Duffy scores Ireland's only goal of 2020 versus Bulgaria

In a disastrous and calamitous year for Irish football, we present our sole converted scoring opportunity. Ireland managed a single goal across the covid-ravaged calendar year, and it came in Stephen Kenny's first competitive fixture. When Shane Duffy headed home a Robbie Brady corner deep into extra time in Ireland's opening fixture in the Nations League in Sofia, everyone made the obvious joke: another 1-1 Ireland draw. Our traditional scoreline. We didn't know how lucky we were to see a goal. Ireland played some nice football in the proceeding fixtures but from Bratislava to Helsinki to Wembley to Cardiff, we spurned chance after chance. Ireland finished a frustrating year with no victories and one goal and everyone in Abbotstown is eagerly looking forward to a new year beginning.

Considering Duffy lost his beloved father Brian back in May, the goal took on a greater personal significance for the Celtic defender. As Ireland tried to become a football-playing team this autumn, we should take a moment to fully appreciate the savagery of a Shane Duffy header. He's been our most reliable goalscorer since Robbie Keane's retirement.

8. Munster come back versus Clermont

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It wasn't exactly a bad year for Irish rugby but it wasn't an inspirational one, either. However, Munster's unbelievable comeback win away to Clermont - they trailed 28-9 in the first half! - has got us revved up on the future of Irish rugby. This was Munster's biggest come-from-behind victory in their history in Europe. Young Josh Wycherley extracted the soul of the very experienced French frontrow Slimani, and with the likes of Coombes, Crowley and Josh's brother Fineen coming through, it does look like there's a very exciting generation of Munster talent on the rise. Couple that with the emergence of Baird, Doris and Connors at Leinster, plus Aaron Sexton at Ulster, and there really is a lot to be optimistic about with Irish rugby.

7. Tipp win the Munster football final for the first time in 85 years

If you were a Hollywood scriptwriter, and you conjured up a sequence for sports movie about Tipperary football where a Tipp team wins their first Munster final in 85 years on the centenary weekend of Bloody Sunday wearing their traditional white and green jersey, you'd be told to start over and stopping thinking so obviously. This was one of those 2020 sporting events that just felt eerily predestined. The exuberant post match interviews with Tipp manager David Power and Sydney Swans player Colin O'Riordan also gave one faith in the old school provincial format once again. Some times, the old ways are the best ways.

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6. Jordan Flores's screamer vs Shamrock Rovers

A bonkers goal scored on a wild, decisive night in the League of Ireland that would go on to be the second goal scored on Irish soil to be nominated for a Puskas award. It also had its own truther movement. The Flores goal really resonates with us now because it was one of the last amazing things to happen at an Irish sportsground with spectators. Scored on the penultimate day of February, it's one of the last great evenings we had as a sportsgoing people. While the goal is hypnotic, the celebrating fans are even more amazing to watch from this remove. Oh, to be back on a terrace on a rainsoaked February night.

5. Cavan lift the Anglo-Celt Trophy

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Cavan may have only waited 23 years to break their provincial famine, but their victory against Donegal really was the most inspiring team performance of the gaelic football season. Many tears were shed by Cavanmen that day. The journey to the Athletic Grounds had been heart-attack inducing: an incredible comeback against Monaghan and a match settled by a Ray Galligan free from downtown, a four point win over Antrim, an incredible comeback against Down and then an incredible win against Donegal. Donegal were the second-best team in the country this calendar year, and the prospect of meeting Dublin in a few weeks time must have been somewhere on their minds that Sunday evening. Inspired by Thomas Galligan's heroic self-sacrifice in midfield, Cavan put in the classic underdogs performance, outthinking and outfighting the more fancied Donegal side.

The result also confirmed that Mickey Graham is truly an inspirational figure.

4. Declan Hannon's All-Ireland final victory speech

If Limerick's win over Waterford in the 2020 All-Ireland hurling final felt routine in its ruthlessness, it was the only routine thing about the day. No Artane Band, no Presidential handshake, no hunt for tickets. On a day when Limerick cemented their status as a great team, their captain Declan Hannon and manager John Kiely perfectly captured the tone for covid-era All-Ireland celebrations. This is not the time for bonfires and homecomings. Speaking from an empty Ard Chomhairle, Hannon spoke clearly and sensibly about the tight bonds of the Limerick team, and the losses they'd suffered as a group, and the losses we'd all experienced as a people. An All-Ireland final speech unlike any other, that's for sure.

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3. Mark Keane breaks Kerry's hearts

It took one of the most improbable gaelic football goals of the 21st century, on one of the wettest days of the year, to redeem this utterly dismal Cork v Kerry Munster semifinal. A match that was everything wrong with gaelic football in 2020 for 90 minutes turned into an advertisement for the greatness of Irish sport in the blink of an eye. Mark Keane's goal would prove largely inconsequential in the grander scheme of the Championship, but it's one of the few sporting moments of his year that would make you pick a phone and ring to your dad or best mate and say 'Did you see that?' To see Cork football people excited again about football was another of covid's unexpected joys.

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2. Sam Bennett wins the Green jersey at the Tour de France

For three magical weeks in August and September, Sam Bennett revived Ireland's love affair with cycling. Had Bennett simply finished the Tour as the winner of a single stage, it would have been a momentous moment in the career of the Carrick-on-Suir rider. Instead after finishing first in the 10th stage that went from Île d'Oléron to Île de Ré, Bennett - after a hugely emotional interview - kicked on. He was one of the stars of the Tour, and the sight of an Irish rider going first over the line at Champs d'Elysses will go down as one of the greatest moments in the history of Irish cycling.

 

1. Katie Taylor defeats Delfine Persoon for a second time

An iconic moment both for Katie Taylor's professional career and her place in the Irish sporting pantheon. Katie went to war for a second time with her Flemish nemesis and when her hand was lifted, there could be no doubt she was the world's best pound-for-pound fighter. In a gilded career, the two victories of Persoon will prove defining. Taylor went to hell and back, twice. After the first fight at MSG, Persoon's camp tried to question the justice of the decision. As close as the reprisal proved to be, there was no ambiguity after Taylor's hand was lifted.  'This time she deserved to win,' Persoon said afterwards.

It was interesting to witness the Irish reaction to the fight, in real time on social media. So many people seemed convinced that Taylor had been defeated. And yes it was close - two judges had it 96-94. That said, the fatalism around Katie was noticeable. There has always been a sense that we don't fully appreciate her greatness and genius. In a year where everything we took for granted in sport was derailed, Katie Taylor was the one great constant. It's no longer a question of whether she is Ireland's greatest boxer, but whether she is Ireland's greatest sportsperson.

Donny Mahoney
Article written by
Donny Mahoney is Chief Sportswriter and one of the founders of Balls.ie

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