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John Duggan: There is a hierar...
Soccer

John Duggan: There is a hierarchy of sporting dominance

John Duggan writes that Man United's thumping of Southampton generated thoughts of truly dominant sporting feats, ones that mattered...

When Southampton's Alexandre Jankewitz trudged off for his early bath after his reckless lunge on Scott McTominay 79 seconds into the Premier League game against Manchester United at Old Trafford, we all knew it was going to be a long night for the Saints. 

They would end up on the receiving end of a 9-0 pasting, the second time they have suffered that fate in sixteen months. It was a match that got away from Southampton and that's happened to other teams in the top tier of English football - Ipswich Town in 1995 against United, Crystal Palace in 1989 versus Liverpool - all 9-0 victims.

These moments are notable, but they don't make a significant impact. In fact, in 1990, Palace beat Liverpool 4-3 in the FA Cup semi-final, months after their embarrassment. Southampton could easily defeat United the next time they meet at St Mary's.

However, there have been dominant displays that reflect a central pillar in the narrative of an individual, or a team, or a sport over just one day or many years.

I have picked eleven supreme achievements from a range of sports, with a short vignette around each. You will undoubtedly have your own!

Kerry 1979 / Dublin 2019 

There have been two dominant Gaelic Football teams in history - notwithstanding the claims of Wexford in the early part of the 20th century or Kerry's first four-in-a-row team - the Kerry and Dublin teams of the contemporary era stand alone.

Kerry were untouchable in 1979. They started off in Munster by vapourising Clare by 9-21 to 1-9 in what became known as the 'Miltown Malbay Massacre'. That was followed by a 10 point win over Cork in the Munster final, a 22 point dismissal of Monaghan in the All-Ireland semi-final, and an 11 point victory over Dublin in the All-Ireland final. Kerry wouldn't lose again until the 1982 decider - when the pressure of five in a row, a missed penalty, an inspired Offaly, and a late Seamus Darby goal sunk the dream.

40 years later, Dublin wavered in their bid for five in a row, a man down and on the ropes against Kerry in the All-Ireland final, before earning a draw and then having enough quality to win the replay. Two dominant counties, one set of bragging rights.

Shergar 1981 

The story of Shergar as a racehorse is wonderful, but his fate took a sad and weird turn. The Irish bred horse, owned by the Aga Khan, won the Epsom Derby by 10 lengths in 1981 - his 19-year-old jockey Walter Swinburn going easy on the colt in the closing stages. Shergar left them for dead, and it was an iconic performance - still the widest winning margin in the history of a race which was first run in 1780.

In February 1983, the horse was kidnapped from the Ballymany stud farm in Kildare. The IRA never admitted responsibility, but their gloves were all over the incident. A ransom of £2 million punts was believed to have been demanded. The horse was never seen again - the story goes that his kidnappers couldn't handle a thoroughbred racehorse and as the plan unravelled, they ended up shooting the poor animal and burying him in a bog in County Leitrim.

New Zealand 1987 

Before New Zealand began to fail at the art of winning the Rugby World Cup - they could come up short five times before 2011 - there was their first victory, in the inaugural tournament of 1987. It was hosted in New Zealand and Australia and the All Blacks were miles ahead of everyone else. As a kid, I vaguely recall the tournament - the weird times of the games - the replays. Grant Fox kicking at goal all the time is the standout memory. That's because New Zealand scored a lot of tries.

The All Blacks scored 30 tries in their Pool, putting 74 points on Fiji, 70 on Italy and 46 on Argentina. In the knockout stage, the All Blacks squashed the opposition with ruthless efficiency - Scotland by 30 points to 3 in the quarter-final - Wales by 49 points to 6 in the semi-final, and France by 29 points to 9 in the final. They never had a close game. The biggest surprise was Serge Blanco's French flair knocking Australia out in the semis. French romance was short-lived against a New Zealand team containing Sean Fitzpatrick, John Kirwan, Michael Jones and Wayne 'Buck' Shelford. Peerless.

Steffi Graf 1988

After Margaret Court and before Serena Williams, there was the Martina Navratilova era - Navratilova was the top women's tennis player for 332 weeks until 1987, when Steffi Graf knocked her off her perch. What Graf achieved in 1988 is unlikely ever to be repeated. Then a 19-year-old, the German won all four Grand Slam tournaments - the Australian, French and US Opens and Wimbledon within the calendar year. She also claimed the Olympic gold medal in Seoul. It was the 'Golden Slam'. Paris was where Graf won her first major - beating Navratilova in the 1987 French Open decider - and Roland Garros was also the scene of her final triumph - against a sulky Martina Hingis in 1999.

So it's fitting that the French Open would showcase Graf at her zenith in the 1988 final. She whitewashed Natasha Zvereva, 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes, requiring just 61 points. Without counting slams, is Graf the best women's tennis player of all time?

Steve Davis 1989

As a boy, I was a Steve Davis 'man', as contradictory as that sounds. I was in the Davis camp, because I liked winners. I also liked the way he would build breaks and wear down opponents with immaculate safety. So older teenagers would be - rightly - devoted to the more entertaining players (and characters) - Alex Higgins and Jimmy White. This was snooker's golden age and the World Championship was essential viewing for hours on end.

I wanted Davis to win titles forever, but Stephen Hendry was the up and comer and that annoyed me. In 1989, Davis crushed John Parrott by 18 frames to 3 and won his sixth world crown with a session to spare. It was never the same again. It's almost as if Davis had reached the mountain top and there was nowhere else but down. Hendry claimed the first of a record seven world titles the next year. The king was dead, long live the king.

Roy Keane 1999 

Has there been a greater performance by an Irish player in a club football game? Roy Keane and Manchester United turned up in Turin to play Juventus in the second leg of the 1999 Champions League semi-final with the match tied at a goal apiece. United were attempting to end a 31-year wait to reach a European Cup decider against the leading side in Europe - the Old Lady. Juventus had reached the previous three Champions League finals.

Carlo Ancelotti was the manager of Juventus, having replaced Marcello Lippi during the season. Filippo Inzaghi had Juventus 2-0 up inside 11 minutes. Then Keane went into overdrive, scoring the goal in the 24th minute that dragged United back into the game. Dwight Yorke then equalised before the break and United were ahead on away goals. The win would be secured by a late Andy Cole goal. It was all about Keane though - a magisterial performance, made even more special by the knowledge that a booking he received in the game would rule him out of the final.

Keane commanded a pitch that included Edgar Davids, Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane with interceptions, tackling and metronomic passing. There is a sense of heroic sporting tragedy that Keane missed the final.

Alex Ferguson wrote about it in his first autobiography, Managing My Life. "It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player."

Tiger Woods 2000

The 'Tiger Slam' - the possession of four major golf titles at one time - began at the US Open in June 2000. Tiger Woods may never reach Jack Nicklaus' total of 18 majors - but that spell made it clear to me anyway - if Nicklaus is the greatest champion, Woods is the greatest player to have picked up a club.

That was clear from watching the US Open at Pebble Beach. Tiger was just in utter control of the golf ball at a very tough course. He drove the ball beautifully, he shaped shots with his irons, he putted like a God. He would finish on 272 strokes, a total of 12 under par, 15 shots clear of the field. 15 shots! He also threw in a triple bogey on the Saturday for good measure. Woods was so competitive that he was determined not to drop a shot on the Sunday. He didn't.

Watching Woods that summer made me feel like his talent was mysterious - a bit like Diego Maradona. It was from another planet. Woods then went to St Andrews, the home of golf, and won the Open Championship without finding a bunker all week. This time it was an 8 shot win, and Woods only made three bogeys in 72 holes. Genuinely breathtaking. A US PGA Championship victory followed weeks later.

The Michael Schumacher era 2000-2004  

I grew up watching Formula One being very competitive - Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost and the legendary Ayrton Senna would all win their fair share of titles. Michael Schumacher's first Grand Prix drive was for Eddie Jordan's team in 1991 and he then went on to win two world titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995, his talent as a driver and work ethic matched by Ross Brawn's engineering. When Schumacher joined Ferrari, he was followed by Brawn. The famous Italian team hadn't won a world title since 1979.

Schumacher and Ferrari would go on to completely dominate Formula One, racking up five successive drivers championships between 2000 and 2004. That level of consistency in a high octane, dangerous sport put the German on another level. Schumacher and Brawn's exploits in making Ferrari top dogs were subsequently replicated when Brawn persuaded Lewis Hamilton to join Mercedes. Last year, Hamilton matched Schumacher's haul of seven world titles. There will always be arguments as to who is the greatest, but when you see Mick Schumacher, Michael's son, poignantly presenting Hamilton with one of his father's helmets, such comparisons are academic.

Kilkenny 2008 

Brian Cody's Kilkenny are the best hurling team to have played the game - the legends roll off the tongue - DJ Carey, Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Eoin Larkin, Eddie Brennan, Michael Fennelly, TJ Reid, Richie Hogan.

Tipperary stopped Kilkenny from winning five in a row, but the black and amber were four in a row champions between 2006 and 2009, on a run which would see them lift the Liam McCarthy cup eight times in ten years until 2015.

In these golden eras, there are days when the champion is just unassailable. The 2008 All-Ireland final was one of those days, as Kilkenny beat Waterford by 3-30 to 1-13, a winning margin of 23 points. The Cats won every battle on the field that day and ruthlessly broke Deise hearts. Eddie Brennan scored two quickfire goals in the first half and Kilkenny led by 17 points at half time. It was pure hurling and as close to the definition of a GAA 'trimming' as one could get.

Germany 2014 

There was such hope for Brazil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The host nation, football crazy, were expectant that the ghosts of 1950, when Uruguay shocked them at the Maracana - would be banished. Brazil didn't have the quality of 2002 when Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho ran the show. They had a suspect defence and edged Chile on penalties in the last 16. Then talisman Neymar was injured against Colombia and missed the semi-final against Germany, for which captain Thiago Silva was suspended.

Germany were building towards World Cup glory for years, narrowly losing the 2010 semi-final to eventual winners Spain and reaching at least the last four of international tournaments going back to 2006. Jogi Low's side would win a tense final against Argentina 1-0. Days before that, the Germans inflicted a 7-1 defeat on Brazil in Belo Horizonte, the worst in Brazil's history.

It was embarrassing to watch. One almost had to look away, as Germany opened up a 5-0 lead inside 29 minutes. The goals were so easy. Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Miroslav Klose, Sami Khedira and Andre Schurrle were the goalscorers, Kroos and Schurrle twice. This was a national humiliation for Brazil and the scars will not begin to heal until they win a sixth World Cup.

The Usain Bolt era 2008-2016

I don't know if it's nostalgia for the 1981 film 'Chariots of Fire', which chronicled the lives of a couple of British athletes at the 1924 Paris Olympics - but the 100 metres dash always piques my interest. In 1924, Harold Abrahams, a British athlete, won in a time of 10.6 seconds - and he's captured in the film.

Of course, the 100 metres at the Olympics has not been without controversy or suspicion, reaching its nadir in 1988 with the Ben Johnson affair. Justin Gatlin, who won the 2004 renewal, has been found to have doped in his career.

So I have always felt Jamaican Usain Bolt had to be a freak of nature to achieve what he did on the track. The 6 foot 5-inch sprinter won a hat-trick of Olympic doubles in the 100 and 200 metres - collecting 8 gold medals at the Summer Games. He holds the world record for the 100 metres - 9.58 - and for the 200 metres.

Bolt would surge in the middle of his races with devastating speed. He could even react in real-time while the race was on. It was like he was doing something completely different to everyone else. He smiled at the camera in the Rio semi-final. I often asked myself, is this real?

It was real and it was an eye-opener to witness it live in Rio. Covering the event amid the madness of the Pat Hickey scandal, Katie Taylor's loss and Michael Conlan's run in with the boxing judges had one wondering what was next.

What was certain was that Bolt would win and he did. It was first come, first serve for press seats in Rio and the race was due off at 10.30pm local time. I was the first to arrive at 6pm and I didn't leave my seat once, not for a call of nature, not for a bottle of Coke, nothing. Bolt was sensational. It all went by in a flash. I wonder what Harold Abrahams would think of it all.

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