This past year had many sporting highs for North West sport stars and fans alike.
Derry City’s promotion springs to mind instantly, as does Finn Harps failure to do the same.
On the wider scene, there was the World Cup highs which for most NorthWest fans basically meant rubbing the hands while watching the poor showing by England and also by France - just desserts for them after Thierry Henri’s cheating, a sporting low of a lifetime.
Paul Dudie McCloskey continued to strut his stuff, while 2010 wasn’t quite so good for John Duddy.
Swimming coaches Seamus McAnee and Carmel Gorman collected the BBC Sport NI Unsung Hero award.
In rugby the return of City of Derry to the All Ireland League was to be celebrated, as well as their form generally during the year.
Eglinton sprinter Jason Smyth made history in becoming the first paralympian to compete at the European Championships. Then there was the rapid ascent of Aileen Morrison toward the summit of the International Triathlete rankings.
The star Celtic’s Paddy McCourt is at last shining bright on a stage fit enough for the talents which once brought the Brandywell to its feet in anticipation.
However it wasn’t all joyous celebration for Derry fans.
In GAA Derry’s first round victory over Tyrone in the National League was the bright spark in what proved a dull year for Oakleafers. In fact the less said about GAA in 2010 the better!
Looking at things in a bit more detail . ..
For there to be a Candystripe promotion there had to be a relegation, so while City are 2010 First Division Champions, was development at the Brandywell actually held back a year?
As for the World Cup final it will be remembered locally only for the road tragedy which followed it.
Despite their sterling work and campaigning, Mr. McAnee and Mrs Gorman were not awarded the UK title. This despite their unpaid 5am starts for the last number of DECADES!
And for all Paddy’s ‘Derry Pele’ heroics at Celtic, there is his tendency to, shall we say, run into team-mates...
Now with the lows out of the way let’s examine some of those high points again.
Personally there was Pat Fenlon, who almost bought relegation at Bohemians. I certainly feel sorry for Gareth McGlynn, a favourite player of mine who’s going yet another season without a winner’s medal. The winger must be the best player in Ireland not to have won a championship medal. However I must admit enjoying hearing Fenlon insist his team were going to win the title, then not managing it . .
Great to see City of Derry Rugby Club, a club without massive sponsorship and traditionally a small enough support base, return to the All Ireland League, Division Three. They also reached the final of the Ulster Senior Cup in December (we’ll gloss over that result here).
While perhaps they might not have too many international call ups they are a local squad proudly playing for their home town club. Also it’s very much a club which continues to work hard to promote the sport at grassroots level. So here’s hoping City of Derry can continue the run of form that has saw them win five of six games in the current campaign.
We also hope that more locals will follow 24 year-old Stacey-Lea Kennedy into the Ireland set up. Stacey-Lea got the news earlier this month.
In athletics, Aileen Morrison recorded the biggest successes of her career as she attempts to qualify for London 2012.
She led the Irish team in the women’s elite section at the Waterways Ireland European Triathlon Championships in Athlone in July with a superb fifth place finish. That was eclipsed by a first place in Hong Kong at the ITU Triathlon Asian Cup Continental Cup with a time of 2 hours 07:35. The 28 year-old P.E. teacher, a member of Triathlon Ireland’s High Performance squad, couldn’t be better placed to secure her place on the 2012 Irish team.
The sporting highlight of the year could be a certain European Light Welterweight Champion Paul McCloskey. He successfully defended his title, won in late 2009, twice but that doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the first time the belt was draped around his Dungiven frame.
Dudie does it
‘Dudie’’ McCloskey brought big time fight nights back to the NorthWest. His successful defence of the European title against Barry Morrison in October setting up the distinct possibility of a highlight of a sporting year soon being a world title belt for him.
In fact there might perhaps be two. John Duddy’s own meteoric rise to world domination faltered just a little when he was out pointed by Julio Cesar Chavez, Junior in June. Not that this, the second defeat of an eye-catching career, is the end of the dream by any stretch of the imagination. Chavez said it was the hardest fight of his 40 fight career. And all champions have knock backs, don’t they?
Derry City, after all the well-documented troubles, were crowned First Division Champions mere months later. Considering each and every player was free and, given the mis-management of the club, could have been forgiven for walking away, Stephen Kenny’s first victory was assembling a team to take the field.
That he and his new board compiled a squad capable of challenging would have been a victory but to win promotion was simply fantastic.
Brandywell manager Stephen Kenny guided his largely inexperienced team into a very tough division. They got off to a great start but no doubt his man-management was tested more so during the ‘blip’ spell toward the conclusion of the campaign. That ‘blip’ saw the title go to the wire.
Kenny’s astute ability to identify blossoming talent and maximise it was certainly evident during that run.
Patrick McEleney and James McLean, who netted 11 and 10 league goals respectively, were among the best of Kenny’s youngsters.
A credit to the game
However it was the efforts of a certain Mark Farren, a man with his own worries, that is the stand-out story for this commentator.
The Greencastle man, now living in Moville, is recovering at the moment after a serious operation in recent weeks.
That he played at all last season was a marvel. That he then scored roughly every two games is an inspiration.
The striker scored 16 goals in 33 league games and four cup goals. Not bad for a player who started his career as a defender!
Mark Farren, thanks for your gifts in 2010 and here is to you in 2011. You reminded us what sport is truly about - playing for the greater good, the pride, that spark of excitement, an ability to provide a source of inspiration we can carry into our own lives. And most of all to play with a smile on your face.
Mark Farren we salute you and wish all our sports stars, amateur and professional alike the very best in 2011.