League and Cup glory tells tale of Cliftonville’s success in 2013
The battle to win the 2013 Belfast Telegraph Team of the Year accolade promises to be as competitive as ever.
Irish League champions Cliftonville are sure to be in the running for the prize. The Reds sparkled in local football, running away with the title, their first since 1998.
The Reds were very much the dominant force in the local game, the only setback being a 3-1 extra-time defeat to Glentoran in the Irish Cup final — a real high point for the east-Belfast men given the club’s financial struggles.
Cliftonville’s first trophy of the year was the League Cup, hammering north Belfast rivals Crusaders 4-0 in the final, and from then on their march towards the Danske Bank Premiership was relentless.
The icing on the cake for the famous old club came when they landed a plum draw against Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers.
And although the Reds didn’t pose too many problems for Neil Lennon’s side over the two legs, it must seem a little bit surreal as the team they shared a pitch with take on Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax in the group stages.
At international level, Northern Ireland’s footballers had a superb 1-0 victory over Fabio Capello’s Russia at Windsor Park, Martin Paterson grabbing the all-important goal to secure a result that ranks alongside the wins over England and Spain in the recent past.
Unfortunately the victory over the Russians doesn’t seem to have signalled the start of a bright new era, Cristiano Ronaldo arrived in Belfast to score a hat-trick in a 4-2 win for Portugal just before the embarrassment of a 3-2 defeat in Luxembourg.
For Ulster Rugby, at one stage it promised to be the season of which dreams are made.
The Ravenhill men were beating every team who appeared in their path, in both Heineken Cup and PRO12, racking up a record-breaking winning run of 13 games.
Ulster won their Heineken Cup pool but a single defeat — against Northampton — cost them home advantage in the quarter-finals and they exited against Saracens at Twickenham.
PRO12 glory was still very much in their sights, Ulster finishing top of the table before beating Scarlets in the play-off semi-finals, the last match in front of the old Ravenhill grandstand before the ground was redeveloped.
The building work at Ravenhill meant Ulster did not have the required capacity to host the final against Leinster, who were handed home advantage at the RDS and a long season ended with heartbreak, Ulster going down 24-18.
In GAA, Tyrone proved they are still big game players by reaching the All-Ireland semi-finals before falling to Mayo.
The under-21 hurlers of Antrim went a stage further, upsetting the odds to to get to the All-Ireland decider earlier this month.
In the end they were second best to the mighty Clare side, but to get that far offers great hopes for the Saffrons’ future.
The Chambers brothers, Richard and Peter, again showed their quality, taking bronze in the lightweight doubles at the World Rowing Championships in South Korea. They truly are world class competitors.
And still on the water, Matt McGovern and Ryan Seaton secured the 49er title at the Sail for Gold event in Weymouth.
In ice hockey, the Belfast Giants went oh so close to a double success, finishing runners-up in the Elite League and having to settle for second place again in the play-offs.
In women’s hockey, Pegasus won the Ulster Premier League title for the 15th time in 16 years while Ballymoney lifted the Ulster Shield. Banbridge excelled winning the men's title.
The above of course is just a flavour of the teams in the mix for this prestigious award.
We’re sure you can think of plenty more. Check out below how you can nominate your Team of the Year and in all our other categories. Get voting now!
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Belfast Telegraph Digital