Reflected Glory

The runners and riders in a claiming race at the Laytown Strand Races in Co Meath.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy, Sportsfile

Camera Classics


From local GAA fields to the events that stopped the world, here’s our selection of the most breathtaking pictures of the year.


Tony Leen, Irish Examiner Sports Editor


Iam staring once again at the first image. The poise, the symmetry, all the blackness. Eyes closed, Jun Hoong Cheong’s magnificent hair haring towards the water, neither beginning nor ending. All so perfectly framed by Sportsfile’s Ramsey Cardy.

It may not get much of a hearing for best sports picture of 2021 but it is compelling and isn’t photography the most wonderfully subjective area of media and of sport anyway.

Welcome to our annual Camera Classics debate on the matter. As you scroll down through the art, the snapper’s sixth sense and, they will always concede, that necessary dash of good fortune from Ireland's and the world's finest camera men and women.

“I think there is something about the Olympics that brings out the best in photographers,” Cardy explains on the opposite page and there is a generous helping of images from the Tokyo Games, despite the restricted crowds and passion.

Photography is art in all its diverse forms. Some straddle the genres. Is a tearful Lionel Messi, saying his farewells to Barcelona a great sports picture? It is dramatic and newsworthy and was used around the world, but a beautiful sports image? Perhaps not.

With a photograph, the beauty is utterly subjective. What are the primary criteria? The Moment? The significance? Is it meant to be art or drama? Chaos or serenity? Personally, I never like using images with vacant stands or terraces in the background, because they rob the moment of that cacophonous backdrop. And we had too many of those in 2020 – and a fair few in 2021. For instance, I had forgotten that Ireland’s defeat of England in the Six Nations last March was played out to a hollow soundtrack at Lansdowne Road.

The emotional drama in June at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen when the life of Denmark’s Christian Eriksen lay in the hands of paramedics in front of millions on Euro 2020 viewers was undoubtedly the most traumatic and dramatic moment in sport this year – and the images from it are seared on our minds still. As Reuters’ Wolfgang Rattay. ‘I’m not proud of having taken this picture, I happened to be there and just did my job that afternoon.’

Most times, snappers aren’t even sure they’ve struck gold until afterwards. Lucky for some, like Inpho’s Morgan Treacy on the back page, they’ll be coming around the track again shortly: “It was only when I looked back that I noticed something different about the shot of Lucas Mazzo. I realised then that I had something special so I waited at that same spot until he came around again and zoomed in tighter to get a clear shot of his eye and that incredible contact lens.” Proving again the old photographer’s adage that ‘if you see it, you haven’t got it’ - because you’ve watched it happen and the moment has gone.

The wonderful shot of Collin Morikawa at the Ryder Cup? Another hat tip to Ramsey Cardy. It is beautifully framed - the sun, the sand, the golf ball. The richness of texture and colour. And it crops perfectly to accommodate the cover details too!

The best sports picture of the year? We don’t promise that – only memorable. Anyway does it really matter? Here’s to many more of the same in 2022 –with no empty arenas.


Perfect Poise

Malaysia's Jun Hoong Cheong strikes the perfect pose in the women's 10-metre platform diving during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Japan.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy, Sportsfile

Striking a Pose

The Chinese Artistic Swimming team perfects their free routine at the Tokyo Olympic's Aquatics Centre.

Picture: Marko Djurica, REUTERS

Face Forward

The Netherlands’ Nouchka Fontijn takes one flush at the Tokyo Olympics from Britain’s Lauren Price.

Picture: Getty Images

Easy Rider

Switzerland's Marcel Hug explodes with joy after crossing the line fo rgold in the Men's 5000m T54 Final at the Tokyo Paralympic last August.

Picture: Naomi Baker, Getty Images


Hungary's Zsuzsanna Tomori takes one for the team from a stray Brazilian shoe during the Handball competition at the Tokyo Olympics Games last July.

Picture: Gonzalo Fuentes, REUTERS

Tidal Thrill

Photographer Rod Hill gabbed this image by chance of New Zealand canoe slalomer River Mutton in the Huka Falls of the Waikato River in New Zealand. It won an award in Red Bull Illume's 15th annual Action Sports Photography competition.

Picture: Will Saunders, Red Bull Content

On a Wing

Photographer Will Saunders won the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2021 with his breath-taking image of climber Jake Tralley falling from a rock tower in Indian Creek in Utah. His shot of Talley striking a pose as he took a fall was voted overall winner by a panel of 53 judges from around the world. The judging panel reviewed more than 41,000 submissions. 

Picture: Will Saunders, Red Bull Content

Mind the Prize Asset

Galway’s Shauna Healy has her hands full with god-daughter Ellen Burke after their All-Ireland Senior Camogie final win over Cork at Croke Park. 

Picture:  James Crombie, Inpho

Water Pressure

The Czech Republic’s Lukas Rohan retains focus in the Men's C-1 Slalom at the Sea Forest Waterway in Tokyo.

Picture: Morgan Treacy

Red Machine

Toulouse completed a Heineken Champions Cup and Top 14 double in 2021 - beating Ronan O'Gara's La Rochelle in both deciders. Pita Ahki savoured the moment with his teammates after the European decider at Twickenham.

Picture: Dan Sheridan, Inpho

The Eyes Have It

Luca Mazzo, with a Brazilian flag-inspired contact lens, cools down during the Men’s 20k Race Walk in Sapporo at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Picture: Morgan Treacy, Inpho

Please Don't Go

Everyone can empathise with Australian steeplechaser Genevieve Gregson in the 3,000m Olympic final at the Tokyo Olympic in August.

Picture: Morgan Treacy, Inpho

Prized Possession

Young Dubliner Addison Whelan's daring run onto the pitch at the Aviva Stadium was richly rewarded as Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo stripped off his shirt and presented it to a tearful fan.

Picture: James Crombie, Inpho

Sneak Peek

Ireland’s Jack Conan peers through the English cover and urges one last heave for the all-important forward momentum. Amid crowd restrictions, Ireland powered to a 32-18 success in what was CJ Stander’s final Irish international.

Picture: Dan Sheridan, Inpho

Over the Top

Washington's J.D. McKissic does what it takes for the six-pointer despite the best, acrobatic, efforts of Atlanta's A.J. Terrell in the NFL at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlantaa.

Picture: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images

Queen of NY

Britain's Emma Raducanu came from nowhere to win the US Open, defeating Canada's Leylah Annie Fernandez 6-4, 6-3 in the decider at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in September 11.

Picture: Elsa, Getty Images

No Limits

Egypt's Ibrahim Elhusseiny Hamadtou serves during the Men's Singles table tennis event at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. The 48-year-old lost both of his arms in a train accident when he was 10.

Picture: Lintao Zhang, Getty Images

Paris Pain

Barcelona legend Lionel Messi tears up as he confirms the Camp Nou giants could not come up with an appropriate agreement to keep him at the club. The deep pockets of PSG moved quickly to offer solace.

Picture: Eric Alonso, Getty Images


Israel's Linoy Ashram competes during the Individual All-Around Gymnastics final at the Tokyo Olympic Games in August 07.

PictureLaurence Griffiths, Getty Images

Sumo Barrier

Japan's Koki Saito maintains concentration, despite the fence furniture, aboard Chilensky in the Individual Show Jumping final at the Tokyo Olympics.

Picture: Julian Finney, Getty Images

Dam Burst

Italy's mounting pressure in the Euro 2020 final against England at Wembley told when veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci poked an equaliser past Jordan Pickford. Roberto Mancini's Azzurri went on to win the trophy in a penalty shoot-out.

Picture: Laurence Griffiths, Getty Images

Ring Legend

Mexico's Canelo Alvarez - by common consent the world's best pound-for-pound fighter - celebrates retaining his WBC and WBA super-middleweight titles in Texas after Britain's Billy Joe Saunders failed to answer the bell for the eighth round.

Picture: Al Bello, Getty Images

Sunset Swing

Australia's Adam Scott on the tenth tee at the Honda Classic at PGA National Champion in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida last March.

Picture: Jared C. Tilton, Getty Images

All Aboard

In a drone shot, Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski (C) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead a victory boat parade with the Lombardi trophy after the Bucs won the Super Bowl.

Picture: Julio Aguilar, Getty Images


The Toronto Raptors' OG Anunoby looks for the trailer pass as the Pacers' Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner and Justin Holiday block his lanes in the NBA game at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena in October 27.

Picture: Mark Blinch, Getty Images


Belgium's Stan Dewulf carries the scars of a muddy battle over the finishing line as he reflects on the 118th edition of the Paris-Roubaix one-day classic cycling race, between Compiegne and Roubaix, in northern France.

Picture: Anne-Christine Poujoulat, AFP

Manc Man

Cristiano Ronaldo didn't take long to show off his best attributes as he weighed in with crucial goals for Manchester Utd to take them through to the knockout stages of this season's Champions League.

Picture: Ash Donelon, Manchester United

Heads up 

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton (L) and Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen collide during the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale circuit in Monza, on September 12, 2021. 

Picture: Andrej Isakovic, AFP via Getty Images

Head For Heights

America's David Colturi dives from the 27.5 metre rock platform during the first competition day at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series at Downpatrick Head.

Picture: Dean Treml, Getty Images


Mexico's Rut Castillo Galindo competes in the individual all-around qualification of the Rhythmic Gymnastics event during Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Picture: Antonin Thuillier, AFP via Getty Images


Thailand's Orawan Paranang gets hit plum in the cheekl against Japan's Kasumi in the Table Tennois event at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium during the Olympics.

Picture: Anne- Christine Poujoulat, AFP via Getty Images

Texas Forever

Houston State Bearkats head coach K. C. Keeler savours the W over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in the NCAA Division I Football Championship in Frisco, Texas.

Picture: Andy Hancock, NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Hold on Tight

French skipper Jeremie Beyou guides his Imoca 60 monohull "Charal" through the storm before crossing the finish line 13th in the Vendee Globe round-the-world solo sailing race.

Picture: Lois Venance, AFP via Getty Images

Cloaked in Glory

Portugal’s Pedro Pichardo takes victory in his stride after success in the men’s triple jump at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Picture: Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters

Extra Effort

Bohs' Keith Ward celebrates sub Rory Feely's ET equaliser in the FAI Cup final against St Pat's - but the Inchicore men had the last word with victory on penalties.

Picture: Eóin Noonan, Sportsfile

Ballymac Brave

Ireland's totemic skipper Ciara Griffin is chaired high by teammates after her final test match against Japan at the RDS Arena.

Picture: Harry Murphy, Sportsfile

I Got You Babe

Portugal talisman Cristiano Ronaldo is well protected from any harm or scoundrel by Ireland's sheep in wolf's clothing Shane Duffy during the scoreless World Cup qualifier at the Aviva Stadium. It was a costly two points dropped for CR7 and co, who were beaten by Serbia at home a few days later and failed to qualify automatically for Qatar.

Picture: Eóin Noonan, Sportsfile

Highs and Lowe

Ireland's Kiwi wing James Lowe enjoys a late turnover against his compatriot All Blacks in the November win at the Aviva Stadium.

Picture: David Fitzgerald, Sportsfile

Future Proofing

imerick's All-Ireland winners Barry Hennessy (and daughter Hope(, Graeme Mulcahy (with daughter Róise), selector Paul Kinnerk (with daughter Enya) and Nickie Quaid (and son) Dáithí after the SHC final victory over Cork in Croke Park.

Picture: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile

Reflected Glory

The runners and riders in a claiming race at the Laytown Strand Races in Co Meath.

Picture:  Ramsey Cardy, Sportsfile

Brotherly Love

Donegal's Michaela Walsh kisses her brother Aidan after his bronze medal performance in the welterweight division of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Picture: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile

Ball Fight

BALL FLIGHT: Collin Morikawa of USA chips out of a bunker on the 18th during the bronze medal play-off in round 4 of the men's individual stroke play at the Kasumigaseki Country Club during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Kawagoe, Saitama, Japan.

Picture: Ramsey Cardy, Sportsfile

Shining Star

Mayo's All Star defender-cum-everything Lee Keegan and 14-month-old daughter Líle, examine the prize after Mayo claimed the Nestor Cup with a Connacht SFC final win over rivals Galway at Croke Park.

Picture: Ray McManus, Sportsfile

Some Shower

Galway supporter Des Casey from Ballybane, Galway, left, shelters from the rain before the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Roscommon and Galway at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon.

Picture: Sam Barnes, Sportsfile

Defying Allcomers

Eoin Cody of Kilkenny runs past the flying hurl of Liam Óg McGovern of Wexford on his way to scoring his side's first goal during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kilkenny and Wexford at Croke Park in Dublin.

Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach, Sportsfile


James Ryan of Leinster wins a lineout from Peter O'Mahony of Munster during the Guinness PRO14 match between Munster and Leinster at Thomond Park in Limerick.

Picture: Eóin Noonan, Sportsfile

Doubly Determined

Loughmore/Castleiney captain Noel McGrath celebrates with his father Pat after their side's victory in the Tipperary County Senior Club Hurling Championship Final Replay match between Thurles Sarsfields and Loughmore/Castleiney at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary.

Picture: Harry Murphy, Sportsfile


Jamison Gibson-Park of Ireland gets to the ball ahead of Sevu Reece of New Zealand to prevent a try during the Autumn Nations Series match between Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

Picture: Brendan Moran, Sportsfile

How Sweet Thou Art

Midleton manager Ger Fitzgerald celebrates with Conor Lehane and Ben O'Connor after they defeated Glen Rovers in Cork's Premier SHC final at Páirc Ui Chaoimh.

Picture: Eóin Noonan, Sportsfile

Too Many Hands?

A delightful juxtaposition of limbs at Twickenham in November as Australia fly-half James OConnor prepares to kick an early penalty. The extra pair of helping hands are not identified.

Picture: Adrian Dennis, AFP

Are You Sure?

Glen Rovers keeper Cathal Hickey isn't altogether convinced that it's a 65 for Midleton as tensions rise in the Cork Premier SHC final at Páirc Ui Chaoimh.

Picture: Eóin Noonan, Sportsfile

Hold on Tight

Jockey Kevin Brouder performs an amazing act of horsemanship to stay aboard Forza Milan after a mistake at the last fence at Naas to go on and finish 4th.

Picture: Healy Racing


Irish Examiner Longread


If you enjoyed this immersive read, you may also like these

Execution Time: 0.256 s