2019 will be remembered as a tremendous if torturous year for Irish sport. We saw highs like we never experienced before (Portrush) but our lows (the FAI farce, the Rugby World Cup farce) were pretty damn low. Here's the start of our countdown of the top 30 moments of the Irish sporting year, going from #30 - 21. Here we tap into the diversity of the sporting year that was, from Doha to Lord's, from flung tennis balls to peak Jim Gavin, from renditions of Grace to renditions of Fields of Athenry.
30. Breffni’s Apartment Stacked With Lads
“Stacked with lads...absolute carnage” pic.twitter.com/0xnfMeOeOh
— Michael McDermott (@miguelmyriad) September 16, 2019
An ominous start to what was a disastrous World Cup. Breffni’s brief but memorable appearance on RTE News gave rugby detractors plenty of ammunition prior to the tournament, but even the lads couldn’t have predicted the carnage that was set to unfold.
It remains unknown just how boisterous Breffni’s cramped lodgings were during the World Cup considering results, but then again there’s nothing like a bit of ‘Vitamin H’ to boost the spirits.
29. Mick Conlan’s entrance to Grace
Over his 13 fight pro career, Mick Conlan’s ring walks have proven as memorable as his fights. Conlan’s entrance to during his Belfast homecoming against Diego Alberto Ruiz at Falls Park on the Falls Road was legitimately spine tingling. Best of all, it gets us very excited at the future prospect of Conlan walking to the ring to make his first title defense in his hometown.
Probably the best atmosphere at any Féile an Phobail event ever.
The Falls Park on the Falls Road last night for Irish boxing hero @mickconlan11’s homecoming.
What an occasion... pic.twitter.com/F3kHM3wvAV
— Féile an Phobail (@FeileBelfast) August 4, 2019
28. Aviva Stadium ‘tennis ball’ protest
A storm in a teacup that would result in an association being brought to its knees, the tennis ball protest at the Aviva Stadium during the game against Georgia was the first in a long line of embarrassments for the FAI.
Mark Tighe and the The Sunday Times had just broken the news about John Delaney’s €100,000 payment to his employers, beginning what would be a groundbreaking year for sports journalism and the association itself.
The moment was made all the more memorable by Conor Hourihane going on to twat a free-kick straight into the top corner right after the game restarted.
🎾 - It's an ace from Hourihane!
Moments after the Irish fans throw tennis balls onto the field in protest, the @AVFCOfficial midfielder fires them in-front with a peach of a free-kick! 🍑 pic.twitter.com/aBBGXqILNX
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) March 26, 2019
27. Ireland bowl England out for 85
If things had gone differently in the days to follow, Ireland's rampage through the English batting order in Lord’s would surely have been much higher on this list. Even so, destroying England in the first ever Test match between the teams at the home of cricket was about as good as it gets.
Tim Murtagh, a 37-year-old county cricket journeyman who has played for Ireland since 2012 briefly became a celebrity on both sides of the Irish Sea after his heroics, taking five wickets for just 13 runs, all while looking suspiciously like Martin King.
Can't believe Martin King just bowled out five England players! pic.twitter.com/Ca7GOPoFKw
— Balls.ie (@ballsdotie) July 24, 2019
England would go on to fight back and win the test match, but Ireland will always have one incredible London Wednesday in July.
26. Rory McIlroy's First Tee Shot At Portrush
We all knew the 2019 Open was going to be won by an Irish golfer. We just presumed it would be Rory McIlroy's tournament to lose. Well, lose it he did on the very first hole, with a wayward tee shot into the deep rough. McIlroy, who broke the course record at Portrush when he was 16, finished that first hole with an 8 and it was downhill from there. Amazingly, it's not the most famous quardruple bogey in a major in McIlroy's young career.
McIlroy's implosion sparked a surprising amount of glee online. He skipped the Irish Open to be ready for Portrush and with one tee shot to the cabbage, watched it all slip away. Links golf is a great leveler. It was as an odd year for McIlroy: bullied by Koepka, no Masters, didn't make the cut in the first Open on Irish soil in decades, and yet another FedEx Cup, and with it, so much money.
McIlroy may never be loved by many Irish sports fans, but his reaction to that tee shot proves why he deserves to be. He shot 65 on Friday and nearly grinded his way to the cut but there was no way back from the calamitous front 9 on Thursday. The emotion and hurt was pretty raw when McIlroy spoke to Sky Sports after the round, and it was a pleasant reminder that McIlroy has retained his humanity despite being insanely rich. His text exchange to Shane Lowry was pretty classy as well.
"This was a week that I'd been looking forward to for a long time." 😪
An emotional Rory McIlroy speaks to Sky Sports after seemingly missing the cut at #TheOpen, despite shooting a second-round 65 at Royal Portrush. ⛳
Watch The Open Verdict live on Sky Sports The Open now! pic.twitter.com/xfszO4Do7h
— Sky Sports Golf (@SkySportsGolf) July 19, 2019
25. Aaron Connolly Announces Premier League Arrival
With Troy Parrott dominating headlines over the past 12 months or so, Aaron Connolly had almost slipped under the radar. This was despite the fact that the Galway native had scored 11 goals in 15 appearances in Premier League 2 last season.
A goal on his senior debut in the Carabao Cup was a sign of things to come, with the world standing up to take notice after he scored a breathtaking brace against Spurs in his first league start.
The hype was real, with Connolly immediately earning a call-up to Mick McCarthy’s Ireland squad. After breaking through right at the end of the current decade, the 2020s will be Connolly’s.
24. Ciaran Mageean elated about the best run of her life
On a Saturday evening in early October, Ciara Mageean ran the best race of her life as she finished 10th in the 1500m final at the World Championships.
It was a race which tripped along at a barely bearable pace as the Alberto Salazar-trained Sifan Hassan ran the six-fastest ever time for the distance to claim gold.
For anyone unsure how Mageaan felt about her placing, doubt was removed after the race when she spoke to David Gillick.
"I came into this competition ranked 14th or 16th, I think. I came 10th in the world, that's not a bad place for a wee girl from Portaferry!" said a beaming Mageean.
It was an interview which had it all: an assessment of the race, optimism about the future, a word for rival parish Ballycran and some insight into the Mageean family WhatsApp.
'I'm grateful to be able to wear this vest' - Ciara Mageean gives an inspirational interview after the 1500m final. pic.twitter.com/0mEoIQDZb2
— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) October 5, 2019
23. Shane Lowry singing ‘The Fields of Athenry’
Shane Lowry had long been Ireland’s number one sports fan. When he became the most famous Irishman in the world for a few days last July, we all knew the mother of all sessions would follow. Lowry carried all of the raw emotion of the 18th green at Portrush to a pub in Dublin, and got the musical moment his achievement deserved. ‘Fields of Athenry’ atop a barstool with the Claret Jug in his hand. He had reached the mountaintop.
Credit as well goes to Lowry’s caddy Bo Martin who managed to hold two full pints and the Claret Jug.
22. Rhasidat Adeleke does sprint double at the Euro Youth Olympics
Nice 100m gold medal win by Rhasidat Adeleke at the Youth Olympics in Baku... Fairly crushed the field pic.twitter.com/hkDl0oXF1n
— Ian O'Riordan (@ianoriordan) July 23, 2019
The latest chapters in Rhasidat Adeleke's stellar underage athletics career were written in July.
Aged just 16, she won the sprint double at the European Youth Olympics in Baku. That she won the double was a surprise, but only because she decided to enter the 100m along with her preferred 200m a month before the competition.
The wins took the Tallaght teenager's international championships medal total to six.
Where she goes next is up to her. American colleges have already come calling with potential scholarship offers.
Hands up who wants to hear Amhran an bhFiann 🙋♀️🙋🏻♂️☘️🇮🇪
Tonight Rhasidat Adeleke collected her gold medal that she won in the Girl’s 200m at the EYOF BAKU 2019 with #TeamIreland 🇮🇪🇮🇪🥇🥇🥇 pic.twitter.com/Q11tdoj5tU
— Team Ireland (@TeamIreland) July 26, 2019
v21. Jim Gavin’s Diarmuid Connolly bombshell
Really, it should be no surprise that a man with a background in the air corps could drop a bombshell with such care.
In a list which included mentions of James McCarthy, Eoin Murchan, Jonny Cooper, Robbie McDaid, Darren Gavin and Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne, Jim Gavin casually added that Diarmuid Connolly was back training with the Dublin footballers.
It had been 18 months since Connolly played for Dublin. It was presumed the career of one the country’s most talented footballers was over but he would go on to play parts in the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo along with the drawn All-Ireland final and replay with Kerry.