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Highlights on Off The Ball

Three inspirational stories of triumph after adversity in Irish sport

"And I rose back up again with a full heart and buried him in his own blood" - Bill The Butcher,&...

Three inspirational stories of...

Three inspirational stories of triumph after adversity in Irish sport

"And I rose back up again with a full heart and buried him in his own blood" - Bill The Butcher, Gangs Of New York.

With a tap-out in the second round, Conor McGregor's dreams of obtaining UFC titles in multiple weight divisions were dashed last night in Las Vegas. It wasn't a title fight, but it was a stepping stone towards the dream.

To his credit, McGregor spoke graciously after the fight and vowed that this would not be the end for him. Even in the haze of emotion after the loss, he maintained his articulate and eloquent manner when he spoke to Joe Rogan.

''I was inefficient with my energy but I'm humble in victory or defeat. I respect Nate, he came in on the fight at short notice. He came in at 170Ib and done the job. He was efficient.''

But understandably, Mystic Mac is smarting after that loss. In his own words, he is simply "broken-hearted". And if the UFC Featherweight Champion is feeling disillusioned about his future at the moment, he can look to three examples in Irish sports history when athletes sought out victory as the antidote in their lowest moments.

Sonia O'Sullivan - From last to first 

In 1995, Sonia O'Sullivan soared to victory in the 5,000m World Championships. In doing so, she became the first Irish woman to win a world championship gold medal and expunged the agony of lost gold medals in the 1993 World Championships.

Incidentally, she could be upgraded to gold medals in the 3,000m and 5,000m World Championship finals from that year, pending the results of a doping investigation into Chinese athletes.

But in 1996, the Olympics beckoned in Atlanta, and Sonia was favoured to win the 5,000 metres with the expectations of a nation trailing close behind her. She aptly summarised the fleeting opportunity that an Olympic games presents.

"If I don't get this right today, I've got to wait another four years" - unfortunately, that was Sonia's fate in 1996. Not only did she not claim the medal that everyone was certain was hers, she crashed out of the race due to illness.

After the race, her father John said that everyone would get up for work in the morning, and boy did Sonia get back to the graft. She went on to thrive on the track once again and her silver medal run in the Sydney Olympics in 2000 will remain her crowning achievement.

Cork Ladies Footballers - The one that got away

By 2010, and with five consecutive All-Ireland championships on their account, the acquisition of All-Ireland titles was becoming a routine process for Cork.

And as they began a new five-in-a-row journey in 2010, an All-Ireland quarter-final against Tyrone looked similarly elementary. Had it not been for a flurry of cruciate tears and the loss of Briege Corkery to the travel bug, they may well have won that game and could just as equally have gone on to defend their crown against Dublin in the All-Ireland final.

But those suppositions can't alter the past, and to this day, many of those Cork players will tell you that the pain of 2010 tends to overwhelm the joy of winning the Brendan Martin Cup in Croke Park on other days. 

Complacency was the toxin most commonly cited, and if your response to adversity is the true measure of your character, then Cork have aced their exams. Since that one blip in 2010, they have gone on to record a remarkable five successive All-Ireland wins, and are likely to be in sufficient condition to take on the contenders this year too.

Kilkenny - The pain behind the drive for five

On the occasion, when I came home with a mark of 70% on a test, my mother always inquired after the missing 30%, invariably with a smile on her face. 

In ways, similar demands for perfection are at the core of how Kilkenny go about their pursuit of the Liam McCarthy Cup, albeit on a more amplified level. And there's no smiling in times of defeat, however rare. 

By the turn of 2010, Kilkenny were seeking what Mick O'Dwyer's Kerry team failed to achieve back in 1982. Murmurs of the unprecedented drive for five All-Ireland titles were simmering in the south east and with the pedigree in Kilkenny, this mission appeared to be in safe hands.

But on September 6 in Croke Park, Henry Shefflin suffered a relapse of a torn cruciate ligament which first manifested in the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork.

With their talisman icing his foot on the sideline, and Lar Corbett hitting a hat-trick of goals, the Kilkenny juggernaut steamrolled into a Tipperary shaped roadblock. The drive for five ended in devastating circumstances but as Bill the Butcher said, they rose again the following season and won four of the next five All-Irelands.

These stories might bring no comfort to Conor McGregor on this day of misery but in time, he too will rise up again with a full heart, find redemption, and write his name alongside these legends of Irish sport.

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