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In their own words, our sporting stars give their best moments of 2018

Rory Best
Rory Best
Katie Mullan
Jonathan Rea
Mickey Harte

In yet another amazing year of sport for Northern Ireland, there have been some wonderful moments, and here eight of our top stars across many sports give their best moments of the past year...

Rory Best, Ulster and Ireland rugby captain - winning the Grand Slam

In a year of many great moments, you would forgive Rory Best for struggling to narrow them down, but lifting the Six Nations title at Twickenham comes out on top.

Not only that, but the Poyntzpass man was the leader in the pack as the Ireland captain of the team’s third ever Grand Slam triumph as they won a thriller against France in the opening game before seeing off the remaining nations. Ireland were in excellent form by the time they faced England in the final game, and a 24-15 victory at the home of their rivals made it all the sweeter when they lifted the Six Nations title and completed that famous Grand Slam.

“I’ve had a few very good moments this year, but I think winning the Grand Slam in Twickenham was a huge moment for us as a squad. For me to lift the trophy as captain, which I haven’t done for a long time, was a really special feeling,” said Best.

Katie Mullan, Ireland women’s hockey captain — reaching the final of the World Cup

One of the best sporting stories of the year, not too many saw Ireland reaching the final of women’s Hockey World Cup, but the girls shocked the world by storming into the showpiece.

Although they would have to settle for silver, losing to the Netherlands in the final, it was a fairytale storyline as the girls in green saw off India and Spain in the knockouts, both in dramatic shoot-out wins. Ulster goalkeeper Ayeisha McFerran was in sublime form and was named goalkeeper of the tournament, while another Ulster woman, Katie Mullan, captained the side all the way to final.

Mullan said: “Going into the World Cup, we had aimed for the quarter-finals but to have won the silver medals was something I’ll always cherish and, after the initial disappointment of losing to the Netherlands in the final, deflation quickly turned to elation and it was the best moment of my life in sport, let alone the year.”

Rory Beggan, Monaghan goalkeeper — being named an All-Star

While Monaghan’s season ended in disappointing fashion, losing to Tyrone in the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Championship, there was at least personal success for one of their own.

Goalkeeper Rory Beggan had a fantastic year both with the county and back with his club, earning personal accolades and team awards at all levels.

The Scotstown club man took home a county championship medal with his club, while at county level he was named an All-Star at the end of the season ahead of Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton.

“If someone had said to me at the start of the year that I would win an All-Star award, another county championship medal with Scotstown and two Ulster GAA Writers Association monthly merit awards I would have bitten their arm off,” said Beggan.

“To have been voted as the best goalkeeper in the country was my moment of the year.”

Mickey Harte, Tyrone senior football manager — reaching the All-Ireland final

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has been one of the longest serving managers in county football, and reaching the All-Ireland final was another feather in his cap.

After the county were eliminated from the Ulster Championship early and had to go through the back door to make it all the way to the latter stages of the tournament, it was some achievement from the Red Hands.

A huge semi-final win over Ulster rivals Monaghan saw them into the final seeking their first win since 2008, which delighted Harte, even though they would lose out to Dublin.

“It didn’t feel as good (as 2008), it felt better,” said Harte. “I think I have come to learn over the last 10 years that this isn’t an easy place to get to and that it seemed to come maybe too easy to us in those five years when we had three experiences of that nature. It was a real blessing for me personally to be in that fourth final and for anyone who has a connection with the team of 2008.”

Stephen Baxter, Crusaders manager — winning the Danske Bank Premiership

It was a tight title race in the Danske Bank Premiership this year as Coleraine and Crusaders went toe-to-toe for the entire campaign, and it was in the balance right until the end.

However, it was the Crues who came out on top as they completed a mid-season comeback with a come from behind win at Ballymena on the final day of the season.

Goals from Philip Lowry and David Cushley secured a 2-1 win at the Showgrounds and ensured the Shore Road side would take their third league crown in four years.

“It was hard fought this year and while it was our third championship in four seasons it was the hardest one to win,” said manager Stephen Baxter.

“Coleraine’s charge was incredible and all the focus was on them.

“They didn’t lose a game at home and went on an incredible run. Yet we pipped them to the title and no-one really gave us the credit we deserved for it.

“That’s when the moment means so much to all of us because everyone else missed the moment. We certainly didn’t.”

Jonathan Rea, World Superbike racer — winning a fourth consecutive world title

The championship titles just keep coming for Jonathan Rea as he made it four World Superbike titles in a row this year.

The Kawasaki racer also won 11 consecutive races to finish the season as he continued his domination of the sport, while he also received an honorary doctorate from the Ulster University.

“There are no words. I’ve worked so hard for this —there have been lots of ups and downs along the way,” said Rea.

“I’m living the dream but I feel the best is yet to come. I was just a kid from Northern Ireland with a dream but I have finally got here.”

Jacob Stockdale, Ulster and Ireland rugby player — scoring the winning try against the All Blacks

Perhaps the most memorable moment of 2018 in sport will be the sight of Ulster winger Jacob Stockdale scoring the game-winning try for Ireland against the All Blacks in November.

Ireland had never beaten the world champions in Dublin before, and in a titanic tussle, the game was evenly poised when Stockdale grabbed it by the scruff of the neck.

The 22-year-old came onto a switch play off a line-out and chipped the ball over the head of New Zealand lock Brodie Retallick, gathering his own kick and charging over the line.

It would prove to be the vital score in the game, with Ireland holding on for a famous 16-9 victory.

“It really just felt like our entire season was leading up to that game,” says Stockdale. “There was so much pressure and so much expectation on us, it definitely made you nervous but I was incredibly excited about it.

“Once I knew I got the ball over Retallick, it was just (a case of) get there and get there first. Luckily it sat up for me a bit and I got there first and got over.”

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