What lies ahead? 2018 the sporting year
Every year brings change in a world that keeps on spinning and the sporting landscape is no different.
This turn of events only serves to whet the appetite as to what might transpire in 2018.
There is much to enthuse about, not only on these shores, but also further afield.
It's time to chart the year ahead, to mark your card as to who the headline makers might be and who, come year's end, may emerge from the shadows.
GAA: Wind of change blows that bit stronger
Once the dust has settled on the upcoming League and Championship, stakeholders will no doubt take stock on the GAA's new world order regarding its schedule. At the heart of it is the requirement for the club scene to get a bit more space in the calendar, following on from delegates having their say at last February's Congress.
And so we will have an earlier start to a more condensed Allianz League competition. Four weekends in April will be free of inter-county action. Whether or not this slot will be used productively by clubs is very much open to debate at this juncture.
Come Championship, the Munster and Leinster hurling competitions will be run on a round-robin basis following on from a decision made at a Special Congress in September, with the top two teams advancing to the respective provincial finals.
Third place teams face a play-off with the second-tier winners.
In football, it's as you were until the All-Ireland quarter-final stage which will now consist of two groups of four, with the top two in each section advancing to the semis.
And then a move which hasn't pleased traditionalists.
The All-Ireland hurling final will now take place on the second last Sunday in August. Seven days later was to be the football decider, but with Pope Francis due to visit Irish shores on that weekend, the GAA have opted to push back that final back by a week, so ensuring we will have a big September date to look forward to in 2018.
Ones to watch: On the back of recent All-Ireland U21 success and Na Piarsaigh’s strong club performances, this could be the year that Limerick hurlers stir themselves again. An early evaluation will be on the 4 March when they travel to Galway in 1B of the Allianz League – a game that more than likely could decide who gets back to the top tier.
In football, Kerry's David Clifford has introduced himself with telling effect and now that he won't be heading Down Under, it's likely that he'll feature for the Kingdom at some stage in the Allianz League.
Can he, along with other minors of that golden generation. kickstart another glorious period of Kerry dominance?
The year ahead will give us some indication as to whether this new crop have genuine potential.
In ladies football, Dublin will be out win back-to-back senior titles, though the bookies are slightly going with Cork to win back their title. The Munster county, courtesy of a late Julia White point, edged out Kilkenny by the bare minimum in this year's senior camogie decider. Who's to this say this pair won't be back in the '18 final on 9 September.
27-28 January: Start of Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues - the first of four 'double' weekends
17 March All-Ireland club finals, Croke Park
24 March: Hurling League Division 1 final (Just hours before the clocks go forward)
1 April: Easter Sunday sees the Football League Division 1 & 2 finals.
6 May: Start of the Championship - Sligo and Leitrim footballers heading to London and New York respectively.
12/13 May: Can Mayo bate Galway? It’s a fifth year on the spin that these sides have met out west, with the Tribsemen holding sway in the last two meetings. Pat Gilroy's Dubs take on Cody's Cats and Offaly welcome the All-Ireland champions Galway as the new-look hurling championship gets underway.
20 May: Cork v Clare and Limerick v Tipperary - two games to savour in the time-honoured Munster hurling battle.
9/10 June: Start of All-Ireland Camogie Championship (Group 1 - Clare, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick & Waterford; Group 2 - Cork, Dublin, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Wexford)
17 June: Connacht football final
23 June: Munster football final - on a Saturday night
24 June: Ulster and Leinster football finals
1 July: Leinster and Munster hurling finals
15 July: All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals
28/29 July: All-Ireland hurling semi-finals
11/12 August: All-Ireland football semi-finals
19 August: All-Ireland hurling final
2 September: All-Ireland football final
9 September: All-Ireland camogie final
16 September: All-Ireland ladies football final
SOCCER: All eyes on Russia
For a month, beginning in mid June, 64 games will be played to decide who will win the 21st edition of the FIFA World Cup. Spain v Portugal, England v Belgium and Germany v Mexico are some of the games that jump out in the group stages.
European teams tend to dominate World Cups in Europe – Brazil were the last ‘outside’ winners and that was 1958 in Sweden.
The current side, coached by Tite, won’t fall asunder like Scolari’s outfit four years ago and in Neymar, Coutinho, Willian, Coutinho and Paulinho have the depth that can see seem them go far.
Germany, the defending champions, will also go deep, with much attention on the exciting Timo Werner.
England, on paper, have a ‘handy’ enough group. Getting to the quarter-final would represent real progress.
One to watch: Brazil’s Gabriel Jesus to be the golden boot winner.
With no World Cup trip in the offing, the Republic of Ireland's next taste of competitive action won't be until early September when they play in the inaugural Nations League. Before that two away friendlies have been lined up against Turkey and France.
The Republic will be placed in a group of three teams that include the following - Austria, Wales, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Ireland, Denmark, Czech Republic and Turkey.
So that's four games between September and November.
The winner of the group is promoted to League A for the next competition in 2020.
As for Euro 2020, the draw for that pan-European event takes place in Dublin's Convention Centre in early December.
The Republic of Ireland Women are still very much in the mix for World Cup qualification. It may have been backs-to-the-wall stuff against the European champions Netherlands, but the point earned ensures they are still unbeaten in their group and stand joint top with the Dutch.
Colin Bell’s side have now three homes to come in qualifying.
In the Premier League, Manchester City are well on track to regain the title, while the battle for the top four will again be fiercely contested. Indeed, the team who finishes fourth will from 2018-19 go straight into the Champions League group stage.
The Champions League resumes in mid-February, with the meeting of PSG and Real Madrid the standout game in the last 16.
No doubt, some will be tempted with the odds on five Premier League teams making the quarters. The Road to Kiev is set for many twists and turns
Domestically, Cork City have been busy tying down players and adding a few more their squad as they prepare for their defence of the Premier Division title. They will also have European matters to contend with in July when they line up in the first round of the Champions League qualifying.
Even if they fall at that hurdle, John Caulfield's side will enter the Europa League at the second qualifying round. Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Derry City are also Europa League bound come in the summer. That said, the trio will also have strengthened their respective squads as they seek to overtake the Rebels.
Waterford FC are back in the top tier again and could be one of the surprise packets.
24 January: Nations League draw
13/14 February: Champions League resumes
16 February: Airtricity League begins
25 February: Carabao Cup final
6 April: Republic of Ireland Women v Slovakia
10 April: Republic of Ireland Women v Netherlands
8 June: Republic of Ireland v Norway
12 June: Norway v Republic of Ireland
13 May: Premier League final day
16 May: Europa League final
19 May: FA Cup final
26 May: Champions League final
14 June-15 July: World Cup
25 June: Draw for early rounds of European competitions
31 August: Republic of Ireland Women v Northern Ireland
6-11 September: Nations League opening matches
15 September: EA Sports Cup final
4 November: FAi Cup final
2 December: Euro 2020 draw
RUGBY: It’s all about the Six Nations for the coach
After wins over South Africa, Fiji and Argentina, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland will now set their sights on the Six Nations.
It’s a tournament Schmidt wants to do well in and he doesn’t entertain talk of sacrificing. This is what he told RTÉ Sport after the win over Argentina. "I would pay the utmost respect to the Six Nations. That’s our tournament. That’s what we play. It’s got a lot longer history than the World Cup, which is really Johnny-come-lately.
"And while it takes the overall precedence, the Six Nations is such a phenomenal title to get and it’s so tough.
"You saw some of the teams in the Six Nations: Scotland [who thrashed Australia], they are in our pool in the World Cup anyway. Whatever way you look at it they are really taking off at the moment. "England [reigning Six Nations champions], we know how tough they are.
"There are teams in the Six Nations who you are obliged to go as hard as you can. "Because you still need your top selection, they need to build their fluidity together and you need to keep building confidence."
The Irish begin the 2018 renewal away to France and then follow up with home games against Italy, Wales and Scotland, before a possible championship/grand slam decider against England at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day.
Of course, we may be counting her chickens on the latter possibility – the Scots have improved no end.
One to watch: After featuring making his international bow during the summer tour to the US, Jacob Stockdale certainly seized his chance in November. Stand-out displays against South Africa and Argentina, with three tries to boot, see him well placed to start on the left wing against the French.
Also, watch out for Jordan Larmour. The brilliant try he scored for Leinster against Munster on St Stephen's was a pure delight and showcases his undoubted talent. May not feature for Ireland in February/March, but will be key in Leo Cullen's plans to win silverware.
As to the club scene itself, things are looking good for the Irish provinces - eight wins in the back-to-back games before Christmas keeps the quartet well on track for knockout action come April.
Leinster are the bookies favourites to regain the Champions Cup and can more more less seal a home quarter-final spot when they host Glasgow on the second weekend in January.
Munster's away trip to Racing 92 could be crucial if Johann van Graan's troops are to have home comforts in the last eight. A tangible return there and a bonus-point over Castres in the last round should see them top their pool.
Ulster's clash with La Rochelle on 12 January now takes on a huge importance. If Les Kiss's side can stop the French outfit from getting a bonus point and then get a win over Wasps a week later, then that would be enough to top Pool 1.
In the Challenge Cup, Connacht have seven points clear of Worcester and barring a complete collapse are set for the quarters.
11-14 & 18-21 Jan – Final rounds of Champions/Challenge Cup group games
3 February: France v Ireland
10 February: Ireland v Italy
24 February: Ireland v Wales
10 March: Ireland v Scotland
17 March: England v Ireland
Women’s Six Nations Schedule
29-31 March: Champions/Challenge Cup quarter-finals
20-22 April: Champions/Challenge Cup quarter-finals
4 May: Pro 14 quarter-finals
11 May: Challenge Cup final
12 May: Champions Cup final
18 May: Pro 14 semi-finals
26 May: Pro 14 final. Aviva
9/16/23 June: Australia v Ireland
November (Dates TBC) – Ireland to play Argentina, a Tier 2 side and possibly New Zealand twice.
GOLF: Much focus on Rory and Tiger
2017 was the year that Rory McIlroy got married. It was also a year when, for the first time since 2008, the former world number on failed to register a win. Injury seriously affected his season and as a result the 28-year-old dropped to number ten in the world rankings.
After a rest and recuperation, McIlroy is set to tee it up again at the at the Omega Dubai Classic. That event will be ten weeks out from the Masters - the only major the Hollywood native has never won.
It’s Ryder Cup year with the Le Golf National course outside Paris hosting the event at the end of September. McIlroy should be n the team, but can the likes of Shane Lowry or Paul Dunne make a real push to be in Thomas Bjorn’s side? Can Graeme McDowell rediscover his Mojo? As for Padraig Harrington he will return to the place of his first Open triumph – Carnoustie – in July.
As for Tiger Woods. His former coach Butch Harmon recently said of the former world number one: "Right now, he's past the crawling stage and he's walking."
Ones to watch: Sheffield’s Matthew Fitzpatrick will be aiming for back-to-back Ryder Cup appearances. A strong end to 2017 confirms his growing maturity. Fitzpatrick tied for seventh at the 2016 Masters and could give Augusta a good rattle again.
On the back of winning the British Amateur Championships in 2017, Leona Maguire is now looking forward to turning pro. Speaking recently to RTÉ Sport, the Cavan competitor said: "I have been waiting to turn pro for quite a while now.
"It’s definitely exciting. My game has been building up nicely.
"It will be nice to have one last semester at school and then hopefully be ready to make that jump to the professional ranks in 2018.
"It’s exciting times ahead. There is lots of stuff to be put in place to build a schedule, get a management company, different sponsors, get a caddie."
5-8 April: US Masters, Augusta
24-27 May: BMW PGA Championship
14-17 June: US Open, Shinnercock Hills
5-8 July: Irish Open, Ballyliffin
19-22 July: Open, Carnoustie
9-12 August: US PGA, Bellerive Country Club
28-30 September: Le Golf National, Paris
RACING – Leopardstown to offer something new before Cheltenham
In the National Hunt sphere, it’s certainly a case that all roads lead to Cheltenham in March.
However, in 2018, five weeks out from the Prestbury Park extravaganza we have the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown. Featuring seven Grade One races and £1.5m in prize money, this new two-day fixture at the start of February will give contenders another chance to shine before the ‘Olympics’ of jump racing, while also giving other hopefuls something tangible to aim it in the season.
In 2017, the Irish scooped 19 winners at Cheltenham, with Sizing John taking the featured Gold Cup. Jessica Harrington’s charge will be eight if he lines up again on the third Friday in March.
After his below-par run in the Leopardstown Chase, it's not surprising that he has drifted in the market for the blue riband. Nicky Henderson's Might Bite, after his King George success, is now the clear favourite for the Prestbury Park showpiece
And what about the Champion Hurdle? Well, we were anticipating a showdown between Willie Mullins' Faugheen - 2015 winner - and the reigning champ Buveur Dair will be back again. However, after failing to fire in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, we'll have to wait to see whether the former can make amends ahead of any trip to the Cotswolds.
On the flat, Aidan O’Brien’s Gustav Klimt and Saxon Warrior lead the way in the betting for Newmarket 2,000 Guineas and Epsom Derby respectively.
One to watch: Speaking at the recent ‘Celebration of Cork Racing’ event', jockey Davy Russell said of Gordon Elliott's Samcro: "He's as good a horse as we’ll ever see.
"He’s an exceptional horse. He made £335,000 (€379,153), he was probably the cheapest horse that will ever be brought. I never rode him on the racecourse, I’ve only rode him at home but, my God, when you’re on about the feel, that’s the feel."
The five-year-old is at the head of the markets for the Grade 1 novice hurdling events at the Cheltenham Festival and, in the eyes of some is a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner of the future.
The next few months will tell us a lot more.
3-4 Febraury: Dublin Racing Festival, Leopardstown
13-16 March: Cheltenham Festival
1-3 April: Fairyhouse Grand National Festival
14 April: Aintree Grand National
24-28 April: Punchestown Festival
5-6 May: Newmarket Guineas weekend
26-27 May: Curragh Guines weekend
2 June: Epsom Derby
19-23 June: Royal Ascot
29 June-1 July: Irish Derby weekend, Curragh
21 July: Irish Oaks
30 July-5 August: Galway Festival
15 September: St Leger, Doncaster
15-16 September: Irish Champions weekend
20 October: British Champions Day
26- 29 December: Leopardstown Christmas Festival
Boxing: World titles to be won
2017 ended with Katie Taylor successfully defending WBA lightweight world title against stubborn opponent Jessica McCaskill at the York Hall in London, with the battle scars evident on the Bray boxer's face post-fight. Taylor was clearly dazed and confused, the paid ranks an unforgiving environment at times.
There is now the prospect of a defence in Dublin next April against the 28-year-old Argentinean Victoria Bustos who holds the IBF title. Delfine Persoon of Belgium, holder of the WBC belt, is another opponent being mentioned. Much excitement would surround a fight on home soil for Taylor - a chance to recreate the special occasion that was London 2012.
A few days after Taylor's victory, Gary 'Spike' O'Sullivan produced an explosive performance in Montreal to blow Antoine Douglas away to land the WBO Inter-Continental middleweight title and so maintain his incredible rise towards a possible world title shot in the months ahead.
Michael Conlan made his professional on St Patrick's Day 2017 and is set to have his next pro bout on our national holiday in 2018. The Belfast boxer recently made it five wins from five as a pro when going the distance against Argentina’s Luis Fenando Molina in their featherweight bout in Madison Square Garden.
Ryan Burnett became the unified bantamweight champion of the world after defeating Kazakhstan’s Zhanat Zhakiyanov in October to add the WBA title to his IBF crown at the SSE Odyssey Arena.
No firm plans as of yet as to when Burnett will return to the ring, but the 25 year-old will in his own words "fight anybody".
After winning his comeback fight against Horacio Garcia in November, Carl Frampton will next take on former four-weight world champion Nonito Donaire in Belfast on 7 April.
After that is a possible challenge for a word title in the featherweight at Windsor Park, with Lee Selby and Josh Warrington, who are scheduled to fight for the former’s IBF featherweight title in Leeds, the likely opponents.
Rowing: the gift that keeps on giving
After a successful year in the water on the back of European and World success, there is the expectation of even more podium finishes in the year to come. The 'Skibbereen Five' of Paul and Gary O'Donovan, Mark O'Donovan, Shane O'Driscoll and Denise Walsh will be out to make another splash with Tokyo 2020 very much in mind.
After winning gold in the lightweight pair division at the World Championships, Mark O’Donovan and Shane O’Driscoll have now opted to go as a heavyweight pair.
2-5 August: European Championships, Glasgow
9-16 September: Plovdiv, Bulgaria
Ones to watch:
Sligo swimmer Mona McSharry ended the year with a creditable fifth-place finish in the 100m breaststroke at the European Short Course Championships in Copenhagen. It was the 17-year-old's first appearance in senior company after a tremendous year in the junior ranks where she took gold (100m breaststroke) at the World Championships in Indianapolis.
It followed on from the haul of gold and silver medals in the 50m, 100m and 200m at the European Juniors.
The Young Sportsperson of the Year is @MonaMcsharry #rtesportawards #rtesport pic.twitter.com/8of5TFRwnR— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) December 16, 2017
McSharry's exploits were also recognised by way of her becoming the inaugural winner of the Young Sportsperson of the Year at the RTÉ Sports Awards.
Now doubt she is already looking to be in the pool for Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.
Before that, she has the European Long Course Course to look forward to in the first week of August.
Ireland are not known for producing sprinters, but after winning gold in the 100m at the European U20 Championships in Italy, Gina Akpe-Moses will be looking to build on that success as she targets the Tokyo Olympics.
OTHER KEY DATES IN 2018
15 -28 January: Australian Open Tennis
25-28 January: Start of World Rally Championship in Monte Carlo - Craig Breen returns to drive for the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi team
4 February: Super Bowl LII, Minneaapolis
9-25 February: Winter Olympics, Pyeongchang, South Korea
2-4 March, World Indoor Athletics Championship, Birmingham
4-15 April: Commonwealth Games
22 April: London Marathon
11-15 May: Ireland's first ever Test match on home soil - Pakistan the opponents, Malahide the venue
27 May-10 June: French Open Tennis
2-15 July: Wimbledon
7-29 July, Tour de France
2-12 August: European Championships (Athletics in Berlin, aquatics, cycling, gymnastics, rowing, triathlon and golf in Glasgow)
8-12 August: Dublin Horse Show
13-19 August: World Para Swimming Europeans, National Aquatic Centre
27 August - 9 September: US Open Tennis
30 September - 6 October: World Darts Grand Prix, Dublin
28 October: Dublin City Marathon