| 6.9°C Dublin

magic moments The 10 epic tales of sporting heroism that brought joy and hope to the darkest of years

Close

Katie Taylor showed once more why she is Queen of Irish sport. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Katie Taylor showed once more why she is Queen of Irish sport. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Katie Taylor showed once more why she is Queen of Irish sport. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

In the darkest year in living memory it is sport once more that reveals its power to inspire, delight and bring us joy and hope

1. An All-Ireland winter driving us home for Christmas

Close

Gearoid Hegarty was an inspiration for Limerick hurlers. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Gearoid Hegarty was an inspiration for Limerick hurlers. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Gearoid Hegarty was an inspiration for Limerick hurlers. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile


In the canon of uplifting triumphs over grim adversity, the GAA’s herculean achievement in staring down Covid-19 merits the highest battle ribbon.

The thrill of the 2020 championship was that it was born at all, a two-month cavalcade of hope and joy and defiance that somehow survived every ambush an evil and cheerless pathogen could lay along the December road.

Those Saturdays and Sundays in front of the TV brought comfort, the oxygen of anticipation and an urgently required chink of normality, food for the soul in a year when so many were starved of the nutrients of human company.

That it ran like a Swiss timepiece was testament to the GAA’s attention to detail and the care and attention of amateur players unable to inhabit the strict bubbles that permitted professional sports to continue.

That the eventual champions – Limerick and Dublin – sent firecrackers of brilliance into the frigid skies revealed that a unique championship had exceptional flag-bearers. From Gearoid Hegarty to Ciaran Kilkenny, Tom Morrissey to Brian Fenton, Cian Lynch and Sean Finn to James McCarthy and Con O’Callaghan, rare talents revealed the best of themselves to illuminate a brutal year.

Solace in bleakest midwinter.

2. Bennett’s Tour de Force

Close

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett

Sam Bennett

Blazing like a comet aboard his two-wheeled fireball, Sam Bennett carried us across the decades to the days when Stephen Roche and Sean Kelly owned Irish hearts.

Bennett brought a Celtic hue to the gorgeous natural backdrop against which the Tour de France unspools.

From the same unlikely cycling mecca as Kelly, the then 29-year-old lit up late summer with a string of glories – climaxing with his seizing of the race’s second most famous prize, the storied Maillot Vert.

First Irishman to lead a Tour De France classification since Kelly in 1989; sixth Irishman to win a Tour stage, only the fifth cyclist in history to win the landmark closing sprint into Paris with the points leader’s green jersey on his back.

Ireland’s sports star of the year.

3. Celebrating Jack Charlton

Close

NEVER FORGOTTEN: Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters both passed away during 2020 - but what lives they led, and what deeds they managed to do

NEVER FORGOTTEN: Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters both passed away during 2020 - but what lives they led, and what deeds they managed to do

NEVER FORGOTTEN: Jack Charlton and Maurice Setters both passed away during 2020 - but what lives they led, and what deeds they managed to do


Even in death, aged 85, the beloved Geordie father of Irish football brought a weep of joy to the land he loved so well.

Jack’s passing in July triggered an avalanche of nostalgia, a landslide of life-affirming memories.

His uniform was a working man’s flat cap, a rough and ready pitman’s pragmatism, and, a saddlebag containing a body of work that brought an imperishable glow to so many Irish lives.

From Stuttgart to Genoa to New Jersey, Jack touched his adopted land in the most important place of all – the heart.

4. Cavan and Tipp’s sunny Sunday

Two tumultuous, landscape-altering tectonic shifts on one imperishable afternoon.

The first seismic shudder is delivered by Tipp: Taking down Cork to claim a first Munster title since 1935.

Adding to the sense of wonder, victory secured an All-Ireland semi-final appearance on the weekend the 100th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday massacre was commemorated at Croke Park.

When Cavan followed up with a stunning success over Donegal that secured a first Ulster since 1997, the emotional Richter Scale surged and shattered.

Powerful interviews from both venues – Raymond Galligan and Colin O’Riordan stars of the hour – revealed again the unrivalled power of place triggered by the GAA.

5. The Last Dance

Close

Michael Jordan won six NBA championships during an illustrious career with the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by VINCENT LAFORET / AFP) (Photo by VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images)

Michael Jordan won six NBA championships during an illustrious career with the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by VINCENT LAFORET / AFP) (Photo by VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Michael Jordan won six NBA championships during an illustrious career with the Chicago Bulls. (Photo by VINCENT LAFORET / AFP) (Photo by VINCENT LAFORET/AFP via Getty Images)


In a springtime lockdown where Netflix offered a guardrail against insanity, Michael Jordan (inset) waltzed into many lives.

Those of us who grew up in thrall to maybe the most abundantly talented athlete of all time were already familiar with his ability to defy gravity, his ferocious competitive zeal, his capacity to summon magic by sheer force of will.

But a wider Irish audience was mesmerised by a documentary series which revealed both the grace and beauty with which MJ brought to the hardwood and also the brutal need to win that defined his character.

It was electrifying television.

6. Liverpool’s long walk to freedom

Close

Jordan Henderson of Liverpool holds the Premier League Trophy aloft

Jordan Henderson of Liverpool holds the Premier League Trophy aloft

Getty Images

Jordan Henderson of Liverpool holds the Premier League Trophy aloft


After 30 years, the clouds parted to reveal a phosphorous red glow over Merseyside.

Jurgen Klopp, his aura reaching mythical levels, traced the footsteps of Shankly and Paisley and Fagan and Dalglish; Van Dijk, Salah, Henderson, Mane and Alexander-Arnold bridged the gap to Hansen, Rush, Whelan and Aldridge.

Klopp, his emotional intelligence allowing him to, in the words of one writer, plug “into the same emotional circuitry of his team” followed up on Champions League heroics with the prize so many lifers on The Kop craved.

Even behind closed doors, their first league title in three decades – one secured by an 18-point margin – echoed across a football-obsessed town. And brought peace.

7. A magical Envoi gallops to the winner’s enclosure

For those of us for whom National Hunt racing stirs the blood like few other pastimes, a special tingle arrives with the emergence of a creature who seems to share a bloodline with the divine, winged creature Pegasus.

So, even if Al Boum Photo’s retention of the Gold Cup – Wille Mullins’s star the first horse to do so since 2004 – felt epic, and, though, Barry Geraghty signed off with five Cheltenham winners, it was Envoi Allen who wrote the year’s most thrilling poems.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, with Davy Russell (and, when the latter was injured, Jack Kennedy) in the saddle, the six-year-old galloped onwards toward eternity.

Only six years old, but already a two-time winner at the Cheltenham Festival, the bay gelding’s stunning victory at Fairyhouse last month had the sidelined Russell shaking with emotion as he talked of the “goose-bumps” he experienced watching a performance of devastating beauty.

8. Simon Zebo shows Ireland what they are missing

Close

Simon Zebo. Photo: Getty Images

Simon Zebo. Photo: Getty Images

Simon Zebo. Photo: Getty Images

It was a largely dismal year for Irish rugby – the national team unable to escape a Saxon stranglehold, Champions Cup disappointment and growing fears about the catastrophic impact of concussions and collision injuries.

It was left to Cork’s exiled lyricist, Simon Zebo, to remind Ireland how their rigid rules have locked out a rare talent.

Zebo, dashing, daring, fearless, scored two tries in the Champions Cup final.

If it was not enough to save Racing 92 from a heartbreaking loss to Exeter, it offered a vivid illustration of the dancing back’s game-changing skills

9. Richie Hogan’s Maradona moment

Close

Richie Hogan. Photo: Sportsfile

Richie Hogan. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Richie Hogan. Photo: Sportsfile

This time, the hand of God was entirely legitimate.

Kilkenny’s natural-born talent delivered a goal of such impudence, genius and charm against Galway that it seemed like a gift from the lands of fantasy.

His pirouetting, no-look flick into Croke Park’s Canal End net felt like a postcard from a superior mind.

The kind of unconventional, ungovernable intervention that was the calling card of the late, great Argentine prince.

10. Katie is Taylor made to spread joy

Close

Lightweight champion of the world Katie Taylor

Lightweight champion of the world Katie Taylor

Mark Robinson / Matchroom Boxing

Lightweight champion of the world Katie Taylor

Sometimes an athlete is so freakishly accomplished that we come to take him or her almost for granted.

Katie Taylor showed again in 2020 the full range of the talent and application and humility that elevate her to the penthouse where only the transcendent dwell.

Delfine Persoon and Miriam Gutierrez were swept aside, as the 2012 Olympic gold medallist extended her professional record to a perfect 17 wins. A four-belt world champion, the undisputed queen of Irish sport.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

Online Editors


Privacy