Consolidation the aim in Wayne’s new world
THE sporting landscape in 2019 gives us much to enthuse about, not only on these shores but further afield also. Let’s look ahead.
With pre-season tournaments already up and running, the GAA season never seems to take a break these days. Gaelic football on the national scene will be dominated by Dublin’s ‘drive for five’ and what team, if any, can break their vice-like stranglehold.
The Leinster championship is now a mere foregone conclusion for the Dubs and its arguable they don’t really begin preparations in earnest until the Bank Holiday weekend in August.
The usual suspects like Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone and Galway will provide the main opposition but its very difficult to see beyond another year of sky-blue dominance and an historic five in a row.
Their title defence will begin at the end of May with a trip to play either Louth or Wexford. Wouldn’t it be a fantastic shot in the arm for Gaelic football in the county if we were welcoming the All Ireland champions to a packed out stadium in Dundalk?
Unfortunately that dream is still several years away and for the moment we must settle for Navan or Portlaoise.
New Louth manager Wayne Kierans has got off to an OK start in his first season in charge. A poor first showing against Wexford has been followed up by a win against Wicklow and yesterday’s draw with Longford.
It wasn’t sufficient to make the semi-finals so our next competitive outing will be a home game against Longford in the first round of the National League.
Division 3 of the competition is dominated by Leinster teams with six counties from the province being joined by Sligo and Down. We’ve two other home fix- tures against Sligo and Laois but face away trips to Westmeath, Offaly, Carlow and Down.
On paper nothing looks easy, so it’ll be hugely important to get off to a good start in the opening fixture. Lose that game and it could be another very tough campaign for us. There are no prospects of us progressing in the Leinster championship with only a couple of favourable Qualifier draws capable of prolonging the season.
Locally you can’t look beyond Newtown Blues retaining the Joe Ward but Dundalk Young Irelands can provide the county with some much needed New Year’s cheer as they face Beaufort from Kerry later this month in the All Ireland junior club championship semi-final.
Limerick lit up a magnificent Hurling championship in 2018 and they’ll be eager to retain the Liam McCarthy trophy. Galway and Cork will feel they should have done better last season, Clare and Kilkenny haven’t gone away and Tipperary and Waterford are under new management. All the ingredients are there for another pulsating year.
In domestic soccer, the new League of Ireland season kicks off in February with champions Dundalk hosting Sligo in the Premier Division and Drogheda welcoming Cobh Ramblers to United Park in the second tier.
All eyes will be on Oriel Park to see how the new management team of Vinny Perth and John Gill get on in the post Stephen Kenny era.
They have huge boots to fill so it could be a very interesting season. All Irish supporters are eagerly looking forward to the European Championship Qualifiers with new Ireland boss Mick McCarthy getting his charges ready for favourable opening fixtures against Gibraltar and Georgia in March before tougher games against Denmark and Switzerland later in the year.
The draw has been reasonably kind to Ireland so hopefully McCarthy’s second coming can return the boys in green to winning ways. Across the water in the English Premiership Liverpool and Man City continue to fight it out at the top of the table.
Although City remain four points behind, they gained a slight psychological advantage over Jurgen Klopp’s men with last weeks 2-1 win at Eastlands. There promises to be plenty more twists and turns before the end of the season.
Irish fans cant wait for September and the start of the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Following our best season ever in 2018, could 2019 be even better? We’re in Pool A with the host Japan and Scotland, Russia and Samoa. Should we do well, South Africa are our likely quarterfinal opponents with possibly England or Australia in the semis and the All Blacks in the final on November 2nd in Yokohama.
I know I’m getting a little ahead of myself and I’m well aware of our dismal record in the competition but Irish Rugby is in a good space at the moment and Joe Schmidt would love to go out on a high. The season begins with England visiting Dublin on February 2nd for the start of the Six Nations.
After nearly seventy years the British Open makes a return to Northern Ireland with the 148th competition being played at Portrush in July. Rory McIlroy will lead the Irish charge to lift the Claret Jug but don’t underestimate the prospects of Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne. And what will 2019 hold for a resurgent Tiger Woods? It would be the comeback of the decade if he wins his first Major in 12 years? Magic could happen in Augusta in April.
There are no gimmes for Declan Byrne and his Louth colleagues in Division 3 of the National League.