The sportling life of 2021

The Olympic Games of 2020 was held despite, well despite lots of things. The Paralympic Games of 2020 was held despite, well despite lots of things. The Rugby Lions Tour was held despite, well despite lots of things. *Two Galway girls from Connemara won Olympic medals. Ireland sent its largest team ever to the Olympics despite a pandemic. *Two sprinters from Galway qualified for the Olympics. Dublin didn’t win the All Ireland Football Championship. Dublin didn’t win the Ladies Football Championship. Mayo didn’t win the All Ireland Football Championship. Galway won the All Ireland Camogie Championhip. Connacht golfers won the Interpro Championships. Ray McLoughlin died. Kevin O’Brien retired

The Galway Camogie team received 12 nominations for this year’s All Stars. Congrats to Sarah Healy, Shauna Healy, Sarah Dervan, Dervla Higgins, Caitriona Cormican, Siobhán Gardiner, Emma Helebert, Niamh Kilkenny, Aoife Donohue, Siobhán McGrath, Orlaith McGrath, and Ailish O’Reilly. And the Galway manager Cathal Murray has been named the Manager of the Year. A mighty year’s work.

A week in Whistling Straits is enough. Sarsfields win three in a row. St Thomas’ win four in a row. Mountbellew Moylough win one in a row.

Julie Ann Russell came home from Australia, and signed with Galway United. President of the GAA Larry McCarthy unveiled Pa Boyle’s headstone on Monday October 11, 2021 in Rahoon, and fair play to club chairman Tom Nally and all the guardians of the St Michael’s club for minding one of their founders. Paddy Ryan headed up the Pa Boyle committee, well done, and the former Galway football and hurling dual star is the first recipient of the Pa Boyle/Joe Potter trophy for services rendered to the club. Just one thing, Paddy Ryan eighty? Naw, couldn’t be!

Saturday July 10 was a good day. Move over Pat Blade, it was coming a good while! You may have been an outhalf on a Connacht Rugby junior rugby cup winning team – first win ever (1992 Monivea v Galwegians ), or even on a county hurling championship win with Abbeyknockmoy – first win ever in 1988 (the only one ), probably doesn’t match a senior rugby cap for Ireland. Walloping USA in the Aviva Stadium 71-10 was one thing, but on 59 minutes Caolin Blade made his entrance onto the field of play for his first cap seven minutes after Paul Boyle (another revelation ) got his first cap. Yea, a good day. Twasn’t from the wind!

But then October 20 was also a good day when Henry Shevlin agreed to come to Galway and see what he could do with the Galway hurlers. Sarah Dervan, even in an Olympic Year, might be the story of the year. Captain of a Galway team for three years in a row and winning the top prize in the first and third year. This was the eighth final of her career. This year her team was the most successful Galway side beating Cork in an All Ireland final. She brought home the O’Duffy Cup across the Shannon. It was the fourth time the trophy came west. Boy but it was sweet!

Sports Star of the Year? We spotted Pat Larkin and Andrew Talbot in the Streets of Galway 8K. Pat is at it 35 years and I’d say Andrew is up near that as well. Here’s a clue, he wore the Pearse Athletic Club singlet.

Not one single nomination for the Hurling All Stars 2021. Hope King Henry stays a while. No Football All Stars either.

Nollaig na mBán

We’ll remember Nollaig na mBán. Sea water bathing was the order of the day even if the Salthill Promenade was out of bounds for car parking and the Blackrock Diving Tower barricaded to the public. The swimmers commandeered the largely unappreciated and underused amphitheatre facility or they jumped the obstacles at the diving tower, swam, stood in the water, walked, talked, followed by the flasks being opened and the tea poured. Nollaig na mBán – things were never better, except for the attempted coup in Washington DC on the same Wednesday January 6. The leaders of the free world were, all of a sudden, flummoxed. But right into the snows of February and the cold and wet weather of March they continued to swim. So what’s the big deal? Didn’t they have their swimming togs, caps, gloves, socks, torso warmers called rash vests and then they had their dry robes. Some of them were smart enough to bring their hot water bottles. Things would never be the same. A new beginning was born. The whole lot in a rucksack! Moving house! But they did have the Álainn van with their lovely coffee and extensive and creative menu for the precious moments in the amphitheatre.

* Gareth Bradshaw said ‘see ya’ after 14 years. Thanks Gareth, wonderful service. Gary Sice, Adrian Varley, Fiontán Ó Curraoin, John Maher, Jason Leonard, Gary O’Donnell, and Ian Burke called it quits too. Still we had a great win over Leinster 35-24 in the Pro 14 at the RDS. And Jack Carty excelled. Made us feel good. But not good enough to be included in the first draft of players for the Six Nations.

Gerry Marsden MBE died, but left us the Liverpool anthem ‘You’ll never walk alone’. He was 78. Michael Mongan received a ‘Volunteer in Sport Award’. We know him best as an Olympic Boxing Club stalwart. Congrats Michael. And thanks. The third level colleges told us there would be no Sigerson or Fitzgibbon cup competitions in 2021. World Handball Championships due to be held in Dublin later in the year cancelled as well. We were greatly saddened to learn of two deaths from Old Devon Park. We lost that great character and legend, the larger than life Finbarr Lillis. He was a founder member of Salthill Devon and was an all-round sporting enthusiast. He promoted the concept of League of Ireland football in Galway from the early Galway Rovers days and probably before. But the loss of young James Harrison was different. Aged only 17 years he lost his life from an accident while on holiday with his family in Kerry. He was an outstanding member of Bóthar na Trá/Cnoc na Cathrach GAA club, Knocknacarra FC and Galwegians RFC. He is remembered as a star both on and off the pitch. The grandest young fella you could ever meet.

Now some woman talk, we were delighted to tell you in our piece this time last year that Ann Heneghan was President of Connacht Rugby and Yvonne Comer was vice president of Corinthians RFC. And at the last AGM of the Union, the IRFU invited Yvonne onto the national executive. Now for ya. And Kevin Dinneen of Galwegians was invited too. We are well represented.

We were pleased to welcome Lisa Fallon as head coach of Galway United. The new coach has worked with John Caulfield below in Cork City FC. In fact Lisa has worked with Northern Ireland, Chelsea Women and London Lionesses and she started in Eamonn Deacy Park on St Bridgets Day, February 1. She even worked with Jim Gavin and the Dublin footballers. And no sooner was she settled in, but she was gone again, this time to FIFA. Did you ever. And she a pundit with RTE Radio and TV. How will we survive?

Emer Flatley was appointed in charge of the Galway WFC under 19s. And then she became football development officer for Galway city. Welcome too to Ruth Fahy, appointed CEO of Galway WFC. Welcome home Ruth. The young flyer from Ballinasloe Béibhinn Parsons won, wait for it, The Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Women’s Player of the Year. That’s the girl who played rugby for Ireland even before her 17th birthday!

Brendan Guerin’s unparalled service

Brendan Guerin died on March 26, 2021. Could we say he gave unparalleled service to rugby in his long (91 years ) life/ He was capped for Ireland, he played for Connacht from 1952 to 1959. He captained and managed Connacht. He captained Galwegians and played with them forever! He probably never missed a match with Wegians or Connacht! And of course he was President of Galwegians in 1973/74.

Ollie Turner wrote a book about 25 Galway hurlers. Santa Claus might still have a few. And he mightn’t. Kevin Walsh wrote another one, an autobiography called The Invisible Game complete with Maths, Minutes and Movement. Kevin reckons you play a game for 70 minutes. You have possession of the ball for one minute more or less. How best to employ the other 69 minutes? Oh gawd! Do you get it?

John Caulfield wrote yet another called Rebel Heart all about his long history in Cork football. Sometimes it’s difficult to get a handle these days on mainstream activities in universities and schools, but new appointee Mike Heskin, the new director of sport and physical education in NUIG, has been busy. He handled two initiatives where college was selected as a Centre of Excellence for Basketball and a Rowing Ireland Partner Pathway University, sounds exciting.

*Sinéad Burke hung up her Galway football boots after 13 years service. Thanks a lot for all you did. It’s a long way from Oughterard to Dublin to Armagh. After two All Ireland Senior Camogie titles and two cruciate injuries plus more titles and more injuries, Siobhán Coen from Ballinderreen handed back the maroon jersey. Thanks Siobhán. You did us all proud. Tony Lee would be pleased as Tuam Athletic Club plans for an Olympic standard 100m running track.

April Fools’ Day is not the best choice of day for an illegal training session before dawn. It cost Dessie Farrell a three months’ suspension for a start. Séamus McEnaney the Co Monaghan football manager got the same punishment a week later. Then the GAA said they were null and void. I don’t get it. More investigations. Ronan McCarthy from Cork suffered the same punishment for an outing in Youghal last January.

Niamh Fahy 97th cap

Fourteen years playing soccer for Ireland, Niamh Fahey from Kilannin, on her 97th cap played a blinder in the win over Finland. Niamh, who won an All Ireland medal with Galway in 2004, is captain of Liverpool FC. And four Galway WFC girls, Therese Kinnevey, Shauna Brennan, Kate Slevin and Nicole McNamara played their part on the same night in the 2-0 win over Northern Ireland U19s.

* We lost Mick Grealish, president of the Connacht Branch (2008/09 ). He died on April 8. Mick Grealish shouldn’t have died. He had too much on hand and too much to do. The Sports Editor of this newspaper Linley MacKenzie thought he was the ‘genuine article’ and well known scribe John Fallon used the expression ‘The soul of Connacht rugby’. Pity I didn’t think of either. Connacht Rugby was lucky to have him as he was just as fond of the Galway Rowing Club and Liam Mellows Hurling club like any Galway city man with the accent to prove it. A tough scrum-half, he played and won all that was on offer with ‘club’. He captained and coached them and agreed to be their president twice in 1975/76 and in 2004/05, and of course he represented them in the branch. 2008/09 was a busy year not just for Mick, but for Eleanor Grealish, who served as a most competent President of OLBC RFC. He won the Mr Boots Award for services to junior rugby, a rare enough honour in this part of the world, Paddy Beatty, Frank Pettit, Padraic McGann, John Carr, Adrian Leddy and the current referee’s secretary John Martin come to mind. He was the third of the three ‘club’ men after Paddy Beatty and Mossy Moran to be president of the branch. Now Mick, auld stock, you might look out for the rest of us, up there.

The week-end of April 10/11 arrived and the summer peeped over the horizon as the Government relaxed Covid regulations. Rachael Blackmore wrote more history when she became the first woman ever to ride the winner of the Aintree Grand National. On the same day the Irish Women’s Rugby team absolutely walloped the Welsh (45-0 ) in the first game of the Women’s Six Nations. Beibhinn Parsons scored two tries and she could easily have got two more. The other Galway women, Claire Molloy and Cliodhna Moloney were outstanding. Claire had a try in the big win 25-5 over Italy and another in the 56-15 defeat to France.

Galway women Aifric Keogh (Furbo ) and Fiona Murtagh (Moycullen ) won European silver in the Irish Women’s Four at the European Championships in Varese Italy. They missed the gold by four tenths of a second or a canvas if you prefer. We remember they got bronze the previous year. The Olympics next!

Molloy did it all

* Another Ballinasloe girl Sive Brassil waited in the wings for the Tokyo Olympics in the Modern Pentathlon event. Not to mention Fiona Murtagh and Aifric Keogh waiting for an Olympic call up in the Women’s Four on the water. Sadly we say good-bye to Claire Molloy after 12 years service to the Ireland team, 74 caps and three world cups. She was Ireland’s Player of the Year and the Rugby Writers Player of the Year. She did it all, including captain of the Ireland team.

And fair play to the redoubtable Katie Taylor. She was voted the Sports Star of the year by RTE Sports, actually by a ‘specially gathered panel’ of sports reporters and RTE executives. Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to win the Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham. And the Irish Hockey girls shared the series of three matches with the Brits in Belfast all around St Paddy’s Day. Mary Judge (Caherlistrane ), the Galway Football Secretary, was appointed to the prestige CCCC of the GAA by new President Larry McCarthy all the way from New York. Katie won over the claims of Sam Bennett . RTE was not able to put a photograph of Bennett up on the screen, instead they put up his young French team mate Remi Cavagna a whole two days before transmission and saw nothing wrong with it, awful, shocking, dreadful! Nobody sacked yet, we understand. They would not recognise Sam if they met him on the prom on his bike! They never told us who the specially gathered panel of experts were, not surprising.

Compliments to Ian O’Riordan of the Irish Times, he told us. A Person of the Year. The argument is that Katie had a quiet year. She had just two fights and yes won the two of them. By contrast Sam had an extraordinary year on the European pro circuit. He was new. He was exciting. No contest.

*Connacht enjoyed a good win over the Dragons (30-20 ) in the Pro14. Jack Carty and Finlay Bealham won their 150th caps for Connacht the same evening. It’s just as well we had something to watch and talk about because Basketball Ireland and Hockey Ireland called it quits for the year. The GAA wasn’t sure where it was, and the League of Ireland hadn’t started. And not a sign or light of an AIL game! All we had was English league soccer and horse racing behind high walls. And it only early February. So we talked about the Coronavirus and wondered endlessly about the vaccinations, how many we had and what kind. We became authorities on Astra Zeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and whatnot. And we know all about Davy Stockbrokers, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, and James McClean and the two wans who had a procedure done in Dubai. And Bóthar. Wizard Spider, Catherine Corless, Mother and Child, Prof Mary Daly. Salthill Sundays. Edwin Poots. Up Skehana. Paul Given. And Prince Andrew. Angela Merkel – aka as the adult in the room. Its a hard auld world with Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini tight for shillings.

*Danno died on February 4. Tom Kenny called him the quintessential Galwegian. No surname needed. Energy, enthusiasm, optimism and possibilities were his calling card. Ten Connacht Senior Cup medals with ‘Wegians , that’s a record, and four Connacht caps in 1962/63. A huge asset, sport, business, politics, charity fundraising and whatever you’re having yourself.

And Seán Harty died on February 16. Seán was the first Galway national senior champion. Remember Ruacán was a national junior champion. Seán won the senior welter weight title in 1967 against Harry Mooney St Matthew’s Belfast in the National Stadium Dublin. Jim Carney said he was sheer perfection. He was.

All Blacks lose to Ireland

Oisín Heffernan from Clifden plays English Premiership rugby with Northampton Saints after a highly successful under age career. Rugby referee Owen Doyle said the young Mayo rugby find from Lacken Caelan Doris missed out on the Six Nations due to being sidelined with brain issues. Ouch! Just hate head injuries in rugby. But thanks be to goodness he recovered to be Man of the Match in Ireland’s extraordinary win over New Zealand by year’s end in the Aviva on Saturday November 13. Remember the whens, just three 2016, 2018 and 2021.

*Daithi Burke (Turloughmore ) won Galway’s only hurling All Star, his fifth and at left full back. Shauna Healy (short listed for player of the year ) and Orlaith McGrath won a Camogie All Star. Louise Ward, the Galway football captain, won a Football All Star.

Tiger Woods had a bad car crash before February was out. Suffered a fractured leg and shattered ankle. Play again? Walk again?

Gordon Elliott (43 ) disgraced in the month of Cheltenham with the photo sitting on the dead horse. The IHRB think there is something sinister about the case. So do we. Anyway Gordon Elliott was back in action by mid September and by the time he got to Navan in December all was well. Seven winners, a National Hunt first time achievement.

Sunday March 7, 2021 Sam Bennett won the first stage of the Paris – nice - with a truly extraordinary sprint finish. And the first wearer of the yellow jersey when the cyclists lined up the following morning. He won the fifth stage as well.

Very often the quiet ones are the best like Dermot Dooley. He won two Costello Cups in 1968 and 1987, imagine 20 years apart. Dermot played soccer for Ireland and the big brother Johnny Dooley played rugby for Ireland. Dermot was a member of the famed Galway Bohemians AFC, well, it was famous that time. He played in goal. He was a class act. Dermot Dooley died on March 9, 2021. All present were in agreement that Dermot was a man of even temper, a useful disposition when standing in goal for Ireland or playing in the final of a golf club’s top competition. It was announced on March 9 that no member of the public would be attending the Olympics.

Rachael Blackmore was crowned Leading Jockey at Cheltenham 2021, the first female to be so honoured. She rode six winners. And trainer Henry deBromhead won all three festival races – Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup. What a week! And we beat England in the Aviva. Gordon Elliott had a good Cheltenham (with deputy Denise Foster in charge ). We were glad. Rachael Blackmore the Sports Star of the Year? A great choice.

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