A year with so many ups and downs
As we review the sporting year, it is impossible not to recall those who have passed on. Many national sporting heroes like the two Christy O'Connors, Michael 'Duxie' Walsh, Anthony 'Axel' Foley passed to their eternal reward, Walsh and Foley long before their time.
In Donegal the loss of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta GAA commentator, Séamus Mac Géidigh (pictured), has left a void that cannot be filled. His was the voice of GAA in the county for well over 20 years and he did it with not just a smile on his face, but also with a warmth of personality that left a lasting mark.
His final GAA commentary was the Donegal win over Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final replay, one of Donegal's best performances of the year.
Prior to that he had been at the Euros in France as part of the RTÉ commentary team. He has left a void, not just in the sporting sphere, but in many aspects of Donegal life, and especially in his local Gort a' Choirce.
Highlights of the Year
Once you start selecting highlights, you are likely to disappoint somebody by an omission, so I'll get the apologies in first.
Internationally, Ireland defeating the All-Blacks in Soldier Field, Chicago, in November has to go down as one of the greatest days for Irish rugby. And they did it with an understrength team. Getting the first ever win over New Zealand has to go down as one of the greatest wins ever. And coming after defeating South Africa in the summer and then defeating Australia made it a special year for that sport.
And looking at the upsurge in the fortunes of Munster (awakened by the death of 'Axel' Foley) and the strength-in-depth in Leinster, there could be good days ahead in 2017 for both provinces and for the national team.
In soccer, having one of our own take over the captaincy of the national team and show the sort of leadership and passion at the Euros and the World Cup qualifiers made it a special year. Seamie Coleman's star just seems to keep on rising. He has developed as a player and as a leader, yet retains that 'feet on the ground' approach which is so absent from many others who reach the same standard. Let's hope his leadership with Ireland continues next year (especially when Ireland meet Wales in a crucial qualifier in March) and Everton supporters will be hoping that he is not poached in the January transfer window.
The Olympic Games always hold the spotlight for sport fans when they occur and while the timing of events in Rio meant we had some late nights, there were plenty of highlights. Not least our own Sinead Jennings, who along with Claire Lambe, made the final of the Lightweight women’s double sculls. Although they didn't make the medals, making an Olympic final was a great achievement for the Letterkenny-born athlete.
We can be proud also of Chloe Magee (in her third Olympics), Brendan Boyle (second), Mark English and Kinlough's Breege Connolly, who kept the Donegal and Leitrim flags flying.
While there has been a black mark over Olympic medals for some time now because of drug scandals, who will ever forget the memory left by the O'Donovan brothers from Skibbereen when they won silver medals in the rowing. Their wit and one liners had the country on their knees and apart from being very talented sportsmen, they are also great ambassadors with great futures.
On the GAA front Donegal finished the year without any trophies but Ryan McHugh became Donegal's 22nd All-Star footballer when he was selected at left half-back on the 2016 team.
McHugh scored some memorable points for Donegal, not least in the Ulster final when Donegal succumbed to Tyrone in the last few minutes in Clones. He also got a goal against Dublin as Donegal bowed out in Croke Park in the All-Ireland quarter-final, thanks to an assist from Eamon McGee. It was to be McGee's last game for the county as he and Colm McFadden called time on their intercounty careers.
It was left to the minors to bring some success with Donegal taking Ulster Minor League and Championship honours.
On the home front McHugh’s Kilcar came up short in the Donegal county final to a Glenswilly team that were written off. Kilcar were long odds-on favourites, thanks to their demolition of Naomh Conaill in the semi-final, while Glenswilly had struggled for much of the year, but they came good when it mattered most.
We should have factored in that Kilcar were in their first final in 23 years and that Glenswilly had the big day experience, not to mention two of the best footballers we have seen for a long while in Neil Gallagher and Michael Murphy. But it was not just a two-man operation; Glenswilly were primed for the occasion and tactically they won all the major battles.
Kilcar went on to lift the Democrat Cup and the league title and no doubt they will be among the favourites again for 2017. But then the likes of St. Eunan’s, Naomh Conaill and Gaoth Dobhair will be hoping for a return to the big time. And going forward, we will never, ever again rule out Glenswilly!
Game of the Year
That would be the U-21A final between Gaoth Dobhair and Aodh Ruadh, which made nonsense of the game that we regularly see at club and county level with packed defences. These two teams went at it from the start and in the end Gaoth Dobhair, thanks to a little more experience, just prevailed.
There was one other game that probably rivalled that encounter but I was not at it. The Southern Minor final between Naomh Conaill and Aodh Ruadh was, according to those present, a magnificent encounter. The final scoreline says it all: Naomh Conaill 7-9, Aodh Ruadh 3-18. Imagine scoring 3-18 and still losing!)
Outside of Donegal, the best performance by any county should go to Tipperary, who were superb in reaching the All-Ireland semi-final playing a refreshing brand of football. Hopefully, they can build on that in 2017.
But then will it be any different next year. In the county ratings at the end of the year Donegal are listed around 5th or 6th. Dublin are still well ahead of the pack and there doesn’t seem to be an end, anytime soon, to their production line. Maybe Mayo will get their act together.
For Donegal, an Ulster title has to be the first objective (and I’m sure that’s the case). Going through the front door is probably the only way an Ulster team can have any hope of competing in the last eight.