It was difficult not to get swept away in the furore around Shane Lowry’s Open Championship victory given the magnitude of what the Clara man achieved.
Lowry blew his world-class competition out of the water in Portrush before winning by six shots and scenes of the Offaly native walking up the 18th fairway, fighting his way through the crowd as they swarmed around him, were unforgettable.
The rings of ‘olé, olé, olé’ as he raised his arms and soaked up the atmosphere before putting his way to a first-ever Major, were incredible.
They really were special scenes and it reverberated around the entire country. People all over Ireland took to the pubs and clubs in anticipation of what Lowry was about to achieve. Even the premium punters in Croke Park were taking time out from the game of the season to track his progress.
His win engulfed the entire nation. We all rolled in behind him (as is so often the case with our athletes) but it does pose the question; was this Ireland’s biggest individual sporting moment?
Of course, we’ve got memories of Italia ’90 and Offaly in ’82 as heroic sporting achievements.
But in terms of a single athlete whose greatness or moment of greatness brought the entire country to a standstill, was Shane Lowry’s moment the best?
Here are Corry’s Corner’s Top Five individual sporting achievements that engulfed the nation.
5. Sonia O’Sullivan (Sydney 2000)
An Irish icon. You only have to say ‘Sonia‘ and everybody knows who you’re talking about.
Ireland was forever gripped by the long-distance runners’ exploits. After narrowly missing out on medalling at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, O’Sullivan’s career reached a low ebb at the 1996 Games in Atlanta when she failed to qualify for the 1500m semi-finals.
After the double disappointment, Sonia returned for the 2000 Games in Sydney. It was thought that something special could happen given her affiliation to Australia and that proved correct as she was narrowly pipped to the post by Romania’s Gabriela Szabo in a gripping 5000m final watched on by the entire country.
She may not have won gold but Sonia O’Sullivan the person, as well as the athlete, united the entirety of Ireland who wanted nothing more than to see her succeed.
4. Michael Carruth (Barcelona 1992)
Not since Ronnie Delaney in 1956 had Ireland tasted gold medal success at an Olympic Games.
That was until Dublin boxer Michael Carruth came along and fought his way to victory in the welterweight division at the Barcelona Games 27 years ago in what was one of the most memorable occasions in the history of Irish sports.
Carruth had to do it the hard way too, both before and during the Olympic Games. First, he had to overcome lifelong friend, and now world-renowned coach, Billy Walsh following a three-fight saga to gain qualification before beating the seemingly unbeatable Cuban, Juan Hernandez Sierra, in the gold medal match.
A day when all of Ireland rejoiced in celebration. Carruth is very much an Irish hero to this day.
3. Conor McGregor (UFC 205 2016)
A contentious selection no doubt!
It’s fair to say that Conor McGregor divides more than unites, however, McGregor fever engulfed the nation when he fought, won and proclaimed his love for Ireland (we do have a soft spot for that).
The wheels came off temporarily when the Dubliner was submitted by Nate Diaz only to return three months later and defeat Diaz in the rematch. The win set McGregor up for a shot at a second UFC belt against Eddie Alvarez.
Thousands descended upon the ‘Big Apple’ as a stream of green, white and orange took hold of the city and the atmosphere was the same back home. It was impossible not to be swept away in the atmosphere, nerves and tribal nature of it all.
On the night, he put in the most impressive performance of his career to become the UFC’s first-ever simultaneous two-division champion.
2. Katie Taylor (London 2012)
Much like ‘Sonia’, the name ‘Katie’ means one person and one person only. These days, the Bray boxer has hit global superstardom thanks to her exploits in the professional game but when compiling this list it’s difficult to look beyond the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Growing up, Katie dreamed of one day getting to represent Ireland in an Olympic Games. The only problem being, women’s boxing wasn’t recognised by the IOC as an event.
Eventually, it was passed in time for Katie to fulfil her lifelong dream of winning an Olympic gold medal.
Following the fight, RTÉ revealed viewing figures of 1.1 million people who tuned in to watch Taylor win gold. In truth though, one million pales in comparison to how many actually watched. Bars across the country were packed and her hometown of Bray had it on a big screen so locals could revel in it together. It was Katiemania and the start of a real love-affair between herself and the people of this country.
1. Shane Lowry (The Open 2019)
Maybe it’s the freshness of it all but it really is hard to top Shane Lowry’s win on Sunday. To host the Open in Ireland for the first time in 68 years and then for an Irish man to win it… that’s tough to top.
We already spoke about the scenes on Championship Sunday when Lowry trotted up the 18th fairway with his arms raised, basking in the glory and many of his colleagues have alluded to the fact that Lowry’s win felt different to most Majors.
We’ve seen the footage of the 20,000 strong crowds that descended upon Clara on Tuesday.
On top of all that, it’s clear that Shane Lowry is one of the good guys. Just a proud Offaly and Clara GAA man who knows he is in a privileged position and wants to share it with as many people as he can.