Paul Nolan guides you through the feast of Ir­ish sport­ing ac­tion on of­fer this year. Pho­tog­ra­phy: SportFiles

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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

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