Kellie Harrington’s gold caps stunning year for Irish women

Joanne O'Riordan: Phenomenal achievements augur well for the coming years

The momentous sporting achievements of the past 12 months ensured that 2018 really did become ‘that year’. There really are no words to describe it.

At times, it seemed everything and anything that an Irish team, coach or athlete touched turned to gold – quite literally in a lot of cases. The nice thing about 2018 was it became a seminal year in many ways for quite a lot of minority sports.

The Irish women’s soccer team are rebuilding under the watchful eye of Colin Bell and looking towards the next major qualifications in Euro 2021.

The other football team – yes, they are the others until they implement a vision and restore order – are just trying to exist and not concede or score.


But, in other sports, and in particular for women in sport, it has been an unprecedented year regarding the medal haul and success.

If you look at the history of Irish athletics overall, podium finishes in major championships have been a rare enough event over the past 86 years. However, with the resurgence provided by the infusion of fresh blood, like the exciting U-20s, and the talent that is emerging on all sides, podium finishes may become a common occurrence in the future.

Even talking about potential future successes makes me feel like I'm invoking something akin to 'the Scottish curse'

Patience Jumbo-Gula, Ciara Neville, Molly Scott and Gina Akpe-Moses won silver in the women's 4x100m, and we can't forget about 15-year-old Rhasidat Adeleke who was also part of the team before injury ruled her out.

Add in Sommer Lecky’s 1.9m high jump, which secured another silver medal, along with Sara Healy’s 1500-3000-metre race double at the European U-18 Championships in Hungary and it’s clear young Irish athletes are stepping up to the plate to raise the profile for Irish athletics.

In a way, I sort of imagine it like that scene from the new Lion King where a young Simba puts his paw on his dad's ginormous paw print.

Even talking about potential future successes makes me feel like I’m invoking something akin to "the Scottish curse" (concerning Macbeth).

But I think it is a time where we, sports fans, writers and indeed the nation can stop being over cautious and instead get a tad bit excited . . . if not too excited.

And then we had the Irish women’s hockey team. What can I write about them that has not been written before? They had us all Googling penalties, corners, rules of hockey, you name it.

Their exploits saw the emergence of the hockey hipsters, but it didn't matter, because hockey became everyone's obsession. It was so exciting, even Shane Ross emerged at Dublin Airport to miscalculate funding figures and fluff his lines! – Katie Taylor and the Kearney brothers were previously subject to the minister's faux pas.

Pommel horse

While all of that was going on, my mother developed an obsession with the pommel horse, so much so, we have had to buy new footstools because she has worn them out so much.

Rhys McClenaghan and his lovely horse are ones to watch as Tokyo 2020 looms large. Sure we all know Simone Biles and Max Whitlock, but the McClenaghan is a name that should be on the tip of everyone's tongue come the Olympics.

And now, we have Kellie Harrington. Irish boxing fans have been spoilt by the array of talent, from Michael Carruth to Bernard Dunne to Katie Taylor to Steve Collins to Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes.

Irish sport was the gift that kept on giving

Yes, the most recent Olympics proved a disappointment, but with the arrival of Kellie Harrington and future champions like Christina Desmond, the sport is in safe hands . . . quite literally.

Thirteen years of blood, sweat and tears were finally worth it for Harrington who has the Irish Elite Championships in February before the World Championship in Russia to look forward to in September as she seeks her place at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Overall, it has been an incredible year for Irish sport, women in sport and those in lesser-known sports. RTÉ are going to have to turn their sports awards into the Irish ESPYS for everyone to get recognition without a colossal fuss occurring.

But really, it was that year as an Irish sports fan. Friends of mine have asked how columnists keep thinking of fresh ideas week in, week out, but really, Irish sport was the gift that kept on giving.