|Rory McIlroy was as big a star as anyone in 2012|
The 2012 calendar year for Irish sports fans was one filled with glorious moments of sheer delight as well as gutting moments of despair and disappointment. National pride took its hits and blows repeatedly, but some athletes kept fighting through the blows to deliver what fans' dreams were made of.
10. Underdogs Ulster Reach Heineken Cup Final.
Ireland's recent struggles as an international footballing powerhouse(!) have opened the doors to this other sport known as rugby. A sport at which the Irish international teams have recently dominated at different levels. The International team has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but there has been a level of consistency at the provincial level that has surpassed all expectations. Leinster have become the most feared club side in the world, but their counterparts in the North, Ulster, have timed their rise to prominence perfectly as Munster appear to slide out of relevance. Ulster shocked European Rugby this year when they marched their way into the 2012 Heineken Cup Final, only to be beaten by an unstoppable Leinster side. With youth on their side however, the future appears bright for this province.
9. Euro 2012.
There is no doubt that Ireland's record-breaking display at the Euro 2012 Football Championships was one of the most disappointing aspects of the 2012 sporting year. However, it shouldn't be forgotten that Ireland making the championships in the first place was a major achievement and while the team failed to flatter themselves, the fan-base only raised the international perception of the Irish people as a whole.
8. Notre Dame Visit Aviva Stadium.
On September 1st, an unfamiliar and diverse group of sports fans descended upon Dublin. Thousands of American Football fans came from all over the world to witness an event that would forever remain in their memories. The "hometown" Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team renewed their fierce rivalry with the Navy Football team at the Aviva the Stadium. While the game itself wasn't memorable, Notre Dame dominated Navy and racked up a huge score, it will go down as the beginning of a very memorable season for the college and all its fans. Notre Dame didn't enter the season as favorites for the BCS Championship, in fact they weren't close, but a surprise unbeaten season under head coach Brian Kelly has sent the team all the way to the grand final of the 2012 college football season.
7. Celtic's Miracle Victory Over Barcelona.
Although it took place on Scottish soil, was created by a Kenyan head paired with a Scottish foot, and will go down in history as one of the greatest moments in Scottish Club Football's history, Ireland's affinity with Celtics' victory over Barcelona is more than acceptable. The Glasgow based club, a minnow of European football, beat arguably the greatest club football side in the history of the game when a combination of Victor Wanyamma and 18-year-old Tony Watt goals allowed them to beat Barcelona 2-1 at home. It was only a group game, but it propelled the club into the next stage of the competition and made thousands upon thousands of Irish fans rejoice.
6. Donegal Win the All-Ireland Football Championship.
In September, Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden both scored 1-04 to lead Jim McGuinness' Donegal to an unlikely second All-Ireland Football Championship title. The Ulster champions won their first championship 20 years previous and manager McGuinness had endured plenty of criticism for the way his team played in the previous season. Donegal beat Mayo in the final by 2-11 to 0-13.