MID-SUMMER CAN BE a quiet time in sport but July 2011 had it all.
There was Irish success at international level, great tennis at Wimbledon, top class action in the senior football and hurling Championships, promising results in Europe for Airtricity League clubs but nothing could top Darren Clarke’s win at The Open.
Darren Clarke: Hot on the heels of his win at the US Open, Rory McIlroy was the leading Irish golfer (and European) heading into the third Major of the year. Former winners Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington seemed to be happy to tag along for the ride, while, for many of us, it was ‘nice’ to see Clarke still mixing it with the big boys.
Changing conditions and steady play from the 42-year-old altered his career stats forever, Clarke holding off Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to secure his first ever Major title. It’s always great to celebrate Irish success, but this win went even further as anyone who’s familiar with the golfer’s own story knows. Clarke is affable and funny, he’s been around during the dry years for Irish golf, likes a pint and even describes himself as a ‘normal’ bloke. A quality, well-deserved victory.
Novak Djokovic: 2011 will forever be the year of Novak Djokovic. The Serb started the season on fire by winning the Australian Open and those who thought his run had ended at the French Open (where he was beaten by Roger Federer in the semi-finals) were to be disappointed when the 24-year-old came back stronger than ever to claim his first Wimbledon title at the beginning of July. He did so in style – beating Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3 in the final – before becoming world number one for the first time a day later on July 4th.
Team Ireland: Ireland’s representatives at this year’s Special Olympics in Greece returned with an astounding tally of 92 medals, including 30 gold, following some incredible performances at the Games. The Irish achieved superb results throughout and the medal collection is put in real perspective by the fact that only 126 athletes travelled as part of the group.
David Haye: After all his pre-match chatter of needing only six rounds to beat rival Wladimir Klitschko, Haye lost his WBA heavyweight title by unanimous decision in July. The bout was a tame one, doing nothing to change widely-held views about the standard of boxing in the division, and the British fighter revealed a hidden injury in the aftermath of his defeat – he had broken his toe in training and claimed he was unable to push off his right foot throughout the clash as a result. Still, he didn’t do enough to worry Klitschko on the night and never looked like causing the upset he so desperately desired.
The Football Association of Ireland: The FAI wanted to show the world its new stadium this summer but in organising the Dublin Super Cup, they forgot to look after their own. On the eve of the tournament, the Airtricity League squad threatened to withdraw their services from the tournament over pay rates and the revelation that they had no working showers after training. A pay increase was duly agreed but the blocks of empty seats visible throughout the weekend will have done little to improve the tournament’s reputation.
Conal Keaney: Dublin’s hurling panel was dealt a massive blow towards the end of the month when one of its leading stars was involved in a motorbike accident, suffering two significant injuries in the process. Keaney was on his way to work when his bike collided with a van leaving him with a broken ankle and cruciate ligament damage that ruling him out of the remainder of the Championship.
Highlight of the Month
We can’t look any further than Clarke’s win at The Open. Whereas his fellow Northern Irishmen had been taking the Tour by storm in recent years, Clarke – for the main part – has been playing more obscure dates in the hope of retaining his playing card and making a living for himself. He did nothing truly spectacular at Royal St. George’s either – he was just incredibly consistent and stayed clear of danger when all around him faltered. The knock-on effects, too, have been massive because the win has seen Clarke taking part in tournaments that he might only have dreamed of six months ago. The triumph is unlikely to change his approach to golf either, something at least one former Major winner I can think of might take on board.
Picture of the Month
An elated Clarke enjoys his moment in the limelight – Claret jug to his right, a pint within reach. Pic Tim Hales/AP/Press Association Images
Sporting Viral of the Month
The Rugby World Cup was still a blip on the horizon when this video was put together by Puma but the message – that our boys were passionate about their rugby – was enough to start getting everyone excited about the possibilities ahead. Such insights in a team environment are also very welcome in an era where training camps are as secure and protected as Camp David…
YouTube credit: ninetyninecall
Tweet of the Month
Rio Ferdinand had the Twitter world up in arms back in July when he, along with his Manchester United team-mates, had a tour of the White House only for one of his tweeted pictures to be removed from the social networking site.
The Manchester United star cheekily tweeted that the security team at the US President’s residence needed to be “beefed”, posting an image of staff members along with his comment. However, when the picture vanished, Ferdinand cried foul, tweeting: ‘Whoa….some1 has got into my phone + taken down my pics off twitter….this is deep…is jack Bauer in Washington?!”