Scandal, breakthroughs and astonishing achievements highlighted the mixed bag that was Australian sport in 2013. Mercury sports writer Mitch Jennings gives his take on the highs and lows.
ASADA: DARKEST DAY IN AUSTRALIAN SPORT
The release of the Australian Crime Commission’s “Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport” on February 3 was labelled many things in the more parochial sections of sports media: ‘a show about nothing’; ‘a toothless tiger’ and even a ‘Kate Lundy special’.
Ironically, it was the same media that splashed the endless controversies over the back and front pages for most of 2013.
Reports of injections, sackings and re-instatements at Cronulla; the Lance Armstrong-like defiance of James Hird and company at the Essendon Football Club and all roads allegedly leading back to controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank.
So far only former Raider Sandor Earl has been charged by ASADA but with reports of shady backroom deals between Hird and the AFL and a big, black cloud still hanging over Cronulla, one gets the feeling there’s many more to fall before this is all played out.
JOSH KENNEDY BOOKS SOCCEROOS’ TICKET TO BRAZIL
Admit it, you were one of the thousands of people who yelled at the TV screen when Holger Osieck called superstar Tim Cahill from the paddock in the Socceroos World Cup qualifier against Iraq.
The Socceroos already had one foot on the plane to Brazil when they met Iraq in Sydney on June 18, but the Iraqis had hold of the other leg and they weren’t letting go; enter Josh Kennedy.
After not earning a cap for over a year, the man they call Jesus came on for a clearly fuming Cahill in the 77th minute.
Osieck’s ballsy move proved a masterstroke with Kennedy producing an 83rd-minute header to secure a 1-0 win and a spot at the World Cup; though it wasn’t enough to save the coach’s job.
They still need to do the job at the WACA but with the Poms withering in the face of the Mitchell Johnson Express, the urn - figuratively at least - looks set to return to Australia.
The irony is without fast bowling stocks decimated by injury Johnson and his lip gravy probably wouldn’t have got a run but armed with Lillee-like mo and some Thomson-like sadism, he’s ripped through the Poms quicker than Boony through a stubby.
Surely [don’t jinx it] all the Pommy gloating is at an end.
The beauty of an Ashes series is, even if we do wrap it up in Perth, we still get the luxury of watching Broad, Anderson, KP and chums squirm in the Aussie heat battling out dead rubbers to the tune of Johnson’s sweet chin music.
To borrow a phrase from Paul Keating: “I want to do you slowly”.
BLACK CAVIAR RETIRES ON TOP
Bought for a measly $210,000 in 2006, Black Caviar amassed nearly $8 million in her 25 unbeaten starts, with her 15 Group 1 wins the most for an Australian racehorse.
But Australia’s love affair with Black Cav was never really about the numbers.
It was the effortless grace with which she won, that famous kick in the straight, whip dangling idly in Luke Nolen’s hand as she left her rivals behind.
And, as is often a true champion’s measure, she could also win ugly.
Despite suffering a grade-four quadriceps tear and a grade-two sacroiliac tear she found a way to keep her nose in front to win the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June 2012.
The famous victory overseas ticked the last box en route to greatness, but was also the beginning of the end.
Trainer Peter Moody admitted the champion mare was tired and worn out and, after three more wins back in Australia, he called time on her career on April 18.
ADAM SCOTT MISSES TRIPLE CROWN
Adam Scott has often cited Greg Norman as his golfing hero, but on December 1 he took the tribute a little too far.
After winning both the Australian PGA and Australian Masters, Scott arrived at this year’s Australian Open within reach of a rare trifecta of the Aussie majors.
It was not to be.
In perhaps his greatest homage to Norman, Scott went into the final round with a four-stroke lead only to fluff the final hole and watch Rory McIlroy sink a birdie to steal victory.
Jokes aside, McIlroy played some superb golf to deny Scott what would have been a landmark Triple Crown.
It was a tough fall for Australian fans, but at least we had Scott’s beautiful US Masters green jacket to soften the landing.
WANDERERS BLITZ FIRST YEAR
The rise and rise of the Western Sydney Wanderers proved the fairytale story of 2013.
The demise of Gold Coast United in February 2012 paved the way for an A-League side based in Western Sydney, long considered an Australian football heartland.
The birth of the Wanderers was considered well overdue but many raised doubts about how competitive the new team would be with just six months to build a club from scratch.
The fears proved grossly unfounded with rookie coach Tony Popovic lifting the new boys to the top of the A-League ladder.
The Wanderers topped the league table for most of their inaugural season and went on a record-breaking 10-game winning streak to claim the Premiers Plate on March 23.
The Wanderers fell one game shy of a perfect first season, going down to the Central Coast Mariners 2-0 in the A-League grand final.
BUDDY JOINS THE SWANS
He may prove the biggest test yet of the Swans’ famous ‘no dickheads’ policy, but the 11th-hour signing of Hawthorn star Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin was one of the biggest coups in AFL history.
The two-time Coleman Medallist and four-time All-Australian played the bulk of the 2013 season amid speculation linking him to a massive offer from Greater Western Sydney.
The conventional wisdom was that the 2013 grand final would be the last of Franklin’s 182 games for the Hawks, with his move to GWS seemingly a done deal.
On October 1, two days after the Hawks’ 2013 grand final triumph, GWS withdrew their six-year $7 million offer, revealing that Franklin was set to sign with the Swans.
On the same day Swans chairman, Andrew Ireland, confirmed the Swans had offered Franklin an unprecedented nine-year
$10 million deal that will see him remain in Sydney until he’s 35.
QUEENSLANDERS DO IT EASY
OK, so it’s getting a bit boring - not to mention infuriating - but the current crop of Maroons showed why many consider them the greatest rugby league team of all time with their eighth consecutive State of Origin series victory on July 17.
With new ‘captain cool’ coach Laurie Daley, the Blues looked to have finally turned the tide winning game one 14-6, only to be smashed 26-6 in game two and outplayed 12-10 in the decider.
The Maroons broke the record they set the year before that; and the year before that; and the year before that, and the year before that.
The likes of Smith, Slater, Thurston and Inglis, all potential immortals, went on to play a telling role in Australia’s World Cup triumph.
The Kangaroos went more than 400 minutes without conceding a try en route to a 34-2 victory over New Zealand in the final.
GAI BREAKS CUP DROUGHT
As the undisputed Queen of Australian racing, Gai Waterhouse trained her first Group 1 winner in 1992.
She went on to train more than 100 Group 1 winners but Australian racing’s biggest prize, the Melbourne Cup, had always eluded her.
That changed on the first Tuesday in November this year when Damien Oliver rode former import Fiorente to victory in Australia’s greatest race.
Fiorente was the first favourite to win the race since the legendary Makybe Diva in 2005, and fittingly made Waterhouse the first Australian woman to train a Melbourne Cup winner.
She joined her famous father and two-time winner T.J. Smith on the Melbourne Cup honour roll.
The triumph certainly put the More Joyous affair of earlier this year well behind her.
It was also a redemptive ride for Oliver, who was not long back from a 10-month suspension for illegal betting.
ASHTON AGAR 98 ON DEBUT
It’ll go down as the most famous near-century in Australian cricket.
In the opening match of the 2013 Ashes in England, new coach Darren Lehmann delivered a selection shock by giving little known offspinner Ashton Agar his first Baggy Green at the expense of regular tweaker Nathan Lyon.
The plan was for Agar to deliver with the ball but, following the miserable failures of the batsmen, the 19-year-old strode to the crease with Australia at 9-117.
Agar scored 98 runs from 101 balls in a record 163-run 10th-wicket stand with opener Phil Hughes, only to fall two runs short of an epic century.
His grace in dealing with the disappointment only endeared him further.
If he never plays another Test he’ll still hold a memorable place in Ashes folklore.