My 10 wishes: New green giants, boxing belts, and five sunny days

Most of us would be thrilled to be granted the one wish — and even a genie only offers three — but Irish sport is a vast tent that covers many tribes so here are 10 stories we hope to see written in the 12 months to come.

My 10 wishes: New green giants, boxing belts, and five sunny days

That we see plenty of new Boys in Green

The performances of Callum O’Dowda against Moldova and Denmark of late only highlighted the glaring lack of young Irish talent at senior international level and the need to blood much more as the focus elsewhere turns to the World Cup.

With Uefa’s Nations League kicking-off in September, it will be March of 2019 before the Republic play a ‘competitive’ fixture again, by which time the likes of Aston Villa’s Conor Hourihane, West Ham’s Declan Rice, Matt Doherty of Wolves and the Preston North End crew should have found their feet at international level.

That someone else can reach the standards set by Dundalk and Cork City

The tete-a-tete between these two sides has been franked by better-than-usual results for Irish clubs in Europe but it remains to be seen if others can match the standards set by this pair on and off the park in the last four years.

Shamrock Rovers have the stadium, the support, the history, and the youth structures to seriously contend but the domestic game’s traditional giants have been unable to put the pieces together.

Love them or loathe them, it would be good to see that change.

That Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray begin to feel some heat

Joe Schmidt’s determination to erase the memory of Ireland’s 2015 loss to Argentina in Cardiff and build strength in depth across all 15 positions shows no signs of abating ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan but obvious gaps remain.

There are no shortage of capable out-halves and scrum-halves across the four provinces but Sexton and Murray remain head and shoulders above all pretenders.

So too Tadgh Furling at tighthead. Time for some to make a quantum leap.

That it remains dry in North County Dublin for five days in mid-May

Cricket Ireland was popping the champagne corks last June when the International Cricket Council awarded this country full Test status and the national men’s senior team will play an historic first five-day match at the elite level against Pakistan in Malahide in May.

The hope is that the weather plays ball between May 11 and 15 and that the hosts can prosper against a side languishing in seventh in the Test rankings.

That Kildare can take a giant stride forward

Mayo and Kerry have both fought the good fight against the all-conquering Dubs this last three years but waiting all summer for such a contest has become wearisome.

That’s where an improving Kildare side comes in.

Defeated by nine points in the 2017 Leinster final, they lost momentum with a surprise loss to Armagh in round four of the qualifiers but a return to Division 1 football this spring should steel them for an expected crack at Jim Gavin’s side in another provincial decider.

That Irish fighters take over rather than just take part

No, forget Conor McGregor, Irish professional boxing is awash with the sort of upcoming talent that can add to the world titles already held by Katie Taylor and Ryan Burnett.

The likes of Carl Frampton and even Andy Lee will contemplate returns to the highest rung.

Cork’s Spike O’Sullivan, Portlaoise’s TJ Doheny, Belfast’s Michael Conlan and Donegal’s Jason Quigley are just some of the fighters from around the island who will be eyeing belts.

That Shane Lowry makes the Ryder Cup team

Rory McIlroy’s highs and lows continue to fascinate while Paul Dunne’s form and capture of the British Masters in October has elevated him in the public’s eye but Shane Lowry is expecting big things of himself in 2018 after a difficult 2017.

A second-place finish in Dubai at the end of the season set him up nicely, propelling him back up the Ryder Cup listings.

He has spoken of his need to feature time and again. Hopefully Paris will see the monkey removed from his back.

That the Government wakes up to the need for multi-annual sports funding

It was a good year for sport in terms of government spend on the Capital Sports Programme.

Commitments were made for a new national velodrome and various other projects but there was less cheer when it came to funds for high-performance.

The manner of its distribution continues to chaff too.

It’s over three years since then Minister for Sport, one Leo Varadkar, announced that multi-annual funding of our elite programmes and athletes was on the way. Of that there is still no sign.

That the 2018 European Paralympic Swimming Championships are a major success

Forget your 2023 Rugby World Cup bid, this is the sort of event we should look to hold: smaller, more compact, more achievable and with a significant effect on local businesses whilst needing little or nothing in the way of new facilities.

The National Aquatic Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin will play host to over 500 athletes representing 40-plus countries over seven days in mid-August.

Oh, and they need 600 volunteers to pull it all off as well, if anyone out there is interested.

That the Laois footballers make it straight back out of Division 4

For the love of God, please!

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

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