Some of the delighted Ballinaglera supporters celebrating their victory in the Intermediate Championship Semi-Finals, a reminder of what sport should be all about Picture: Willie Donnellan
Sometimes this column is a breeze, the words flow easily and hey presto job done! Not this week, no siree - this week, The Last Point is dedicated to my own highs and lows from the 2021 sporting year and let's just say I’ve been dreading it for quite a while now.
Dread is a strange sensation but, it perfectly sums up the feeling in my gut as I go over the good, the bad and the ugly of 2021, a feeling exacerbated as I read the thoughts of all those who have contributed so far to our Sports Review of the Year. Willie Donnellan really got the ball rolling but when you read the words of stars like Niall Morahan, Muireann Devaney, Ricki Wynne, Clare Owens with Dean McGovern and Gerard O’Donnell to come next week, you start to wonder just 'what can I say'.
My media colleagues John Lynch, PJ Leddy and Darren Mulvey, again in next week’s edition, are no less persuasive of what made a great year. So much so that I have second thoughts on what I was going to include.
Rachel Blackmore’s performances obviously impressed so many people - I get the scale of her achievement, marvel at them but because I’m not a horsey person, they just don’t resonate in the same way with me.
That leaves me second guessing myself, should I include the Tipperary woman in my list. But this is supposed to be subjective. Some of my picks will echo the picks of those who have contributed, some will definitely not but I love having a different voice in these pages, a different viewpoint to mine and it certainly is illuminating. Anyway, here goes my picks for the year.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR: Starting slightly leftfield here as I’m going to go with a team that didn’t win anything but left an indelible mark on their community. Only someone with a heart of stone would not have been moved by the scenes after their semi-final when Ballinaglera qualified for the 2021 Intermediate Championship Final and the bond between players and supporters is something I’ll remember for a long, long time. Really brought home how much a team can mean to their community.
A close second was the raucous and unfettered celebrations that greeted Ballinamore Sean O’Heslins’ victory in the County Senior Final - when I first arrived in Leitrim, you got the impression that Ballinamore, so used they were to winning, hardly celebrated lifting the Fenagh Cup (unless they beat Aughawillan in the final!) but the scenes in Pairc Sean last October were truly epic and definitely memorable.
Third, the excitement, drama and celebrations of Leitrim Ladies’ victory over Clare in the championship in a sun-drenched Ballinasloe makes that very much another day to remember.
Finally, wonderful to see Gerard O'Donnell complete yet another amazing year capped off by being part of the coaching team that look after two members of the Irish Mixed 4 x 400m team who reached an Olympic Final in Tokyo.
Carrick AC's Gerard O'Donnell pictured with Cillin Greene and Sophie Becker of Ireland Mixed 4 x 400m team who reached the Olympic Final in Tokyo - definitely one of the highlights of the year
LOWLIGHT OF THE YEAR: Unfortunately there are a few! Leitrim Ladies’ Division 4 Final loss was tough and you’d expect the hammering in Castlebar would stand out above all else but I don’t think I was ever as deflated than I was after Leitrim’s U20 footballers suffered a ten minute meltdown either side of halftime against Roscommon in the rain in Hyde Park last July. Brendan Guckian’s side went toe to toe with a team that eventually reached the All-Ireland Final and didn’t look out of place but four goals in ten crazy minutes reduced a team that oozed class to a sodden, sorry mess. Tough to watch - even tougher on a group of lads who didn’t deserve that scoreline.
Also can't let this go by without mentioning the sad passing of Packie McGarty & Cathal Flynn, two Leitrim legends, and Carrick AC's Michael O'Brien, another legend but an even better friend, who also passed away in 2021.
EASIER OR TOUGHER IN 2021 DEALING WITH THE PANDEMIC: Early in May and June, it was tough with restricted or no crowds permitted and it definitely does affect how much you enjoy a game. It got easier however, so much that there were times you’d almost forget there was a pandemic!
PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR: So many to consider here - first the honourable mentions! Jakob Ingebrigtsen, Karsten Warholm, Sydney McLaughlin & Yulimar Rojas (all athletics), our rowers, our boxers, the class of Michael Murphy in spite of injury struggles while interviewing the long serving Liam Ferguson stood out after Ballinamore's County Final win. But in the end, I’ve gone with a tie between Kellie Harrington and Paul O’Donovan, two different characters who inspire awe with their performances but even more with their attitude, drive and personalities.
TEAM OF THE YEAR: I thought of going with Team Ireland from the Olympics or maybe just the rowing squad or even the boxers and the Mixed 4 x 400m team reaching the Olympic final. Hard to look past Sean O’Heslins but the achievements of Glencar Manorhamilton Ladies in winning a Connacht Intermediate title in June and reaching the Senior Final in December mean they get the nod.
PERSON OR EVENT THAT MADE YOU DO WOW IN 2021: The European Cross-country championships in Dublin right before Christmas was my own little slice of heaven - what a day it was for the athletics junkie!
Ireland's U23 gold medal winning European Cross-country team celebrate with their medals - the entire event made John Connolly go "wow" in 2021 Picture: Sportsfile
ONE THING I’D DO TO MAKE SPORT BETTER IN 2022: So much of what sport and recreation delivers just can’t be measured by the chequebook or gate receipts and revenue returns but unfortunately, financial sustainability and population density is the mantra of funding agencies. If there is one thing I could change is to get those bodies to provide adequate sporting facilities, indoor and out, for all areas of the country and all sports, not just the big three, particularly in lower density population areas like Leitrim and the west of Ireland. It is the least we deserve.
ONE TO WATCH IN 2022: Was going to go with Tom Prior but fair to say that after 2021, he has already arrived. Megan McGovern on the Ladies scene is one to watch, Glencar Manor’s Barry McNulty stood out as well in 2021 but might need a few more years but I think I’ll go with Leitrim Gaels' Daniel O’Sullivan who impressed me with club and county over the past 12 months - one definitely to watch.
SEE WWW.LEITRIMOBSERVER.IE AND THIS WEEK'S LEITRIM OBSERVER FOR MORE OF OUR SPORTS REVIEW OF 2021
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