Who doesn’t love some controversy? Coupled with the positive moments of pride and jubilation, controversy is a core ingredient that makes sport everything it is today. It is the controversial moments that give all of us pundits something to talk about in the corners of the pub for the following weeks. In light of this, Eoin Lyons takes a look back at 5 controversial moments in Irish sport that shook the nation.
5. The Brian O’ Driscoll Spear Tackle
Okay, so we are still talking about BOD, and rightfully so. This vicious tackle on the 2005 Lions Tour destroyed what was supposed to be the pinnacle of O’ Driscoll’s career. As captain of the Lions and arguably the best player in the world, all was put in place for Brian to take the Tour by storm, and cement his place in the annals of rugby history.
While of course, he did so in recent years, it had to be delayed thanks to a tackle by Tana Umaga which left O’ Driscoll with a tour-ending dislocated shoulder.Just forty seconds into his tour, O’ Driscoll was ploughed on to the ground by Umaga after a collapsed ruck, and BOD was left reeling on the ground.
Understandably, the entire nation was angered. The only other rugby event which even came close to this level of frustration was the McRae/O’ Gara incident. While Umaga believes the event was overplayed, there is no denying that rugby fans at least, will mark this down as one of the most controversial moments in Irish sport, as it knocked the sails out of an icon.
4. 1998 Clare v Offaly: All Ireland Semi-Final Replay
No article centred upon controversy could be complete without an appearance by the GAA. It is the most beloved sport in our country, and a combination of passion and tempo inevitably result in many instances of controversy. This moment back in 1998, when Jimmy Cooney blew the final whistle two and a half minutes early, understandably sent both the crowd and pundits wild.
The Offaly fans at the match were so incensed by the decision that they took part in a sit-down protest on the pitch, a sight which has surely never been seen before or since in the top tiers of GAA. Following further protests by many in the aftermath of this game, an enquiry was undertaken, resulting in yet another replay between the two sides. It must be said, there was a lot of co-operation from Clare who had won the infamous fixture, and who remained gracious in defeat following the defeat to Offaly in the ‘third time lucky’ replay.
Offaly went on to win the All-Ireland final that year and can take some positives from the season. Jimmy Cooney however, must still not be hearing the end of it!
3. Michelle Smith: Did she/didn’t she?
After leaving the country in awe and amazement with her three gold and one bronze medal tally in Atlanta ’96, Michelle Smith returned home with her name in the history books for this unprecedented Olympic performance. In typical Irish style however, controversy soon ensued.
What initially seemed like begrudgery by certain Irish journalists, soon turned itself into rightful suspicion. Due to much speculation surrounding the staggering performance by the Dubliner, the FINA inevitably chose to take a sample from Smith at her home in Dublin. The sample however, was soon found to have been tampered with, seemingly found to have traces of whiskey added. The tampering of the sample resulted in a four-year ban being handed down to Smith, whose career was now over thanks to an unsuccessful appeal of the ban.
Due to the formalities however, Smith still holds her medals as she never tested positive for any performance enhancers. There is surely a tangible waft of controversy off the cabinet at home though.
2. The hand of Thierry Henry
I will never forget how angry I was watching these events unfold in the World Cup qualifiers back in 2009. I’m sure I speak for almost an entire nation when I relive the memory of jumping out of my seat and losing any admiration for Henry in one fell swoop of a handball.
In remarkable fashion, Ireland had overturned a 1-0 defeat in Dublin in the first leg, to now hold the same score over their French opponents in Paris. The goal came in extra time however, and was wrongfully allowed. Due to a superior aggregate score, the French progressed.
As a nation, we all felt cheated and frustrated. The mighty French squad were no better than the Irish over the two legs, yet managed to progress in controversial fashion. The aftermath was understandably awash with appeals from many governing bodies, not just the FAI. Although Henry did later admit his mistake, he still remains I’m sure, on that list everyone has in the back of their mind.
It is a word that immediately divides opinion. Roy Keane’s departure from Ireland’s preparations for the 2002 World Cup on the island of Saipan still instils some hearty debate whenever the topic is raised. The sheer division it created within our nation alone warrants its position at the top of this list, cemented further by the vast amount of media attention it received, both here and abroad.
Following a bust-up with manager Mick McCarthy, the full details of which are still mere speculation, Roy Keane chose to fly home in frustration. Immediately, critics of McCarthy (Cork basically) began to damn the head coach for causing Ireland’s captain and best player to walk out of training just days before the biggest tournament in world soccer was to begin. The other side of the divide chose to attack Keane’s apparent lack of national pride, and were openly disappointed that he would let one bust-up affect a whole country’s prospects for the summer.
No matter which side of the argument you rest on, the credibility of both McCarthy and Keane was never the same after this infamous incident. I would almost go so far as to say that anyone who reads this will inevitably debate about it later on today, a true sign of how controversial this list-topper really was.
Roy Keane Saipan Interview Part 1:
Roy Keane Saipan Interview Part 2:
Roy Keane Saipan Interview Part 3:
Roy Keane Saipan Interview Part 4:
Pundit Arena, Eoin Lyons.