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12 months of Irish sport: The many highs and lows of 2016

We took a look through each month and picked one or two standout Irish sporting moments from each.

January

Jonny Cooper with Paul McKeon Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

In a rather dismal January, it was hard to pinpoint a standout moment for Irish sport. Rather than a high or a low, this was more of a shock, as Longford knocked holders and All-Ireland champions Dublin out of the O’Byrne Cup. Of course, it was January and Dublin did go on to fairly redeem themselves when the year was in full swing, but they still fielded a strong side, and were defeated for the first, and only time in 2016.

Meanwhile, Maggie Farrelly made GAA history as she became the first female referee to take charge of a men’s senior game – a McKenna Cup clash between Fermanagh and St Mary’s.

February

Paul O'Connell Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

February saw us say goodbye to a true Irish sporting legend; former Ireland captain and Munster great Paul O’Connell retired from rugby. The 36-year-old suffered a significant hamstring injury during Ireland’s World Cup campaign, and the 108-capped second row was forced to end his career as a result.

March

UFC 196 Mixed Martial Arts Source: AP/Press Association Images

An Irish sporting low in March was undoubtedly Conor McGregor’s defeat to Nate Diaz. The 31-year-old from California submitted McGregor in the second round of their headline bout at UFC 196. It was McGregor’s first defeat in his UFC career, and at that a seismic upset with Diaz as a massive outsider.

April 

Mouse Morris Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Tipperary-based trainer Mouse Morris won the Aintree Grand National in April with 33/1 shot Rule the World. This came just days after another of his horses, Rogue Angel, won the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. It came as a definite Irish sporting high, made more poignant again by the death of Morris’s son Christopher in 2015.

“Two in the one week, unbelievable. The lad must be doing overtime for me up above,” he said afterwards in an emotional interview.

May

John Muldoon lifts the trophy Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Who could look past Connacht as a highlight of Irish sport in May? 28 May 2016 was probably the province’s greatest day ever as they saw off Leinster to win the Pro12 final and their first-ever trophy.

June

Robbie Brady celebrates scoring his sides first goal Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

One of the highlights of the sporting year, not just the month of June, was that Robbie Brady goal against Italy to keep Ireland in Euro 2016. The goal itself epitomised the courage, bravery and class that Ireland showed in abundance on that unforgettable night in Lille. Three passes, 10 seconds of football and that beautiful late headed finish and we were through to the last 16 against the odds.

July

Carl Frampton celebrates after defeating Leo Santa Cruz Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

July saw Carl Frampton beat Leo Santa Cruz to win the WBA featherweight title lost by his manager Barry McGuigan to Steve Cruz 30 years earlier. In winning, he became only the second Irish boxer ever to simultaneously hold two different weight world titles (after Steve Collins). It was also the first time Santa Cruz was defeated in his 10 years on the professional stage.

August

Gary O’Donovan and Paul O’Donovan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Team Ireland were well represented at this year’s Olympics, and of course the medals must be noted as highlights. Not only did the O’Donovan brothers win an unlikely silver medal, and Ireland’s first-ever Olympic rowing medal, they also managed to charm the nation with their fantastic personalities.

Annalise Murphy celebrates winning her silver medal Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Annalise Murphy’s win is the other Irish sporting highlight of August that can’t be left out. After her 2012 heartbreak in London, Murphy consistently impressed in the women’s laser radial sailing, and stepped up to take home a silver medal.

September

Diarmuid Connolly celebrates with the Sam Maguire Source: James Crombie/INPHO

September brought much more than one highlight in Irish sport. Four jump to mind straight away: the unmissable climax of the All-Ireland football season which stretched over into the first October evening before Dublin finally vanquished Mayo to retain Sam; Tipperary toppling Kilkenny to win their first All-Ireland hurling title since 2010; the Cork Ladies sealing six in-a-row and their 11th title in 12 years; and Kilkenny ending their camogie drought with their first title since 1994.

Michael McKillop and Jason Smyth Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Aside from GAA, Team Ireland were absolutely heroic at the Paralympics, bringing home 11 medals in total and exceeding expectations beyond belief. Jason Smyth retained his title as fastest Paralympian on the planet, and joined Michael McKillop, Eoghan Clifford, and cycling duo Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal in taking home gold medals. Dunlevy and McCrystal also brought home one of four silvers, as did Colin Lynch, Orla Barry and Niamh McCarthy. And three bronze medals from Clifford, Ellen Keane and Noelle Lenihan topped off an incredibly successful Paralympics for Ireland.

October

Anthony Foley

One of Ireland’s most heartbreaking sporting moments of 2016 has to be Anthony Foley’s death. It’s one of those ‘where were you when you heard?’ moments. The Munster head coach and former captain and Irish international passed away suddenly overnight, aged 42, while in Paris for a Champions Cup fixture against Racing 92.

November

Conor Murray celebrates Robbie Henshaw's try Source: INPHO/Billy Stickland

On the contrary, November was a month of highs which saw one of Ireland’s most joyous and historic rugby moments. Joe Schmidt’s side traveled to Chicago for a Test match against New Zealand, one which ultimately ended their 111-year run of bad luck against the southern hemisphere superpower. They put on a momentous and dominant performance to beat the back-to-back world champions 40-29 and give the people of Ireland the result they had been longing for for so long.

Conor McGregor celebrates winning Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

November was so good, we couldn’t decide on one standout moment, and Conor McGregor surely deserves a mention. The 28-year-old UFC superstar also made history stateside as he defeated Eddie Alvarez to win the lightweight belt at Madison Square Garden. By doing this, McGregor became the first fighter in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously – lightweight and featherweight.

December

Katie Taylor celebrates her win Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Katie Taylor eased to her second win as a professional as she put on a solid display in Manchester. The Bray native had a fairly comfortable 60-53 unanimous points victory over Brazillian Viviane Obenauf, making it two wins from two in her professional career. Just two weeks earlier in London, she stunned Karina Kopinska to put her name on the map as a professional boxer. After a whirlwind year, Taylor finished it fittingly, with a belly full of fire heading into 2017.

– This article has been updated to reflect that the All-Ireland football final replay between Dublin and Mayo took place on 1 October.

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Emma Duffy

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