These guys and girls rocked. Here they are. The 16 Aussies who were bloody good at sport, but more importantly, who made us feel good about the world in 2015.
Some called Matthew Dellavedova dirty. But Delly wasn’t dirty. He was just tough and physical and annoying as hell to opponents who knew they were better than him, but who just couldn’t get the better of him for a huge part of the 2015 NBA playoff series in May and June.
The unheralded 25-year-old Victorian was once known as “that guy on LeBron James’ team roster”. After the NBA finals he was “Delly” and the whole of America knew his name. For a moment, his Cleveland Cavaliers led the best-of-seven finals series 2-1. Delly’s luck and shooting percentage kind of fizzled after that. His heart didn’t, though.
Fanning 1, Shark 0. That’s the only scoreline of the year that really matters. If you read the fine print, you could argue Fanning had his title hopes scuttled by a decision to split points after the J-Bay Open was abandoned after Mick Fanning’s shark encounter. Thus was Fanning denied a fourth world surfing title.
But like we say, all that matters is that Fanning is alive. He remained remarkably composed after the death of his brother during the Pipe Masters late in the year. Dignity 1, Surfing 0. There’s another scoreline to put Mick Fanning’s year in perspective.
Michelle Payne was always a good jockey. But when a bunch of first-time owners were lucky enough to have a horse qualified to run in the Melbourne Cup, some of them weren’t too keen for Payne to take the ride. No matter that she’d ridden the horse really well in all its important lead-up runs. Women don’t win Melbourne Cups, thought the owners.
Payne famously told chauvinistic blokes to “get stuffed” in a heat-of-the-moment post-race interview. In her official winner’s speech on the lawns at Flemington, she was incredibly graceful and diplomatic:
“I’d like to thank all of the owners, John Richards specifically because I think he was the main man who kept me on Prince. Maybe there might’ve been a few of them who wanted to take me off. But we just won the Melbourne Cup so hopefully now they’ll be pretty happy with me. I’d like to say that it’s a very male-dominated sport and people think we’re not strong enough and all the rest of it, blah blah blah. But you know what? It’s not all about strength. There’s so much more involved than that. It’s getting a horse into a rhythm, it’s getting the horse to try for you, it’s being patient. I’m so glad to win the Melbourne Cup and hopefully it’ll help female jockeys from now on to get more of a go, because I believe that we sort of don’t get enough of a go and hopefully this will help.”
Amen to all that. And special mention to Michelle’s little brother Stevie Payne, who was Prince of Penzance’s strapper and who drew the all-important barrier one at the pre-race barrier draw.
Jason Day got his first golf clubs from a garbage heap and the rest you know. It wasn’t just that he won his first Major, the US PGA Championship, in 2015, after numerous top five finishes in previous years. Or that he became world number one. It’s that he carries himself like a champion, is no whinger, has cute kids that follow him onto the green when he’s winning tournaments, respects his elders, and just seems like a really great guy. Do things need to be more complicated than that?
Who? Meg Lanning, that's who. She captained Australia's Ashes-winning cricketers in England this year. Don't know anything about her? Here's what The Telegraph in the UK said. We couldn't possibly put this any better:
"She holds the record for the highest individual score in women’s Twenty20s. The highest score in Australian domestic cricket. The fastest half-century and century by a female Australian cricketer. Such is her dominance of the game that she has scored 15 per cent of all the international centuries made anywhere in the world since her debut. She is a brilliant fielder, a smart and well-respected captain, and a vocal ambassador for the sport. She was named as Wisden’s inaugural Leading Female Cricketer In The World earlier this year. The most remarkable thing of all? Lanning is 23 years old. Her feats are taking cricket to new and exciting places; places for which it does not yet have a suitable lexicon."
In a year when half the Australian men’s cricket team was called Mitchell, one Mitch stood both literally and figuratively taller than the rest. We speak of Mitchell Starc who was the Player of the Tournament at the ICC World Cup and was generally the guy who nobody wanted to face and nobody could hit.
A year ago, Shane Warne had sledged Starc for having “soft” body language. Starc, to his credit, didn’t take that seriously and try to be all grunty and aggressive, which is not his natural way. Instead he just concentrated on bowling the meanest inswinging yorkers you’ve ever seen in your life. Being good at sport is nice. Being your own man is better.
Meet Mitch of the Larkin variety, who this year won the 100m and 200m backstroke double at the World Swimming Championships in Kazan, Russia. He seems a decent bloke and we dig the geeky glasses.
You might see the name “Kim” on this list and think: Kim who? We guarantee you won’t after the 2016 Rio Olympics. Kim Crow won the single sculls world championship in rowing this year and is easily one of our best bets for a gold medal in Rio. The former hurdler lists her hobbies as “sleeping and drinking coffee”. She’d fit right in around here.
Johnathan Thurston won everything this year, including the State of Origin, the Dally M medal for best player in the NRL, the Clive Churchill medal for best player in the NRL grand final, plus of course the NRL grand final itself. But he wouldn’t come near this list if he’d been anything less than a top notch bloke.
Here’s just one example of that: In the preliminary final against the Storm, JT detoured to the sideline at halftime to give a young Melbourne fan his headgear as a souvenir. Why? Because he’s JT, that’s why.
Jarryd Hayne's Twitter bio lists the Old Testament verse Proverbs 27-17 as his motto. The verse reads, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another". Hayne's willingness to learn, and his frequent acknowledgment of those who've helped him, are just two reasons why he's one of our greatest, despite a debut NFL season which didn't live up to the pre-season hype.
Shooters always get the headlines in netball. But as Australia won the netball World Cup in Sydney in August, it was captain Laura Geitz who did most to stop the Kiwis with her trademark blend of physicality and desperation.
Geitz once told this reporter that “we netballers are so flat out with everything, we don’t have to play up and misbehave”. The statement was in the context of footballers behaving like buffoons off the field, something netballers never do because most of them hold down jobs in addition to their sporting careers. We’ve always admired her for that comment and are glad she won the biggest thing in her sport on home soil this year.
Ange Postecoglou is a divisive figure in football. But who isn’t in this sport? Football fans could start an argument over whether the ball is white with black spots or black with white spots.
One thing nobody can argue is that Ange this year became the first Australian coach to win a major international tournament as the Socceroos won the Asian Cup in January. He did this by trusting his gut and encouraging the development of young players -- several of whom starred when the tournament got serious. That’s something the last two European blow-in coaches had neither the guts nor the patience to do.
They made the quarter finals of the women's FIFA World Cup this year beating Brazil on the way. But it's what happened next that really made them national heroes, as the Matildas entered into a pay dispute with the FFA, soccer's governing body in Australia. They are paid barely a fraction of what the men earn and deserve better.
Australian men’s cricket captain Steve Smith is not Michael Clarke, which is already a bonus in many people’s eyes. 26-year-old Steven Peter Devereux Smith scored more runs than anyone else in Test cricket this year. But what you really need to know is that he's a decent bloke who gives you the overwhelming impression it’s all about the team, not him. When you meet him person he looks you in the eye and is relaxed and affable. Long may he reign.
Over the course of 2015, his first full year in charge, Michael Cheika turned the Wallabies from a middle power into genuine Rugby World Cup contenders. Plenty of Australian players excelled as the Wallabies made the final, which they lost to New Zealand. But if one man both engineered and symbolised the resurgence of Australian rugby, it was Cheika. This he did with a perennial half smile, half grump on his face which made us like him all the more. Good coaches should be a little bit scary. Not bullies, but not your best mate either. Cheika got the mix just right.
The Adam Goodes booing saga was a low point of the year, but the way the man held himself through it was incredible. We could go on all day about this but let’s just make a couple of things clear.
1. No, Goodes did not “pick on a girl” as his detractors claim. He merely pointed at the spot in the crowd from which an unacceptable insult had emanated. As News Corp journalist Richard Hinds wrote in this excellent piece:
“Don’t call out real racism in real time on the field and challenge our comfortable delusion such taunts are from another time and place. Don’t emphasise the still vast divide between communities because that – as patently absurd as it is – makes you ‘’divisive’’ in the eyes of some. Don’t say what you think, Adam, say what we want to hear.”
2. No, people did not boo Adam Goodes because of his propensity to dive for free kicks. If that was the case, they’d boo 90 per cent of AFL players. An old guard of players led by Dermott Brereton said Goodes should look at himself to see why he incited such negative crowd reactions. These people should probably look at themselves instead. They might find something that starts with r.