It has been a year of unprecedented success for Irish sport, from rugby to football, from boxing to Gaelic games and from golf to UFC. Ireland’s sporting heroes went big over the past twelve months.
1) Six Nations Double
In a stunning year for Irish sport, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind as to the crown jewel that looms large above all other sporting triumphs for the past year. Saturday, March 21st, 2015 will go down as one of the most enthralling days in Irish sporting history. Ireland were unlikely winners of the Six Nations before kick-off at Murrayfield but Joe Schmidt’s men pulled out a performance for the decades. They beat Scotland 10-40 in a scoreline that would, on the balance of slight margins, give Ireland their second Six Nations title in a row. With the men’s title secured, the Irish women’s rugby team took to the field against Scotland knowing points difference could also decide their fate. However in an inspiring performance in Glasgow they beat Scotland by a score of 73-3 to secure their second Six Nations Championship and Triple Crown in three years.
2) Rory’s Rise
In a year that saw him rise to World Number One, Rory McIlroy shattered all expectations as he took a haul of titles home with him. 2014 saw McIlroy win the coveted PGA Championship, The British Open as well as the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. In 2015 the four-time major champion has already brought home the Dubai Desert Classic as well as a personal best fourth finish in the Masters.
3) John O’Shea vs Germany
One would be forgiven for thinking Ireland had in fact beaten the World Champions in Gelsenkirchen in October as John O’Shea’s 94th minute equaliser sent supporters at home and abroad into a frenzy of chaotic celebration. Having taken the lead in the 71st minute through a Toni Kroos strike, the 2014 World Cup winners seemed likely to obtain another routine win in this affair. However in the dying embers of the tie, a deep Jeff Hendrick cross was pulled back by Wes Hoolahan to be steered past Manuel Neuer in the German goal by captain on the night John O’Shea, who was incidentally making his 100th appearance in green, to set Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification hopes alight.
4) Stephanie Roche’s Puskas Nomination
What a difference a few short months can make. Stephanie Roche has been propelled from unrecognised Women’s National League player to internet superstar overnight, Roche’s goal against Wexford Youths has changed not only the 25 year old’s life, but women’s football for the better. Taking hold of the goal to promote women’s stance in football, Roche has been a breath of fresh air in her efforts to gain more traction for women’s football in a male-dominated football-media culture. Having finished second in the FIFA Puskas Award for best goal of the year, Roche was the first Irish footballer, as well as the first ever woman, to ever be nominated for the accolade.
5) The Rise of Conor McGregor
It is impossible to ignore the allure of The Notorious as his walk continues to back-up his talk. Having beaten Diego Brandao and Dustin Poirier, McGregor was set up to face Dennis Silver at UFC Fight Night 59 in January 2015 in a fight that would earn the victor a title shot versus current UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo. McGregor beat Silver via TKO in the second round, after which he raced over the octagon to confront Aldo, whom he will now face for the title on July 11th in one of the most anticipated UFC bouts in the sport’s history.