Con­sol­i­da­tion the aim in Wayne’s new world

The Argus - - SPORT -

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.

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