Hawkeye Sidekick

Opinion: The year in review (sporting and personal take)

The end of 2021 is nigh, a year where the Covid-19 pandemic still loomed large all around the globe. A year which was a mixed bag truth be told. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the year from his perspective, calling out the sporting and personal highs and lows in the process. Have a good Christmas and prosperous, healthy 2022!

Sporting Highs

Marquee year for Irish sportswomen

A year where Irish women led the way in individual sporting brilliance. Rachael Blackmore’s incredible results in Cheltenham and Aintree. Kellie Harrington sweeping all opponents aside to secure Olympic gold. The Irish rowing women’s four storming to a bronze medal in the Olympics.

Given that two of the ladies on that boat were from Galway, the celebrations around Barna and Moycullen were an exceptional highlight. Ellen Keane secured gold in the swimming pool (Paralympics). Katie Taylor doing what she is always done, win with panache and class. Leona Maguire had a superb year in golf. The Solheim Cup performance was the icing on the cake for the Cavan lady who is destined for major success soon.

A year where we saw the Meath ladies football team win the senior crown in their first season in the grade. Vicki Wall oozing class, power and skill in the championship. Katie George Dunlevy and Eve McCrystal powering their way to cycling gold. Vera Pauw and ladies senior side in prime position to secure a playoff qualification spot. Let’s hope the girls in green can secure qualification for the World Cup; it would do the women’s game in this country wonders!

Standout men performances

Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy took rowing gold, controlling race after race leaving their rivals in their wake. Aidan Walsh secured bronze in the boxing ring.

The emergence of young talent coming to the fore. Tyrone footballers oozed class in their Sam Maguire win over Mayo. Limerick hurlers produced an exhibition for the ages in the All Ireland SHC final win over Cork. Cian Lynch majestic in open play.

Stephen Kenny and management gave several superb prospects game time for the senior soccer squad. The emergence of Gavin Bazunu, Caoimhin Kelleher, Jason Knight, Andew Omobamidele, Chiedozie Ogbene, Nathan Collins, Troy Parrott, Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah bodes well for the national side heading into the Nations League campaign next June.

The emergence of Cork hurling underage success a warning for all rivals that the Rebels are alive and well. Treaty United’s debut season in the SSE Airtricity was a welcome distraction to the pandemic restrictions for me personally. Shamrock Rovers excelled in domestic league title honors while St. Patrick’s Athletic beat Bohemians in the FAI Cup final.

Ireland men’s senior rugby side showing signs of progression but we have been down this road before midway during a World Cup cycle. A competitive 6 Nations tournament beckons next year with France, England, Scotland and the always competitive Welsh. Will Sexton continue past this season? New Zealand win was the standout moment for the side this year.

Sporting Lows

Soccer

Luxembourg loss. No point sugar coating. It was an awful display. Stephen Kenny was hanging by a thread after this game. Marc Valdes goal for Andorra, more pressure on Kenny but the young guns came through.

Looking for the prospects that Stephen Kenny has given soccer international game minutes this season to get more game time next year. Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah in particular need regular club game minutes to increase confidence and score goals. Otherwise, these guys will cast adrift unfortunately.

No Munster representation in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division albeit when Waterford United board decided to terminate Marc Bircham’s managerial tenure a couple of days before the UCD playoff loss, it was no surprise. Several Munster derbies in the first division with Cobh, Cork, Waterford and Treaty United in the mix. Let’s hope at least one of these sides goes up to the top tier next season. The league needs it!

More Munster Rugby woe

Munster Rugby looking further away from getting over the line in big games. Toulouse exposed Munster Rugby in the Heineken Champions Cup while Leinster Rugby dominated Munster Rugby in the Guinness Pro14 final. Munster Rugby looking for a new head coach next year. Does this mean a new project overhaul again?

Ireland women’s rugby governance.

Several flashpoints throughout the year. The disgraceful treatment of interprovincial teams having to change outdoors next to refuse bins is a bad image for the IRFU. The subsequent World Cup qualification failure, the comments from Anthony Eddy and the divide between head of performance and past / present playing group leading to a meeting between players representatives and the government the key points. Women’s rugby in this country deserves better!

Mayo footballers

Will they ever get over the line and win Sam Maguire? After beating Dublin in the All Ireland semi-final, stars looked to be lining up perfect but Tyrone were superb in the final. They picked their moments to score the decisive goals and win with plenty to spare. Oisin Mullin now gone to AFL, huge loss. More Mayo stalwarts destined to retire without Sam Maguire and with the emergence of Galway and Roscommon next season, Mayo’s chance at Sam Maguire may have to wait even longer.

Sanita Puspure

High hopes for the Cork based rower to secure a medal in rowing during the Tokyo Olympics but sport can be cruel; a semi-final nightmare saw medal hopes dashed. All the work, commitment and sacrifice coming up short. It was a truly a sad image watching Puspure cross the line knowing that her Olympics were shattered yet again. A true icon of rowing in this country!

Personally

Pandemic. No point sugar coating the issue. Covid-19 has wrecked havoc on sporting and personal lives. Crowd restrictions the hallmark of the year. As Christmas approaches, further restrictions on the sporting programme. The lost of revenues for sporting teams and organizations. Teams will go under. The mental health of those in this industry tested to breaking point. Is there an end in sight to these restrictions?

The lack of social contact with friends, relatives and close family has hit hard this year. My wife has helped enormously but as you are on zoom work calls, it is not the same as meeting someone face to face, having a chat over a cup of tea or coffee, checking to see if that person is okay or needs to talk through an issue. It has been difficult.

The low point this year for me was the sad passing of a good friend of mine. Keith Moynihan passed away on June 21st of this year. A giant of a man, immense intellect, a man who knew his sports inside out. A true friend and companion on trips to Thomond Park watching his beloved Munster Rugby. I think about the guy every day of the week. He has left this earth too soon! His loss is immeasurable.

The year had good points for me. The Irish Soccer fans podcast continued to be a welcome distraction from the pandemic times. Thanks Joe McCarthy and Philip Flanagan for the catchups as we spoke at length about Stephen Kenny (the good, the bad and some) throughout the year.

Work wise was an interesting year. I switched career tech roles at the start of this year. Scrum Master role has served me well this year. I can’t thank my team based in Dublin enough for the support and collaboration during the year. Working from home (Galway), entering into a new team environment – it ain’t easy but the team I am currently with are top class individuals. Here’s to many more years with the Phoenix crew!

Weddings were a precious thing this year. Joe McCarthy got married to the beautiful Emer Clarke in Carlow. Darragh Connolly was wed to the radiant Emer Woods in Dunlewey. Two joyful occasions that let you forget for a while the current pandemic situation. Best wishes to both couples! May ye live long and fulfilled lives together!

My wish next year is for my family to stay healthy, start to freelance report on local sporting events either in Limerick or Galway. I would like to see life get back to normal but sense it will be a while yet. As long as we watch out for each other, watch out for those we love and cherish, then we will be well on our way out of this pandemic restrictive way of living in 2022 (fingers and toes crossed!).

Best wishes this Christmas and into 2022!

Hawkeye Sidekick (Mark Kennedy).