Wednesday 19 June 2019

Seven tantalising sporting questions that will be answered in 2019

Read Roy Curtis every week in the Sunday World

Can hurling provide another fairytale in 2019?
Can hurling provide another fairytale in 2019?

Roy Curtis

For better or worse, some pressing sporting questions will get an answer over the next 365 days.

Q1. Can Dublin be the historic five-in-a-row pathfinders?

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Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Cian O'Sullivan celebrate with the Sam Maguire
 

Expect Seamus Darby and the shot that was heard around the world to play on an endless reel this summer.

Jim Gavin’s trailblazing champions aim to cross the GAA’s final frontier of achievement,the one that Offaly substitute Darby unforgettably denied Kerry in 1982.

Dublin – rapacious, serial winners, with 16 trophies from 18 contested under Gavin – are as short as 1/2 to boldly go where no county team has gone before, to carve their immortal image on to football’s Mount Rushmore.

While Kerry and Mayo have changed manager, Dublin are an impressive study in continuity.

Forensic evidence of any Sky Blue decay is invisible to the naked eye.

This year’s three Footballer ofthe Year nominees, Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey will be, respectively, 26, 26 and 25 as next summer’s theatre arrives at its final, decisive acts. Anna Livia holds her breath.

And the challengers wonder if somewhere in their ranks, as yet unheralded, lurks a 21st century Darby.

Q2. Are Liverpool poised to end 29 years of hurt?

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Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA
 

Once they made Midas seem shoddy and pedestrian in the harvesting of precious metal.

Between 1976 and 1990, Liverpool – the playhouse of Dalglish, Keegan, Souness, Hansen, Lawrenson, Rush, Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge –

won 10 league titles.

They were as imperious and as untouchable as Ferguson’s United or peak-era Cody Kilkenny.

But after the bull market came the bear; after the Liver Tiger came recession. Almost three decades have unspooled since the football universe was shaded Mersey red.

Now, under their exhilarating, inspiring commander Jurgen Klopp, they move with a sense of destiny.

With Manchester City in recent freefall, Liverpool kicked clear over Christmas. Even if Spurs can make a legitimate counter-argument, next Thursday’s visit of Mo Salah to the Etihad feels like the decisive moment of the season.

Q3. Could Ireland really conquer the world?

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Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale scores the only try of the autumn international rugby test against New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin. The score helped Ireland to a 16-9 win, and only Ireland’s second ever victory over the All Blacks and first win on Irish soil
 

Right now, rugby is the new black: Uber-fashionable, contemporary and trending on the national consciousness. Ireland will surf into World Cup year on an emerald tsunami of hope.

Joe Schmidt’s team enter 2019 as Grand Slam champions backboned by Europe’s club champions, with the World Player of the Year, Johnny

Sexton in Tom Brady mode,the number two ranked side on the planet who impressively took down the number one All Blacks in November.

Coached by a part-human, part Jedi knight Kiwi, the Force – so far – is with an Irish side laden down with experienced game-changers and boasting unprecedented depth..

That Ireland have never advanced beyond the quarter-final, that they will face either a three-in-a-row chasing New Zealand or a resurgent South Africa in the last eight this time, ought to douse the wild fire of optimism.

But ,truth is, the heady conflagration will blaze on until the October 19/20 quarter-final at least.

Q4. Can Tiger roar again in the Major jungle?

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Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy
 

It would be as outrageous as Julius Caesar shrugging off Brutus and his co-conspirators’ dagger incisions as mere flesh wounds and rising again to reclaim Rome.

Could Tiger Woods, so recently a broken figure in a police mugshot, a painkiller-sozzled semi-cripple, once again make the empire of the fairways his own?

He just might.

When the Masters tees off in April, it will be just short of 11 years since Woods – who has made a lifetime vocation of overhauling Jack Nicklaus’s best of 18 major wins – won the last of his 14 Grand Slams.

His fall - off the course to scandal, in competitive golf to a crumbling body that saw him nosedive out of the top 1,000 in the world rankings – is well documented.

Last season’s electrifying, illogical comeback, capped by victory at the Tour Championship, made golf sexy again.

And persuaded many that another Major win, completing perhaps the greatest sporting comeback of them all, is within the grasp of the Big Cat, who turns 43 today.

Q5. Will Declan Rice lead Mick McCarthy’s Ireland to Euro 2020?

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Declan Rice. Photo: Reuters
 

Those many sporting fans without nuance will, depending on his next move, position Declan Rice at the polar extreme of their affections: Hero or villain; patriot or traitor.

If the truth is shaded with far more subtlety, if a teenage talent is on the cusp of a potentially life-defining decision, still,there is no doubt it is key to Ireland’s future.

Rice, if he declares for the country for whom he has already been capped three times, will irrigate the fallow field that is McCarthy’s artisan squad with a flood of quality.

On Thursday, Ian Rush described the 19-year-old as better than John Stones, a £50m player, at the same age.

Should Rice stick with Ireland, the suffocatingly downbeat mood music surrounding the national team (already improved by the axing of Martin O’Neill) will give way to a new sense of hope ahead of March’s Euro qualifiers.

Q6. What next in hurling’s summer fairy tale?

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Tom (left) and Dan Morrissey lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup
 

In 2018, after a championship that yielded an unprecedented damburst of poetic collisions, and amid a monsoon of emotion, Limerick ended 45 years of hurt.

That followed the heartsoar of 2017 and Galway’s first All-Ireland in 29 years, one that ended all fears of Joe Canning lamenting a life with the millstone of ‘greatest player never to win a major’ hanging around his shoulders.

Is there a 2019 encore?

Could Waterford, without an All-Ireland since 1959 and after so many years on the cusp under the now departed Derek McGrath, regroup and mount a meaningful challenge?

It seems a long shot, as does the notion that Davy Fitzgerald could rewind Wexford to the superior summer of 1996.

So then, another life-affirming story? How about a reawakening of the old aristocratic house of the south, Cork.

The Rebels, Munster champions in each of the last two years, have hardly been comatose. But for a blueblood of the sport, one with 30 All-Irelands, the gap back to their last triumph in 2005 is a gaping chasm.

Pat Horgan, Seamus Harnedy, Darragh Fitzgibbon, Mark Coleman and Conor Lehane offer five reasons to believe they can find their way back to the summit.

Q7. What next for Manchester United?

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has enjoyed a great return to Old Trafford (Martin Rickett/PA)
 

Elephants, when they are mortally ill, are said to wander off to find their own burial ground.

United, the behemoths of the sporting world, prefer to sack their manager and pine for the milk and honey days when their ruddy faced Caledonian knight was football’s alpha male.

However, Alex Ferguson is never coming back and, with the severed head of Jose Mourinho joining those of Louis van Gaal and David Moyes on a pike outside Old Trafford, the world’s biggest club now finds itself at a crossroads.

Even if the returning legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has delivered some pleasing early stirrings, United’s next full-time appointment must be on the money.

Whether it is Solskjaer, Mauricio Pochettino or Zinedine Zidane,the prospect of getting it wrong – and a

period outside the elite – must fill United supporters with an apocalyptic dread.

Online Editors

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