By Sean Creedon
As we look back on the first year of the Millennium, we can safely say that it was a great year for domestic sports in Ireland, but at the international level, we probably got a pass rather than an honors mark.
At home, the GAA rules and the intercounty, interparish rivalries make
Gaelic football and hurling the Nos. 1 and 2 sports. But the question often posed by critics of the GAA is just how good are we internationally?
In October, an Aussie Rules team, more familiar with the oval ball, came to Dublin and comprehensively beat Ireland at Gaelic football.
True, club commitments robbed the Irish team of many of their top stars, but can you image an Irish team traveling to Australia and, after two weeks’ training, beating the locals in an Aussie Rules game
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using an oval ball?
But I suppose the traditionalists will be happy with Kilkenny winning the hurling final and Kerry taking Sam Maguire back to the Kingdom yet again. It’s significant that these counties won the All-Ireland titles. In D.J. Carey and Seamus Moynihan they possess two players who are brilliant exponents of our amateur games.
The other significant happening in the GAA was the formation of the Gaelic Players Association. The GPA’s critics’ claim that they cater to only the elite players, but I think they will keep the pressure on the GAA and ensure that the players’ contribution will be recognized.
However, there were some great performances at international level in soccer, rugby, horse racing and track and field.
Sonia O’Sullivan did the country proud, picking up a silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the Olympic Games in Sydney. But overall the Irish team’s performance in Sydney was poor and inquiries have been set
up to try to find how out why this happened.
When the draw was made for the soccer World Cup qualifiers, not many people, this writer included, gave the Republic much hope of having five points in the bag by Christmas. But thanks to away draws in
Holland and Portugal and a home victory over Estonia, Mick McCarthy should feel happy with The Boys in Green.
The debate over Eircom Park has raged all year, and with the Irish Rugby Football Union making a commitment to join Bertie Ahern in his new stadium, it looks like the FAI will eventually have to row in with
the taoiseach’s plans.
Our rugby team also performed very well on the international scene. After a disastrous opening game in which Ireland were hammered 50-18 by England, Ireland went on to beat Scotland and Italy and won in Paris for the first time since 1972, with Brian O’Driscoll getting three tries. But Wales’ Niall Jenkins spoiled our hopes of four victories in a row when he kicked two late penalties which gave the Welsh victory at Lansdowne Road.
Since I was a child, the Aintree Grand National has always been the horse racing event of the year. Kildare-based trainer Ted Walsh was a proud man last April when his horse Papillon, ridden by his son Ruby, won in Aintree. A few weeks later the same team won the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse with Commanche Court.
And there was a treble for the John Oxx-trained Sinndar, who won the English Derby, Budweiser Irish Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Those wins earned the Kildare-based trainer the Philips Irish Manager of the Year award. Charlie Swan made it three Champions Hurdle in a row when he rode Istabraq to victory at Cheltenham. Danoli, the "People’s Champion" made a comeback but eventually had to be retired.
Although beaten in the Volvo Masters, golfer Darren Clarke moved to the top of the European order of Merit in November.
Other significant moves saw the GAA break with tradition and vote for a second chance for all counties in the All-Ireland football championship.
Sadly, during the year we lost two great sport writers in Dave Guiney and Raymond Smith. And Joey Dunlop, arguably Ireland’s greatest motor cyclist, was killed while racing in Estonia in July.