2016's biggest sporting heartbreaks

We look at some of the near misses this year

Thomas Barr, Olympics,

Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

We look back at some of the "almost" moments from 2016.

South Africa 2-1 Ireland, June test series

Ireland headed to South Africa in June after enduring a torrid post-World Cup hangover. No Irish side made the quarter-finals in the Champions Cup, and Ireland struggled to a third place 6 Nations finish. 

Joe Schmidt's team also traveled without a long list of absentees, including Johnny Sexton, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony and Tommy Bowe.

History was against them, as they had never beaten the Springboks in South Africa, but Ireland took the fight to the home side and despite an early red card to CJ Stander, the men in green won 26-20.

Ireland headed for the "Lions den" of Ellis Park in Johannesbourg looking to wrap up an improbable series win after only two matches.

It looked like history would be made on successive weekends as Ireland rushed into a 19-3 half-time lead to stun the 58,000 in attendance. Devin Toner's effort topped up a composed kicking display from Paddy Jackson.

The home side upped the tempo after the break and got back into the back into the game after the impressive Ruan Combrink powered over and brought the scores back to 19-10 after Elton Jantjies converted.

Just when Ireland's resolve at the high altitude appeared to be failing, Jamie Heaslip crossed to restore Ireland's 16 point cushion after Jackson had again converted to leave the scores at 26-10.

However, South Africa eventually made the conditions work to their advantage and tries from Warren Whitely, Pieter-Steph du Toit and Damian De Allende brought the score out to 29-26. Jantjies added a late penalty to complete the scoring at 32-26.

 

Ireland’s Iain Henderson at the end of the match
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Despite the defeat, Ireland headed into the third test in Port Elizabeth a week later with plenty of optimism that they would take the series. 

Willie La Roux was lucky not to receive a yellow card early on after a clumsy tackle on Tiernan O'Halloran who was airborne and landed awkwardly.

With score at 19-13 in the dying minutes, Faf de Klerk made a vital interception when it looked as though the visitors would sneak in to take the match, along with the series.

Instead, the Springboks held out and Ireland were left to rue the one that got away. 

Ireland's Conor Murray and Paddy Jackson dejected
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

 

Thomas Barr finishes fourth at the Olympics

Ireland's medal tally at the 2016 Rio Olympics was just 0.05 of a second away from being one greater than it was.

Thomas Barr ran the race of his life in a highly competitive final to finish behind Kerron Clement of the USA on 47.73, with Kenya’s Boniface Tumuti turning in 47.78 on his way to silver.

Yasmani Copello came third as he dipped in 47.92 to cross 0.05 ahead of the Irishman, who ran a personal best of 47.97. 

Ireland's Thomas Barr after finishing fourth
Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Barr qualified for the final by winning his semi-final heat, setting a new Irish record of 48.39 and becoming the first Irish athlete in the 400m hurdles since 1932 in Los Angeles. 

The Irishman went into the final with only two runners posting faster times than him in the semis, but it wasn't to be as he was pipped to a Bronze at the line. 

 

Dundalk's European dream comes to an end

League of Ireland champions Dundalk were the talk of the country after they embarked on an improbable journey which took them into the Europa League group stages, where huge ties against Zenit St. Petersburg and AZ Alkmaar awaited. 

Dundalk's European odyssey began in the qualifying stages of the Champions League where they played Icelandic side FH Hafnarfjordur. The Louth club progressed on away goals after the sides finished level 3-3 on aggregate.

They met old foe BATE Borisov in the third qualifying round and, despite losing the away match 1-0, they ran riot at Tallaght Stadium by a score of 3-0 to avenge last year's defeat to the same opposition.

 

Dundalk's Dane Massey celebrates his side's second goal
Image: ©INPHO/Ciaran Culligan

That win set up a tie with Legia Warsaw for a place in the group stages of the Champions League. The loser would parachute into the Europa League. Legia won by an aggregate score of 3-1 to take their place alongsie Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in Europe's showpiece tournament, but not before Robbie Benson scored a goal to remember.

The Louth club made a brilliant start in their Europa League group, earning a point in Holland with a last minute Ciaran Kilduff goal. They followed that up with a 1-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv at Tallaght Stadium. 

However, as domestic fixtures began to pile up, and with the team fighting for glory on three fronts, they were unable to sustain their European performances for the full 90 minutes.

Narrow defeats to Zenit (home and away) and Alkmaar meant they went into the last game of the group needing a win in Israel and a favour from Zenit. Neither happened and Dundalk's remarkable journey was over. 

Dundalk's Patrick McEleney, Ronan Finn, Chris Shields and Robbie Benson applaud the fans after the game
Image: ©INPHO/Dov Halickman

Despite the huge revenue they acquired along the way, the club lost Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle to Preston North End, and Ronan Finn headed to Shamrock Rovers. In many ways, they became victims of their own success.

 

Shane Lowry's US Open collapse 

Offaly's Lowry looked to be on course to add to Ireland's major successes as he led the field in the 2016 US Open by four shots going into the final round.

The Irishman played some outstanding golf to put himself in the position to become a major champion, but ultimately let a glorious chance slip after failing to capitalise on his good work.

Instead, Dustin Johnson, despite the controversy of his penalty, went on to win his maiden major.

Lowry's touch around the greens deserted him as he struggled to post a final round 76, finishing three shots behind the eventual winner.

Lowry was the first player since Payne Stewart in 1998 at The Olympic Club to lose a four-shot lead in the final round of the U.S. Open, when he lost the putting touch that had carried him to the lowest 54-hole total at Oakmont.  

Speaking afterwards the Irishman said: "Bitterly disappointed, standing here. And, you know, it's not easy to get yourself in a position I got myself in today. It was there for the taking and I didn't take it." 

 

Cristiano Ronaldo's injury in the European Championship final

It was to be his finest moment - dragging an average Portugal side to European glory, and it would surely end it would almost guarantee him a place as the greatest footballer the country has ever produced; quite an accolade given their history.

Now, whether you dislike Ronaldo or not, there is no way to deny that he loves playing for his country. You can debate his motivations, but he consistently leads a team that looks to him for inspiration, and works incredibly hard to be as fit as possible so that he can spend as long on the pitch as possible.

However, it was not to be on this night in the Stade de France, as Ronaldo went down just eight minutes in, clutching his knee after a hard tackle from Dimitri Payet. He struggled on after receiving treatment, but went down again, clutching at the injury. 

Moths aside, it was clear to see on the player's face - overcome by emotion - what it meant to him, and any sports fan will know that the heartbreak of missing out on a final, having worked so hard to get there, is even more devastating if it's caused by an injury. 

Ronaldo's side went on to win the game in his absence, but even with his injury he stayed on the sideline to watch, heading every ball and gesticulating his way through to the end of extra-time.

Image: Petr David Josek AP/Press Association Images

Had he been on the pitch, perhaps things would have gone differently, but there's little doubt that he gave everything he could to get there, and was simply unable to continue.