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The Greatest Comebacks From Painful Moments In Irish Sport

The Greatest Comebacks From Painful Moments In Irish Sport
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We love to celebrate the high points in Irish sport, and there's nothing we love more than a good comeback.

Some Irish sporting stars, however, have been faced with serious setbacks, adversity, and tragedy throughout their careers, and the toll these events can take on players cannot be underestimated.

We've taken a look back at some of the greatest comebacks from adversity in the modern history of Irish sport, with some astonishing feats of willpower from the best the country has to offer.

The greatest Irish sporting comebacks

Noel McGrath recovers from cancer to claim another All-Ireland medal

Noel McGrath

4 September 2016; Pádraic Maher, left, and Noel McGrath of Tipperary celebrate following the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

One of the great stalwarts of modern Tipperary hurling, Noel McGrath was forced to sit out a substantial portion of the 2015 season, after discovering that he was suffering from testicular cancer.

Luckily for McGrath, he was treated quickly, and was able to return to the panel within a matter of months, receiving a standing ovation when he returned to the pitch with the Premier County.


Little over a year on from his cancer diagnosis, McGrath was again a crucial part of an All-Ireland winning team, scoring a point in Tipp's 2016 final win over Kilkenny. A truly remarkable feat of willpower and physical recovery from the Tipp man.

Darren Clarke's emotional 2011 Open win

Darren Clarke

19 July 2011; Golfer Darren Clarke with the Golf Champion Trophy, Claret Jug, during a press conference, following his victory at the weekend in the Open Championship at Royal St George's. Royal Portrush Golf Club, Dunluce Rd, Portrush, Co. Antrim. Picture credit: Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE

2006 was a tragic year for golfer Darren Clarke, with the untimely death of his wife Heather from breast cancer.

The unimaginable weight on Clarke's shoulders would have pushed many to pull away from sport for some time, but the Northern Irish golfer would take part in the Ryder Cup on Irish soil just six weeks later, holing the winning putt for Team Europe.

Remarkable strength from Clarke, and it continued in the years to come. He would go on to take his lone Major title in 2011, with a decisive three-shot victory at the Open at Royal St. George's. He dedicated his Open win to his late wife, and his two sons, in a hugely emotional moment:


It's very special for me and the kids. They were playing at Royal Portrush today and they will be very proud.

In terms of what's going through my heart, there's obviously somebody who is watching from up above there, and I know she'd be very proud of me.

But I think she'd be more proud of my two boys and them at home watching more than anything else. It's been a long journey to get here.

Sonia O'Sullivan's Olympic glory in Sydney

Sonia O'Sullivan

25 September 2000; A delighted Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland after she won Silver in the womens 5,000 final, waves to her supporters during the Sydney Olympics at Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Sonia O'Sullivan seemed destined for Olympic glory at Atlanta 1996, and entered the games as the favourite for the 5000m title.


Disaster struck on the day of the final, however, with O'Sullivan seeming completely out of sorts when the race got underway. She was ultimately unable to even finish the race due to illness, in a devastating blow for O'Sullivan and the Irish fans staying up through the night to watch the race.

Four years later in Sydney, all eyes were on 30-year-old O'Sullivan, to see if she could put things right in the 5000m race. In an emotional race, O'Sullivan finally took her Olympic medal, claiming silver for Ireland, in one of the great comebacks in modern Irish sport.

Ronan O'Gara leads Munster to Heineken Cup glory at last

Ronan O'Gara

20 May 2006; Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan, left, and Ronan O'Gara with the Heineken Cup after the game. Heineken Cup Final, Munster v Biarritz Olympique, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales. Picture credit; Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

The 2000 Heineken Cup final remains one of Munster Rugby's great "what if" moments, with the province narrowly losing out 9-8 to Northampton at Twickenham.

The result would have been very different, however, were it not for the poor form of out half Ronan O'Gara. The Munster 10 failed to land a single kick at goal, with a try from David Wallace and a drop goal from Jason Holland Munster's only scores in the game.

O'Gara has regularly referred to the match as the low-point of his career - which made it all the more impressive when he eventually dragged Munster to European glory in 2006. 13 points from the boot of O'Gara proved crucial in a 23-19 final victory over Biarritz in Cardiff, and O'Gara would go on to add another crown in the 2008 final against Toulouse.

Rob Hennelly returns to Croker to down the Dubs

The 2016 All-Ireland final replay saw Dublin edge past Mayo after a tense first game, and they were helped by a black card for Mayo 'keeper Rob Hennelly.

Hennelly, unexpectedly reinstated to the team ahead of the second game, was black carded for giving away a crucial penalty, which Dublin's Diarmuid Connolly scored to move his side towards an eventual one-point win.

It was a crushing moment, and the gamble had failed.

Five years on, however, Hennelly returned to the scene of the crime, and played a pivotal role in Mayo finally downing the dominant Dublin - now sitting on six All-Ireland titles in a row.

Rob Hennelly

14 August 2021; Mayo goalkeeper Rob Hennelly looks on after scoring a point from a retaken '45, to equalise and send the game to extra-time, during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

With Dublin leading by a point in the closing stages, Hennelly nailed a last-gasp free to tie up the game and force extra time, where Mayo would eventually run out victorious.

Davy Russell returns to ride again

Davy Russell

16 March 2022; Eventual second place Tiger Roll, with Davy Russell up, and winner Delta Work, with Jack Kennedy up, left, compete in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase on day two of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

One of Ireland's great jockeys, Davy Russell suffered a horrific back injury during a 2020 race at Limerick Racecourse.

The two-time Grand National winner suffered a fractured and dislocated vertebrae after a fall at the first hurdle of the 2020 Munster National.

Russell was told by a surgeon that only 10% of patients who suffer such an injury are capable of ever walking again - remarkably, Russell was back on a horse just 11 months later.

He would go on to win the 2022 Irish Gold Cup, after a remarkably quick recovery.

SEE ALSO: GAA Background & 'Raw Irishness' Helping QPR's Jimmy Dunne Thrive In Suitable Surroundings

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