Look­ing for­ward to a bumper year of sport

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - SPORT -

IT’S THAT time again when I sift through the dust-cov­ered para­pher­na­lia in the depths of my at­tic to find my well-worn crys­tal ball to hap­haz­ardly pre­dict what may (or al­most cer­tainly may not) hap­pen in the sport­ing year ahead.

There may be a hol­low shot or two in the dark as 2019 meekly raises its head above the para­pet, but what else would you be do­ing but look­ing for­ward to the won­ders that lie ahead on the sport­ing fields?

The joys of spring will wash away the bleak days of win­ter, the sum­mer will come alive with the sound of ash on leather and au­tum­nal treats will have us on the edge of our seats be­fore we’ve come full cir­cle and are champ­ing at the bit to ex­pe­ri­ence it all over again.

There’s cer­tainly plenty for sports fans on the Emer­ald Isle to get their teeth into, with Ir­ish rugby rid­ing on the crest of a wave, some wel­come light at the end of the tun­nel for soc­cer fans, with a new man­age­ment team in place, while Gaelic games will brighten up our sum­mer and horse rac­ing will whip plenty into a fer­vour through­out the year.

Look­ing out­side of these shores there’s plenty to keep even the most hard to please en­ter­tained, with the race for the English Premier League ti­tle build­ing up to be one of the most ex­cit­ing in a while, while the Cham­pi­ons League looks as wide open as the Ful­ham de­fence.

So what do I think will hap­pen in the 12 months ahead? I sup­pose there’s no bet­ter place to be­gin than rugby, given the wel­ter of ex­cite­ment sur­round­ing Joe Sch­midt’s men of late.

Start­ing with the bread and but­ter of the Six Na­tions, Ire­land look to have a de­cent chance of claim­ing an­other Grand Slam, which would be a phenom­e­nal feat when you con­sider we’ve only achieved it three times pre­vi­ously.

A home win over Eng­land on the open­ing week­end would set up the cham­pi­ons nicely, and should they pass that tough first day test, they could be on course for backto-back all-con­quer­ing cam­paigns when they make the trip to Cardiff on St. Pa­trick’s week­end to face Wales in their fi­nal game.

As for the World Cup in Ja­pan that ev­ery­body is get­ting a lit­tle bit over-ex­cited about, sadly I can see Ire­land fall­ing short again.

De­spite the hero­ics against New Zealand in the Aviva in No­vem­ber, it’s still hard to look be­yond the All Blacks when it comes to pick­ing the side most likely to lift the Webb El­lis Cup.

Get­ting past prob­a­ble quar­ter-fi­nal op­po­nents South Africa could prove a tricky ob­sta­cle for Ire­land, so we need to at least get that mon­key off our backs and progress be­yond the last eight for the first time. Af­ter that, who knows?

As for our soc­cer team, our sights are set a lot lower at present. Just­toseethe­mat­tempt­to­playa bit of de­cent foot­ball and score a goal or two would be a start.

It can’t get a whole lot worse, so the only way is up for the Boys in Green.

There’s no doubt­ing the dom­i­nance of the boys in a dif­fer­ent colour, Dublin, as they bid to make it an un­prece­dented five-in-a-row. Who’s go­ing to stop them? The sim­ple an­swer is no­body.

Thank­fully the hurl­ing cham­pi­onship is a lot more com­pet­i­tive, with Gal­way, Cork, Tip­per­ary, Lim­er­ick, Kilkenny and Clare all look­ing like they have re­al­is­tic hopes of cap­tur­ing the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

I’ll plump for Tip­per­ary to put last year’s night­mare be­hind them with Liam Sheedy back steer­ing the ship.

Re­turn­ing to the other ‘beau­ti­ful game’, de­spite hav­ing pre­vi­ously thought that there was no way Manch­ester City could pos­si­bly be de­throned, I’m now jump­ing ship to long-time brides­maids Liver­pool, even though they lost the re­cent bat­tle to their ti­tle ri­vals.

The two teams are head and shoul­ders above the rest in the divi­sion, so with no more games against City to ne­go­ti­ate there’s no rea­son why they can’t go on an­other win­ning run and bring a long-awaited ti­tle to An­field.

As for the Cham­pi­ons League, with hold­ers Real Madrid strug­gling since the de­par­ture of their tal­is­man Cris­tiano Ron­aldo to Ju­ven­tus, the way could be left clear for his old ri­val Li­onel Messi to in­spire Barcelona to an over­due tri­umph.

There’s plenty of other mas­sive sport­ing events, the out­come of which this wise sooth­sayer could pre­dict with great con­fi­dence, like ten­nis and golf ma­jors or the FIFA Women’s World Cup but I’ve nei­ther the time, space nor in­cli­na­tion to delve any deeper.

If you des­per­ately need to be pointed in the right di­rec­tion you know where to find me.

Or bet­ter again, just have wild guess or throw darts at a board your­self.

2019 could be an ex­cit­ing year for Ir­ish rugby fans.

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