2016 was an incredible year for West Cork sport and it’s one we will miss, so let’s relive the top ten sporting moments from last year. This wasn’t an easy task by any means and our Sports Editor KIERAN McCARTHY had to make some tough decisions that certainly caused a few grey hairs and stress lines
10 – Maria’s magic
She’s in her Leaving Cert year in Mount St Michael, Rosscarbery and she’s still only 17 – but Maria Nagle has already achieved more in her bowling career than most will in their lifetime.
Having won back-to-back All-Ireland U16 titles in 2014 and ’15, she added the All-Ireland U18 title at the end of July in Armagh, but it was her gold-medal winning performance in the U18 girls’ event at the European Championships in Ootmarsum, The Netherlands in mid-May that stole the headlines. In a thrilling battle, she delivered in style with two big last shots to win by 107 metres from Lisa Jonkers.
9– Bridging the gap
West Cork prides itself on its motorsport tradition and one man, in particular, has done more than his fair share to uphold this honour: Keith Cronin. The Ballylickey driver is a former three-time British Rally Championship winner and in early October he added the Clonakilty Blackpudding Irish Tarmac Championship to his impressive CV.
A fourth-place finish in the Cork ‘20’ International Rally guaranteed Cronin this prestigious national title, as he bridged a 32-year gap since the last Cork man, Billy Coleman, won the title. It was the ideal end to a season of twists and turns.
8 – Make mine a double
What an amazing 2016 it was for Bandon GAA Club as it got its hands on not one, but two county titles in the space of eight days! On Sunday, October 9th, Bandon returned to the senior hurling ranks when they clinched the Cork Premier Intermediate Hurling Championship by beating Fermoy in the final (1-20 to 1-8) and on the same Páirc Uí Rinn surface the following Sunday, the Bandon footballers – with largely the same group of players – edged past Rockchapel in the Cork Intermediate Football Championship final (1-10 to 1-7). Two county finals, two wins, two promotions and in two different codes – not a bad year, all considered.
7– All that glitters is gold
For all their success, fame and adulation in 2016 (and they’re not going to appreciate this one too much!), Gary and Paul O’Donovan, as a team in the Irish men’s lightweight double sculls, actually only won one final together – but it was an historic achievement. When the Lisheen brothers won gold at the European Championships in Brandenburg, Germany on May 8th, beating a fancied Norwegian crew, they became the first Irish rowers ever to win gold at the Europeans. It was an early indicator in an Olympic year that the lads were on track for bigger and better things. Little were we to know then how big it would be.
6 – From the depths of hell!
In April, Ballineen’s Phil Healy, an Irish sprinter better known for her 60m, 100m and 200m exploits, became a global internet sensation after video footage of her heroics for the UCC 4x400m relay team at the Irish University Championships at Morton Stadium went viral. Phil, running the last lap, picked up the baton in a very distant fifth but, ‘from the depths of hell’, she produced a run for the ages, picking off her competitors one by one – incredibly clawing back 70 metres in a 400m race – before hitting the front down the home straight and collapsing across the line.
The athletics comeback queen made the headlines as far away as America, Australia and New Zealand.
5 – A Sweet moment
Darren Sweetnam will look back fondly on 2016. The former Doheny hurler made his first competitive start for Munster in the Guinness PRO12 away to Zebre in January, and played in nine games in total in the 2015/16 season, with the late Munster coach Anthony Foley telling The Southern Star in February that ‘Darren has certainly stepped up and has taken his opportunities well’.
He scored his first try against Cardiff last March. The Dunmanway man cemented his growing reputation as a flying winger with an excellent start to the 2016/17 campaign, emerging as Munster’s standout player so far this season, scoring an outrageous solo try in the province’s great win against the Maori All Blacks at Thomond in November, and was called up to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland squad as well. What a year it’s been.
4 – Striking gold
Less than two weeks after winning a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Rio with his older brother Gary, Paul O’Donovan went out on his own at the world senior rowing championships in Rotterdam – and blazed his way to an amazing gold medal in the men’s lightweight single sculls A final on August 27th.
A remarkable week of competition saw Paul blitz his rivals, and win the world final by over four seconds – and he was pulling away from the field crossing the line – as the Lisheen man became a world rowing champion, joining an elite club. That led to another former Irish world champion rower Niall O’Toole declaring Paul as ‘the greatest Irish rower ever’. Paul’s reply: ‘They’re only talking shite!’
3– Power Rangers
The long wait is over, the team that seemed destined to miss out on the Cork senior football championship finally got their hands on the silverware they craved when Carbery Rangers won the Andy Scannell Cup on Sunday, October 16th by beating Ballincollig (1-15 to 1-12) at Páirc Uí Rinn.
The most consistent senior football team in Cork club football this decade (reaching six of the last seven semi-finals) was a junior club up until 2003, had never won the Cork SFC – but they made history in style and sparked huge celebrations in Rosscarbery. Ross are now top of the pile.
2 – The Wembley Wonder
Even Roy of the Rovers would have to tip his hat at Conor Hourihane’s achievements in 2016. When the Bandon man was made Barnsley captain at the end of 2015, the Tykes were struggling in the relegation zone but by the end of May, Conor had captained the club to two Wembley final wins. Barnsley beat Oxford United 3-2 in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final on April 3rd and then on May 29th, the former Bandon AFC starlet led the club to a 3-1 League 1 play-off final and promotion to the Championship, again at Wembley. Not only did Conor become the first West Cork man to captain winning teams at Wembley, but the classy midfielder (25) went on to win the EFL Championship Player of the Month Award for August after a terrific start to the 2016/17 season. His reward was a call-up to the Republic of Ireland senior provisional squad, twice, for World Cup qualifiers.
1– Our Silver Bullets
It couldn’t really be anything but this, could it? There’s an argument that Gary and Paul O’Donovan could dominate this top ten list all on their own – and that’s just with their antics during the Olympic Games in Rio when these rowing-mad brothers from Lisheen captured the hearts of the nation and beyond with their performances in the men’s lightweight double sculls and their post-race interviews.
But when it mattered, the lads produced the goods in the A final in Rio on August 12th, racing to silver medals – Ireland’s first-ever Olympic rowing medals – only half a second behind the French and just ahead of Norway in third. Suddenly, Gary and Paul’s cult status rocketed, they were national heroes. There were unforgettable scenes that day in Skibbereen, and for their homecoming in September. Gary and Paul put Lisheen, Skibbereen and West Cork on the world map.