The Leaving Cert is the bane of every Irish students life. Fortunately, this year’s crop have little in the way of sporting distractions. There’s no World Cup, European Championship, or Lions Tour to distract them from their studies. With that in mind, we’ve picked some of the great sporting moments that occurred in the Leaving Cert window (the date fluctuates so we’ll look at June 3-30).
These have occurred within the lives of the current Leaving Cert class, with all moments occurring from 1997 onwards.
Yes, it was scored in a friendly game in a warm-up competition for France (the Confederations Cup was not always hosted in upcoming World Cup country at that time), but this goal left a lasting impression on everyone. Goalscoring defenders are highly appreciated by all, we’re fortunate to have our own in Ian Harte, with Carlos arguably the finest of them all. He had a magnificent career, winning a World Cup, three Champions Leagues as well as a handful of domestic titles in Spain, Italy, Brazil and Turkey. Millions of youngsters tried to replicate this outlandish strike, with minimal success. “The Bullet Man” pulled off an incredible strike, which defied physics and the abilities of a young Irish lad.
Wexford v Kilkenny, 2004 Leinster Senior Hurling Championship Semi-Final
We’re far from the peak of GAA season at the Leaving Cert juncture, but it has a penchant for producing some incredible performances. Kilkenny were the reigning All-Ireland champions, while Wexford were the closest to a contender in Leinster, but had lost three provincial finals on the bounce. The two sides did battle in the semi final that day, in a game that will be long remembered, in a great championship summer, with Cork and Waterford undergoing their momentous final a fortnight later. A superb contest ensured, with Kilkenny a point up in the final minute, with a sideline cut to Wexford. Adrian Fenlon, played an enticing ball towards the square, with Kilkenny’s Peter Barry grabbing hold and attempting to clear. Michael Jacob blocked the clearance, and unleashed a ferocious shot while turning to beat James McGarry in the Kilkenny goal. Wexford would go on to win their first Leinster title for seven years, their last major honour at senior level in both codes. A tremendous finale to a thrilling game in a fine summer of Championship hurling.
Michael Jordan, 1997, NBA Finals Game Five- “The Flu Game”
The Leaving Cert coincides with the crux of the NBA and NHL ice hockey season in the states. While there are some worthy contenders, Michael Jordan’s performance in the fifth game of the 1997 series, is perhaps the iconic moment (Space Jam aside) of the career of the greatest player of all time. The Utah Jazz had won two games in a row to wrestle some of the momentum from Jordan’s Chicago Bulls, with home court advantage for game five. Much like the 2004-05 Tottenham Hotspurs side, Italian food proved to be Jordan’s undoing. Jordan caught food poisoning, from a late night pizza order. Jordan was bedridden the day of the game, summoning the strength to play an hour before tipoff. Visibly weak, Jordan decided to play, and after an initial shaky start he recovered to rally the Bulls. With the Bulls eight points down in the fourth quarter, Jordan notched 15 points, including a pivotal three pointer. Jordan propped up by teammate Scottie Pippen is the lasting memory many have of the flu game. Jordan propelled the team on offense while Pippen helped the ailing Jordan on defence. The Bulls won the “swing game” going onto win the the fifth of Jordan’s six titles, on the back of His Airness’ stellar performance.
France in the World Cup 2002 and 2010
The 2002 World Cup gets a few mentions on this list, Ireland were there of course and its end of May start coincided nicely for several big moments. France entered the 2002 World Cup as defending champions having also won Euro 2000. Their World Cup was an unmitigated disaster, crashing out without scoring a goal and totalling a measly point to finish bottom of the group. Many of their defenders were the wrong side of thirty entering the tournament, but with several of the world’s best attackers at the time including Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet their lack of goals is puzzling. The team self-destructed like only the French can, doing the same in 2010. The 2010 side were not a vintage French team but were certainly far better than their pitiful performance. Several rifts appeared to be present in the team, Yoann Gourcuff was allegedly bullied by fellow teammates Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribery. French coach Raymond Domenech appeared to have no rapport with the players, Anelka unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade against the coach after his substitution in the team’s game against Mexico. Anelka was dismissed from the squad leading to a player boycott from training led by Patrice Evra. France would crash out once again rock bottom of the group their solitary goal notched by Florent Malouda. The Irish rejoiced feeling the French got their just desserts for the Henry incident.
South Korea’s Unlikely March -2002 World Cup
Everybody likes to see the host nation do well, it keeps “the locals interested”. When the hosts are a nation without much of a World Cup pedigree, we cheer them on all the more. South Korea continued their Cinderella story all the way to the semi-finals on home turf. Perhaps dubious refereeing played a part, Giovanni Trappatoni and the Italians were particularly aggrieved over Francesco Totti’s second yellow card for a dive which appeared quite harsh. Of course, the Irish were delighted to see South Korea vanquish our conquerors Spain. South Korea certainly benefitted from some questionable refereeing decisions (in two of their three big games, their opponents finished with 10 men or fewer) but Guus Hiddink’s side were talented and disciplined, scoring some nice goals in the competition. Germany would put an end to their surprising run, but they left their mark on the competition, with three of their players going on to play in the Premier League.
Brian O’Driscoll- 2001 Lions Tour of Australia First test.
Having stunned France the year before with his astounding hat trick, O’Driscoll entered the Lions Tour after a successful second place finish with the Irish team and narrowly missing out on the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup. O’Driscoll established himself as one of the top outside centres in world rugby, over the tour starting all three tests. While the Lions would ultimately lose out in a tightly contested series, it catapulted O'Driscoll into stardom. Spotting a mismatch in midfield, with centre Nathan Gray defending wide and Hooker Jeremy Paul unable to make it across, O’Driscoll straightens his shoulders running a hard line through their attempted tackles. O’Driscoll then bamboozles Aussie full back Christian Latham with a marvellous step before scampering home for an outstanding solo try. O’Driscoll, had a magnificent tour and a good Lions career, with no moment more memorable than this one.
Robbie Keane, 2002 World Cup
This moment needs no introduction, we’ve already seen the kind of response it has generated. A true “where were you when” moment in Irish society. At about 12:30 Irish time, Ireland’s game against Germany kicked off and by 12:50 we were a goal down with Miroslav Klose opening the scoring. Ireland battled on furiously running the Germans close on several occasions another Matt Holland coming close. Their pressure paid off in the final minutes. Much like the Jack Charlton days, it was the long all which paid off. Mark Kinsella pumped it long in the direction of Quinn, the ever reliable Quinn edging out Christoph Metzelder in the air. Robbie Keane’s showed tremendous instincts, anticipating Quinn’s knockdown, taking one touch to evade the despairing tackle of Carsten Ramelow, before dispatching the ball on the half-volley past Oliver Kahn. Cue bedlam, with Mick McCarthy’s expression symptomatic of the entire country’s mindset. Last Friday marked twelve years to the day from that very goal. This moment is the pinnacle of this list in more ways than one, it happened in the middle of English Paper Two. At about 14:17, or 47 minutes into the paper, Keane did the business. I don’t know how many of those students could explain how important a role Cordelia plays in King Lear but they could tell you the importance of Niall Quinn in putting us into the last sixteen.
I’ll conclude by stating that I could have included the European Championships in here at some point, but I don't want to bring up memories of Euro 2012, and these World Cup moments edged out anything in the Euros for me. Turkey’s run in Euro 2008 ran close mind you. Best of luck to all those sitting exams, and to remind you that you’re lucky there’s no World Cup on this year.
Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE