12 things that just won’t happen in 2014...
...from Ireland winning the Grand Slam to Roy Keane walking out on his country again.
Ireland win the Grand Slam
The last-gasp defeat by New Zealand wasn't so much the one that got away as the one that was thrown away, but based on that near miss there was talk of a possible Grand Slam, our third in history. That's not going to happen. Joe Schmidt should be fast-tracked through the Vatican canonisation process if he works that miracle. Away games to France and England, allied to Ireland's lack of a killer instinct against New Zealand and Australia, do not bode well for those who believe Six Nations glory awaits.
A peaceful introduction of the black card
Cynical fouling is ruining the game they cried, and something must be done to combat it. So the black card was presented as the answer to all prayers, although whether it has a smooth passage into the world of Gaelic football is doubtful. When the league gets going, you can expect trouble. As soon as a high-profile player has one waved at him or a game between two powerhouses is decided by the man in black brandishing several, the clamour for it to go the way of the sin-bin will be loud and hard to ignore.
No knee-jerk rule changes
Sporting organisations specialise in the fear of the new, the GAA included. All you have to do is look at the reaction to the rockets launched by Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash in last year's All-Ireland hurling final. Granted, if I had one of those missiles locked onto me, I would run in the opposite direction, but my instinct for self-preservation isn't the point. Competitors look for any advantage possible to gain an edge and each time they do so legally, governing bodies react like Chicken Little. Expect more of this in the next 12 months.
AP McCoy retires
into the record books with 5,000 winners drives racing's man of steel. The sport has never known such dedication and iron will and National Hunt's Clark Kent appears to have no kryptonite. Although he will turn 40 in May, his desire for winners has not been dimmed by age and his skill in the saddle is more keenly appreciated than ever before. He will go on.
ROG appointed Ireland coach
Not in 2014, but some day he will be Ireland coach. The straight-talking Corkman brought a refreshing honesty to the game and that hasn't been lost in his initial forays into analysis, but he belongs on the park. Once seen prowling Thomond Park, he is stalking around France preparing for the day he makes the natural transition into management, first at Munster and then, inevitably, as Ireland supremo. Depending on how Rob Penney fares, that first step could come sooner than anticipated.
Luis Suarez to remain at Liverpool
Christmas came early for Liverpool fans with the announcement of the goal machine's new long-term contract, but even that will not be enough to keep the deadly poacher at Anfield for long. Clubs with deeper pockets and bigger trophies to aim for still covet the Uruguayan and a buy-out clause larger than the National bank debt will not prevent Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich from attempting to prise their jewel from Liverpool's clutches. The Kop are lucky to have had him to entertain them this long, they'd better savour the memories as he won't be there much longer.
Alex Ferguson gives up haunting David Moyes
Poor David Moyes. He plugged away at Everton for all those years earning praise and plaudits for having the club punching above its weight and finally earned his reward when Ferguson's iron grip on Old Trafford was relinquished. But was it? United are off the pace and the shadow the former manager casts from his ambassadorial role is long and dark and the next few months will be trying for Moyes. If United don't qualify for the Champions League and finish the season without silverware, the chants of 'Moyes out' will grow ever louder. Given the swiftness with which modern managers are replaced, it will be squeaky bum time for the man currently in the United dugout.
Australia revealed as the second coming of Pegasus
Each year the Ballydoyle hype machine engages warp speed about the latest equine superstar to emerge from the ranks of its blue bloods. In 2013, the impeccably bred Australia, son of Galileo and Ouija Board, joined the list that features Camelot and St Nicholas Abbey as previous incarnations of the winged speed machine. Good horses they were but not of the calibre of Galileo, Giants Causeway and the greats that went before. He must be an all-singing, all-dancing superstar at home because his track performances haven't lived up to the myth. The suspicion is, it will stay this way.
Formula One gets exciting
Bernie Ecclestone is getting desperate as fans switch off his cash cow in their droves because of the domination of one man. A sport that provided thrills in its heyday could now be prescribed as a cure for insomnia as the monotony with which Sebastian Vettel wins has turned the world championship into a procession. Ecclestone's latest bright idea, to have double points for the final race, may have changed the outcome in past world championships but it won't make a blind bit of difference to the other races on a schedule that's starting to feel bloated.
Ronnie O'Sullivan to actually quit snooker
Every year the tortured genius, with more demons than the Crucible could hold, threatens that this will be his last and expect 2014 to be no different. Each time he promises to hang up his cue, he turns up at the World Championships, troubles in tow, and sometimes produces snooker that defies several laws of physics in one fell swoop. This year will be no different as the suspicion lingers that however much the pursuit of perfection haunts him, he couldn't exist without it.
Politicians fail to hijack sporting success
As sure as night follows day, whenever an Irish sportsperson achieves success on foreign fields, a member of the political classes is guaranteed to pop their head above the parapet to add their congratulations to the nation's joy. Politicians muscling their way into the victory celebrations, as if they had contributed in any way to the success of the athlete, cyclist or boxer, when in reality funding cuts and government policies make it harder for sport in general to prosper in this country, is the unattractive underbelly of success. So wherever Irish people score a victory in 2014, expect the welcoming committee to still be headed by a politician.
Roy Keane walks out on Ireland
Judging by the coverage when Roy Keane was announced as assistant to Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill, it was safe to assume that many thought O'Neill had opened football's version of Pandora's Box. Those expecting fireworks and bust-ups will be left disappointed. Keane is a far more nuanced character than the caricature regularly peddled by many. The self-styled bad cop and the even badder cop are not the odd couple and their quest for a place in the European Championships won't make car-crash viewing.