The past 12 months has seen history made in golf; fairytales secured in cricket; scandal break out in the AFL and reputations restored in rugby league. Here, our sports writers recall the best of a tumultuous year.
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MARTIN BLAKE – SCOTT BREAKS THE AUGUSTA CURSE
The Masters is a gold standard sporting event anyway; to Australians, it carries special significance because of what happened to Greg Norman there. Since Cadel Evan’s Tour de France victory, Augusta became the last frontier. So when Scott rolled that birdie putt in on the 18th green and screamed “Come on, Aussie,” then beat Angel Cabrera in a playoff, it meant so much. No just to the humble and likeable Scott, who had never won a major before. To the whole nation.
BRUCE GUTHRIE – HIRD TAKES ‘FULL RESPONSIBILITY’
On February 5, Essendon coach James Hird and club officials fronted a press conference that ushered in the AFL’s – and NRL’s – endlessly enervating supplements saga. Said Hird: “As a coach I take full responsibility for what happens in our footy department.” Eventually he did, but not before big reputations, including his own, had been forever shredded. Throughout, the AFL tried to choreograph an outcome, but instead wound up with an ugly, rolling maul that still isn’t done.
CHARLES HAPPELL – LANCE DOES OPRAH
It’s hard to go past Lance Armstrong’s appearance on Oprah in January. Then, the man regarded as the greatest cyclist of all time – and owner of the most inspiring, cancer-busting back story – admitted his entire career had been a sham. One giant fraud. The seven-time Tour de France winner confessed – publicly, for the first time – he had used banned substances, including human growth hormone, trafficked in drugs, administered drugs to teammates and aided and abetted a massive cover-up between 1998 and 2005, a period when he dominated the world’s most famous race. The reputation gained by the American on his inspirational journey from cancer survivor to Tour de France champion stood shredded. Now, as he goes around on his world Apology Tour – trying to make up with former teammates, masseuses and friends, whose reputations he had trashed as he desperately tried to save his own – he’ll be remembered as a liar, cheat and ringleader of the most sophisticated doping conspiracy in sport.
GREIG JOHNSTON – GREAT SCOTT
The pressure on Andy Murray was enormous as Britain hungered for its first singles champion in 77 years, but the young Scot held firm and defeated Novak Djokovic – then world No. 1 – in straight sets. The victory was just reward for years of toil, with Murray coming in for scathing criticism for being mentally fragile (fair enough) and dour (again, right on – but I’m Scottish, and we take our champions any way they come).
FRANCIS LEACH – ASHTON’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
In the depths of the Australian sports winter of discontent a young man in an ill fitting green helmet strode to the crease to bat at number 11 for Australia at Trent Bridge. A couple of hours later, after scoring a chanceless 98 and rewriting the record books, Ashton Agar restored our faith in the power of sport to surprise and delight. A nation of sports fans drowning in the cynicism of football’s various doping scandals and cricket’s own chaos were thrilled by Agar’s boy’s own adventure. It was the day Australian cricket learnt to have fun again, something that culminated with their 3-0 romp to Ashes glory later in the year.
WILL MACPHERSON – PUNTER’S LAST STAND
It happened many a mile away and barely an Australian was there to see it, but on July 11, Ricky Ponting left the field with bat aloft for a final time as his Surrey team ground out an otherwise unremarkable draw with Nottinghamshire at the Oval. Fittingly, Ponting ended it all with a quite brilliant century, his 82nd in first class cricket. A fighter to the very last, it was also appropriate that his final innings was a Ponting classic as he stood unbeaten, characteristically immovable in defence and all the belligerent attacking strokes on display, too. With just a handful there to enjoy the moment, Ponting left the field to a guard of honour for one last time and the few that saw it knew they had been treated to one final masterclass from one of the sport’s greats.
ANGELA PIPPOS – GOODES DEED
Adam Goodes could have played on but he chose to do something about it. He didn’t blame the girl in the crowd who called him an ape. He simply and eloquently pointed out the pain of those remarks. It was a powerful and uplifting moment in a bizarre AFL season stained by drugs, lawyers and snowballing allegations and denials.
DANIEL SANKEY – REDEMPTION FOR SBW
When Sonny Bill Williams walked out on rugby league in acrimonious circumstances in 2008 – taking up a lucrative contract with French rugby union club Toulon – he instantly became “Money Bill Williams” … public enemy number one for fans of the 13-a-side game. There seemed no way back, which is why it’s amazing that, just five years later, Williams is again the biggest drawcard in rugby league. He’s won an NRL premiership with the Roosters, re-established himself as the most dominant forward in the game, and won back a legion of fans. All by doing his talking on the field. Need I also mention that he won the WBA International Heavyweight title with a win over South African veteran Francois Botha? Williams will return to rugby union in 2015, but there’ll be few rugby league fans saying “good riddance” this time around. They’ll be saying “good luck”.
DAVID SEXTON – WARNER, ROOT, THE PUNCH, BOOF & ALL THAT
David Warner and his attack on Joe Root in a Birmingham nightclub, an incident that, while shameful at the time, led to the downfall of Mickey Arthur and the appointment of one Darren Lehman. Need we say more.
PATRICK SMITHERS – SORRY, MORE AGAR SCHMALTZ
Like a holiday romance, Ashton Agar came into our lives like a sprinkling of stardust on that cold winter’s night – and departed just as quickly. He took our breath away and left us asking the next morning: Did that really happen?
STEVEN TALEVSKI – FERGIE CALLS IT QUITS
After 26 years that saw United win 38 trophies including 13 Premier League titles and 2 European Champions League titles, Sir Alex Ferguson called it time as Manager of Manchester United. Simply the greatest, Sir Alex went out claiming the EPL title off his closest rivals, Manchester City.
LARRY WRITER – WE ARE FAMILY
When Sam, Luke, George and Thomas Burgess all took the field together for South Sydney against the Wests Tigers on August 30, it wasn’t just the first time in 103 years that four siblings had played first grade rugby league together, it was league’s feel-good moment of 2013. From England’s hard-scrabble north, sons of rugged prop Mark who died of motor neurone disease in 2007 – Sam, just 18, cared for him in his last months – and school principal Julie, the brothers – combined weight 460 kg – came to Australia to match it with the best league players in the world and, daring to dream, to play alongside each other. Huge, fast and skilful Sam’s dominant performances against the likes of Sonny Bill Williams have seen him rated the best forward in the world, and George was Dally M Rookie of the Year. Luke and Thomas are integral members of Souths’ formidable forward pack. And, finally all on the field together against Wests, the brothers made it a night for the scrapbook. Tiger ball-carriers were smashed by all four ‘Burgi’, and when the brothers ran with the ball they were unstoppable. At the final hooter, Julie left her perch in the grandstand beside Souths’ owner Russell Crowe, and invaded the pitch to embrace her boys.