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Highlights of the Year – 2018

December 19, 2018


Sean McCarthy-Crean of Team Ireland, from Cloghroe, Cork

Ireland’s first individual medal in 2018 was, fittingly, in a sport that will be making its Olympic debut in Tokyo 2020.


Identical twins Sean and Chris McCarthy Crean are two of Ireland’s rising talents in karate and both were part of the Irish team that travelled to Sochi for this year’s European Junior and U21 Karate Championships.


Sean dispatched opponents from Russia, Israel, Norway and France to reach the final of the Junior 68kg where he met a very experienced and medalled Slovakia.


But to bring home silver, Ireland’s first karate medal at this level, was a huge achievement and a real portend of what was to come for the Cork teenager.



It’s been a brilliant year for Irish amateur boxers who, in 2018, brought home 41 international medals in the space of 238 days.


Dundalk’s Amy Broadhurst, a former European Youth and Junior champion, clinched her fifth major title when she won the European U22 lightweight (60kg) gold in Romania


Roscommon’s Aoife O’Rourke also brought home silver at middleweight but didn’t get the chance to turn it gold as she was forced to withdraw from the 75kg final due to illness.





Ulster gymnast Rhys McClenaghan has long served notice of his talents by winning a medal at European junior level but he outdid all expectations this season, winning pommel gold at the Commonwealth Games in Australia where he beat Britain’s Olympic champion Max Whitlock, a sign of more to come this season.



This was also another great month for Ireland’s young boxers who brought home six medals from the European Youth (U18) Championships in Italy.


Wicklow’s Daina Moorehouse won gold in light flyweight, Dearbhla Rooney, Evelyn Igharo and Dean Clancy won silvers and Jude Gallagher and Lauren Kelly won bronze, leaving Ireland fifth overall on the medal table.




One of the highlights in May were historic medals for Arthur Lanigan-O’Keeffe (gold) and Natalya Coyle (silver) at the pentathlon World Cup in Sofia. They had previously medalled together at this level in mixed relay but these were Ireland’s first individual World Cup medals in their sport.





Things started to heat up this month when Kellie Harrington and Michaela Walsh both brought home bronze medals from boxing’s European senior championships in Bulgaria.


It was a third medal in three successive tournaments for Belfast featherweight Walsh who had earlier won silver at the Commonwealth Games and she also beat the world champion in Sofia.


Harrington, a world silver medallist in 2016, had to settle for bronze after losing a split decision to Finland’s Mira Potkonen, the woman who ended Katie Taylor’s Olympic title defence in Rio.





July was a month to remember for Irish basketball – with the Irish senior men’s team opening the month with a memorable bronze medal win in the European Small Countries Championships in San Marino!



A raft of age-level success in track and field this month suddenly set Irish athletics on fire and it was all kicked off by three schoolgirls at the European Youth (U18) Championships where Sarah Healy won both the 1500m and 3000m titles, Rhasidat Adeleke (only 15) took gold in the 200m and Sophie O’Sullivan won 800m silver.



A week later, at the even more competitive World Junior Championships (U20) in Finland, Irish athletes was celebrating again.


First came a sensational silver in the 4x100m women’s relay from the team of Gina Akpe-Moses, Molly Scott, Ciara Neville,Patience Jumbo-Gula and Rhasidat Adeleke.



And then Ulster high jumper Sommer Lecky (17) surpassed all expectations, breaking the Irish junior high jump record twice in her series, with 1.90m securing silver and just 2cm off the gold.



Their success doubled the number of medals Ireland had previously won at World Juniors, following Ciara Mageean (silver in 2010) and Antoine Burke (high jump silver in 1994).


Depth in Irish rowing was also demonstrated at their World U23 Championships in Poznan where Ireland had won two bronzes last year.


This year there was gold for the lightweight pair ( UCD’S Shane Mulvaney and David O’Malley) and silver for the lightweight quad of Andrew Goff, Ryan Ballantine, Niall Beggan and Miles Taylor plus two more Irish boats came fifth in the A finals.



County Down sailor Liam Glynn also made a significant podium in July when he won bronze in U21 Laser at the World Championships in Poland.



And rising Kildare paddler Ronan Foley also gave notice of his talent. He won the European junior K1 marathon title in Croatia and, two months later, capped his super year by winning junior K1 silver at the World Marathon Championships in Portugal.



The depth of Ireland’s young equestrian talent was also underlined in July with multiple undereage medals at European U14 and U16 level and, most significantly, an individual gold for Carlow’s Jason Foley at the European U18 Showjumping Championships in France.


He became Ireland’s first champion at this level in 42 years and also led Cian Harrison, Jason Foley, Harry Allen, Jack Ryan and Kate Derwin to a team bronze.



July started and ended on a high with the Irish U18 men’s basketball team bagging a bronze medal in the European Championships with Limerick’s Nate Moore pushing the Irish team ahead in the dying seconds resulting in a 93-91 win over Monaco




August 2018 will live long in the memory, thanks firstly to the Irish women’s hockey team who surpassed all expectations to bring home silver medals from the World Cup, an event for which they hadn’t even qualified for 16 years.


They won penalty shoot-outs in their quarter-final (against India) and, a sudden-death one to beat Spain in their semi to reach the final against world number ones Netherlands and though they lost 6-0 this was a game that thrilled both the eight-time champions and the losers.


Graham Shaw’s side have to start all over again in their bid for 2020 Olympic qualification which eluded them by just the width of a post in a shoot-out in 2015.


But improving their world ranking from 16th to eighth in London has vitally earned them home-advantage for their first qualification tournament next summer.



August marked the first time that a variety of sports came together to run their European Championships concurrently in Berlin and Glasgow and Ireland had great success at them, winning three breakthrough medals and getting an impressive 18 top eight finishes in five different sports.



The first medal came from swimmer Shane Ryan who won 50m backstroke bronze and, a few days later, Olympic finalist Thomas Barr made his first major podium, winning European bronze in a particularly competitive 400m hurdles final in Berlin – a third European bronze for Ireland in the last five years after Mark English (2014) and Ciara Mageean (2016).



Glasgow was also the venue where Rhys McClenaghan made Irish history by becoming European senior champion on the pommel horse, a phenomenal achievement for the Newtownards teenager who is now training fulltime at the Institute of Sport in Abbottstown.



A shoulder injury later in the season saw him fail to make the final at the World Championships in Doha in October but 2018 firmly established him internationally.


August also saw Kildare paddler Jenny Egan win Ireland’s first ever medal (K1 5000m bronze) at the World Sprint Canoe Championships in Portugal.



It also saw Wicklow teenager Lara Gillespie, a rising star in Irish cycling, win gold in the Points event at the European Junior Track Championships, where she also won silver in the Pursuit and narrowly missed the podium in the Omnium.



And it was also marked by Tyrone light fly-weight Jude Gallagher (16), a European Youth bronze winner in April, bringing home another bronze from the World Youth Championships in Budapest.




Another simply magical month got off to a flying start when Dublin sailors Robert Dickson and Sean Waddilove lifted the World U23 title in the 49er skiff class and did it, noticeably, in Marseille which will be the venue for Olympic sailing in 2024.


Paul and Gary O’Donovan, Rowing

Olympic silver medallists Gary and Paul O’Donovan became the Irish rowers to win a world title in an Olympic event, when they dominated their final and won the world lightweight doubles gold in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.


Just 24 hours later Sanita Puspure, who had been in brilliant form all season, made more history, winning gold in the women’s single sculls in truly dominant fashion.



To have three world champions in two days was incredible and, 24 hours later, more Irish athletes were making history at the World Equine Games in North Caroline.


They may have been seventh after the dressage but Ireland’s eventing team vaulted into second thanks to a brilliant round on the cross-country and held their place in the show-jumping section.


The team of Padraig McCarthy (Tipperary), Sarah Ennis (Meath), Cathal Daniels (Galway) and Sam Watson (Carlow) won silver and secured early Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020 and McCarthy also took individual silver where Ennis was also fifth.


Nhat Nguyen of Team Ireland, from Clarehall, Dublin


September also saw Ireland’s best young badminton player Nhat Nguyen win bronze at the European Junior Championships in Estonia and the Dublin teenager subsequently went all the way to the quarter-finals at the World Junior Championships in November where he lost out to Li Shifeng of China.





Another month and more medals, this time three from the third Summer Youth Olympics (for 15-18 year olds) which took place in Buenos Aires very late in the year.


Leitrim’s Dearbhla Rooney (17) won only Ireland’s fourth boxing medal at this level, a bronze at featherweight.


Dubliner Niamh Coyne won silver in the 100m breaststroke final where Mona

Dearbhla Rooney of Team Ireland, centre, from Manorhamilton, Leitrim

McSharry was just pipped for a medal by two hundredths of a second and the Sligo star also finished fourth in the 50m breaststroke final.


Niamh Coyne of Team Ireland, from Tallaght, Dublin










And remember the karate kid Sean McCarthy Crean? Yes, he was back on a podium, winning bronze in the first time his sport was included in this competition.

Emma Slevin of Team Ireland, from Renmore, Galway

Sean McCarthy-Crean, 2nd from left, of Team Ireland, from Cloghroe


Another to watch from that team in Argentina is gymnast Emma Slevin, who qualified for four finals and finished sixth in the allround, a phenomenal achievement by the Galway teenager.




The year finished on a real high when Kellie Harrington became Ireland’s fourth world champion in 2018.


A 2016 silver medallist at boxing’s World Championships, she went on a mission and safely got past four opponents to reach the 60kg final where Thailand’s Sudaporn Seesondee proved her most testing opponent but couldn’t match her superior skill and ring-craft.


Winning a second World Championship medal at a different weight (she fought at 64kg in ’16) underlines Harrington’s class. Only Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan have won world amateur titles before, and only Taylor and Joe Ward have ever reached more than one final.



Ireland actually came close to bringing home a second medal from New Delhi as Amy Broadhurst was regarded as very unlucky not to get the decision in her 64kg quarter-final.


Also in India in December was the Irish men’s hockey team, contesting their first World Cup in 28 years in Bhubaneswar.


It was only their third time to qualify, and hopes were high after their great opener – losing just 1-2 to top seeds Australia.


But then a particularly costly 1-1 draw with China, and a 4-2 loss to England, meant they did not progress past the group stages.



This year’s tricky mud-bath at the European Cross-Country in Tilburg, Netherlands also proved tough for the large Irish team for whom Ryan Forsythe (Newcastle) did best, finishing fourth in the U23 race.


But Sean Tobin (Clonmel) made 10th in a world-class senior men’s race, and to see Wicklow’s Emily O’Brien (8th) and Dublin’s Sarah Healy (9th, despite a fall) both finish the top 10 and get their junior (U20) side to within just three points of team bronze, was also encouraging.


And finally 2018 went out as it came in, with another major medal and further proof of the growing depth in Irish Olympic sport.


Shane Ryan’s 50m backstroke bronze at the World Short-Course Swimming Championships in Hangzhou was Irish swimming’s first ever in a (senior) World Championship, Ryan broke the national record in every round and his 22:76 bronze-winning time put him ninth on the alltime short-course rankings.



Irish teammates Conor Ferguson, Darragh Greene and Brendan Hyland all set new Irish senior records in their individual events and then the four combined to knock a whopping 18 seconds off the Irish Individual Medley record which had stood since 1991, a marvellous finish to a week in which they swam 11 national records (nine individual, two relay).


What a way to finish a marvellous year for Team Ireland!

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