Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Ireland's year? 2016 is made for shock All Black defeat

Another drought over, and a great omen for Ireland as they prepare to play the All Blacks.

The Chicago Cubs have won baseball's World Series for the first time in 108 years, breaking sport's most famous drought with a game seven victory against the Cleveland Indians.

Joe Schmidt's Irish rugby side are on the doorstep of history, literally, with their next match against the All Blacks being played in Chicago on Sunday morning. Ireland have zero wins from 28 in clashes with the All Blacks.

It has been a staggering year of drought breaking in sport. Can Ireland join this list?

132 years - Leicester City (English Premier League)

The Foxes were at 5000-1 to win the 2015/16 football title. They won it with unbelievable ease, 10 points ahead of second placed Arsenal. As an indication of what most people would regard as their true ability, Leicester lie 11th after 10 matches in the current season.

Their EPL title is one of the most unexplainable things in all of sport - they had only just escaped relegation the previous season. They had neither the spending power of club such as Manchester City, nor the traditional appeal that a club like Tottenham has for attracting players.

Clever scouting was the basis for their success, and once they got on a roll they kept it going. Their deep defence, fast counter-attack strategy worked a treat against the top sides. They also had a good run with injures. But it's highly unlikely that the EPL will witness anything to remotely match this surprising title triumph again. More than 100,000 people crammed into a Leicester park to party after the victory parade.

"It's an unbelievable feeling, I've never known anything like it," said star striker Jamie Vardy, who had risen from non-league football to score 22 goals in the title run. "We were scrapping to stay in the league last season and on Saturday we'll be lifting the trophy.

Jamie Vardy became a world star in Leicester City's shock EPL triumph.  Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Photosport
Jamie Vardy became a world star in Leicester City's shock EPL triumph. Photo: Simon Stacpoole / Photosport

108 years - Chicago Cubs (baseball)

The New York Times described it as "generations of futility and heartbreak". It looked as if they might endure even more, when the Cleveland Indians came up with three runs in the eighth innings of the deciding game seven. A fan held a sign: "Now I can die in peace." when the victory was secured. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he loved tradition, but not "curses and superstition". His team did not feel the weight of history, rising from a 1-3 deficit.

But if you want weird, then yes, there are so-called curses and numbers which relate to the Cubs' history. For instance, the corners of their famous Wrigley Field are 108 metres from home plate. Then again, America still operates on the imperial rather than metric. So enough of the hocus pocus.

One headline reckoned "Baseball Will Never Be the Same Again". American sport loves these sorts of stories, thrives on them. Something was lost when the Cubs won. Maddon said: "The burden has been lifted - it should have never been there in the first place. Now we can move forward."

Chicago fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field. Photo/ Matt Marton Photosport
Chicago fans celebrate outside Wrigley Field. Photo/ Matt Marton Photosport

95 years - Portugal (International football)

Portugal won their first major trophy when they beat hosts France in the 2016 Euro final, although it wasn't the most romantic of victories. A 109th minute goal decided the match, with Portugal playing an unadventurous style. They had lost the great Ronaldo and his demands for a starring role early in the match.

In reality though, Ronaldo had been something of a bystander in the tournament, despite scoring important goals. When he was replaced in the final after 25 minutes, Portugal came together as a team.

If they were not a great side in 2016, the triumph made up for all the prior disappointments and allowed football to salute their wonderful teams and players - such as the mighty Eusebio - from the past. Indeed, Eusebio had led the conspiracy theories around Portugal's repeated failures, when their 1966 World Cup semifinal was moved to Wembley Stadium.

"We were poor and small. England was rich and powerful," he told an ESPN writer. Portugal lives and breathes football, and nobody could denounce their victory in 2016, whatever the style.

62 years - Western Bulldogs (AFL)

The Bulldogs - or Footscray in a former life - had the longest existing drought in Australian sport but that was broken with a 22-point victory over the Sydney Swans at the MCG. Apart from the 1954 victory, they had only made one other grand final, in 1961.

They had also gone into receivership in 1989, being saved by supporter fundraising after an attempt to force a merger with Fitzroy.

The Bulldogs won the 2016 crown the hard way, overcoming a terrible run of injuries and rising from seventh in the regular season to win playoffs in Perth and Sydney. The top-ranked Swans were firm favourites going into the grand final.

Club president Peter Gordon said: "This is one of those big days in life ... that most of us will never forget, one of the happiest days of our lives, for all Bulldogs fans. It feels bloody fantastic!"

49 years - Cronulla Sharks (NRL)

The Sharks, who entered first grade in 1967, had won minor premierships and made grand finals but never gone on with the job. They were the classic sporting bridesmaids, the agony including an infamously violent grand final against Manly in 1973.

Their recent history was just as ugly in a different way - the so-called supplements scandal which included the standing down of coach Shane Flanagan for a season.

Flanagan guided the Sharks to their maiden title in 2016, after they finished third in the regular season. They triumphed in a tense final by 14 - 12 over the brilliantly organised Melbourne Storm.

Their inspirational captain Paul Gallen was so drained by a viral infection and stress that he ended up in hospital on a drip after the game.

"At the end I thought I was going to pass out,'' Gallen said after the match. "It's just an amazing feeling. We wanted it more than they did.''

The Cronulla Sharks celebrate. Photo / Paul Seiser Photosport
The Cronulla Sharks celebrate. Photo / Paul Seiser Photosport

46 years - Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)

Led by hometown hero LeBron James, the Cavaliers beat the three-point shooting Golden State Warriors to score the franchise's first title. James had shocked the Cavaliers' fans when he left in 2010 for Miami where he won two titles before returning in 2014.

Cleveland had not won a professional sports title since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL championship. The Cavs also did it the hard way, coming back from a 1 - 3 deficit.

"I'm happy to be a part of history," James said. "I'm home. I'm home ... I'm at a loss for words. This is unbelievable.

"I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city."

20 years - Hurricanes (Super Rugby)

The Hurricanes were always known as entertainers, but not winners. Since the birth of open professionalism in rugby, the franchise had lost two finals and five semifinals including the ultimate game in 2015 when the unfancied Highlanders grabbed their first title.

Having fallen at the final hurdle after dominating the 2015 season, the Hurricanes' place as one of the doomed teams of world sport seemed secure. Like other such teams, their fans almost revelled in their sporting tragedy status, and created an identity from it.

They are losers no more. Heavy favourites to win the final over the Lions from South Africa, they delivered a 20-3 victory in Wellington. Great players past, the late Jerry Collins and Jonah Lomu, Tana Umaga, Conrad Smith, Christian Cullen et al. were remembered in the celebrations.

Captain Dane Coles said: "...all those Hurricanes boys that have tried to win the trophy... there were so many Hurricanes legends who couldn't get that trophy.

"Just to bring it to the franchise, for the ex-players and for the region, right up to the East Coast and Gisborne, I'm just so proud to be a Hurricane right now."

Dane Coles and jubilant Hurricanes supporters: Photo / Kerry Marshall Photosport
Dane Coles and jubilant Hurricanes supporters: Photo / Kerry Marshall Photosport

- NZ Herald

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