UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS: The highs and lows of Irish sport in 2021

UNFORGETTABLE MOMENTS: The highs and lows of Irish sport in 2021

OVER the last 12 months many stories have emerged across Irish sport – be it highs or lows.

In this special feature we look back over the joy and the pain faced by our Irish men and women who engaged in competitive sporting action across 2021.

Enda Stevens, left, and James McClean of Republic of Ireland following their side's defeat during the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying group A match between Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Ireland lose to Luxembourg 

Perhaps the lowest point for Irish football in many a year, Ireland’s home defeat in March to lowly Luxembourg, ranked 98th in the world at the time, was one which will take some time to forget.

Caelan Doris of Ireland, centre, and team-mates celebrate at the final whistle of the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin

Farrell’s Ireland beat the All Blacks 

In need of a spark to ignite the new era under Andy Farrell, Ireland’s victory over the mighty New Zealand was a joy to watch in front of a packed-out Aviva Stadium and whetted the appetite for the Six Nations in the new year.

Bryan Walsh of Mayo following his side's victory in the GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship semi-final match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin

Mayo ends Dublin’s stranglehold 

Wherever your allegiances lie, it was hard to begrudge Mayo when they ended Dublin’s remarkable unbeaten record - which stretched back to August 2014 - in a thrilling semi-final of this year’s Football Championship.

Leona Maguire of Team Europe celebrates with the Solheim Cup after winning over Team USA during day three of the Solheim Cup at the Inverness Club on September 06, 2021 in Toledo, Ohio

Maguire wows golf 

After becoming the first Irish woman to qualify for golf’s Solheim Cup, Leona Maguire starred as the main player in this year’s event as she helped Europe to retain the trophy on US soil.

Her performance – scoring 4.5 points from five matches – unearthed the Cavan native to the golfing world and showed how far she can go.

Captain Padraig Harrington of Ireland and team Europe looks on from the seventh tee during Saturday Afternoon Fourball Matches of the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits on September 25, 2021 in Kohler, Wisconsin

Harrington suffers Ryder Cup hammering 

After much anticipation to see how Ireland’s greatest ever golfer would fare captaining Europe in golf’s Ryder Cup, the humbling 19-9 defeat to the USA made difficult viewing for the legendary Padraig Harrington.

Minella Times ridden by Rachael Blackmore wins the Randox Grand National Handicap Chase during Grand National Day of the 2021 festival

Blackmore takes racing world by storm 

2021 will always be a year remembered for Tipperary’s Rachel Blackmore.

The 32-year-old’s astonishing success at Cheltenham and victory at the Grand National, where she became the first-ever female jockey to win, took all the front pages and inspired millions.

Kellie Harrington of Ireland celebrates after defeating Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil in their women's lightweight final bout at the Kokugikan Arena during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games

Kellie grabs gold in Tokyo 

To add to Katie Taylor, another Irish boxing star emerged in 2021 in the form Kellie Harrington.

The part-time cleaner won a gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics in the lightweight division, sparking joyous scenes on the streets of Dublin.

Amy Hunter of Ireland Women bats during the Women's Twenty20 tour match between Lancashire Women and Ireland Women at Emirates Old Trafford on July 01, 2021 in Manchester, England

16-year-old Hunter makes cricket history 

Cricket in Ireland doesn’t garner the participation levels of other sports.

So when Amy Hunter became the youngest batter to make a century in a match against Zimbabwe it rightly made headlines across Ireland and beyond.

Republic of Ireland supporter and Shelbourne player Addison Whelan with jersey of Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal at half time during the SSE Airtricity Women's National League match between Shelbourne and Wexford Youths at Tolka Park in Dublin

Ronaldo meets Irish girl 

During a difficult 18 months or so, the sight of 11-year-old, Addison Whelan, running onto the pitch at the Aviva to meet Cristiano Ronaldo and get his jersey sought to remind us of sport’s ability to uplift and inspire people.

Devin Toner, left, and Michael Bent of Leinster lift the PRO14 trophy alongside their teammates after the Guinness PRO14 Final match between Leinster and Munster at the RDS Arena in Dublin

Leinster win four in a row 

We perhaps take Leinster’s success in the domestic game for granted but their fourth successive league title win showcased the strong foundations of Irish rugby and why Leinster players dominate the national team.