Ireland make it back to back Six Nations titles
The annual fireside tournament served up a fascinating final day with 27 tries and 221 points scored across three matches full of attacking ambition. Before the final round, Ireland, England and Wales could each finish champions if they returned the biggest accumulated points total.
So, Saturday afternoon started with a George North hat-trick in Wales’ lunchtime victory over Italy. Then, Ireland went one better posting their biggest ever away win with a 40-10 demolition of Scotland which saw them skip past the Welsh and assume control.
That left England needing a 26-point victory over France to lift the title. Amid huge drama they went from second to first to third during an utterly compelling contest. But eventually, unimaginably, they came up six points short (55-35) and Ireland took the title.
Willie Mullins trains the first three home in the Champion Hurdle
In a strange way, the opening day of Cheltenham 2015 will be remembered for Annie Power’s tumble in the Mare’s Hurdle as much as the amazing training performance of Willie Mullins. Both are intrinsically linked.
The Ruby Walsh ridden 1-2 favourite came within millimetres of making it a perfect return for Mullins' favourites on day one in the form of Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen, with Annie Power falling at the last. There was plenty of consolation for Mullins and some for the bookmakers when outsider Glens Melody raced past the stricken faller to complete a remarkable four-timer for the Carlow trainer on opening day.
If that wasn’t enough, Mullins returned the first three in the Champion Hurdle, with Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly following in behind Faugheen. His feat echoed Michael Dickinson's first five home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Shane Lowry wins the WGC Bridgestone Invitational
The Offaly man found himself in contention through the early rounds of the US Open at Chambers Bay in June. He fell away, but the interruption to his momentum was only temporary.
Because in August, Lowry held off the challenge of three former Major Champions to claim the biggest victory of his career at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. With Justin Rose, Jim Furyk and Bubba Watson looming, Lowry posted four birdies on his way to a four-under round of 66 in a performance that signposted future success.
Conor McGregor’s dethroning of Jose Aldo
The most talked about Irish athlete of the year and he can do plenty of that himself too. McGregor's personality is huge and influential enough to power a sport increasing in popularity. The hype was well founded – McGregor, aka ‘the Notorious’, knocked out Jose Aldo to win the UFC Featherweight on December 12. His success, and the path to it, has been accompanied by an incessant tirade of trash talking.
However, McGregor constantly backs it up inside the Octagon, and one can’t help but admire his mental strength, whatever you make of his personality. McGregor beating Aldo was a huge feat, considering the Brazilian had held the title for five years and was unbeaten in a decade.
Dublin v Mayo, All-Ireland SFC semi-final and replay
Not a classic when measured against the best games of years past but a compelling 140 minutes packed with controversial moments, great scores and a stunning comeback in the first meeting. Having watched the drawn game in a west London pub busy with English punters watching Manchester United on the second screen, they were slowly sucked away from the Premier League as Mayo hit 1-4 without reply in the final 10 minutes to level the contest.
When the sides met again the following Saturday, Diarmuid Connolly was subdued and Cillian O’Connor superb but then Bernard Brogan, Philly McMahon and Kevin McManamon hit a hat-trick of goals for the Dubs.
Galway versus Tipperary in All-Ireland hurling semi-final
It was the kind of hurling contest that can fix your jaw in a dropped position for 70 minutes. We’ve been spoiled in recent years – Kilkenny versus Tipperary, Clare versus Cork. On the biggest days, the fastest field sport in the world somehow hurls another layer out of the turf.
And that was the case in this year’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final, with Tipp the favourite of many to meet and beat Kilkenny in the final. The contest was an epic, fired by a Seamus Callanan hat-trick and filled with frantic fight-backs. Then in the last play, Joe Canning picked out Shane Moloney and he clipped over the winning score.
Michael Conlan wins the amateur World ChampionshipsJust for context, Conor McGregor is world champion in a niche sport with a small but increasing number of international participants when compared against established sports. That’s not to take from McGregor’s impressive achievement only to underscore the magnitude of Conlan’s.
The Belfast bantamweight is the best amateur in the world in his weight class in what is a truly world sport. He was the first Irishman ever to claim a World Championship gold medal in October. And unlike professional boxing, there is only one world title and it’s impossible to manufacture a route to the top.
Conlan is a star. Arguably, our best pound-for-pound performer on the world stage. Young, stylish, skillful and tough, at times he looks the complete boxer. Roll on Rio.
Ireland beat France in the Rugby World Cup
Gladiatorial afternoons in the Millennium Stadium have been a feature of Ireland's rugby landscape over the last decade. Munster’s European successes in 2006 and 2008; Ronan O’Gara’s dropped goal to win the Grand Slam in 2009, Leinster’s Johnny Sexton-inspired-comeback against Northampton in 2011 and this year Ireland against France in the Rugby World Cup – a test even more brutally unforgiving.
The heightened sense of emotion, the physicality, the physical bravery even, there were wince inducing moments even in a Gipsy Hill pub hundreds of miles from Cardiff. The only disappointment was that Ireland lacked the depth of resolve and personnel to reproduce the same again against Argentina.
Ireland beat Germany en route to Euro 2016
It was a remarkable and hugely rewarding campaign for a group of players often subjected to unfair GAA and Rugby-like comparisons. Spoiled, overpaid, under-committed and lacking in the right kind of spirit, Ireland confounded those accusations with a campaign marked by late goals, tenacity and optimism. Without the world class players of old, their qualification was even more gratifying.
Ireland emerged from the play-off fog of Bosnia with their reputation roundly enhanced. And Shane Long’s winning goal against Germany remains the highlight of the year for many.
Tyson Fury crowned world heavyweight boxing champion
In 2008, big Tyson was at the centre of controversy over his eligibility to box as an amateur for Ireland. In the Curragh an American heavyweight waited to see if Fury would be allowed to take to the ring. He wasn’t. But he’s remained at the centre of controversy ever since.
Now the Manchester-born Traveller with Irish roots is a world champion. He took the titles from Wladimir Klitschko in dramatic fashion and against the odds. Tyson wasn't given a chance, but in front of 55,000 fans in Germany, he executed an evasive and punch-stinging game-plan, and then serenaded his wife with a victory tune.
He's barely been out of the news since with quotes about his controversial views on homosexuality, which has detracted from his achievement somewhat. But, inside the ring, his victory was seismic.