Looking forward to a bumper year of 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.