Category: Archive

Echoes of the Millennium: 100 years of Irish sporting excellence

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Sean Creedon

As we come near the end of the century, I thought it might be appropriate to look back briefly over 100 years in Irish sports.

Having been born and raised in Kerry, I developed a great love of sport from my father and uncle, who brought me to many a game in Killarney and Cork. The Irish Press was the daily paper in the Creedon household and we all loved the way they carried sports news on the back page, unlike The Independent, where you always had to go looking for sports coverage.

In the early decades of this century, most Irish sporting feats seem to have been reserved for athletics. At the St. Louis Olympics in 1904, Tom Kiely took the gold medal in the all-around championship, the forerunner of today’s decathlon. Two years later, Peter O’Connor, representing Great Britain was the long jump champion at the unofficial Olympics in Athens. In 1908, Nenagh-born Johnny Hayes, representing America was declared the winner of the Marathon in London, after Italian Pietro Durando was disqualified after being helped over the line. Five years later, Patrick Ryan set the first IAAF hammer world record with a throw of 57.77 meters in New York.

In 1914, Clare won their first All-Ireland hurling title, a feat not to be repeated for 81 years. The following year Bertie Donnelly won the first of his 61 Irish senior cycling championships.

The 1920s saw the big split in soccer when the Dublin club Shelbourne refused to travel to Belfast for a Cup replay. The FAI was established in Dublin and since then our island has produced two international teams.

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More glory at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1931 when Dr. Pat O’Callaghan retained his hammer title and Bob Tisdall won the 400-meter hurdles title.

The 1940s was a great era for Cork with the emergence of Christy Ring and Jack Lynch. Ring won the first of his eight All-Ireland medals in 1941 and Jack Lynch made history by winning six All-Ireland senior medals in a row, five hurling and one football.

Also in the ’40s, the great Jack Kyle led Ireland to our first and only rugby grand slam. And John Joe Barry, the "Ballinacurra Hare" won the British AAA three-mile title.

Race horse trainer Vincent O’Brien will certainly remember the ’50s. Cottage Rake won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years in a row and the Ballydoyle trainer also sent out three Grand National winners — Early Mist, Royal Tan and Quare Times.

And who could forget the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne when Ronnie Delany won gold in the 1,500 meters.

The 1960s saw the arrival of RTE Television and the 1966 World Cup played in England was the first introduction to soccer for many young people in Ireland. Television also brought the magic of George Best into our homes.

At home, Down brought new color to the GAA with their black shorts, and Arkle was our hero, winning three successive Cheltenham Gold Cups.

The emergence of the great Dublin and Kerry teams, which dominated Gaelic football for many years, was the highlight of the 1970s. And John Treacy became the first Irishman to win the World Cross-Country Championship.

So much happened in the 1980s, it’s difficult to cram into a paragraph. The Irish rugby team, under captain Ciaran Fitzgerald, rediscovered their pride, runner John Treacy won silver in Los Angeles, Stephen Roche won the Tour de France, Dennis Taylor was World Snooker champion, Eamon Coghlan was chairman of the boards, Seamus Darby ended Kerry’s hopes of five in a row, and a Ray Houghton goal gave us a memorable win over England at Euro ’88.

And those memories from the 1990s are still very fresh in our mind. That penalty shoot-out against Romania in Genoa, victory over Italy in New Jersey, Brian Kerry’s success at underage level, Sonia O’Sullivan’s joy and heartbreak. Olympic medals for boxers Michael Carruth and Wayne McCullough and swimmer Michelle Smith de Bruin, although the latter’s haul has since been tarnished by her subsequent banned from international competition for tampering with a drug test.

There have of course been many other sporting heroes, which goes to show that for a small nation we have produced our share of sports stars.

(Sean Creedon is a free-lance sports writer in Dublin.)

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