The biggest sporting heartbreaks of 2017

The moments that almost broke our sporting souls

BY Jason Brennan 13:00 Thursday 28 December 2017, 13:00 28 Dec 2017

©INPHO/Donall Farmer

With the year winding down to a close we've looked back at the most gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, soul-sapping sporting moments of 2017. 

We've put our collective heads together and hand-picked the biggest heartbreaks of the year, because for every one joyous occasion when a David manages to slay a Goliath, or a legend of a sport rides off into the sunset with a final victory, and we rejoice simultaneously, there's about 99 other times where we don't get to celebrate the fairytale narrative.

With that in mind, here are some of the moments that tugged on our heartstrings over the past 12 months.

Mayo losing the All-Ireland final to Dublin, by a single point, again

Unfortunately for Mayo this year's All-Ireland Football Final played out much like a replay of the 2013 and 2016 finals as the men from the west fell at the final hurdle yet again.

That's now three times over the past five years that Mayo have been denied the Sam Maguire by a solitary point at the hands of the Dubs, confirming their near annual inclusion in this list. 

The reigning champions took a three point lead inside the opening two minutes as Con O'Callaghan rifled the ball low into the net in front of the Hill 16 crowd. Despite that early shock, Mayo rallied and scored seven points from play, taking a one-point lead into the halftime break with the scores at 0-9 to 1-05.

The sides exchanged the lead in the opening stages of the second half before we witnessed the talking point that would surround the game.


Dublin's John Small, already on a yellow, was flagged for a heavy shoulder to the chest of Mayo's Colm Boyle in the 46th minute, and it looked as if Mayo had the game in the palm of their hands. With twenty-four minutes left to play, only down by single point, and soon to hold a one-man advantage, it looked like Mayo were well placed to finally break their Sam Maguire drought.

Things only appeared that way for about two seconds however, as Mayo's Donal Vaughan elbowed Small in the face before the ref had a chance to brandish the red card. Small did receive his second yellow, with Vaughan receiving a straight red for his troubles directly afterwards, leaving both sides with 14 men.

The rest is history, as the tightly contested fixture was settled thanks to a last minute Dean Rock free, ensuring his side ran out as 1-17 to 1-16 victors. If this happens again in 2018, we'll simply be copying and pasting this report for next year's list.

Gianluigi Buffon in tears

Italy not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup Finals is not really worthy of a place in this list. They only have themselves to blame for not getting past a pretty average Sweden side in the Play-Offs having finished second to Spain in their group.

Well, we say they only have themselves to blame, they actually have Gian Piero Ventura to blame. The much maligned former Torino boss decided to leave high-flying Napoli's Jorginho and Lorenzo Insigne on the bench for the first leg, which they duly lost 1-0 away from home.

While Jorginho entered the starting XI for the return leg, Insigne remained rooted to the bench for the entirety of the game.

With Italy needing a goal to bring the game to extra-time, Ventura turned to the bench looking for an attacking threat to break the deadlock, and told defensive midfielder Danielle De Rossi to warm-up. The Roma captain refused, and told the manager to put Insigne on instead. Ventura refused, his side lost the tie, and Gianluigi Buffon gave an emotional interview post-game which brought the legendary keeper to tears.

The Juventus goalie was denied the opportunity to retire from international football after the tournament next summer, and instead he'll bow out with little but a 2006 World Cup winner's medal and 175 caps to remember his time in the blue shirt of the Azzuri.

Usain Bolt's Last Ever Sprint

In 2015 the fastest man in the history of sprinting announced he would be retiring after the 2017 World Athletics Championships. Bolt was adamant about the date, refusing to retire following his haul of three gold medals at the 2016 Olympics. 

The Jamacain was hoping to go out on the high of yet another sweep of gold medals the world championships, but his form throughout the year had suffered due to injuries and in his opening heat Bolt recorded a relatively slow time of 10.07 but still qualified for the semi-final in which he posted an improved time of 9.98.

Image:  Martin Rickett/PA Wire/PA Images

The world hoped his times would continue to improve and while a final run at breaking the world record seemed unlikely, he was well placed to bow out with the gold once more. His final time of 9.95 was beaten by the American duo of Christian Coleman (9.94) and Justin Gatlin (9.92). 

All was not lost though, as Jamaica made the final of the 400m relay, affording Bolt one last shot at gold. Anchoring his team, Bolt pulled up with a hamstring injury seconds after taking the baton. Unable to continue, he decided against being taken away by medical staff and instead crossed the finishing line for one final time, thanks to the assistance of his teammates. 

It was basically the plot of Cool Runnings, and that made it hurt so much more. 

Seamus Coleman's Leg Break

Taking 10 points from the opening four games of the World Cup qualifying group, the Republic led their qualifying group as they welcomed Gareth Bale and Wales to the Aviva stadium on March 24th.

The hosts played an aggressive game in the first half, dominating the Welsh physically and keeping their attack quiet for the most part. However, a different Wales side emerged in the second half, a side unwilling to lay down and allow Ireland to impose their game plan for a further 45 minutes.

Gareth Bale went in with a studs-up challenge on John O'Shea inside the defender's six-yard box. The Real Madrid winger was issued with a yellow card for a tackle that most agreed was worthy of stricter punishment. 

The game continued at a fever-pitch, and moments later Aston Villa's Neil Taylor challenged Seamus Coleman for a breaking ball. Taylor's tackle was high, reckless, and deserving of the straight red he received for breaking the Irish captain's leg, an injury that ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign and still to this date.

New England Patriots comeback against the Atlanta Falcons 

The Atlanta Falcons went into Superbowl LI (51 for those of us whose last interaction with Roman numerals was Rocky V) with the number one scoring offence in the NFL, as they lined up against the side with the number one scoring defence, the New England Patriots.

After a cagey first quarter which saw neither team register any points, Atlanta finally found their rhythm going forward. Devontay Freeman ran in a touchdown from five yards before Matt Ryan supplied Austin Hooper with a 19-yard touchdown pass. Bad went to worse for the Patriots, as a Tom Brady pass turned into an 82-yard interception return, courtesy of Atlanta's Robert Alford.

A solitary field goal was all the New England side could muster before the break, leaving them 21-3 down at half-time. The notion of a heroic comeback was all-but ruled out early in the third quarter, as the Falcons' Tevin Coleman made the score 28-3 thanks to a six-yard touchdown pass. 

Tom Brady looked like his age might finally be catching up to him, Bill Belichick's famed defence was parting like the Red Sea, and the Falcons quarterback and regular season MVP Matt Ryan was putting up scores for fun. 

So of course Tom Brady led his side to yet another championship, managing not to concede a single point for the rest of the game. They finally tied the score at 28 a-piece with a minute of normal time remaining, before James White ran in the game-winning touchdown on the Patriots' first overtime possession. 

The game will be remembered as a the biggest lead ever blown in a Superbowl, made even more heartbreaking by virtue of the fact that the Falcons have yet to win the trophy, and the city hasn't had any major sporting championship since the Braves won the 1995 World Series. 

Honorable Mentions:

Ireland getting dismantled by Denmark. We're not sure if it's the 5-1 scoreline or the fact that we really thought there was nothing to choose between the sides going into the game. Turns out there was, four goals to be precise. Tell you what, if that Eriksen doesn't win player of the tournament there's no justice. Three cheers for Eriksen. Hip-hip...

Munster losing to Saracens in the semi-final of the Champions Cup. Their incredible form, coupled with Anthony Foley's passing earlier that season, meant the game held an incredible amount of importance and Thomond Park was buzzing, but Saracens proved too good on the day. 

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