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Balls.ie's Top Ten Sporting Moments Of 2015

Balls Team
By Balls Team
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We've been counting down the top sporting moments of the year all week on Balls. Read #30-21 here and #20-11 here.

#10 - Holly Holm knocks out Ronda Rousey

"Once in a lifetime doesn't apply to Ronda Rousey. It's once EVER in human history."

Those were the words of UFC commentator Joe Rogan in the build-up to this fight, although they would later be made to look like a bit from his other work as a stand-up comedian. After Rousey had swatted away everyone that the UFC could throw at her, most of them within seconds, ninth ranked Holly Holm seemed certain to be the latest lamb to be brought to slaughter. Or at least so thought those who had never seen the Albuquerque native fight.

In reality, Holm was at a level of striking that Ronda Rousey could only dream about. Once lined up as a potential opponent for Ireland's Katie Taylor, Holm's boxing would overwhelm the champion, and within the first minute we knew that this fight was not like any Ronda have ever been a part of in her professional career.

Rousey came out with the worst possible gameplan. She wanted to prove a point. Many had said that Rousey couldn't stand and trade with Holm, and they were proven absolutely right as the challenger lit the champion up like a Christmas tree, eventually finishing her in the second round with a devastating head-kick KO that sent the internet into meltdown.

Holly Holm has now become the posterchild for those who hate the UFC marketing department and their fondness for hyping up their star athletes. Rousey, on the other-hand, became the butt of a relentless wave of internet jokes.

The re-match will be fascinating, but due to the level of punishment dished out in the first one, we're not sure when that is going to happen.



#9 - Joe Canning goal vs Kilkenny

In the aftermath of an often trying year, Joe Canning gave an interview to Off the Ball in which spoke about the burden of expectation under which he has laboured since his late teens.

"I think one of the worst things I ever did was score 2-12 against Cork in the beginning of my career. Now it seems that if I'm not hitting 2-12 in every game there's someone always on my case."


The consensus was that he was off-key and out-of-sorts this year and thus it was a surprise to learn at the end of the season that he had actually emerged as the championship's top scorer.

This stat is accompanied by the rather large proviso that he played more games than nearest rivals, TJ Reid and Seamus Callanan.

There were bad days. Still plainly troubled by a hand injury, he was very subdued in the championship opener against Dublin, and then he suffered an almighty case of the yips in front of goal in the All-Ireland quarterfinal against Cork, a game in which Galway were otherwise imperious.


But he is still capable of moments of staggering brilliance. His goal against Kilkenny in the Leinster final produced gasps of astonishment. Even the opposition fans were moved to vocalise their admiration.

#8 - Mick Conlan wins gold in Doha

Irish amateur boxing has a rich and storied tradition. We’ve had multiple European champions and boxing accounts for 16 of our 28 Olympic medals. We have never had a world champion though. Not until Belfast’s Michael Conlan conquered all in front of him in Doha this year. Conlan’s rise to superstardom started at the 2012 London Olympics (winning bronze) and he hasn’t stopped winning medals since. 2015 was pretty special though. He started by earning Rio 2016 qualification through the WSB and followed that by capturing gold at the European Championships in August. In October he beat fighters from Brazil, Azerbaijan and Belarus on his way to the World Championship final. In the final he was always in control and beat his Uzbekh opponent to claim Ireland’s first ever world amateur gold medal. Next up: the 2016 Rio Olympics.


#7 - Ian Madigan's tears after Ireland beat France

It all seems fraudulent now, but cast your mind back to the moments after Ireland beat France in Cardiff on 11 October. How bigchested we were as a people, how gallant. Minus O'Connell, minus Sexton, minus O'Mahony, Ireland still had beat France. That second half performance was like something out of a World War II movie where the noble general dies tragically and the ragtag privates have to defeat the enemy on their own. Robbie Henshaw was unassailable. Iain Henderson was a bludgeon. Ian Madigan wept at fulltime and it felt like a profound moment both for him and for the Irish male. We were shrugging the past off, finally. Of course, it would have been worth fuck all if Ireland didn't turn up against Argentina, which is exactly what happened.

#6 - Shane Lowry wins the Bridgestone

As Shane Lowry emerged from the trees on the 18th at Firestone Country Club, he gave a triumphant grunt and fist pump. It emoted the feeling every fan of his watching the tournament had at that moment.

He had hit just another miraculous recovery shot, this time on the final hole of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

He went into the final round two shots clear and would win the tournament by the same margin, holding off the challenge of three major champions on the way to victory.


There was also the considerable matter of $1.57 million in prize money.

Here’s that shot on 18th.

And that other remarkable shot on 10th which got him out of trouble.

Along with winning the biggest tournament of his career so far, the Offaly man would also break into the world top 20 for the first time. No Irish golfers won majors in 2015 but this felt as good as one.

#5 - Philly McMahon 'gouges' Kieran Donaghy

This year’s was a poor All Ireland final in truth, and is arguably most famous for an incident in the final stages where Dublin’s Philly McMahon seemed to thrust his fingers in the direction of Kieran Donaghy’s eyes. McMahon was not disciplined by referee Davin Coldrick during the game, although Donaghy approached the referee and accused McMahon of gouging him. Coldrick did not agree, as was revealed when he wore a microphone for an RTE documentary: “I didn’t see that now, Kieran... That was just two lads competing, that’s all”.

The fall-out continued for weeks afterwards, with McMahon refusing to deny the incident whilst Donaghy did his best to avoid confirming it. McMahon told Marty Morrisey on Morning Ireland “what happens on the pitch stays on the pitch. We shook hands and that was the end of it”. The strongest denial came from Donaghy, who was far less accusatory in the aftermath of the event. The Kerry forward spoke to Weeshie Fogarty and explained that rather than pointing at his eyes following the decision, he was in fact questioning the referee’s decision to award a hop-ball.

In the end, the GAA handed McMahon a one game suspension for "behaving in any way which is dangerous to an opponent”, meaning he will miss Dublin’s first league game next year which is ironically against Kerry. In a gaelic football season where all of the most famous incidents happened off the ball, Philly's 'gouge' has emerged as the landmark moment.



#4 - Robbie Brady goal in the fog versus Bosnia

Sixty minutes into the first leg in Bosnia there were genuine fears that the referee might seek to have the game abandoned.

This would have been deeply annoying for Ireland.

In the pessimism that reigned supreme in the lead-up to the first leg, it was felt that every minute that passed without a goal was a minute to be cherished.

To be told we might have to start at the beginning again the following day was not what we wanted to hear.

Bless the ref, he said play away.

And this set the scene for one of the more memorable Ireland goals ever (not) seen away from home.

Of course, had George Hamilton been alone in the gantry, RTE might have reported a scoreless draw in Zenica.

Supporters who were quick on the uptake would have established a goal had been scored from the nature of the roar that went up from one corner of the ground.

However, George had no clue what was happening until Jim Beglin nudged him and told him in a vaguely startled voice 'It's a goal'. George re-gathered his composure and pulled out on his classically portentous lines 'out of the gloom, the brightness shines!'

#3 - Ireland wins Six Nations on insane final day

This was a day of sport like no other. It had the drama of the last day of the Premier League that lasted as long as watching NFL Redzone.

Four teams went into the final day of the tournament, playing at different times of the day, all knowing that they could win. There were whispers that it was unfair that the games weren't played simultaneously, but what transpired will live long in the memory.

The free-flowing and running rugby in each game was a delight, as all four teams - Wales, Ireland, England, and France - all decided to go for it. Tries were raining in, and each score was having a huge impact on where the title would ultimately end up.

There were missed kicks that we thought would prove costly, tries conceded that ultimately were.

Never before has an Irish rugby fan cared so much about a game between Wales and Italy, or has a try in the 79th minute for Italy been more important in a 41-point loss. Never again, will Irish hearts be pounding in our chests more as the TMO checks whether France have scored a try against England.

And never again will a trophy be awarded in a darkened, mostly empty stadium, filled with Irish fans in some artistic light providing some amazing scenes.

My heart still hasn't recovered.

#2 - McGregor knocks out Aldo

13 seconds.

It was the stuff that could only have been thought possible in Conor McGregor's mother's most delusional dreams.

10 years without a defeat. The only featherweight champion since the UFC added the weight class. The #1 pound for pound fighter in mixed martial arts.. Against a joker, a clown, a mouthpiece who's only job was to line the real fighter's pockets by hyping the fight beyond all perceived possibility.

Again the doubters proclaimed that THIS would be the time that karma caught up with McGregor. He could talk all the smack he wanted at the likes of Dustin Poirier and Dennis Siver, this was Jose Aldo Junior he was enraging, and bad things were on the horizon.

Conor strolled the the octagon with the confidence of someone who had already won and was merely showing up for ceremonial purposes, because in his head that was exactly what was happening.

"I see him over-reacting. over-extending, and then being KO's unconscious."

He predicts these things. Although even he didn't predict 13 seconds.


#1 - Shane Long scores against Germany

Here's my experience of the most memorable Irish sporting moment of the year. I was watching twitter on one laptop and a stuttering RTE Player stream on a second laptop that was about a minute behind my social media stream. Out of the blue, in the second half, my Twitter stream lit up with ecstatic screams and WTF's. The surprise was gone, but Shane Long's goal was still pretty damn sweet.

It was hard not to be incredibly skeptical of Ireland's chances that night. Stephen Ward was starting, so was Darryl Murphy. Shane Long, inexplicably, was still on the bench. I remember Stephen Hunt predicting a positive result before the game on Newstalk, but he sounded foolish. But he was proven right. There was belief about Ireland that night. Long's goal was both from the long tradition of famous long ball Ireland goals, as well as exquisitely taken. This was Neuer in goal, after all, at the far post. Ireland held out and their fortunes changed. We're all dreaming of France now. Amazing how quickly things can change, how one moment can reshape the future.

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