Paul Nolan guides you through the feast of Irish sporting action on offer this year. Photography: SportFiles
Paul Nolan guides you through the Irish sporting highlights of 2019.
The Irish love of sport remains as fervent as ever, and there’s another banquet of topclass action on offer in 2019. Of course, we boast arguably the world’s most successful indigenous sporting association in the GAA, and the intrigue continues to grow as we near summer’s championship action. The All Ireland football championship looks set to be one of the most fascinating for several years. The dominant team of the decade, Dublin, are going for an unprecedented ve titles in a row, although – for virtually the rst time in manager Jim Gavin’s imperious reign – the champions’ spring league campaign offered some hope to their challengers.
Having suffered defeats to Monaghan, Kerry and Tyrone, the Dubs failed to make the league nal for the rst time since 2012. However, given their experience and squad depth – plus the proven brilliance of superstars like Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and James McCarthy – the boys in blue remain deserved favourites to make history this September.
The contenders will feel they have closed the gap, and leading the charge amongst the pack are Kerry. The Kingdom made their own bit of history last year when they secured ve All Ireland minor talents in a row, and the major stars of that run – particularly playmaker Sean O’Shea and reigning Young Player of the Year David Clifford – are now beginning to make their presence felt on the senior stage.
Elsewhere, Mayo’s ongoing quest for the All Ireland has been one of the Irish sports stories of the decade, and having lost out to Kildare in the famous Newbridge Or Nowhere saga
last year, the westerners – once more under the guidance of renowned manager James Horan – will likely be in the mix again come the Super 8s quarter- nal stage.
Other teams who’ll also be targeting the Super 8s and beyond include Mayo’s western rivals Galway; Ulster heavyweights Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal; and the Leinster duo of Kildare and a resurgent Meath.
Meanwhile, the All Ireland hurling championship is in greater health than ever. Following the unforgettable one-two of 2013/14, when one of the greatest ever championships was followed the next year by possibly the best nal of the modern era – the 2014 drawn game between Kilkenny and Tipperary – many wondered if the sport could reach such heights again. Well, we got our answer last year, when the reformatting of the championship to provide minileagues in the Munster and Leinster championships, resulted in another all-time classic summer. A series of rip-roaring contests between the game’s top sides culminated in a memorable
nal between Limerick and Galway, with the Munster men edging an epic contest by a point.
After a strong league campaign, John Kiely’s side will again be in the hunt for Liam MacCarthy in 2019, as will fellow Munster teams Waterford, Clare, Cork and Tipperary. Over in Leinster, meanwhile, 2017 champions Galway will be going all-out to regain the title, and Kilkenny – still under the stewardship of the iconic Brian Cody – remain formidable. In soccer, after a testing 2018 that saw relegation to the third tier of the Nations League and the departure of managerial duo Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane, fans of the national team are hoping for a new era to commence under
Mick McCarthy. With two Euro 2020 games being staged in Dublin, quali cation is an especially tantalising prospect.
Ireland have two key Euro 2020 quali ers in the Aviva this year, against Switzerland (September 5) and Denmark (November 18), which will go a long way to deciding their fate. There will also be big interest in the Airtricity league in 2019. The domestic scene has been dominated in recent times by the duopoly of Dundalk and Cork City, but this season has seen a revived Shamrock Rovers sitting atop the table in the early stages, with Bohemian FC ,whose stadium on the northside of Dublin has become a draw for soccer-mad tourists, also in the mix.
In rugby, after a disappointing Six Nations campaign, Ireland’s provinces will be looking to raise spirits and regain momentum ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Japan. Leinster, Munster and Ulster all made the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup, while the same trio, plus Connacht, are also in the hunt in the Guinness PRO14. After that, all roads lead to Japan for the World Cup, with Ireland commencing their Pool A campaign against Scotland in Yokohama on September 22.
But that’s all just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Irish sporting highlights in 2019, with other hugely anticipated events including, in golf, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in Lahinch, Clare from July 4-7; and, in racing, the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival at the Curragh, Kildare from June 27-29.
It’s guaranteed to be another hectic year of sporting thrills and spills, so whatever event takes your fancy, enjoy it to the full.
The Irish rugby team in action and (below) Dublin v Mayo in GAA headquarters at Croke Park