Top 10 greatest hits of the year

 

Sonia O`SullivanThe bitter disappointment of the Atlanta Olympics was finally laid to rest on a cool September night in Sydney when Sonia O'Sullivan won a silver medal in a riveting 5000-metres Olympics final.

O'Sullivan's year began with a disappointing performance at the world cross-country championships in Portugal and she followed this with some less than convincing displays at selected grand prix meetings throughout Europe in the summer. However, this low-key approach seemed to remove some of the pressure from her shoulders.

Almost 112,000 spectators in Stadium Australia watched her gripping battle with Romanian Gabriela Szabo in the final. Despite a number of attacks on Szabo over the final 300 metres, O'Sullivan couldn't overtake her.

Initial disappointment was quickly replaced by huge satisfaction at winning silver and a massive reaction in Ireland to becoming the first Irishwoman to win an Olympic medal and the country's first track medal since 1956.

Joey Dunlop

Motorcycling lost one of its truly great road-racing champions when Joey Dunlop was killed in a race in Estonia at the start of July. Dunlop had a phenomenal impact on the sport over the previous 25 years and had just won his 26th TT title at the Isle of Man races.

Acknowledged as one of the most exciting riders the sport has witnessed, who could draw huge crowds to every course he raced, Dunlop was crowned world champion five times over his long career..

An unassuming man from Ballymoney, Co Antrim, Dunlop began his racing career in 1969, and his yellow helmet and number three bike quickly became synonymous with race victories. Even at 48, Dunlop showed no signs of slowing down. In fact, at the TT races a month before he died, he had gone faster than ever before, lapping in the seniors race at 123.87 m.p.h..

His death triggered a remarkable emotional response in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Almost 50,000 attended his funeral in Ballymoney.

Brian O`Driscoll

In the immediate aftermath of the crushing defeat by England at Twickenham in their opening Six Nations match last February, Irish rugby seemed set for another season of embarrassing performances. However, from the depths of despair a memorable championship campaign was born and with it a new star, Brian O'Driscoll.

The 21-year-old former Blackrock schools player capped a momentous debut championship with a three-try salvo against France on St Patrick's weekend.

O'Driscoll's talent first came to the fore at representative level when he helped Ireland to win the FIRA under-19 championship in Toulouse in 1998. Although injury curtailed O'Driscoll's appearances for Leinster in the early rounds of the European Cup this season, he showed a welcome return to form in the province's vital win over Northampton and then turned in a superb display for the Barbarians against South Africa this month.

Roy Keane

By any yardstick, 2000 was a year to be treasured by the Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain. Although the Old Trafford side failed to emulate their treble-winning achievements of the previous season, Keane was head and shoulders above his team-mates in driving United to the Premiership title.

As well as leading United to another title, Keane was finally recognised by his peers as the Players' Player of the Year and was then honoured by the Football Writers' Association in England as the most outstanding individual in the Premiership.

Keane was also at the heart of the Republic of Ireland's impressive start to their World Cup-qualifying campaign. He made an immense contribution to the away draws with Holland and Portugal before leading Mick McCarthy's team to victory over Estonia.

DJ Carey

"The guy is just something else . . . hurling should thank God for giving us DJ Carey." Few in the crowd of 61,459 at the All-Ireland hurling final would have argued with Kilkenny manager Brian Cody after the game's best known player gave a wonderful display in the decider as his county cruised to a 13-point win over Offaly.

Carey's displays through the years have always been marked with moments of exquisite skill, but this year his most valuable contribution was his ability to score goals at critical moments. In the Leinster final against Offaly and the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway, Carey popped up at vital moments in the opening half with goals that effectively swung both matches.

The 30-year-old did not wait long to make an impression in the final, scoring the first of Kilkenny's five goals as early as the seventh minute. Carey has already been named hurler of the year and won a record-equalling eighth All-Star earlier this month.

Seamus Moynihan

Although full back may not be his preferred position, Seamus Moynihan was unquestionably the pivotal player in Kerry's second All-Ireland football success in four years.

The Glenfesk clubman was immense throughout the year for Kerry and subdued a range of opponents as Kerry went from their Munster championship success against Cork to the epic All-Ireland semi-final win over Armagh and then the draw and replay victory over Galway.

Moynihan's loss to Kerry out the field was more than compensated by his attention to defensive detail and his facility to respond when the team's need was greatest. In the All-Ireland final replay Moynihan was the player who set up a critical point for Paidi O Se team immediately after they conceded a goal to Galway.

Moynihan, who was a big loss to Ireland in the opening International Rules test against Australia, has already been named Player of the Year and won an All-Star award earlier this month.

Johnny Murtagh

Few jockeys will ever emulate Johnny Murtagh's astonishing record in 2000 of 12 Group one wins, including the priceless treble of Irish and English derbys and the Prix de l`arc de Triomphe. The 31year-old won on three continents, but his partnership with Sinndar was the undoubted highlight of the racing year.

The John Oxx-trained colt went on from his Epsom victory to success in the Budweiser race at the Curragh and then gave Ireland its first win in the Arc since Alleged in 1978. Sinndar became the first horse to complete an Epsom Derby-Irish Derby-Arc de Triomphe treble.

Murtagh enjoyed a remarkable day at Longchamp when Sinndar won the Arc. He rode three Group One winners that day, winning the Prix de l'Abbaye on Namid, the Prix de l'Opera with Petrushka as well as the Arc on Sinndar.

Murtagh finished the season in some style with two more Group One wins - at the Breeders' Cup meeting in the US and Hong Kong's Sha Tin meeting last weekend.

Dermot Lennon

The Banbridge rider wins his first Texaco award for a series of outstanding performances on the Irish equestrian team in their remarkable series of 10 Nations Cup victories in 2000. Successful on the national show-jumping circuit for several years, Lennon only emerged onto the international circuit in 1999 when part of the winning Nations Cup team in Athens with the talented mare, Liscalgot.

This year, Lennon was a member of winning Nations Cup squads in Lummen, Belgium (July), Hickstead, Britain (July) and then at home at the Kerrygold Horse Show in mid-August.

Competing against many far more experienced riders, Lennon achieved more in one season than many other riders have in a full career. The highlight of the 31-year-old's year came in Calgary in September when he was placed fourth in the $800,000 Du Maurier International.

Lennon won almost £65,000 in Calgary and was also a member of the quartet which claimed Ireland's 10th Nations Cup the same weekend.

Darren Clarke

Although the year ended on a disappointing note when he failed to win the European Order of Merit title, Darren Clarke gave Irish golf one of its most famous victories when he captured the $1 million top prize in the Andersen Consulting matchplay championship at La Costa in California on the last Sunday in February.

The scale of Clarke's achievement in winning the championship was underlined by the succession of top names he beat on his way to the final with Tiger Woods. Clarke toppled Paul Azinger 2 and 1, Mark O'Meara 5 and 4 and Thomas Bjorn 1 up. The Dungannon player then beat Hal Sutton in the quarter-final before taking the notable scalp of David Duval in the semi by 4 and 2.

In the final against Woods, Clarke and Woods were all square after 18. However, the world number one could not cope with Clarke in the afternoon 18 holes and defeat came on the 33rd hole. Clarke's other victory in 2000 came when he retained the English Open in June.

Mairead Berry

If Australian Ian Thorpe and Dutch swimmer Inje De Bruin dominated the men's and women's swimming events at the Sydney Olympics, Ireland's Mairead Berry did something similar at the Paralympics in October. The Coolock swimmer went to Sydney hoping to qualify for a number of finals, but came away with three medals - one gold and two silver.

Berry won her first medal in the 50 metres when she was edged out for gold by Spain's Sara Carasella. The tables were turned the next day when Berry beat Carasella in the 100-metres freestyle to clinch gold in a swim that took almost eight seconds off the world record.

As well as other Paralympics medals at previous games, Berry has won five world championship gold medals and three European cerebral palsy golds.

The Texaco awards will be presented at a banquet in Dublin on January 24th.