Local Heroes – the analogue television years

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Like a lot of people, I love watching sport.

As I’ve written before on this site, sport is drama at its purest and when one of your own tribe triumphs on the international stage it has an extra special dimension.

Until our recent rash of golfing, Paralympics and Olympics achievements, international success has been sporadic at best for Irish and Northern Irish sports stars.

But when it happens, how sweet the sound.

Analogue TV has witnessed many Irish and Northern Irish triumphs.

Here are 11 favourites from the analogue age:

 

Gerry Armstrong in action for Northern Ireland

 

GERRY ARMSTRONG – 1982 WORLD CUP

It was a Friday night and I was 12 and the odds seemed heavily stacked against Billy Bingham’s Northern Ireland squad progressing beyond the group stages in the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

Northern Ireland had previously fought out two hard earned draws against Yugoslavia and Honduras but were facing the host nation in Valencia.

John Motson was the BBC1 commentator in a nervy match but after 47 minutes, a moment of magic occurred as Billy Hamilton crossed the ball into the Spanish box, their goalkeeper Luis Arconada palmed the ball straight into the path of Gerry Armstrong who hit it through a defender’s legs and into the net.

The remainder of the match was absolute agony, as Bingham’s side dug deep and defended heroically, only to see Mal Donaghy harshly sent off for a shove on Jose Camacho.

But what joy after the final whistle.

England may have 1966, Scotland may have Archie Gemmill’s goal against Holland in 1978, the Republic of Ireland may have David O’Leary and Packie Bonner in the penalty shootout in Italia ’90 against Romania.

This was Northern Ireland’s golden World Cup moment and what a night it was.

 

SEAMUS DARBY – 1982 ALL-IRELAND FOOTBALL FINAL

There have been many magical moments for Ulster’s Gaelic Footballers in my lifetime whether it was Down’s All-Ireland titles in 1991 and 1994, Donegal in 1992 and 2012, Derry in 1993, Armagh in 2002 or Tyrone in 2003, 2005 and 2008.

So why choose an Offaly triumph from 30 years ago?

Because of the sheer shock of seeing a great side like the Kerry team of Jack O’Shea, Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy and Eoin ‘Bomber’ Liston being slain in the last minute of the game.

Kerry were chasing their fifth title in a row and they were almost there.

But then, in arguably the most dramatic climax to an All-Ireland final Croke Park has ever seen, Seamus Darby showed incredible nerves of steel as he caught a high ball towards the box, pivoted and slotted the ball over Charlie Nettigan’s head into the net.

That one strike taught me that there are no certainties in sport which is why we love watching it.

 

Dennis Taylor celebrates victory

 

DENNIS TAYLOR – 1985 WORLD SNOOKER CHAMPIONSHIP FINAL

Belfast’s Alex Higgins may have been the most thrilling talent professional snooker has ever seen but Dennis Taylor’s World Championship victory at the Crucible in Sheffield in 1985 was its greatest ever final.

Almost 18.5 million people stayed up to the wee small hours of a Monday morning to watch on BBC2 the Coalisland man’s remarkable comeback against the previously unbeatable Steve Davis, with the legendary Ted Lowe commentating.

Trailing 7-0 in the first session, most people had written Taylor off when he lost the eighth but he showed remarkable spirit and pulled the final back to 9-7.

Taylor’s tenacity throughout the final was remarkable. Every time Davis pulled ahead at 11-8, then 13-11, 15-13 and 17-15, he levelled the match.

The final frame turned into an incredibly nervy black ball shootout and lasted over an hour, with Taylor again coming from behind.

Davis had his chances but ultimately it was Dennis Taylor’s night, prompting one of the most memorable victory celebrations – thumping his cue and wagging his finger as Lowe joyfully declared: “He’s done it!”

Make no mistake, this was as gripping and impressive as Europe’s recent defence of the Ryder Cup at Medinah or Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League Final comeback.

 

BARRY McGUIGAN – WBA FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE 1985

“Leave the fighting to McGuigan”, was the carefully crafted marketing tagline for the Clones featherweight boxer who in his amateur days marked himself out as a prodigious talent.

And for five years, Barry McGuigan provided some light amid the darkness of Northern Ireland’s Troubles, drawing supporters from both sides of the divide – fighting with the dove of peace emblazoned on his shorts.

The high point was undoubtedly a magnificent summer’s night in 1985 in Queen’s Park Rangers ground, Loftus Road in London, where he outclassed the WBA featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza.

Harry Carpenter was commentating for BBC1 as thousands of Irishmen in the stadium cheered McGuigan, his trainer Eddie Shaw and manager, Barney Eastwood.

It was a dazzling display by McGuigan whose status as a boxer who transcended boxing would later earn him a place in the Boxing Hall of Fame alongside his idol Sugar Ray Leonard.

It’s just a pity that one year later there was the crushing disappointment of a dehydrated champion wilting under the Las Vegas heat against an un-fancied Texan, Stevie Cruz.

 

Stephen Roche with the Yellow Jersey

 

STEPHEN ROCHE – 1987 TOUR DE FRANCE

In this golden age of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish, it is remarkable now to recall that two Irish riders, Sean Kelly and Stephen Roche, at one stage ruled the cycling world.

Waterford born Kelly had the more successful career but for one year in 1987, Dubliner Stephen Roche burned bright – winning the Triple Crown of the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and World Championship.

The most dramatic moment of Roche’s Tour de France victory came during Stage 20 at La Plagne where Roche rode the mountain stage like a demon to reduce a deficit opened up by his Spanish rival Pedro Delgado from one and a half minutes to just four seconds.

Channel 4’s Phil Liggett captured all the drama as Roche collapsed at the finishing line, passed out and had an oxygen mask strapped to his face.

It was as naked a display as any Irish sports figure has given of the sheer determination to win.

Within days, Roche was standing with the yellow jersey on the victor’s podium on the Champs Élysées with the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

 

RAY HOUGHTON – 1994 WORLD CUP

Christy Moore has ensured Ray Houghton is immortalised in song for sticking the ball in the net and handing Jack Charlton’s Republic of Ireland team a victory over England in the 1988 European Championships.

But it was another wonder goal that the Liverpool and Aston Villa midfielder scored in an Irish shirt that he should be canonised for.

Facing the highly fancied Italy in the 1994 World Cup, Jack Charlton’s green and white army of supporters invaded the Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey and witnessed Paul McGrath giving one of the finest performances an Irish defender has ever given.

However it was Ray Houghton’s audacious lob into the Italian goal and Terry Phelan containing his wildly ecstatic celebrations that are seared in everyone’s memory.

I watched the match with other University of East Anglia students in a tiny house in Norwich and was impressed by the way my English friends and English people generally throughout the World Cup adopted and wholeheartedly supported the Irish squad in the absence of England.

To my shame, I knew that support would not have been reciprocated if the boot was on the other foot.

It was a magical night and a magical result, marred by the horrific news of the gunning down of six people during the match by the UVF in the Heights Bar in Loughinisland.

 

Sonia O’Sullivan

 

SONIA O’SULLIVAN – 2000 OLYMPIC GAMES

In 1996, it seemed all Sonia O’Sullivan had to do was turn up, take off her tracksuit and she’d win a race but all that changed at the Olympic Games in Atlanta when Ireland’s greatest middle distance runner spectacularly combusted in the 5000 metres final.

We now know she was the victim of a stomach upset but it was one of the most upsetting sights ever to befall an Irish sporting icon, on a par with Eamonn Coghlan’s two heartbreaking fourth places in Olympic finals in Montreal and Moscow.

Fast forward four years to the Sydney Games and the Cobh woman was once again in contention, having won gold medals in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres at the European Athletics Championships.

O’Sullivan’s fans watching on RTE did not get the fairytale gold we all wanted her to lift but secured silver behind Romania’s Gabriela Szabo in a thrilling 5,000 metres final.

Nevertheless it was a monumental achievement for someone who bore the psychological scars of Atlanta and was as stunning as John Treacy’s silver in the marathon in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

 

PADRAIG HARRINGTON – 2007 OPEN GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

Prior to the recent eruption of Grand Slam golfing successes, Ireland only had one Major champion – Portrush’s Fred Daly in the 1947 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake.

Indeed, Ireland’s contribution to European golf success stories appeared to be confined to the pressure cooker of the Ryder Cup – whether it was Eamonn Darcy’s crazy singles victory over Ben Crenshaw at Muirfield in 1987, Christy O’Connor Jr’s majestic two iron to the final hole of The Belfry two years later, Philip Walton’s winning putt at Oak Hill in 1995 and Paul McGinley’s decisive 10 foot putt at The Belfry in 2002.

Dubliner Padraig Harrington, however, changed all that, overhauling a final round four stroke advantage Sergio Garcia had over him at Carnoustie, only to head into a four hole play-off with the Spaniard after appearing to wreck his chances with a Jean van de Velde style blow up on the 18th.

Gratefully grabbing his second chance, Harrington took a two stroke lead going down the 18th and rolled in a nervy three foot putt to end Ireland’s 60 year Major title famine.

A year later, he was dominant on the back nine as he brilliantly defended his title at Royal Birkdale.

But it is the surreal image of him being innocently asked in 2007 during the BBC’s coverage by his three year old son, Paddy if they could put ladybirds in the Claret Jug that remains one of the most touching moments in Irish sport.

 

Ronan O’Gara

 

RONAN O’GARA – 2009 GRAND SLAM, SIX NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIP

One of my fondest memories as a boy was sitting down on alternate Saturdays with my dad in the heart of winter to watch Ireland duke it out against England, Scotland, Wales and France in what was originally the Five Nations Championship.

I can just about recall the wonderful Mike Gibson turning out for Ireland and the great Welsh team of Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams.

I vividly remember the era of Ollie Campbell and Tony Ward, the flair of France’s Jean Pierre Rives and Serge Blanco, Scotland’s Grand Slam winning Hastings Brothers, Ciaran Fitzgerald bawling “Where’s Your F%#€~’n Pride?” before Michael Kiernan’s dramatic last minute drop goal to clinch the Triple Crown at Landsdowne Road in 1985 and the ruthlessness of Sir Clive Woodward’s England at the same venue eight years later as they demolished Ireland to capture the Grand Slam before going on to lift the World Cup later that year.

How could I forget Ulster’s moment in the sun at the 1999 Heineken Cup Final against Colomiers?

But for any Irish rugby fan, the moment we will all treasure is the Millennium Stadium shootout against Wales jn Cardiff in 2009 and the ending of a 61 year hoodoo.

In the matches leading up to Cardiff it had been a white knuckle ride against England and Scotland but, under the gaze of RTE’s excitable commentator Ryle Nugent, nothing came close to the frenetic last five minutes of a match in Wales that ebbed and flowed.

After an initial Welsh charge, Ireland came from behind and built up a lead with Brian O’Driscoll and Tommy Bowe tries, only to see Warren Gatland’s side haul themselves back into contention.

In the dying moments, Stephen Jones thought he had clinched the Triple Crown for Wales with a drop goal, only to see Ronan O’Gara score a critical drop goal at the other end.

Finally, Jones missed a last gasp penalty – as I’ve argued, drama at its purest.

 

DARREN CLARKE – 2011 OPEN GOLF CHAMPIONSHIP

In 2006, I was privileged to be at the K Club to watch Darren Clarke riding a wave of emotion to win his opening fourballs match alongside Lee Westwood against Phil Mickelson and Chris diMarco at the Ryder Cup.

It was an extraordinary performance from the Dungannon golfer, who would go on to claim three points out of three in the competition in the wake of the tragic loss of his wife Heather to cancer just weeks before.

The understandable slump in form that followed the K Club meant Clarke was written off as one of the greatest golfers never to win a Major.

How wrong we were.

For four days in Royal St George’s in Sandwich before an audience on the BBC, he played majestic links golf to claim the 2011 Open Golf Championship, benefitting from a spectacular collapse by his final round playing partner Dustin Johnson.

If ever there was a People’s Champion, Darren Clarke is that person.

Not only were sports fans delighted that he had fulfilled his potential and found a new woman in his life but they were also touched that on the day of his greatest golfing triumph, he remembered Heather.

 

Michael McKillop

 

JASON SMYTH AND MICHAEL McKILLOP – LONDON 2012 PARALYMPIC GAMES

We will never have a summer sport like the summer of 2012 and London really needs to take a bow for the role it played in that.

After a magical Olympic Games, few would have believed the Paralympic Games would actually outshine its cousin but that is exactly what happened.

Two Northern Irish Paralympic athletes had a major hand in that.

Partially sighted Derry man Jason Smyth is to the sprint events in the Paralympics what Usain Bolt is to the Olympics and he destroyed the field with two magnificent displays in the 100 metres and 200 metres T13 events.

His roommate Michael McKillop from Glengormley, who suffers from cerebral palsy, turned in equally impressive gold medal winning performances in the T37 800 metres and 1500 metres finals and deservedly Whang Youn Dai Achievement Award at the end of the Games as the athlete who best exemplified the spirit of the Paralympics.

Along with Bethany Firth in the swimming, both men helped break down public prejudices about disability and sport. Don’t bet against Smyth achieving his goal of Olympic qualification in Rio 2016.


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About Author

Dan McGinn has been a journalist since 1989 who has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and the Press Association news agency where he served as the Ireland Deputy Editor and Political Editor. In 2008 he joined the Northern Ireland Executive's Information as a Principal Information Officer, working for Arlene Foster and Sammy Wilson during their tenures as Environment Minister. A year later, he joined the University of Ulster as its Director of Media and Corporate Relations. In 2013, he was appointed Media and Corporate Affairs Manager at the Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland. A long suffering West Ham fan, he is married with a Disney and One Direction obsessed daughter. A graduate in Film and American Studies at the University of East Anglia, he has been a film buff ever since he saw 'Jaws' at the age of six in Belfast's Grove Cinema and still loves cinema despite exposure to 'Alvin & The Chipmunks' and 'Nativity 2' as a critic for this website.

2 Comments

  1. Great memories with your article Dan, but can I make mention of A.P McCoy, the greatest jump jockey ever. And what about his Moneyglass neighbour, W.J McBride and that Lions tour….

  2. You just did, Ray! AP McCoy deserves his place. Unfortunately I never got to see Willie John McBride in his prime but I know where you are coming from.

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