Welcome to Heartbreak Hotel – 16 of the most crushing GAA defeats of 2016

September 18, 2021 0 By HearthstoneYarns

THE BIG PRIZES have been handed out across the various grades at club and inter-county levels.

Hurling’s standard-bearers are Tipperary after a stunning summer campaign while Dublin swept all before them again to successfully retain their All-Ireland senior football championship crown.

But for others, the winter months are filled with soul-searching, regrets and thoughts of what might have been.

Here, we take a look at some of the teams who were there or thereabouts in 2016, but who fell agonisingly short.

Mayo footballers

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Surely Mayo’s luck has to turn soon? Since winning their last All-Ireland senior football crown in 1951, the Westerners have finished runners-up on eight occasions – all of those defeats from 1989.

Mayo fans must be wondering if there is something in the much talked about ‘curse’ when you consider their ill-fortune across both of September’s finals against Dublin.

In the first game, Mayo conceded not one, but two own goals and in the replay, they lost Footballer of the Year Lee Keegan to a black card before Cillian O’Connor pulled a late, late free wide of the Hill 16 posts.

The year ended in controversy for Mayo when former bosses Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes opened up on the heave that saw the pair ousted last year. Mayo’s players know that to silence their critics, only an elusive senior title will do.

Galway hurlers

Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

For a county with undoubted tradition, an All-Ireland senior hurling famine stretching back to 1988 is far too long for Galway.

In August, they fell by just a single point against eventual champions Tipperary at the semi-final stage and had Adrian Tuohy and Joe Canning taken off injured at half-time.

Galway’s hurlers, like the Mayo footballers, came into 2016 on the back of a managerial heave and manager Micheál Donoghue was on the end of a verbal tongue-lashing from former Clare supremo Ger Loughnane during the summer.

There’s plenty of talent in Galway and their recent club and underage record is strong on the national stage. But the one trophy Galway hurling fans crave is the Liam MacCarthy Cup and 28-year-old Canning could end his inter-county career without the big one if the wait continues for a few more seasons.

Clonmel Commercials

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Clonmel Commercials were one of the football stories of 2015, as they stormed to Tipperary county honours before becoming the first club from the county to lift an AIB Munster senior crown.

At Portlaoise’s O’Moore Park in February, Commercials were in the driving seat against Dublin’s Ballyboden St Enda’s in their very first All-Ireland semi-final.

They were three points clear with five minutes left and Ballyboden were down to 14 men after Declan O’Mahoney was red-carded.

But Ballyboden scored three points to take the game into extra-time and they kicked on from there to end a memorable Commercials campaign.

Ballyboden went on to claim the All-Ireland club title, with Commercials kicking themselves after letting that late semi-final advantage slip away.

Limerick U21 hurlers

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

In July, William Maher’s Tipperary ended Limerick’s reign as Bord Gáis Energy Munster and All-Ireland U21 hurling champions.

Ronan Teehan (1-1) and Jason Ryan (0-2) made vital contributions off the bench for Tipp as they marched on to a provincial final against Waterford.

The game was very much in the melting pot in the second half but Teehan’s 58th-minute goal was crucial, opening up a 2-11 to 0-12 lead in greasy conditions.

But there were late nerves jangling for Tipp as Limerick captain Darragh O’Donovan slammed home a smashing late goal in the final minute.

Limerick had a number of survivors from their glorious 2015 season but pre-match underdogs Tipp pulled off an upset.


Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

For so long the bridesmaids in the AIB Leinster club hurling championship, Wexford’s Oulart-the-Ballagh finally ended their wait for a provincial crown when they defeated Dublin’s Cuala in November 2015.

In February, they took on eventual champions Na Piarsaigh in the AIB All-Ireland semi-final at Semple Stadium and a storming second half saw Oulart come from five points down to force extra-time.

But Na Piarsaigh had the extra kick when it was needed most to prevail as Oulart looked a spent force in extra-time.

Na Piarsaigh, however, can consider themselves fortunate to have been awarded the only goal of the game in first half stoppage time when David Breen found the net from inside the 20-metre line.

Slow-motion replays showed that Ronan Lynch fouled the ball as he stood over a long-range free but referee Fergal Horgan didn’t spot the infringement.

Kilmacud Crokes

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

If you’ve knocked out the Leinster and All-Ireland champions in the previous round of the Dublin senior football championship, you’d have every reason to think that this could be your year.

But after Kilmacud Crokes saw off Ballyboden St Enda’s, they were shocked by St Judes in the quarter-finals.

Judes were full value for a 0-14 to 1-8 victory against a Crokes team that started as 1/3 favourites before throw-in.

Crokes were outplayed and trailing by five points at half-time, they did gain some oxygen with a Pat Burke goal midway through the second half.

But Judes held on to dump out a fancied Crokes outfit and march on to the last four, where they lost out to Castleknock.

Thurles Sarsfields

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Given their recent dominance of the Tipperary senior hurling championship, it’s difficult to comprehend why Thurles Sarsfields haven’t won more Munster titles.

Sars went from 1974 until 2005 without lifting the Dan Breen Cup but since ending that famine, they’ve racked up numerous county crowns.

Sars have been Tipp’s winners in 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 but have just one Munster senior title to show for their efforts, in 2012.

They’ll feel that a real chance slipped by this year as Sars were seven points clear of Ballyea in the final ten minutes of their provincial semi-final clash.

But Gary Brennan’s late goal reeled them in and Ballyea marched on to a final clash with Glen Rovers, where they claimed a maiden Munster win.

Waterford hurlers

Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Waterford’s All-Ireland senior hurling famine is on a par with the Mayo footballers.

The Déise haven’t tasted Liam MacCarthy glory since 1959 but there’s a feeling that they’re getting closer.

The county’s U21s stormed to Munster and All-Ireland titles this year and that underage crop was one of the greatest ever seen in the grade.

The challenge now is to build on that success in the senior grade and Waterford fans should feel confident about the years that lie in store.

But at senior level this year, Waterford fans were left with tears for souvenirs again.

They were hammered by Tipperary in the Munster final but ran Kilkenny desperately close across an All-Ireland semi-final and replay. Walter Walsh’s goal saved Kilkenny’s bacon in the drawn match before the Cats edged an epic Thurles rematch, with Pauric Mahony’s late attempt for an equaliser falling just short. 

Cork minor hurlers

Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Tipperary were deserved All-Ireland minor hurling champions, building up an unstoppable head of steam after losing their opening outing against Waterford.

But at the semi-final stage in Munster, Tipp were in a real pickle, trailing by six points early in the second half at Páirc Uí Rinn.

Cork hurling fans were dreaming of a badly-needed boost but Tipp, who were 0-9 to 1-12 behind, ran riot from there and won the remainder of the game by 0-14 to 0-3.

It was an alarming collapse from Cork but credit to Tipp for turning things around in emphatic fashion.

It was a landmark win for Tipp and they wouldn’t be stopped from there but Cork will wonder how far they could have gone had they built on that second half platform.

Castlebar Mitchels

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ballyboden St Enda’s made light work of Castlebar Mitchels in the St Patrick’s Day All-Ireland senior club football final.

But the Mayo men bounced back to claim Mayo honours and felt confident of progressing through the provincial series once again.

Home advantage was the reward for Mitchels as they welcomed Corofin to MacHale Park for a November semi-final but they shot themselves in the foot by registering seven first half wides.

Playing with the wind in the second half, and starting just two points behind after the break, Mitchels pushed on and led late on before needing a late point to take the game into extra-time.

Corofin proved too strong in the additional 20 minutes and as the Galway men went on to land the provincial crown, Mitchels realised just how close they were.

Ballymun Kickhams

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

One-point defeats are particularly hard to take but that was Ballymun’s fate against St Vincent’s in the Dublin senior football championship semi-final.

Over the hour, the sides were level on no fewer than nine occasions before sub Albert Martin landed the winner for St Vincent’s.

It could turn out to be their most precious score of the entire campaign as Vincent’s went on to finish 2016 as Dublin and Leinster champions.

Vincent’s now have an All-Ireland semi-final to look forward to against dual Ulster champions Slaughtneil.

They’re second favourites behind Corofin to land the All-Ireland title on 17 March but Martin’s priceless winner could be the score they look back on at the end of the season as the one that propelled them all the way to national glory.

For Ballymun, the motivation has to be to get back to the business end of the Dublin championship in 2017, and not let a chance like that slip by again.

Donegal footballers

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Ahead by three points at half-time in the Ulster final against Tyrone, Donegal were in a good place.

Their opponents lost All-Star Mattie Donnelly and Cathal McShane to black cards and Donegal seemed to hold all the aces.

But with time running out, Tyrone came on strong and reeled Donegal in with a flurry of sensational scores.

Sean Cavanagh, Peter Harte and Kieran McGeary stepped up to the late with the crucial scores that sealed a first Ulster title for Tyrone since 2010.

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The Ulster finalists would both lose out at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, Donegal to Dublin and Tyrone against Mayo, but Tyrone could console themselves with provincial silverware.

Cork U21 footballers

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

One-point winners against Kerry in the EirGrid Munster U21 final against old rivals Kerry, Cork went on to see off Monaghan by two points in the All-Ireland semi-final at O’Connor Park in Tullamore.

That set up a final clash with Mayo and if you’d told Cork before the game that they’d rack up 14 scores to Mayo’s 12, they’d have felt confident of victory.

The problem for Cork was that Mayo scored five goals on the day and it was a defeat that led to heavy social media criticism for goalkeeper Anthony Casey.

It was a good season for Cork but they ultimately fell short in their quest for a first All-Ireland U21 crown since 2009.

Dublin U21 footballers

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Another one-point game with Mayo involved but this time, the Westerners came out on the right side of the result.

It was a remarkable EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football semi-final against Dublin in April but one that Dublin will feel they chucked away.

Down by six points at half-time, the young Sky Blues rallied and led by four with just 12 minutes left.

But Mayo had life left in them and a brilliant comeback was completed when Conor Loftus clipped over the winning free in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

The fact that Mayo went on to claim final victory over Cork would only add to Dublin’s sense of grievance.

Dublin U21 hurlers

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

There was no stopping Waterford’s U21 hurlers this year and no matter who they played in the final, there would only be one winner.

But Dublin will feel they should have been in the September decider, having spurned a glorious chance to beat Galway at the All-Ireland semi-final stage.

Brian Molloy was Galway’s hero, registering ten points on the night, and his match-winning haul included four points in extra-time.

Galway had 16 wides over the 80 minutes but Dublin had a massive tally of 21 wides as they fell just two points short.

Dublin had a four-point lead early in the second half but in a seesaw battle, there were plenty of twists and turns to come.

When the dust settled, Joe Fortune’s Dublin were cursing their luck and wondering how on earth they’d left a big chance slip.

Mayo ladies footballers

Source: Lorraine O’Sullivan/INPHO

Mayo have won four All-Ireland ladies senior football titles but the last of those was achieved back in 2003.

They haven’t contested a final since losing to Cork in 2007 but Mayo were so close to getting back to the Brendan Martin decider this year.

In a classic semi-final against Dublin at Kingspan Breffni Park in Cavan, the game boiled down to Sinead Aherne’s last-gasp free.

The Dublin forward was fouled by Mayo captain Sarah Tierney and with just seconds left on the clock, it was now or never.

Aherne held her nerve and banged over the winner, leaving Mayo crushed.

Manager Frank Browne and his players had invested so much in their 2017 campaign but after losing the Lidl Division 1 final to Cork, they were denied another crack at the Rebelettes in the All-Ireland decider by fine margins.

What was the toughest GAA defeat for you in 2016? Leave your feedback in the comments section below…

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