The most passionate rivalries in world sport

January 3, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

SPORTING RIVALRIES CAN come from anywhere – proximity, success, a perceived slight from either side.

While many modern athletes say they just focus on their own performance, feelings about the other side still colour how many fans consume sport. Here are some of the fiercest, most entertaining rivalries in sports, in Ireland and abroad.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox, baseball

Babe Ruth hitting a home run for the New York Yankees. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Like some of the most intensely-felt rivalries, this one was incredibly one-sided for a long time. After winning the 1918 World Series, the Red Sox sold star player Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. The Sox failed to win a World Series title until 2004. It got so bad fans started talking about the team being cursed, though for most this was a lighthearted way to deal with their misery.

The fact that the 2004 playoff run that eventually brought the Sox back to the promised land featured a memorable comeback from three games to nil behind against the Yankees made it all the sweeter. Since then, the Red Sox have two World Series to the Yankees’ one, and while history is still overwhelmingly with the New York side, the last decade has been marginally in Boston’s favour.

America v Europe, golf

Source: Ryder Cup/YouTube

As arbitrary as joining up hugely disparate European nations for the Ryder Cup can sometimes seem, there’s undoubtedly still something about it that draws in casual fans like no other golfing tournament can. While professional golf has a dedicated following, bringing a team element to the game makes them represent something outside themselves, and appeals to people who might otherwise leave golf alone.

Team USA leads the series 25 to 12, but Team Europe has dominated over the past ten years, when they’ve won eight of the last ten tournaments. This has completely turned around the conversation, giving the tournament an appealing David versus Goliath narrative – that David’s winning.

Munster v Leinster, rugby

Source: Leinster Rugby TV/YouTube

This is a rivalry that keeps on giving. Through peaks and troughs for both teams, the intensity of desire from players and fans has continued to burn brightly. No doubt heightened by the the regularity of their clashes, and the players knowing each other so well from playing together for Ireland, it yielded some epic victories for both sides during the Heineken Cup era. With both sides struggling somewhat in the new Champions Cup, it will be interesting to see whether the rivalry continues to make an impact on the European stage.

Cork v Tipperary, hurling

Seamus Callanan scores in the latest fixture in the Cork-Tipperary rivalry. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

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While Kilkenny are the most dominant team in hurling, the fact that they’ve been stuck in Leinster without a consistent provincial competitor knocks them off this list. Cork and Tipperary, on the other hand, are excellent odds to play at least once in most Championships, and are separated in the record books by just four Liam McCarthy Cups, with Tipp’s 26 trailing Cork’s 30.

Tipperary have won six of the last seven encounters, but before that Cork won five in a row. As two of the most consistent teams in hurling, this one is sure to keep burning for a long while to come.

Mexico v USA, soccer

Mexico’s Javier Hernandez competing for the ball with USA’s Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Neither are titans of global football, but when you consider that they’re next door neighbours and have a contentious immigration debate, it’s not surprising that an intense rivalry has developed. Add in the fact that Mexico dominated the rivalry for decades before soccer started to take off in the States over the last twenty-five years and you have some genuine antipathy on both sides.

They play at least once a year between friendlies and competitive fixtures, leaving plenty of time for the rivalry to boil over. While their clashes bounce around various US cities, the clashes in Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca are renowned for their deafening, boisterous crowds. The US only earned their first win in the Azteca in 2012, and now trail their neighbours with 18 wins to 33.

Of course this is an incomplete list – let us know some of your favourites in the comment section.

 – Eoin Gubbins

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