Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: The Sporting Review

One year, 12 months, 366 days. What an incredible year in sport. Insane, even. 

2016 captivated the imagination of sports fans around the world. Drought-breaking, underdog, and resilient tales of success echoed around the globe’s codes and competitions. The constant theme uniting them all has been the ending of historic and long-held losing streaks. There’s never been a time like it. 

Consider that in just the four major American sports alone, two teams broke a combined 154 years of title droughts (MLB – Chicago Cubs, 108 years; NBA – Cleveland Cavaliers, 46 years). 

Across the Atlantic, Leicester rode football’s most unlikely fairy tale at yes, the odds of 5000 to 1. A feat as unlikely to occur again as it ever was in the first place. 

Champions of England, Leicester City.

Closer to home, the Western Bulldogs ended a 62-year wait in the AFL, while in the NRL, Cronulla finally turned off the porch light after 49 years in the competition. Both Australian premierships doing wonders for the rusted-on and long-serving fans of the game. 

On the international scene, the Rio Olympic Games came and went without the much anticipated fuss the world thought the first South-American location would bring. Star of the show Usain Bolt completed a trio of victories in the Men’s 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relays to claim all three gold medals for the third Olympics in a row.

Just sit back for a minute and reflect on what that represents in the context of historic places in sport. What a moment in time. While there are many champions and phenomenal achievements this year, it is impossible to not hand Bolt the title of sportsperson of the year

Bolt first, daylight second.

Moving back to team games, and specifically to Euro 2016 football championships. The surprising efforts of minnow nations Wales and Iceland surpassed any of the big-guns who simply didn’t fire. Wales, backed by an enduring team-spirit to honor their late manager and a group of players who thrived on their national pride, took themselves to the semi-finals after topping their group through sheer commitment and will, along with the right-foot of Gareth Bale. 

But they eventually ran into Bale’s teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, who led Portugal all the way to the final. There they faced France, winning in the most bizarre fashion after Ronaldo limped off early into the game, leaving the world’s best player unable to captain his side to a victory from the field. But, taking it in their stride, Portugal threw off the one-man team perception of them, coming away with a 1-nil extra-time win. Their first major tournament win ever. 

The NRL proved once again, that it is the media’s gift that just keeps on giving, with more scandals, controversies and unpredictable events than ever before. The year began with Mitchell Pearce enjoying Australia Day with a feline friend, moved to Parramatta showing they are the most-dysfunctional club in history, and a betting scandal unfolding that put every Tom, Dick and Harry at the center of. 

It is truly hard to believe sometimes how this sport continues to roll-on through everything uppercut it gives itself. By the end of the season though, the soap-opera somehow always seems to have its football push all the negatives to the side. 

The Robbie Farah farewell, Jarryd Hayne’s return that came with the ‘This is my house’ match-winning field goal, Dane Gagai’s Origin hat-trick, Ricky’s Raiders bringing new Glory Days to Canberra along with their spine-tingling Viking Clap, Penrith’s emergence as the best young-side in the comp, Melbourne’s everlasting and assured success deep into September, and last but not least, Cronulla’s Grand Final victory.

The Sharks celebrate after Ben Barba opens the scoring in the 2016 NRL Grand Final.

In sport, they say there is no better story than a comeback story, and if Cronulla’s meteoric rise to the competition’s highest rank isn’t the comeback of the year, then I’m Miles Davis. Just Two years after going through a near club-destroying drugs scandal, Shane Flanagan and the Sharks fought off their rivals to have the best season in the club’s history. It was their time to win it, but it certainly wasn’t easy. 

They almost lost Ben Barba after a mid-year punch up against Sosaia Feki, could have been without Andrew Fifita following his run-in with public criticism, and had to win in Canberra without inspirational skipper Paul Gallen. 

But the two people that brought the Sharks the stability and steadiness they needed to go to the next level were Michael Ennis and Lyall Gorman. Ennis, the side’s hooker provided the competitiveness, confidence, and guidance the team so desperately lacked. In Gorman, the club’s CEO, the Sharks became a club that looked, acted, and smelt-like a professional organisation. 

Congratulations Cronulla, comeback of the year.  

Despite all the crazy triumphs that 2016 brought, there was nothing that brought world sport to the ground more than Leicester City’s English Premier League title win. Every week, every game, every goal, every moment, fans road Leicester’s journey from the start to the end. 

Their success did more for football and the business that sport has become than anything else in the past decade. It gave hope, to every team, coach, player and fan out there, that sport is still a game. 

It can still be won against the odds. No matter the price-tag or the cost of an opposing line-up; hard-work, grit, determination, teamwork, togetherness, fearlessness, and a fighting spirit can still produce a miracle. And that is exactly what Leicester City’s 2016 win was, a sporting miracle. 

Could there ever have been a more wild ride as a fan than the Foxes journey?

A 132-year wait for a title conquest that was built on everything described, and an unbreakable amount of belief combined with a momentum and resilience never seen before. Foxes Never Quit. 

Sports team of the year, Leicester City Football Club.

What a twelve months, what a time to be alive.

Long live the year of the drought-breakers.

But bring on 2017!