Ireland's CJ Stander celebrates after his side's win over New Zealand in Chicago.
Ireland's CJ Stander celebrates after his side's win over New Zealand in Chicago. Kamil Krzaczynski

Ireland's win caps remarkable year of upsets

HAS there ever been a year like this? And now the mighty All Blacks have fallen in the Year of the Sporting Underdog.

Taking inspiration from the Cubs, it was another "Miracle in Chicago” as Ireland's national rugby team ended an even longer streak than the Windy City's baseball team has endured by doing what was considered impossible - beating the best team in the game's history, the All Blacks.

There must be something in the water in Chicago this week. In front of 62,000 fans at Solider Field, Ireland was magnificent in a magnificent sporting week.

And now their 40-29 victory over the All Blacks - the first in their history - has added an exclamation mark to an incredible sporting year where the underdog has ruled.

In fact, there is a compelling case that we are witnessing the greatest year in international sport.

It's been the year of the story, the year of the miracle. It's been a year that has reminded us why, for all its issues and problems, we love sport - for the way it can inspire, tug at the heartstrings and invoke impossible drama.

Look at the evidence so far in 2016.

Top of the list is Leicester City's still unbelievable exploits in the English Premier League. The 5000-1 title odds at the start of the season accurately reflected their chances, but the Foxes overcame all conventional logic and history for the most unlikely title win in British football history. And it's something that we, nor the grandchildren of our grandchildren, are unlikely to see again.

One month after Leicester, the unfashionable Cleveland Cavaliers banked their maiden NBA championship, in the process becoming the first team to come back from 3-1 down to win in the history of the NBA finals.

Cleveland's favourite son, LeBron James, was the catalyst for the victory over the favoured Golden State Warriors, which also lifted the so-called Cleveland sports curse, after all of the city's sporting franchises had gone without a trophy for more than 50 years.

At home, the Western Bulldogs and Cronulla Sharks ended title droughts that had lasted for generations. And it wasn't just the result, but how they won; the Bulldogs beating heavy favourites, the Sydney Swans, in an AFL classic, and the Sharks' long-awaited NRL victory being in doubt up until the final seconds against the Melbourne Storm.

The Bulldogs also became the first team to win from seventh place at the end of the regular season, and ended a 62-year wait for their second title. The Sharks' first premiership was captured after half-a-century of hope and hurt, with four previous unsuccessful grand final attempts.

But their waits were nothing compared with the Chicago Cubs and their long-suffering fans.

When the MLB side last won the World Series, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, the Wright brothers were taking their first flights and the start of World War I was still six years away.

Of course, the Cubs have now won their first World Series since 1908, defeating the Cleveland Indians in a seven-match thriller and inspiring Ireland's rugby team along the way.

In another memorable sporting chapter, Wales and Iceland provided some of the best drama seen at an European football championships, while Portugal managed an unlikely triumph in France for its first trophy on the world stage.

In Super Rugby, the Hurricanes' win over the Lions was well received, as Beauden Barrett's team finally got their hands on the trophy.

But when it comes to rugby upsets, nothing has topped Ireland's heroics in Chicago.



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