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The Magnificent Seven: Victories Over Rivals

There’s nothing sweeter than a victory over the cream of the crop. Our columnist Niall Kelly picks out his favourites.

Shane Horgan: putting his past as a Meath minor footballer to good use in February 2007.
Shane Horgan: putting his past as a Meath minor footballer to good use in February 2007.
Image: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

It’s always nice to convincingly beat an opponent. But, as Barcelona’s victory in el clásico earlier this week reminded us, the victory is all the more sweet when it comes against a fierce rival in one of the must-win encounters of the season.

TheScore.ie looks back at seven emphatic victories scored by teams, individuals (and horses!) against their nearest and dearest rivals.

1. Seabiscuit wins “The Match of the Century”

Pimlico Special, 1 November 1938


Before he became a Hollywood superstar, Seabiscuit was a racehorse. Although his is the name which has become synonymous with Depression-era racing, history should not forget his closest rival – the magnificent War Admiral – and the race which established both horses in sporting folklore.

In 1937, U.S. horseracing was dominated by both horses. Seabiscuit finished the year as the leading money winner with eleven victories from fifteen starts, yet saw the prestigious title of U.S. ‘Horse of the Year’ awarded to the four-year-old War Admiral who had won the season’s marquee events, the Pimlico Special and the U.S. Triple Crown.

Despite numerous attempts to arrange a head-to-head meeting between the two greats, it was not until the following season’s renewal of the Pimlico Special that “The Match of the Century” came to pass, and it did not disappoint.

With the horses neck-and-neck as they rounded the final bend, Seabiscuit ultimately had more left in the tank, accelerating away over the final furlongs to win by a convincing four lengths. Should anybody doubt that a mere four-length victory can constitute a “hammering”, it is worth highlighting that although War Admiral actually ran his fastest ever time over the distance on that day, Seabiscuit still remained untouchable.

2. Kerry 5-11 Dublin 0-09

All-Ireland SFC Final, 16 September 1978


By any standard, a seventeen-point margin of victory is an impressive tally in Gaelic football. To achieve such a feat in an All-Ireland football final is remarkable. To achieve it at the expense of your biggest rival is bliss.

By 1978, Kerry and Dublin were familiar foes – the Dubs dispatching the Kingdom in the ’76 final and the ’77 semi-final as they racked up back-to-back titles. As Dublin chased their dream of three in a row, Kerry stood on the brink of their own glory days which would ultimately see them remain undefeated in the competition until September 1982. With their victory in 1978, the footballing guard had changed.

What the scoreline and the history books do not reflect is the extent of Dublin’s dominance for the first twenty-five minutes of the game as they raced into an 0-06 to 0-01 lead. Not that it mattered, as the tide of the game swung dramatically thereafter, with Mike Sheehy’s unforgettable lob over a stranded Paddy Cullen ensuring that Kerry entered the half-time break two points to the good.

More rout than contest, the second half saw Kerry outpoint Dublin by 3-08 to 0-02, with full-forward Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston’s hattrick ensuring that he never again would have to buy his own pints in any pub in the Kingdom.

Although the Dubs bounced back to force a rematch in the 1979 final, the outcome was only slightly less one-sided, with Kerry victorious by an equally-impressive eleven-point margin.

3. Germany 1-5 England

World Cup 2002 Qualification, 01 September 2001


The terrace chant of “5-1 … and even Heskey scored” ringing around the Olympiastadion in Munich. The headline of “Don’t Mention The Score” emblazoned across the front page of the News of the World.

England haven’t beaten Germany too frequently since 1966, but when they finally got one over on their rivals during the qualification campaign for the 2002 World Cup, they did so convincingly. And they were sure to savour it.

History and tradition was not on the side of the English. Mexico 1970, Italia 90 and Euro 96 had all been the sites of famous German victories when it mattered most. Even on the showpiece occasion that was the final competitive fixture at Wembley before its renovation, a single Didi Hamann goal had spoiled the English party.

The early omens in Munich were not good either as Carsten Jancker put the home nation 1-0 up inside six minutes. While the English riposte was quick, with Michael Owen levelling matters six minutes later, the game remained very much in the balance. In reality, it was only by the sixty-sixth minute when Owen completed his hattrick that the travelling English contingent could begin to relax and soak up the minutiae of a famous, famous victory.

The win itself was far from meaningless, giving England the initiative and momentum to go on to secure a rather unlikely automatic qualification berth for the 2002 tournament, leaving Germany to go through the motions of dispatching Ukraine in a two-legged playoff before they could start booking their flights for Korea and Japan.

On the same day, Ireland beat Holland 1-0 in that game at Lansdowne Road. We were preoccupied.

4. Australia 5-0 England

The Ashes, November 2006 – January 2007


If a sporting rivalry is to retain any meaning and significance, it is imperative that there is an element of equality between the two opponents. Failing that, any sort of supposed enmity will largely fade into indifference.

With this in mind, the Ashes surely represents rivalry at its finest and most competitive, a point vividly underscored by the dramatic finale to the 2005 series, the result of which hinged on the final day of the fifth and final test when Kevin Pieterson’s 156 gave England the draw they needed for a famous win.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, a series as embarrassingly one-sided as England’s trip down under in the winter of 2006/2007 is somewhat of an aberration. For only the second time ever, England failed to win a single test, crumbling to a 5-0 whitewash which they had only previously experienced in 1920/21.

The individual tests themselves weren’t even close with Australia securing victories of 277 runs, 6 wickets, and 206 runs respectively to take a 3-0 lead in the series. Even in the final two “dead rubber” tests, England hardly covered themselves in glory, with the Aussies going on to winning the fourth test by more than an innings, and the fifth by ten wickets.

Not that the one-sided nature of their victory bothered the Australians. For Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer, the series was to be their swansong on the international stage. Not a bad way to bow out …

5. Ireland 43-13 England

Six Nations, 24 February 2007


In the context of a column which is aimed at reflecting on memorable occasions when a team hammered one of their rivals, it is bizarre to suggest that the margin of victory might well have been irrelevant.

To describe Ireland’s 43-13 victory over England in Croke Park as such would be to do those involved in a historic feat a grave injustice. Not only did the thirty-point margin of victory surpass Ireland’s 22-0 win of 1947 to set a new record, but the forty-three points which Ireland amassed remains the most ever to be conceded by England in a single Five or Six Nations game, a statistical blot with which every team would like to stain their rival’s copybook.

On this particular day, however, the margin of victory was of secondary importance, forced to play second fiddle to the base emotion of merely winning and the sheer catharsis which would accompany this.

The shadow of Bloody Sunday and Michael Hogan. Rule 42. The intrusive presence of a foreign sport in GAA headquarters. God Save The Queen. The significance of the occasion was lost on nobody, not least the players.

If ever there was a performance to match an occasion, this was it. By the time Shane Horgan rose to claim Ronan O’Gara’s crosskick in the sixty-third minute and touch the ball down for Ireland’s third try, the magnitude of what was unfolding was apparent to all.

The perfect occasion. The perfect result.

6. Denman trounces Kauto Star

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2008


The long-awaited clash of Denman and Kauto Star, two of the finest chasers of the past decade, was unquestionably the highlight of the 2008 National Hunt calendar. Indeed, such was the quality of both horses that their coming together would probably be the clash of any National Hunt season.

Billed as the showdown between the established (and much-loved) champion and the young (and equally-loved) pretender, the pre-Cheltenham hype machine went into overdrive, declaring it to be one of the most anticipated races since Arkle and Mill House went hoof-to-hoof in the same race in 1964.

Paul Nicholls, trainer of both horses, played his part in the storyline to perfection, keeping the two apart in the early parts of the season by sending Kauto to pick up the Betfair Chase and the King George, leaving Denman to satisfy himself with victory in the Hennessy at Newbury and the Lexus at Leopardstown.

By the time March 14th arrived, everybody in the horse racing world, and many with only a passing interest in the sport, had made up their mind. So had the bookies, sending Kauto off the 10/11 favourite while Denman drifted out to a not-unreasonable 9/4.

Having set the early pace in an attempt to run his rivals into the ground, Denman found himself in a tired but commanding position as he entered the last few furlongs. When jockey Ruby Walsh asked the question of the fading champion, Kauto had little left in the tank, leaving Sam Thomas to drive home the new king of chasing to an unexpectedly large seven-length victory.

7. Tipperary 4-17 Kilkenny 1-18

All-Ireland SHC Final, 5 September 2010


Every time a team lines out against a rival, there is something extra at stake. Sometimes it’s simply the right to laud it over friends and family of the opposite persuasion until the fixture rolls around again. Sometimes, however, it’s a little bit more important than that.

In the lead-up to 2010 All-Ireland Hurling Final, all the talk was of Kilkenny and of their chance to succeed where the Cork hurlers of the 1940s and the Kerry footballers of the 70s and 80s had failed before them, their opportunity to secure a historic fifth successive title.

It was only fitting therefore that, in order to do so, they would have to beat their near neighbours and bitter rivals from the Premier County. The previous year, Tipp had had their opportunity to end the Cats’ dominance, seeing it cruelly snatched away by two late goals from Henry Shefflin and Martin Comerford as the game wound towards its conclusion.

This time around, much of the pregame chatter focused on whether Tipp could keep pace with Kilkenny for sixty minutes, pundits and public alike deciding that this was the only way that the men from the banks of the Suir would have any chance. When a series of unanswered Kilkenny points reduced Tipp’s dominance to a single score with fifteen minutes on the clock, it looked as though the chattering classes were about to be vindicated.

Tipp were to prove unstoppable however, Lar Corbett’s injury-time goal serving as the icing on the cake of a comprehensive eight-point victory rather than the crucial difference between two of history’s great hurling sides.

About the author:

Niall Kelly

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