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42 of the best bits of the sporting year

From historic rugby wins for Ireland and Connacht, to the Euros and Olympics – it’s been a great one.

2016 WAS UNDOUBTEDLY one of the busiest, and best, sporting years we’ve had in  a long time.

From the Euros to the Olympics, never-mind domestic competitions and other events and matches worldwide, it’s a sporting year that threw up a ridiculous amount of highlights that we wont be forgetting for a very long time.

Here’s 42 of the best bits, in no particular order of course.

1. Connacht winning the Pro12

John Muldoon lift the Guinness Pro12 Trophy Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Pat Lam’s troops silenced any doubters from over the years as they stormed to Pro12 victory over Leinster in Murrayfield, winning their first ever major trophy.

2. Annalise Murphy wins silver

Murphy buried her London 2012 demons as she took home a silver medal in the women’s laser radial sailing in Rio. She put in a magnificent performance to claim Team Ireland’s second medal in Brazil, and first sailing medal since 1980.

3. McGregor becomes the “champ champ”

Conor McGregor celebrates winning Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

The RTÉ sportsperson of the year had one of the best nights of his life in November as he beat Eddie Alvarez to win the UFC lightweight belt. The “champ champ” as he calls himself made history that night in New York as he became the first fighter in the 23-year history of the UFC to hold two titles simultaneously.

4. Leicester being crowned Premier League champions

Complete underdogs Leicester City sent waves around the world as they cleared the table by ten points to claim Premier League glory.

Minutes after Ranieri’s side were crowned champions, fellow Leicester man Mark Selby won the World Championship snooker final at the Crucible.

5. Historic win over the All Blacks

Billy Holland, Donnacha Ryan, Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and CJ Stander celebrate winning Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Irish rugby team took Chicago by storm as they ended a 111-year wait for victory over New Zealand. And they did it in style too, running in five tries to beat the world champions on their 29th time of asking 40-29.

6. Team Ireland at the Paralympics

Team Ireland returned home from Rio with 11 medals – gold for Jason Smyth , Michael McKillop, Eoghan Clifford, and cycling duo Katie-George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal. 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.

7. Dublin and Mayo’s All-Ireland battles

Diarmuid Connolly with Lee Keegan Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It has to be said, Mayo pushed Dublin to the limit in the replay and were unlucky not to take home the goods on the first occasion. The first outing was a remarkable game of football with a dramatic conclusion as Cillian O’Connor nailed a last-gasp point from play to rescue a draw after a late Mayo comeback.

8. O’Donovans win silver

Gary and Paul O’Donovan stormed to second in the men’s lightweight double sculls final in Rio, to make history and win Ireland’s first-ever medal in rowing. It was all the more monumental as it was Ireland’s first medal at the 2016 Games, and of course the brother’s stole the hearts of the nation.

9. That Robbie Brady goal

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

Many Irish people’s standout sporting moment from 2016, Robbie Brady kept Ireland’s Euro dream alive as he headed past the Azzuri to earn his side a spot in the knockout stages.

10. Katie goes professional

Taylor made the switch to professional boxing following a tough few months, and of course the risk paid off. She kicked off her pro career in London and saw off Karina Kopinsk before defeating Viviane Obenauf just two weeks later in Manchester.

11. Mc Gregor’s revenge

The Dubliner bounced back from his March loss to Nate Diaz with revenge in Vegas in August.

12. Ireland make history in Cape Town

Ireland’s Jack McGrath and Conor Murray at the final whistle Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Ireland had another historic win back in June over South Africa in Cape Town. At the eighth time of asking, Ireland won a Test against the Springboks on South African soil.

13. Rory McIlroy’s first Irish Open title

McIlroy finished with a flourish to secure a maiden Irish Open title and claim his first victory of the year at The K Club in May. He then went on to win the Tour Championship, and the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus in September.

14. Cork ladies take the honours again

Ciara O'Sullivan lifts the trophy Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ephie Fitzerald had big boots to fill as he stepped in as Eamonn Ryan’s successor to manage one of the most successful teams the country has seen over the past decade and more. It was same old story for the Cork ladies however, as they won their 11th All-Ireland crown in 12 years and their sixth in-a-row.

15. Dundalk’s European run

Stephen Kenny’s side were heroic in the Europa League and had a remarkable 2016. Having just missed out on Champions League qualification, the Lilywhites became the first Irish club to earn a Europa League point in their with AZ Alkmaar. They went on to beat M. Tel-Aviv, before three consecutive losses more than likely due to fatigue at the end of a hectic League of Ireland season.

16. Jason Smyth is still the fastest Paralympian on the planet

Jason Smyth wins his heat Source: Dan Behr/INPHO

Jason Smyth retained his title as fastest Paralympian on the planet when he won the 100m sprint in the T13 class. The 29-year-old ran a time of 10.64 to win his third consecutive gold in the event.

17. Usain Bolt in Rio

Bolt brought the curtain down on his Olympic career in style with a record-equalling ninth gold medal. In Rio, he became the first man to win a hat-trick of 100m gold medals, followed it up with a 200m gold and completed the triple as he anchored Jamaica to relay glory. Not bad.

18. Dublin historically retain their title

Brian Fenton and Dean Rock Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Dublin wrote their names into history in October, and confirmed their status as one of the game’s greatest ever teams. Jim Gavin’s men showed their class to defend their title and join Kerry as the only side to retain the Sam Maguire since 1991. Clinching their fourth All-Ireland title in six years,

19. Iceland at the Euros

The surprise package of the Euros, they brought a breath of fresh air to the competition pulling off some major shocks and sending England home. And there was also the thunder-clap, of course.

20. Carl Frampton wins WBA featherweight world title

Carl Frampton celebrates after his fightt with Leo Santa Cruz Source: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

Frampton became only the second Irish boxer ever to simultaneously hold two different weight world titles (after Steve Collins) when he defeated the previously unbeaten and three-weight world champion Leo Santa Cruz of Mexico in a pulsating July bout in New York. It was the first time Santa Cruz was defeated in his 10 years on the professional stage. He also prevailed against a previously unbeaten opponent in February, as he beat Scott Quigg to the world super-bantamweight title.

21. November Test win over the Wallabies

Joe Schmidt’s side finished their brilliant November series to hold on and clinch victory over Australia in the Aviva.

22. Michael Phelps in Rio

Michael Phelps 9/8/2016 Source: ©Inpho/Photosport/Marty Melville

The Olympics said goodbye to another legend this year, as Michael Phelps bowed out as he won his 23rd gold. In Rio, he took home titles in the 200m butterfly, the 200m medley, both the 4x100m and 4x200m freestyle relays, and the 4x100m freestyle. Phelps may consider silver in the 100m butterfly a blot in his copybook, but we have to disagree.

23. Tipperary shell-shock Kilkenny

The Premier county finally broke he stranglehold Kilkenny had on them in recent times as they lifted Liam MacCarthy for the first time since 2010.

24. Go Cubs Go!

2016 AP Year End Photos Source: David J. Phillip

Against the odds, the Chicago Cubs came from behind to beat the Cleveland Indians and end their 108-year wait for the World Series title. What makes it all the more memorable is that it was the same week the Irish rugby team made history in their hometown.

25. Ronaldo shines in Europe

Cristiano Ronaldo helped both Portugal and Real Madrid secure the two most revered titles in European football.  He scored 16 goals to help Real Madrid win their second Champions League title in three years, nailing the last penalty in the final shoot-out. The Euro 2016 title had been a long time coming for Portugal, their first ever major trophy.

26. Fiji sevens

Rio Olympic Games 2016 - Day Six Source: Themba Hadebe

The Fiji sevens team brought a breath of fresh air to the Rio Olympics, winning their nation’s first ever Olympic medal, and a gold one at that. The Pacific islanders were ruthless against Britain in the final, winning 43-7.

27. Jennifer Malone warms our hearts

This summer’s championship brought a phenomenal story of friendship between Pauric Mahony and ‘Kildare’s biggest fan’ Jennifer Malone. She consoled the Waterford hurler as they were defeated by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semi-final replay.

mahony

Again, she was at hand in September to celebrate with Kildare captain Aisling Holton and help her lift the All-Ireland intermediate title.

jennifer

28. Ireland taking the lead over France

Robbie Brady sent Irish hearts racing again as he put his side one up from the penalty spot against the Euro 2016 hosts. Antoine Griezmann ended the dream however, as he scored a brace to send Martin O’Neill’s side home.

29. Ann Downey leads Kilkenny to glory

Ann Downey celebrates after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Manager Ann Downey captained Kilkenny to the All-Ireland senior camogie title 22 years ago, before the county faced a drought. She managed them to success this year, for the first time since 1994.

30. LeBron helps end Cleveland’s title drought

The city of Cleveland had been starved of success in any sport for 52 years before the Cavaliers won their debut NBA Championship. Lead by star LeBron James, the Cavs topped the Golden State Warriors, coming from behind against the odds.

31. Thomas Barr’s Olympic semi-final

Thomas Barr celebrates coming first in his semi-final Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Having suffered several injury problems in the lead up, not much was expected of the Waterford native. However,he managed to defy the odds winning his 400m hurdles semi-final in emphatic fashion before missing out on a medal position by just 0.05 seconds.

32. Annie Power winning the double

The Willie Mullins-Ruby Walsh partnership stormed to victory in both Cheltenham and Aintree earlier this year, becoming the first mare since Dawn Run to win the Champion Hurdle and Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle in the same season.

33. Katie-George Dunlevy & Eve McCrystal’s haul

On a truly memorable afternoon in Rio, the tandem pair claimed road cycling gold as they obliterated the field and stormed home in first place by over half a minute. Three days later, they produced another incredible ride to add Road Race silver to their collection.

34. Leanne Kiernan lights up the Aviva

Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The 17-year-old Shelbourne striker stole the show as her side dismissed Wexford Youths to win the Women’s FAI Cup. She scored a hat-trick as Shels won 5-0.

35. Mouse Morris’ Grand National double

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 horse he trains, Rogue Angel, won the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. It is an emotional affair for Morris after his son Christopher’s death in 2015.

36. Simone Biles in Rio

A new star was born in Rio as 19-year-old gymnast wowed on the world’s biggest stage, bringing home four golds and one bronze.

37. Westmeath cause a huge upset in the Leinster u21 hurling championship

Back in May, the midlanders knocked hot-shots Kilkenny out of the competition in the quarter-final. It’s worth noting that as recently as 2012, Westmeath were actually competing in the province’s second tier.

38. Kellie Harrington medals at the World Championships

Kellie Harrington celebrates victory Source: AIBA/INPHO

The Dubliner became only the second Irish woman to win a medal at the worlds, as she took home silver following an astounding run to get to the final.

39. Shane Lowry’s hole-in-one at the Masters

In April’s Augusta National, the Clara man hit the 16th hole-in-one on the 16th hole in Masters history. It was also his first career hole-in-one in the United States.

Posted by on Friday, 26 April 2019

40. Anderson retains his title in the Ally Pally

Throwing it right back to January, Gary Anderson defeated Adrian Lewis 7 – 5 in the PDC world darts championship final to win the title for the second year running. ‘The Flying Scotsman’ threw a superb 170 checkout on his way to victory, deflating Lewis’ hopes.

41. The Broncos

The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl 50 title in February. The Broncos booked their date with the Carolina Panthers in January as they won their two play-off games, convincingly beat both the Patriots and the Steelers. Perhaps the Superbowl itself wasn’t the best bit of the NFL season, but the year itself was a remarkable one especially for the Broncos.

42. Ireland’s 1-0 win in Vienna

James McClean celebrates scoring the opening goal of the game Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland ended 53 years of hurt in November with a long-awaited win over Austria. James McClean’s away goal was enough to secure three points, and to send Martin O’Neill’s men top of World Cup 2018 qualifying Group D.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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