|Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane.|
'Tis the season to be jolly and the season to reflect, so here are the 12 sports stories and the headline makers of the year for Christmas 2013:
The Clare hurlers
This was the year when hurling proved itself the greatest field game in the world as the mantle of greatness passed from one team to another, Sunday after Sunday, in the most dramatic championship of them all.
It was the year when Kilkenny’s legends were exposed as mere mortals, the year when Dublin finally found their mojo with the small ball, the year when Henry Shefflin was sent off in a championship game.
More than anything, though, it was the year when Clare’s shout was heard at Croke Park on All-Ireland final Sunday again, not once but twice.
They needed a replay to finally see off Clare and take their place back at hurling’s top table but Davy Fitzgerald’s team did their manager and their county proud in that epic second game. Clare, probably, are the team of the year.
At the start of the summer it looked like the All-Ireland crown would go to Donegal, Mayo or Dublin. By the end of 2013, Sam Maguire was back in the capital and Jim Gavin was the deserving winner of the Phillips Manager of the Year award.
He got there, ahead of Davy Fitz, by winning the National Football League, the Leinster title and the All-Ireland, and all that in his first season in charge of the senior Dublin side.
Gavin did change things around from the side that won the 2011 All-Ireland under Pat Gilroy. His team were a little more adventurous, a little more glamorous and a little more believing.
As a result they were deserving winners of the September shoot-out as Mayo flattered to deceive once again, but Dublin deserved nothing more than Sam after overcoming arch rivals Kerry in the semifinals in what was the game of the century, never mind the game of the season.
This time next year Dricco will be retired and his autobiography will be a contender for number one on the Christmas best-seller list. By then we might just appreciate him for the greatest Irish player of all time that he surely is.
It wasn’t a great year for the Ireland legend, not least because his former national coach Warren Gatland dumped him to the stands for the third and decisive Lions test against Australia, a decision that still irks the Dubliner.
Nor did Leinster or Ireland acquit themselves with any great panache over the course of the last 12 months as his provincial coach Joe Schmidt replaced his international coach Declan Kidney.
But Dricco is still a genius. His Heineken Cup performance away to Northampton a week ago proved that. When he’s gone, we will miss him. Really miss him.
Martin O’Neill/Roy Keane
I’d have given you decent odds on Martin O’Neill becoming Ireland boss by the end of the year if we’d met for a Christmas pint 12 months ago. I’d have given you any odds you wanted on Roy Keane joining him as his assistant manager.
It’s not that O’Neill’s right to replace Trap was ever in any doubt. He was the man the FAI wanted when they appointed Steve Staunton in 2007, and his pedigree for the job is impeccable.
What was implausible a year ago was the notion that Keane would work for the FAI, the notion that Keane would work as a number two and the notion that he would be work with some of the players, like Robbie Keane, that he previously branded as muppets.
Well, Roy is now Ireland’s number two and so far, two friendlies into the relationship, it’s all going very well for O’Neill and Keane.
They’ve yet to be tested of course, so the next 12 months is going to be more interesting than the last two for their reign. And anything can happen in Irish football – we’ve seen that at first hand these past few weeks.
Trap is a nice man and he was a great football manager, but he should never have been in charge of the Irish team after the Euro 2012 humiliation in Poland.
It’s easy to say that now, but the performances that followed against Germany, Austria and Sweden in the failed World Cup qualifiers were embarrassing to say the least.
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