On top of the world


It was the year the world was meant to end, but instead life went on its everyday way. We had sporting triumphs, political disasters, scientific breakthroughs and heartbreaking losses. The economy didn't get better, austerity cut deeper but Ireland still scored high on the happiness index. We look back on the highs and lows of 2012

What Katie did next

We were so certain Katie Taylor was going to win Ireland's first women's gold at an Olympic Games since . . . um, well, what was that swimmer's name again? Oh never mind . . . that we would have happily bet our house on it - if our house was worth anything any more. But our certainty evaporated in the seconds after the Bray battler's tense final bout with Sofia Ochigava, the cartoon baddie from Russia.

As a nation held its breath and waited, not even Jimmy McGee could say for sure if she'd done enough to win. Then her right arm was held high and the roof lifted off the gloriously partisan ExCel Boxing arena. There wasn't a dry eye in the country when the Tricolor fluttered over cheering London heads to the strains of Amhrán na bhFiann.

Conor Pope

Oh, Danny Boyle

After seeing the exuberant pyrotechnics and death defying gymnastics that were so central to the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics four years ago, most observers said all the smoke, excitement and contorting could never be topped by grey, drab, always complaining London.

They did not reckon on film director Danny Boyle - whose mammy is from Ballinasloe, incidentally - taking the concept, giving it a good shake and delivering three spectacular and frequently mental hours of entertainment, exemplifying much of what is great about Britain.

There were NHS staff dancing with hospital beds, some Madness, Paul McCartney, Mr Bean, Mr Bond. Oh yes, and the Queen jumped out of an aeroplane and parachuted directly into the Olympic Stadium in London's East End. It cost £27 million and was worth every penny. Over to you Rio. No pressure.

Conor Pope

Tee time for Rory

Irish? British? Who cares! Rory McElroy is simply the greatest golfer this island has ever produced - and possibly the best sportsperson - and he will be cheered on by all Irish golf fans at the Rio Olympics in four years, whether he is draped in the Union Jack or the Tricolour. Confirmation of his greatness came in August when he won his second major title, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, by a record eight shots.

He also became the world No 1, and only the second player to win the money list titles in both Europe and the US. He notched up four wins on the US circuit and 10 top-10 finishes in just 16 starts. He was also named the PGA of America Player of the Year and the PGA Tour's Player of the Year. He won $8,047,952 in the US alone - and that doesn't include the sponsorship deals he has signed and will sign in the months ahead. Tiger who?

Conor Pope

Tears, jeers and drama in abundance

Europe staged possibly the greatest comeback in the Ryder Cup's history and retained the prestigious trophy by overcoming a four-point deficit against the US at the start of the last day to win 14½ - 13½. The win had everything: tears for the late Seve Ballesteros, jeers from the typically partisan Americans and drama in abundance. Rory McIlroy added to the tension by nearly missing the last day entirely. He got his timings wrong and made it to the first tee only with the help of a police escort.

All through that great Sunday the drama was relentless as heroes kept stepping up to the plate for Europe's captain, Jose Marie Olazabal. The big guns did their bit but in the end it was up to four of Europe's lesser lights, none of whom had managed a point in two days of foursomes and fourballs.

The glory of sinking the winning put fell to Martin Kaymer, who showed nerves of steel to sink the five-footer on the 18th that won the match.

Conor Pope

Gold standard

Buoyed by the incredible success of the Olympics which preceded it, Channel 4 went all out to promote its coverage of the Paralympics, using a powerful advert that showcased athletic achievement while alluding to heroic triumph over adversity.

The games themselves were watched by record numbers and the sight of these supremely able, doggedly ambitious athletes changed perceptions about disability and Paralympic sport.

Team Ireland managed to bag a whopping 16 medals, and half of those were gold, including that of Leaving Cert student Darragh McDonald (left), who won the S6 400m freestyle swim.

Patrick Freyne 

Trying times

The Irish took over the London in May when 80,000 Leinster and Munster fans descended on the British capital for the first all-Irish European Cup final. Tickets were impossible to get as Irish fans talked of little else in the run-up. In the end, the game did not live up to the hype and Leinster ran out comfortable winners, becoming only the second team to secure back-to-back titles and winning their third title in the just four years into the bargain.

Although the 42-14 scoreline may suggest a drubbing, Ulster did themselves proud last season, and while the margin of defeat probably still hurts, they should feel no shame in losing to a team who were simply the best on the day.

The presence of two Irish teams in the final also secured Connacht's place in the tournament for another year - all the more reason to celebrate the success of Irish rugby, at least at club level. The international story's a different ball game altogether.

Conor Pope

Wheelie, Lance?
The wheels finally came off Lance Armstrong's bike, in August, when he was definitively exposed as a prolific drugs cheat and stripped of all the titles he had won since 1998, including seven Tour de France victories.

He was banned from the sport for life. Armstrong didn't contest the decision but protested his innocence and claimed international cycling authorities had pursued "an unconstitutional witch hunt" based on "outlandish and heinous" claims. An overwhelming body of evidence pointing towards his guilt suggested otherwise.

Conor Pope

Miraculous Muamba

At first, some suspected he was playacting. It was approaching half time in an FA Cup tie at White Heart Lane, on St Patrick's Day, and Bolton midfielder Patrice Muamba had collapsed to the ground without contact from another player.

The first hint that something was wrong came when medical teams from both sides went rushing to his assistance. In the terraces, the crowd began to chant Muamba's name. But even the chanting quickly subsided, as the seriousness of the player's condition became apparent.

The 23-year-old had suffered cardiac arrest. For seven minutes, with 30,000 fans looking on in ghastly silence, his life hung in the balance. The television cameras panned away from his lifeless body, but the distress on the faces of his teammates told its own story.

He was eventually transported to hospital where, despite being "in effect dead" for 78 minutes on St Patrick's Day, he was miraculously resuscitated and restored to health. Muamba would never play football again, but contrary to Bill Shankly's famous quote, some things are more important than that. Eoin Butler

Like father, like son

For Mayo fans, it was a familiar, sinking feeling. Ten minutes into the 2012 All-Ireland Final, Donegal's Colm McFadden steamrolled past Mayo defender Kevin Keane (inexplicably out of position at full back) to slot the ball into the back of the net. The Connacht champions were now on the wrong side of a 2-1 to 0-0 scoreline. For supporters and neutrals alike, the spectre of the county's catastrophic collapses in the 2004 and 2006 finals was beginning to rear its head.

But the westerners battled their way back into the game and pushed the Ulster champions right to the very last, with Donegal finally coming out on top 2-11 to 0-13. When Donegal wing forward Mark McHugh raced to embrace his father Martin, an All-Ireland winner with Donegal in 1992, at the final whistle, it created one of Championship 2012's most enduring images.

Eoin Butler