As we head into the final few days of 2015, it’s time to look back over the last 12 months and reflect on some of the incredible sporting action we’ve enjoyed this year. Great goals, perfect putts, terrific tries, big-hitting homeruns, cracking catches – we’ve seen them all and much, much more!
Here are some of the best bits from the opening 6 months of the year…
A traditionally quiet month for major sporting events, the year began with host nation Australia winning the AFC Asian Cup, the Socceroos edging the football final 2-1 in extra time against South Korea.
On the green baize, Shaun Murphy clinched his first Masters snooker crown with a comprehensive 10-2 victory over Aussie Neil Robertson, becoming just the tenth player to win all three coveted ‘Triple Crown’ titles (World Championship, UK Championship, and Masters) at least once.
In a busy month of cup football in England, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur progressed to the Capital One Cup final, edging past Liverpool and Sheffield United respectively in the semi-finals.
The much-anticipated third round of the FA Cup brought little in the way of the magic that the oldest cup competition in the world is famed for, with upsets at a premium. The nearest to a big shock we got was Blyth Spartans of the Northern Premier League – in effect the seventh division – who were 2-0 up against Championship side Birmingham City before losing to a three-goal salvo in just six minutes.
Local side Wrexham also came close to pulling off an unlikely win, evoking memories of heroic giant killings of previous years by taking a late 1-0 lead thanks to Mark Carrington at Premier League Stoke City, who fought back with three late goals to extinguish the Dragons’ fire.
February kicked off in the most dramatic of fashions at Super Bowl 49 in Glendale, Arizona, where the New England Patriots edged the defending champion Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in a thriller. Wily veteran coach Bill Belichick and MVP quarterback Tom Brady won a record-tying fourth championship, but much of the debate centred on the game-clinching interception from rookie Malcolm Butler and whether the Seahawks should have handed the ball to star running back Marshawn ‘Beast Mode’ Lynch from the 1-yard line.
There was a similarly exciting climax to the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, with Ivory Coast claiming their second title after a tense 9-8 penalty shootout victory against Ghana following a 0-0 draw.
This month also saw Novak Djokovic clinch his fifth Australia Open tennis title easing past Andy Murray in four sets, the fourth time the Scotsman had lost this particular Grand Slam final, although little did we know at the time there would be historic success for him later in the year.
March sprang into life with Chelsea claiming the first major English football trophy of the season, with goals from captain John Terry and Diego Costa giving them a comfortable 2-0 win against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in the Capital One Cup final. More silverware was to follow, but who could have predicted how the year would end for the Stamford Bridge side and their controversial manager?
The latter stages of the Cricket World Cup also took place this month, although they were of little interest to an England team already back home following a predictably embarrassing pool exit sealed by a 15 run loss to Bangladesh.
Just as unsurprising were the eventual winners Australia, who comprehensively thrashed New Zealand by 7 wickets in the final in front of 93,000 spectators at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The Black Caps had beaten the Baggy Greens earlier in the tournament, but a repeat never looked likely as early as the first over of the match when dangerman Brendan McCullum was dismissed by Mitchell Starc. Aussie captain Michael Clarke top-scored with 74 to lead his team to a fifth World Cup triumph.
Saturday 21 March will live long in the memory of many rugby union fans – the culmination of the 2015 Six Nations Championship, and the day when the usually dour northern hemisphere threw off the shackles in a quest for tries. Three teams were realistically in with a shout of claiming the title and points difference was the likeliest route to glory.
Wales set the pace in the opening game, the red dragon roaring in Italy as the backline enjoyed the rare freedom of being unleashed from their usually conservative ‘Warrenball’ tactics. A 61-20 win meant the ball was firmly placed in Ireland’s and England’s court.
Ireland took up the mantle with a comfortable 40-10 victory against Scotland in Murrayfield which pushed the defending champions above Wales to the top of the table. Everything came down to the final match at Twickenham, where an England win by 26 points or more would hand Stuart Lancaster’s men the crown. French resistance on the defensive side of the ball was scarce, but a free-flowing game packed with 12 tries had the capacity crowd on the edge of their seats. Yet again it was a case of ‘so near, yet so far’ for the Red Rose, a 55-35 win leaving England agonisingly short of the margin of victory they required.
The US Masters at the legendary Augusta National Golf Club saw the emergence of a new true sporting giant. Aged just 21, Jordan Spieth stormed to his first major tournament victory, leading from start to finish with an 18 under par score that tied Tiger Woods’ championship record set in 1997.
Setting a hot pace with a first round 8 under par score of 64, the Texan never looked like relinquishing the lead and finished comfortably four strokes ahead of Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose. Spieth followed up his Augusta success with the 2015 US Open title at Chambers Bay before clinching the season-ending FedEx Cup Playoff to add to his world number 1 ranking.
April saw the 168th annual staging of the Grand National horse race at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool. A true test of stamina, after nearly four and a half miles and 30 punishing fences, 25/1 shot Many Clouds edged ahead for a 1 & 3/4 length victory, giving Irish jockey Leighton Aspell a second successive triumph.
April also saw the untimely death of the much-loved former Australian cricketer and commentator Richie Benaud, whose voice was the soundtrack to accompany many a summer’s day both in his native land and here in his adopted UK second home.
The business end of the football season saw Chelsea secure their fourth Premier League title after Eden Hazard’s goal gave them a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace. The Blues would finish the season on 87 points, eight ahead of nearest challengers Manchester City, in no small part thanks to 20 goals from Diego Costa and 14 more from Hazard, who ended the season with a clean sweep of individual ‘Player of the Season’ awards.
At Wembley, Arsenal followed up 2013-14’s FA Cup final win against Hull – which broke a nine-year trophy drought for the Gunners and boss Arsene Wenger – with a much more straightforward 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa to claim a record twelfth cup.
The start of May also saw one of the most eagerly-anticipated boxing bouts in recent years, the undefeated Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather Junior against the popular eight division champion Manny Pacquiao from the Philippines.
The hype surrounding the so-called ‘Fight of the Century’ was ratcheted up to levels of near hysteria by a number of previously failed attempts to agree a fight between the two warriors – this was a bout that for so long seemed destined never to happen, with boxing politics the only likely winner.
At the MGM Grand in Las Vegas though, it did take place, although it certainly couldn’t compare to earlier epic tussles such as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ or the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’. As so often during his glittering but often unexciting career, Mayweather was far too good and far too slick for his opponent, gaining a unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards.
FC Barcelona crowned another all-conquering season by following up their La Liga and Copa del Rey triumphs with a 3-1 win over Italian champions Juventus to claim the club’s fifth UEFA Champions League title. Goals from Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suarez, and Neymar clinched the cup for the Catalans, making them the first European team to twice win their domestic double of league and cup, plus the continent’s most prestigious club tournament – a historic treble.
June saw two major American championships decided. The Golden State Warriors ended a 40 year wait to achieve the fourth NBA finals victory in franchise history. NBA MVP Stephen Curry led the Warriors from 2-1 down to beat LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers four games to two.
A similar 4-2 score line was also enough for the Chicago Blackhawks to take the NHL ice hockey Stanley Cup back to Illinois. With the final playoff evenly poised at 2-2, the Blackhawks edged the following two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning to claim the famous trophy.
What have your sporting highlights from 2015 been? What are you looking forward to in 2016 – the Olympics? The European Football Championships? Let us know in the comments below!