Tuesday 18 December 2018

A feast of sporting drama lies ahead

Weird Wide World of Sport

Jonathan Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Ben Youngs of England during last year’s RBS Six Nations Championship. A St. Patrick’s Day Twickenham showdown between the sides is certainly something to look forward to
Jonathan Sexton of Ireland is tackled by Ben Youngs of England during last year’s RBS Six Nations Championship. A St. Patrick’s Day Twickenham showdown between the sides is certainly something to look forward to

Dave Devereux

Goodbye 2017 and a big, warm, sporting welcome to 2018. Now is the time to look forward with the tunnel vision of an Olympic downhill skier.

What's behind us is done and dusted, it's what's ahead that really matters.

As has become an annual tradition at the turn of the new year at this stage, I'll drag the crystal ball from the dusty corner of my hoarding cupboard, give it a good old polish and have a stab at what I think will happen on the sporting fields in 2018.

Starting with soccer, across the water the Premier League is already a foregone conclusion, and Manchester City should have the title in their grasp in record-breaking time.

The way their local rivals United are playing at present, with a lack of any sort of ambition and confidence under Jose Mourinho, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them slip out of the top four altogether, leaving the way for Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs to take the Champions League berths.

On the domestic scene, Dundalk were thwarted in their efforts to win four titles in a row by a determined Cork City last term, with the Leesiders making a storming start to the season before eventually falling over the line.

It wouldn't take a wise soothsayer to predict that the two clubs will be again battling it out for honours this season, with Dundalk getting the nod to edge it and reclaim their crown.

In the Champions League, I must admit the English sides have surprised me with their progress to date, and it finally looks like the wads of filthy lucre in the Premier League are starting to tell.

The draw was kind to Pep Guardiola's Man City so they have a decent chance to go deep into the competition, but I still fancy one of the usual suspects to take the honours. Real Madrid have been struggling of late, but with the talent in the ranks and their record in Europe that can't be easily discounted. However, on current form Barcelona would have to be the pick, although getting over the astute Antonio Conte's Chelsea in the last 16 could prove their most difficult task.

The World Cup in Russia is the big event of 2018, and although Ireland were sent packing by Christian Eriksen and co., there's still plenty to whet the appetite.

The heart wants Lionel Messi to win the global prize his talent deserves, but the head says a European team will prevail, with Germany marginally favoured ahead of Spain and France.

Closer to home, Dublin will be aiming for a record-equalling fourth All-Ireland football title in a row and it's going to be hard for anybody to stop the blue juggernaut again this year.

As usual the only realistic challengers will be Kerry, Mayo and Tyrone, but they will have their work cut out to wrest the title off Jim Gavin's men.

The hurling will be a far more intriguing battle, with five or six teams in with a shout of lifting the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

It might be a year or two too soon for Kilkenny to get back to the top table, while Waterford, Cork and Clare will be there or thereabouts, but could fall just short.

Last year's humdinger of a semi-final illustrated there's not much between Galway and Tipperary, and I fancy the Munster men to bounce back this year to claim the All-Ireland.

Switching to the oval ball, the Six Nations promises to be an interesting one as we build towards the World Cup in 2019.

England, who are going for three championships in a row, are worthy favourites to retain their crown, with Ireland the most likely to end their run. There's not much between the big guns with the showdown between the two in Twickenham on St. Patrick's Day likely to decide the destination of the trophy. As much as I'd like to see Joe Schmidt's side triumph, I reckon home advantage could just swing it in England's favour.

One place the Irish are sure to dominate in March is at the Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins may have had more heartache than joy over the festive period, but himself and fellow trainer supreme Gordon Elliott will have plenty of ammunition for the trip to the Cotswolds.

Whatever your sport or team of choice, here's hoping that 2018 brings you all you wish for. Most of us will end up disappointed, but at least there will plenty of fun and drama along the way.

Gorey Guardian