Brendan Crossan: From the green fields of France to Oriel Park and the Bronx
The Boot Room looks back on an eventful year for Irish sport...
BEST POST-MATCH INTERVIEW
“I grew up waiting and dreaming to play at this stage and to go and do it in front of my family is the best feeling in the world.” - The Republic of Ireland’s Robbie Brady captures the moment after his goal that sunk Italy at the Euro 2016 finals in France
BEST PRESS CONFERENCE
“I always felt the Everton players were going to turn up on crutches or crawling in the hotel door and now it looks like we are probably going to have that issue again with Koeman... I’m not sure when the last time they won a trophy, I think it was a good number of years ago. Maybe overloading players and players playing lots of games is a good thing. That means your club has been successful and lads are playing week in, week out, playing midweek games.” - Nobody shoots from the hip better than Roy Keane
SECOND BEST PRESS CONFERENCE
“My reaction to Aiden’s performance? He can do a lot better, but maybe that’s the story of Aiden’s career. He needs to play better than he did against Belarus to force his way into the starting 11.” - On the eve of Euro 2016, Roy Keane rattles Aiden McGeady’s cage following Ireland’s pre-Euro 2016 friendly defeat to Belarus
BEST TWITTER ACCOUNT
"Thinking of starting a Tigers Bay GAA team. Give me a year and we’d be All Ireland club champions." - Carl Frampton achieves more in one tweet than Stormont does in a year
"Cliff Richard doing one of the worst miming performances of all time on @thismorning." - It’s all rock ’n roll being a two-weight world champion
"If @JoeGormley9 joins @CrusadersFC we’ll win the Champions league." - Avid Crusaders fan Frampton knows his football
"Anybody struggling to sleep? Me vs Quigg is on Sky sports 3 now. Sorted." - Frampton reminds everybody how mind-numbing the first nine rounds were against Scott Quigg back in February
BEST ADRENALIN RUSH
Undoubtedly, Carl Frampton’s masterclass to take Leo Santa Cruz’s WBA featherweight title on points in New York back in July. From the moment he planted his feet in the first round to countering the Mexican’s advances, fight fans sensed the Tiger’s Bay man could pull off a sensational victory.
Not only did he carry his power up from the super bantamweight ranks, Frampton’s ability to bob and weave and make Santa Cruz miss so many times - particularly in the ninth round - was as good as anything you’d see from former greats Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker or Floyd Mayweather.
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year panel omitting Carl Frampton from their candidates list.
Former Cliftonville striker Liam Boyce missing out on a place in Northern Ireland’s Euro 2016 squad. A couple of injuries during the season didn’t help the Ross County striker’s claims as Will Grigg sneaked into the squad ahead of him.
Given the variety in his game, it seemed a mistake not to take the free-scoring striker to France.
BEST GOALKEEPING PERFORMANCE
Michael McGovern’s display for Northern Ireland against world champions Germany at Euro 2016 was outrageous. The Fermanagh native made a string of saves to keep the score to just 1-0.
Without McGovern’s heroics, the Germans would have cantered to a 5-0 or 6-0 win.
MOST INSPIRING QUOTE
“I don’t buy into the whole concept or the train of thought from many commentators that say it’s in our DNA to play high up the pitch and it suits us [Irish teams] to play a more direct style. I just can’t agree with that. I cannot tell you how strongly I disagree with that. But that’s the narrative and people believe that, and they’re conditioned to believe it. And we go back and blame how kids are coached at U10 or something. It’s about the ability to pass the ball, believing in yourself and the ability to fulfil your potential as players and as a team and seeing where that takes you.” - Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny points the way forward for all soccer coaches in Ireland.
MOST POIGNANT INTERVIEW
“Then I came on in the second-half and it was like a switch - he wanted me to do well for Armagh. He always said to me: ‘If you’re playing against Tyrone, I’d like you to score six or seven points, but Tyrone to win’.” - Armagh player Rory Grugan speaks so eloquently three months after the tragic death of his father John Grugan.
The FAI Cup final between Dundalk and Cork City at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium was seconds away from a penalty shoot-out when Cork striker Sean Maguire’s deflected shot trickled into the unguarded part of Dundalk’s net.
It was rough justice on the Airtricity League champions and denied them back-to-back league and cup doubles. The Lilywhites had ample opportunities to win this final, but the script was written for one of their former players to come back and haunt them by scoring the winning goal in the dying seconds.
LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Eamonn McGee announced his inter-county retirement soon after Donegal’s season concluded with a defeat to Dublin. During 17 years interviewing GAA players for The Irish News, McGee was the most enjoyable.
He never engaged in clichés. You could ask the 2012 All-Ireland winner about anything, from the theory of evolution to gay marriage, and he would happily indulge the question.
You never saw the time going in when you were writing up one of McGee’s interviews. He was no angel on the field, but great company off it.
WHEN A GOAL CELEBRATION GOES WRONG
Matthew Fitzpatrick’s interview was probably the funniest of 2016. Speaking at the Antrim footballers’ press night ahead of their Ulster Championship clash with Fermanagh, the St John’s man told The Irish News the only reason Patrick McBride got on the team was because he was Gearóid Adams’ nephew.
He also recalled scoring in the Division Four league final against Louth at Croke Park and how his planned ‘Dab’ celebration didn’t actually happen.
“I lost a bit of composure with my celebration,” he said.
“I had one planned, but I fluffed my lines. I just gave it the old ‘Yaaaah’ [punching the air]. I was going to do ‘the Dab’… It’s the thing that American footballers and basketballers are doing.”
We could do with a few more Fitzys in the GAA.
BEST TEAM PERFORMANCE
The Ireland rugby team’s epic win over New Zealand in Chicago, their first-ever triumph over the All Blacks in 111 years.
BEST PERFORMANCE FROM THE DEFEATED
Cushendall were well beaten by Limerick’s Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland Club Hurling final at Croke Park, but Shane McNaughton played the shirt off his back.
The Irish News report read: “Shane McNaughton was the best Ruairí Óg had to offer. Wearing his familiar green helmet, everything about McNaughton’s performance was magnificent. He was a glowing parable for never quitting.
“Although this final was over as a contest long before the final whistle, McNaughton played with an effervescence you normally don’t see among the defeated. His stick work was immaculate, buying him precious time and space.
"He hit four brilliant points, the best of which came in the 53rd minute. Twisting one way then the other, his movement seemed to defy the laws of geometry before splitting Na Piarsaigh’s posts…”
STAND-OFF IN TYRONE
Mickey Harte’s two-year extension request was turned down, much to the chagrin of his players. In an interview with The Irish News, Red Hand ’keeper Niall Morgan summed up the squad’s feelings on the subject.
“We’re talking about it, the county board is obviously talking about it, people within the county are talking about it - and it just creates a level of uncertainty around everything, which is no good for anybody," Morgan said.
“To me, what the refusal of an extension said is the county board don’t think Mickey’s going to do well next year. They mustn’t feel that we’re going to be successful next year, that we need to get rid of Mickey after next year.
"It’s a weird situation.”
This Boot Room gong is more prestigious than the winners of Strictly. Drum-roll, please… There were a few memorable spreads on the GAA circuit in 2016.
I recall an exquisite chicken curry half-and-half alongside Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin in Ardboe’s fine establishment The Tilley Lamp back in February. The hospitality was first class.
The Ulster Council pulled out all the stops at their Dr McKenna Cup launch at Belfast’s Fitzwilliam Hotel last month. Any day you see mini-hamburgers on the menu is a good day.
But the Antrim press night at O’Donnell’s GAC in west Belfast in May was stupendous. It had everything, but most of all it had plenty. ‘Titch’ and the boys, take a bow.
Spread. Of. The. Year. Could. Not. Move. For. A. Fortnight.
TEAM OF THE YEAR
Dundalk. The League of Ireland champions made history by becoming the first Irish team to win a game - against Maccabi Tel Aviv - in the group stages of the Europa League.
They produced a memorable display against Legia Warsaw in the second leg of their Champions League play-off before giving Zenit St Petersburg, AZ Alkmaar and Macaibi major scares in the Europa League group stages.
CLUB OF THE YEAR
The greatest human cooperative ever created by man, better known as Robert Emmet’s, Slaughtneil GAC.
PICTURE OF THE YEAR
The ecstasy etched on Chrissy McKaigue’s face when lifting the Four Seasons Cup. Slaughtneil have more than punched their weight in Ulster hurling in recent years, but to bounce back from the heart-breaking 2015 final defeat to Cushendall to oust Loughgiel back in October was a tremendous achievement.
Robbie Brady’s late winner for the Republic of Ireland against Italy at the Euro 2016 finals that enabled the Green Army to reach the knock-out stages.
SECOND BEST MOMENT
Robbie Benson’s first-half strike for Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium in September that sunk Europa League opponents Maccabi Tel Aviv.
THIRD BEST MOMENT
Iceland's Euro 2016 finals win over an atrocious England team and the look on Roy Hodgson’s face.
Derry boss Damian Barton was shoved to the ground by Tyrone’s Cathal McCarron in a feisty Dr McKenna final at the beginning of the year. As punishment, Barton was banished to the stands for most of Derry’s NFL campaign.
The Newbridge man was miffed by the GAA’s appeals process. After their last league game and freed from the purgatory of the stands, Barton spoke to reporters for the first time since the incident.
"Any regrets?", we asked: “With hindsight, I should have retaliated,” said Damian.
FAREWELL TO ROBBIE
Nobody throws a retirement party quite like Robbie Keane. Scorer of a record-breaking 68 goals, the Republic of Ireland striker made his 146th and final international appearance against Oman in August.
GIVE RESPECT, GET RESPECT
Former Antrim defender and Cargin clubman Tony Scullion aimed a broadside at referee Pádraig Hughes after being sent-off in his club’s Ulster championship showdown with Killyclogher.
Scullion was angered by the allegedly dismissive attitude the match officials displayed as he made his way to the sideline: “I asked Pádraig why exactly I got my second yellow card and his reply to me was: ‘Bye bye’.
“I went to the linesman off the field - again, mannerly - and I asked: ‘What exactly was that for?’ And he said: ‘Cheerio’. They [referees] have on their jerseys: ‘Give Respect, Get Respect’. We deserve respect too.
"We are entitled to know what the decision is.”
TWO BEST JOURNEYS
Following Ruairí Óg, Cushendall in their quest for All-Ireland glory and covering Dundalk’s fantastic displays on the European stage.
MAN OF THE YEAR
Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny for the way in which his team played the game.
MOST REGRETTABLE TWEET
Mayo ’keeper Rob Hennelly taking to social media to mourn his All-Ireland final mistake.
MOST REGRETTABLE MANAGERIAL DECISION
The Mayo management’s decision to drop ’keeper David Clarke for the All-Ireland final replay against Dublin, despite his Allstar form. This was a classic case of a management team over-thinking things and trying to be too clever by half.
Rob Hennelly got the nod for the replay and made an error that effectively cost Mayo the Sam Maguire.
Derry GAA’s Dermot McPeake was a class act in every sense and has just stepped down from the role. Sean Kelly of Antrim has excelled in his first year in the job, while it’s worth mentioning Dundalk FC’s PRO Darren Crawley, who was brilliant to deal with.
THE HORRORS OF RIO
There was an awful sense of foreboding for Ireland’s boxing team once Paddy Barnes crashed out of the Olympics after just one bout. And things didn’t fare much better for Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan, who probably did enough to progress but fell foul of controversial decisions.
At least the O’Donovan brothers, Paul and Gary from Skibbereen, put a smile on Irish faces for their rowing exploits in Rio.
BIGGEST FAUX PAS
The GAA scoreboard took on a mind of its own during the Christy Ring final between Antrim and Meath - a day that will forever haunt referee John O’Brien.
Due to a scoring tally mistake - the game had actually finished in a draw - Meath were awarded the cup. But the men from the Royal county were forced to replay the fixture and they made no mistake second time around.
Hard to split Kieran Donaghy’s autobiography What Do You Think of That?, ghost-written by Kieran Shannon and the recently published biography of Jack Charlton, crafted by Colin Young.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Derided for his Championship performances against Donegal, Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh showed what leadership and big-game mentality is all about.
The Moy man hit three points in the 2016 Ulster final in Clones and the manner of his equalising score in the closing stages was outrageous and a great moment for the three-time All-Ireland winner.
Muhammad Ali, who passed away on June 3, aged 74.