There were so many sporting highlights in 2012, so many individual stars, it’s difficult to pick just one.
We had the Olympic Games in London, Kilkenny winning another All-Ireland with Henry Shefflin making history, Clare claiming the U21 All-Ireland, and from my own perspective, Kilmallock – the team I manage — winning another Limerick SHC title.
All of the above made for a lot of sporting highlights in 2012, a lot of sporting heroes, but none makes my final call. I’m going with a man however who reminded the world not just how good he is at his chosen sport, but who also again showed the world how good a person he is when doing it – I’m talking about Graeme McDowell winning again the World Invitational in golf in America at the beginning of December.
Graeme hadn’t won for two years and in all the hype – well deserved, let me add – about another Ulsterman, Rory McIlroy, he was in danger of being forgotten.
Look at how he won it, at how every day was carefully planned, every hole, every shot. He took the lead after the third day, went into the final round with just a two-shot lead – did he flinch, did he buckle? Not a hint of it – he won by three. Pressure? It flowed off him like water off a duck’s back.
Tactically – if there is such a thing in golf – he was perfect, the way he plotted his way around the course. I think in particular about his shot from just off the green on the 17th – it was a downhill chip and if the ball had rolled past the hole at all it was gone. He stopped it dead, just short. The nerve he showed with that shot, the touch, the expertise, I could hardly have done better myself, renowned as I am for my own short-game! To me though it summed up Graeme McDowell.
I’ve always liked McDowell. He’s the right kind of Irishman, the perfect attitude to life. He knows when to be serious but knows also when and how to relax and from a long time back I knew he’d win a Major. He just has that battling quality, fantastic temperament for a sportsman. He thinks everything through, then goes out and executes.
I’m sure he must get ruffled occasionally but if he does, he never shows it. To me he’s a perfect role model for any young Irish sports person. He’s a Major winner, an outstanding achievement in its own right, he’s also stood up very well to the Ryder Cup pressure on a few occasions, but the way he came back at the end of this season told me even more about him.
I know McIlroy is world number one and he too is a credit to Ireland, but he has far more natural talent than McDowell – Graeme is where he is because of his temperament, his work ethic.
If I had him on a hurling field I’d have him at centre-back. He’s cool as a breeze, great reader of what’s in front of him, has great control, massive intelligence – I could see him controlling any game from that pivotal position.
In fact I’d go further – I’d even make him captain!
Will he win another Major? I think he will.
Sometimes in the Majors it isn’t about doing anything brilliant, it’s about being steady, about holding your nerve, about just continuing to do all the things that got you onto the big stage in the first place. So often – and you see this in hurling championship finals as well – characters freeze, they fail to do even the most basic things well. That will never happen to Graeme McDowell. He’s my sports star of 2012.