History and heartache - the highs and lows of Irish sport in 2020
Sport

History and heartache - the highs and lows of Irish sport in 2020

WITH Covid-19, this year has been one like no other.

However, that hasn’t stopped sporting history being made by Irish stars.

Here we look back at the highs and lows of Irish sport in 2020...

Former Republic of Ireland manager, the late Jack Charlton
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Farewell Jack! 

The death of Jack Charlton - Ireland’s greatest football manager – only made worse what has been a desperate year for everyone.

After leading Ireland to two World Cups and a European Championships, he will always be remembered as the man who gave the Irish team its ‘hard to beat’ identity.

The outpouring of emotion over his passing shows how just much he will be missed.

Ireland's Sam Bennett celebrates on the podium after winning the best sprinter's green jersey of the 107th edition of the Tour de France 2020

Sam Bennett makes cycling history 

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Cycling is probably not the sport you think of when looking for Irish success.

However, when Sam Bennett became only the sixth Irishman to win a stage in the Tour De France in September, it put Irish cycling back in the limelight.

His performance will no doubt serve to grow the sport in Ireland.

Harry Tector of Ireland celebrates victory watched on by Saqib Mahmood of England during the Third One Day International between England and Ireland in the Royal London Series on August 2020

Ireland beat England at cricket 

Like cycling, cricket is not a sport Ireland is often associated with.

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Yet when the Irish cricket team beat world champions, England, in an ODI test in August, for just the second time ever, it rightly caused shockwaves throughout Irish sport.

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny consoles Alan Browne, right, and Matt Doherty following defeat in the penalty-shootout of the UEFA EURO2020 Qualifying Play-Off Semi-Final match between Slovakia and Republic of Ireland in Bratislava, Slovakia

Euro 2020 exit 

After making it through to the play-offs for Euro 2020, it seemed feasible that Ireland would qualify.

But the defeat at the hands of Slovakia on penalties was agonising.

It will be hard not to imagine what could have been when Euro 2020 comes round next summer, especially considering that Dublin is a host city for the tournament.

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Katie Taylor won two fights in 2020, extending her professional unbeaten run to 17 fights

Katie Taylor defends her world titles  

The fact that Katie Taylor makes the various lists of Ireland’s best sporting moments virtually every year confirms what many have said for a long time now; we are watching an Irish sporting great.

The Bray boxer won two more fights in 2020 against Delfine Persoon and later Miriam Gutierrez to retain her four major world titles and extend her professional unbeaten run to 17 fights.

The Dundalk team ahead of their clash Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in London
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Dundalk's European qualification 

There have not been many occasions when Irish football club sides have made it through to the group stages of the Europa League.

So, when Dundalk qualified in August, for the first time since 2016, and drew Arsenal in their group, it was a welcome boost for the League of Ireland’s profile.

Rising darts star Keane Barry (Pic: Lawrence Lustig/PDC)

Keane Barry gains darts tour card 

The Irish darts prodigy, who has won numerous titles at youth level, earned a PDC tour card in September for the main circuit next year.

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The achievement reinforced the view that the 18-year-old from Meath has what it takes to make it big.

Trainer Willie Mullins celebrates after he sent out Al Boum Photo to win the Cheltenham 2020 Gold Cup

Gold Cup win for Mullins 

It perhaps shows the strength of Irish racing that wins at Cheltenham each year have become customary for some time now.

However, that shouldn’t take anything away from Willie Mullins.

The legendary racehorse trainer won the Gold Cup in March for the second time in a row with horse, Al Boum Photo, and jockey Paul Townend from Cork.

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Seasoned player Ronnie O'Sullivan (pictured) lost to Cork’s Aaron Hill, who is just 18

Aaron Hill’s snooker breakthrough  

A month after Ronnie O’Sullivan spoke about the lack of quality snooker players coming through, Cork’s Aaron Hill, at just 18, made the current and six-time world champion eat his words by defeating him 5-4 at the European Masters in September.

Leinster players, from left, Rory O'Loughlin, Andrew Porter, Garry Ringrose, holding the PRO14 trophy, and James Tracy, following their victory in the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Ulster at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Leinster’s Pro14 dominance  

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Despite a disappointing year for the international rugby team, Irish club sides enjoyed great success domestically in 2020, with three of the four semi-finalists in the Pro14 being from the island.

The eventual crown winners Leinster – who have now won three in a row – showed us how lucky Ireland is to have such a force at the top of the sport.