Sport in 2019 had a tendency towards the dramatic rather than the thematic


Nick Kyrgios continued to amaze and baffle in equal measure.Credit:AP

The yin to her yang, alas, was Nick Kyrgios. He continued to smash top-10 opponents in tournaments across the world, while losing interest against players you wouldn’t let tie up his shoes on a good day. As ever he showed glimpses of play that, if he could ever put them together across a whole tournament, then month, then year, would make him the most exciting player to watch since McEnroe. Australia has likely never borne such a colossal pure talent, it’s just that it didn’t come with the complete package. He’s been sent back to the store several times, and somehow, we still live in hope that the Kyrgios of our dreams will arrive.

Comeback story of the year of course went to Steve Smith who had no sooner made his way back into the Test team after his year-long ban than he practically held off England to retain the Ashes on his own. Certainly there were others who contributed hugely – not including Dave Warner, who had the worst series of his career – but on a good day, which was most days, the batsman to beat them all had journalists pondering what comes a notch higher on the list of superlatives than “Bradmanesque”.

AFL did what it does ever year, and just grew a bit. Brilliantly administered, always with a view to the long game, the sport continues to reap the benefits of decisions taken 20 and 30 years ago, and, as ever, their overall hold on the Australian sporting heartland has strengthened.

Soccer and rugby both drifted badly.

Rugby, beset by the endless drama of you-know-who – I am not going to say it, and you can’t make me – saw it generate a thousand headlines that had nothing to do with on-field performances and everything to do with finding itself on a cultural fault line where everyone with an axe to grind had a go and death by a thousand blunt cuts was the result.

Footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi speaks during a rally at the Victorian State Library in Melbourne.

Footballer and refugee Hakeem al-Araibi speaks during a rally at the Victorian State Library in Melbourne.Credit:AAP

In soccer, the A-League seemed to just sort of wither. Crowds were down, ratings were down, buzz was non-existent. I suppose the Socceroos must have played someone, but I can’t remember. And in their usual reverse of rugby the one wonderful thing soccer accomplished was off-the-field. When the former Bahrain international Hakeem al-Araibi, took a break from playing with his Melbourne club, to visit Thailand, all hell broke loose when at the behest of his Bahraini persecutors he was thrown into prison. Lead by Craig Foster, the Australian soccer community rose to the occasion, reached out, got him back, and soon after he was an Australian citizen.

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The NRL? So-so year. So good the Roosters, in winning a second straight title. So troubling, the continuing stream of atrocities from rugby league players that saw so many in trouble with the law.

The now-famous image of Tayla Harris in action for Carlton.

The now-famous image of Tayla Harris in action for Carlton.Credit:Michael Willson/AFL Media

It was a good year for basketball, bordering on a great year. Suddenly the NBL had a pulse again, a buzz, the click of turnstiles. It used to be that “What is good for General Motors is good for the USA”. In basketball it might be that what is good for the Sydney Kings is good for the NBL. Whatever it is, they are one of the few Australian sports that can look back on the year with satisfaction, though both netball and women’s Aussie Rules, the AFLW can run them close. Both had strong years with numbers up across the board, with the AFLW helped by the publication of one of the most iconic photographs ever taken. The photograph by Michael Wilson was of the Carlton forward Tayla Harris in full flight, kicking a goal with her right foot at least as high as her head. As I noted at the time, the shot went viral: on one side drawing vicious trolls, on the other being revered and hailed as inspirational, and proof positive of just how athletic the women’s game is. By the end of the year a statue of her form was unveiled in Federation Square.

“She is getting a statue for being trolled online,” AFL legend Malcolm Blight grumbled. “Mystifying to me. One of the most mystifying things I have ever heard of. I am not happy about it.”

And get off my lawn!

Have I missed a few amazing things and troubling things? No doubt. But I don’t care. It’s late in the year, it’s late at night in London and I gotta get this column to bed. See yers.

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