2016's most memorable sporting moments

It was a year packed with action from the Euros to the Olympics

Robbie Brady, Ireland

Ireland's Robbie Brady celebrates scoring his sides first goal ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

2016 brought us the Euros, the Olympics, and plenty in between.

As well as some low points and disappointment, there was plenty to cheer about and a number of moments that won't be forgotten for quite some time to come.

Robbie Brady’s header

With the seconds ticking away at the end of Ireland’s crucial group game at the Euros against Italy, most Irish fans had their head in their hands.

Wes Hoolahan had just been put through on goal moments before only to miss a brilliant chance, and after the introduction of Lorenzo Insigne, a second-string Italy were looking the more dangerous side.

He struck the woodwork and rattled Irish nerves the world over, and as the defeatists among us called it quits, Hoolahan and Aiden McGeady exchanged passes in the centre of the park, and Robbie Brady found some energy in his tired legs. He started his long run from the back.

Having come so close, we resigned ourselves to another tournament where we had come close, but fallen just short when we needed that moment of magic.

And then.

And then there were tears, hugs with complete strangers, and something that no one watching will forget for all of their days. An inviting ball, a perfectly timed dash for the box, and screams of joy heard around the country.

Annalise Murphy

Ireland’s Annalise Murphy brought home a silver medal from the Olympics, but it was the circumstances in which she won it that make it one of the greatest sporting stories of the year.

Back in 2012, Murphy finished fourth, narrowly missing out on a medal and a place on the podium in London. She spoke about her difficulty in dealing with that feeling, as well as how it fueled her to keep going and improve this time around.

Coming into the final, and in position to get bronze, it was clear she was determined not to make the same mistake twice, and pushed to make her way into contention for silver. This time, there would be no stopping her.

©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Conor McGregor makes history

March 5th, 2016 was the date Conor McGregor imagined he would create MMA history. No fighter in the UFC had ever held two titles in two weight divisions at the same time. McGregor was to get that opportunity at UFC 196 against Lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.

Less than a fortnight before the fight, the Brazilian pulled out with a broken foot, and McGregor would begin an unexpected two-fight saga with Nate Diaz that lasted through the summer. Once McGregor won, at the second time of asking, his focus returned to that Lightweight belt, now held by Eddie Alvarez.

At UFC 205, on November 12th, in Madison Square Garden, McGregor took just over eight minutes to comfortably defeat Alvarez and create history. He became only the third fighter to win UFC titles in different divisions, but the first to hold two belts at the same time.

“Ooooh, that looks good!” was the Dubliner’s reaction as he looked on the big screen with two belts wrapped around his shoulders. His place in MMA folklore was cemented.

The world is introduced to the O’Donovan Brothers

As much as the “shteak and the shpuds” were talked about, or “pulling like a dog,” the momentous achievement from Gary and Paul O’Donovan should not be overshadowed by their larger than life characters.

In the buildup, their likeable stylings had the nation (and much of the rest of the world, for that matter) enthralled, but it was a moment reminiscent of the greatest of Ireland’s sporting triumphs. Radios and televisions around every office were pumped up to full volume, there wasn’t going to be any work done for the duration of the race, even if the two brothers had not been that well known before they headed to Rio.

Their silver medal finish was the first time Ireland have ever brought home anything from the Olympics in rowing, and the emotion in Neville Maxwell’s voice as he described his pride and joy perhaps says it all.

Mickelson brushes with history

Phil Mickelson’s incredible first round at the British Open at Royal Troon in July was something to behold. As it progressed, it was clear that something special was happening, and regardless of their feelings for the man himself, golf fans took to social media to urge people to watch as history was being made.

Tying a major record with 63 was one thing, but he came agonisingly close to setting a new record with 62. However, his putt on the 18th slipped just out of the cup.

Afterwards, that was the part that Mickelson himself focused on, perhaps because he also finished behind Henrik Stenson on the leaderboard in second.

He could have stood alone in the record books and brought the Claret Jug home, but it seemed that it simply wasn’t meant to be on either front.

Image: Phil Mickelson of the United States looks down as he holds the silver plate, or being runner up in the British Open Golf Championships at the Royal Troon Golf Club in Troon, Scotland, Sunday, July 17, 2016. AP Photo/Peter Morrison

When asked if he believed in the golf gods after his incredible round, he responded: "I didn't, but I do now."

After 111 years...

They weren't the All Blacks' first string team, it wasn't at home and the buildup didn't pack quite the same punch as it might have if New Zealand were visiting Ireland, but for once, there was a different type of match report to be written after a game between Ireland and the world champions. 

Coming into the game on an unprecedented run of good form and playing a type of rugby that simply looked to be unattainable for the rest of the mere mortals our there, Joe Schmidt's side decided that they had finally had enough of the hard luck schtick. 

Ireland conceded an early try, but they kept going. Then they lost Jordi Murphy, but they kept going. Then they lost Johnny Sexton, but they kept going.

The inevitable All Black comeback started and the gap began to narrow, as the same old feelings returned. It seemed that Steve Hansen's side were just putting their foot down on the accelerator and would catch up to us again - it was only a matter of time before the familiar script was played out. 

Fueled by emotion in the wake of the passing of Anthony Foley, the players were simply not going to let this one slip, not on this occasion.