Monday 23 April 2018

Here's hoping for a 2017 to remember

Weird Wide World of Sport

Hopefully Robbie Brady and co. can secure qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia
Hopefully Robbie Brady and co. can secure qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia

Dave Devereux

It's that time of year to look back and fully digest the twelve months gone by, while casting your mind ahead to what may or may not be lurking around the corner.

In global terms 2016 was, in the main, about as appealing as a dinner date with Joey Barton, where we were served a starter of horrific terror attacks, a main course of Trump's rise to power with a Brexit side salad, while Joe Public were treated to some extremely unjust desserts with the loss of a litany of much-loved, high-profile figures.

Sadly we can't expect things to change too much on that front in the months and years ahead, given that celebrity is a relatively recent manifestation and many of those that we hold dearly are reaching an age when the Grim Reaper could come knocking without warning anytime soon.

We bid farewell to the likes of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and George Michael last year, and common sense would dictate that many more well-known musicians will continue to join in the jam with the big band in the sky.

Sport had it tragedies too, most notably the Chapecoense Real air disaster, while Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff and Arnold Palmer also exited this mortal coil. Fans on these shores were rocked by the deaths of sporting stars Anthony Foley, J.T. McNamara, Ailish Sheehan, Michael 'Ducksie' Walsh, Mark Farren, Christy O'Connor Senior and Junior, Anne O'Brien, Ray Brady, Mick Roche and Joe Lennon, while we also mourned two former G.A.A. Presidents, Jack Boothman and Joe McDonagh, and the Irish soccer fraternity lost ex-F.A.I. chief Milo Corcoran.

Anyway, enough about the doom and gloom of the year gone by, we also had cause for celebration with Ireland finally beating the All Blacks, the O'Donovan brothers lighting up an Olympics that threatened to be completely overshawed by the Pat Hickey saga, and the Irish soccer team acquitting themselves well at the Euros before making a positive start in the World Cup qualifiers, while Conor McGregor created history in the crazy world of the UFC.

All you can do at this time of year is look forward with child-like innocence to the delights that will hopefully lie ahead, and where better than the sporting fields to find those magic moments?

In the Premier League, considering the record-breaking run Chelsea are on at the moment it's difficult to see anyone catching Conte's men, so long-suffering Liverpool fans may have to wait a while longer for it to be their year, although I firmly believe that in Jurgen Klopp they have finally found the right man to lead them to the Promised Land.

On the home front, despite losing some star men, it's difficult to look past Dundalk making it four league titles in a row, while they will also be hoping to build on last season's European adventure.

Having lost ground to fierce rivals Real Madrid in La Liga, Barcelona will be determined to land Europe's top prize and could well be celebrating Champions League success in Cardiff in June.

Ireland are in pole position to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and have a realistic chance of topping what looked like a difficult group at the outset.

A win against Wales in the Aviva in March would go a long way towards sealing a spot in the tournament in Russia.

Switching to our native games, although Dublin have to be classed as one of the finest exponents of Gaelic football in the modern era, it's going to be very difficult to see them winning three-in-a-row.

The thing is, if it's not going to be the Boys in Blue, who else could win it?

Kerry could scupper the metropolitans but Mayo showed last summer that they have the talent to finally get over the line, so to hell with curses, they can do it in 2017.

In hurling Tipperary savagely exposed the Kilkenny full-back line to wrest the All-Ireland title from their neighbours, and although Brian Cody has pulled many rabbits from the hat in his time as manager of the Cats, it's hard to see him being able to sufficiently plug the gaps to prevent the champions from repeating the trick, with an improving Waterford fancied to push Tipp the hardest.

In the equine world, supreme trainer Willie Mullins may have lost the Gigginstown Stud horses, but with the backing of moneybags Rich Ricci he'll again be king of the Cotswolds at Cheltenham in March as he sends out a relentless string of winners.

Betting dockets on Mullins multiples will be folded into wallets the length and breadth of the country and beyond, while punters talking through their pockets will praise and berate Ruby Walsh in equal measure.

We may be living in an age of uncertainly, but one thing that is guaranteed is that high-octane dramas will continue to be played out in sporting arenas.

Whatever your sport of choice, here's hoping for a 2017 to remember.

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