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Saturday 23 June 2018

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Denmark DNK

France FRA

Australia AUS

Peru PER

Iceland ISL

Croatia CRO

Nigeria NGA

Argentina ARG

Mexico MEX

Sweden SWE

South Korea KOR

Germany GER

Switzerland SUI

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Munster-Leinster European final and drugs scandals: 18 sporting wishes for 2018

Waterford's Derek McGrath, left, and selector Dan Shanahan dejected and (inset) Thomas Barr
Waterford's Derek McGrath, left, and selector Dan Shanahan dejected and (inset) Thomas Barr
Argentina's Lionel Messi

Eamonn Sweeney

Right now everything is possible. As 2018 begins, dreams have yet to be third man tackled by reality and our hopes are only limited by the size of our optimism. The start of a new sporting year offers us a blank slate on which the best things possible can be inscribed. It won't work out that way of course but where we would be without fantasy? Here's the 2018 I'm hoping for. If half of them come to pass I'll be happy.

1. A Messi World Cup finals: The world's greatest football tournament doesn't always live up to expectations and neither does the world's greatest footballer when he plays in it. Here's hoping for a 1970 style World Cup and Messi doing for Argentina in Russia what Pele accomplished for Brazil in Mexico.

2. A great World Cup final: 2014 was the most entertaining tournament in a couple of decades but the decider was an awful bore. They usually are, it's 1986 since we had even the first cousin of a thriller. Argentina and West Germany played in that one. Argentina and the 32 county Germany look best bets to provide something similar this time around.

3. Waterford winning the hurling: You couldn't begrudge Galway last year's victory. Joe Canning deserved it and so did supporters who were the very definition of long suffering. But Waterford contributed hugely to a great championship and deserve the ultimate reward in 2018. Imagine Brick Walsh holding the Liam MacCarthy.

4. The Super Eights not stinking: The GAA's football championship rejig comes at a time when the gap between the top three counties and everyone else makes it seem a foolhardy venture. The new format relies on the likes of Tyrone, Armagh, Cork, Kildare and Roscommon making a significant jump in performance. It's so crazy it just might work.

5. An All-Ireland title for Donegal women: The most exciting attacking team in any grade of gaelic football thanks largely to creative genius Geraldine McLaughlin and talented sidekick Yvonne McMonagle, the Ulster champions have been knocking on the door of late and deserve a big day in Croke Park.

6. The rugby team kicking on: Last year Ireland followed a stirring winter international season with a patchy Six Nations campaign. Disappointingly, the sense of adventure evident in Chicago disappeared during the prosaic skirmishes of spring. This year Ireland need the courage to continue with the expansive stuff when the heat comes on.

7. A Munster-Leinster European final: They got within two games of it last term and both look better equipped this year. Think what Bilbao would be like on May 12 if they make it. Reigning champions Saracens and French powerhouses Clermont-Auvergne and La Rochelle are the most likely spoilsports.

8. Aidan O'Brien winning the five Classics: He's going to dominate the flat season anyway so it would be great to see him conquer this last unscaled peak. He has the five favourites. Last year only Enable's victory for John Gosden in the Oaks denied O'Brien the clean sweep. The English trainer looks like the only significant obstacle again this year.

9. Smaller trainers shining at Cheltenham: At a festival likely to be dominated by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott it would be nice to see big wins for smaller operators. Like Gavin Cromwell whose Espoir Dallen has every chance in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, Pat Kelly whose Presenting Percy looks good for the RSA Chase or Eddie Harty whose Coney Island may yet be a Gold Cup surprise package.

10. Cork emulating Dundalk: Having finally wrested domestic supremacy from the Lilywhites Cork owe it to both themselves and the League of Ireland to perform the kind of European heroics hitherto patented by Steven Kenny's side.

11. A Ryder Cup with an Irish accent: The arrival of Paul Dunne and resurgence of Shane Lowry raise the possibility of three Irish players making the European team which plays the USA in Paris. I'm also looking forward to the tweets from the White House if the Yanks lose.

12. A redemption Super Bowl: The Minnesota Vikings and the Philadelphia Eagles are two of American Football's great underachievers. Neither has won a Superbowl in their history but they currently look the strongest challengers to reigning champions, the New England Patriots. Should either prevail in Minneapolis on February 4 it will be like a Mayo All-Ireland final win, but with a Justin Timberlake half-time show.

13. Drugs Scandals: To take down some big names whose reputations are just as secure as Lance Armstrong's before he told all to Oprah. Ask not for whom the doorbell tolls.

14. Irish Cricket doing itself proud: The first ever test series, against Pakistan at Malahide in May, will be a landmark fixture but victory against a team ranked number one in the world in 2016 is probably too much to expect. However it''s imperative that Ireland show they belong at this level. A maiden test century on home turf by one of the O'Brien brothers would be nice too.

15. Tiger burning bright: Golf has missed him, the declining viewing figures attest to that. He'll probably never be the force of old but there were signs in his November comeback that Tiger can be competitive. Is there one more major in him? After all that's happened, it would be like Ali regaining the title in Kinshasa.

16. Thomas Barr ruling Europe: The Waterford man's fourth place at the 2016 Olympics in the best 400m hurdles ever run showed his enormous potential. Injuries banjaxed him last year but in Berlin this August he has the ability to become our first European gold medallist since Sonia O'Sullivan twenty years ago.

17. More Skibbereen Success: There are new heights for our rowers to conquer. Gary and Paul O'Donovan will chase a first world gold, this year's world lightweight champs Shane O'Driscoll and Mark O'Donovan will move up to heavyweight and European silver medallist Denise Walsh will seek a place on the podium at the worlds. Tokyo 2020 draws nearer all the time.

18. The Last Farewell: Today Phil Taylor, the greatest darts player in history, plays his last game in the World Championships which he has won 16 times. Few fancied the 57-year-old to make the final for the first time in five years yet he has.Should he beat Rob Cross it will be a classic sentimental triumph and a perfect start to my sporting 2018. It might even be a sign that this is the year when all wishes come true.

Here we go.

Irish Independent

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