Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008, a good year for sport

Reviews of the year are tricky. It can be hard to pick over the bones of a year without overanalysing, without totting up wins and losses and coming to the wrong conclusion, without forgetting the memories and moments dotted throughout a year and remembering only the outcomes. Sport at its best should chew us up and spit us out feeling like we’ve been through something visceral, it should get us deep in the gut. Jumpthefence finds that the greatest occasions are the ones we just can’t wait to talk about, when we’re bursting to describe and dissect all that just happened. Looking back, 2008 gave us a mountain of such days.

August 16th stands out. Jumpthefence sat on the couch that afternoon half-lazy and cranky but then Usain Bolt stomped his way through the 100m final and our mouths fell open; you just knew you were watching the real deal, something damn special. Something so wonderful we rang friends to tell them about it. Later that day Tyrone gave the performance of the year in making a mockery of Dublin’s Sam Maguire ambitions – they were as chillingly remorseless as Javier Bardem's killer in No Country for Old Men, assured of their abilities and skills as they conjured three wonderfully executed goals and ripped their opponents asunder time and again. We spent that night boring everyone within earshot.

Tyrone finished the job to be top of the tree once more - Mickey Harte staking his claim for manager of a generation and Sean Cavanagh for player of a generation - by finally killing off Kerry’s stumbling, never-really-convincing attempts for three-in-a-row. This Kerry side will have Tyrone hanging over them forever, much as they might recoil from that suggestion. We also saw a humdinger of a Munster final comeback from Cork in the rain of Pairc Ui Chaoimh, we saw a Wexford surge under Jason Ryan. Hey, we saw a good year of football.

In the hurling world, we marvelled at Joe Canning’s sheer brilliance for an hour in Thurles on the same evening that Cork reached into themselves for one more (final perhaps?) showing of the specialness they possess. Cork had nothing on Kilkenny of course, the cats hurling up a storm to floor the rebels with instinctive ruthlessness and then dismantling Waterford with the kind of perfect pitch possibly seen once a generation. We’ve never been one for the underdog, preferring greatness to brave defiance; that September afternoon was simply awesome.

For all its failings and critics, soccer gave us a few decent nights out. Giovanni Trapattoni has made his own mark on our Irish team already, installing a bit of a plan of how to play, which by its nature brought a lot more belief in the players. Stephen Reid looked like becoming a real player till injury again denied him. Andy Reid became the latest cause celebre without doing anything to deserve it. Stephen Ireland became the top Irish player across the water but isn’t playing for us. Seven points from nine, and indications we know where we’re going, would have been grabbed at previously, but there are tougher games ahead.

Elsewhere, the Champions League final was an epic rollercoaster, with first Man Utd imperious, then Chelsea powerfully dominant, and then the slip by John Terry of all people to swing the title in Man Utd’s probably just about deserved direction. Ronaldo was sensational and infuriating equally. Euro 08 was a little treat of a surprise, each team – Russia, Holland, Croatia, Turkey, especially - contributing something of themselves, trying to play a bit of ball with some creativity and technique. There were hardly any dud games, plenty of excellent ones and the best team won in Spain. No complaints.

Munster did what Munster do and ground out wins however which way they needed to in winning another Heineken Cup while the Irish team fell very, very flat. Our boxers gave us more cheer (along with three medals)in the Olympics than imagined and Paul Hession was really, sensationally excellent, while the likes of Derval O’Rourke, Eileen O’Keeffe and Alistair Cragg kinda disappointed. Padraig Harrington gave us two amazing weekends with two major titles while the Cork hurlers and county board left themselves down yet again with the ongoing bickering that gets more ridiculous (was there any sadder – and we mean it in every sense – picture than that of a group of hurlers who’re refusing to play bizarrely training themselves in Mallow?) each day it continues.

But we can’t be too greedy. Overall sport in 2008 gave us more cheer than gloom. In these times we can’t ask for anything more from it.

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