A to Z of 2019
A is for Anybody but the Dubs
We get it. Yiz are good at football. But this is getting ridiculous. So ridiculous that Damien Dempsey is struggling to make miserable music anymore. There was once something tragically romantic about the Dubs — Jayo, as a young whippersnapper, leaving Mark O’Connor on his arse and bagging an onion... ‘Pillar’ lifting the entire family over the advertising hoardings before the final whistle... Mark Vaughan’s hair.
Now? Now they are like some master-race, steamrolling teams for fun. And God help us all if Connolly comes back. This coming year, whether by accident (Ebola outbreak) or design, we need anybody but Dublin to prevail. Anybody except Galway.
B is for Brady, Tom
Notwithstanding his vintage performance against a woeful New York Jets on Sunday night, TB12 is falling foul to the one condition that catches every mortal being bar Bruce Springsteen; father time. Brady, 41, has long claimed he intends to play well into the next decade. The presence of his personal trainer, wellness guru and all-round Dynasty character Alex Guerrero has been a constant thorn in coach Bill Belichick’s side, and speculation has been rife for some time that Belichick wants to move past Brady and plan for the future. This regular season has seen Brady at his most ordinary. It has probably been the greatest player/coach partnership in NFL history, and part of that greatness — the duo’s collective stubbornness — may lead to an undignified exit for one or the other. Should it be Brady, don’t feel too bad for him — between himself and Gisele, he has plenty of turf in the shed. Having said all this, expect him to win the Super Bowl.
C is for the Club Scene
Those of you who think I’m referring to David Guetta’s recent residency in Ibiza have obviously never had a loved one play a round-robin relegation play-off on the December 23. 2018 was another shambolic year for GAA club fixtures countrywide, despite hopes to the contrary. If only the GAA had a professional executive to sort out this scheduling mess, once and for all? If only the clubs had a representative body that could argue their case? If only there was a clearly defined collective will to change? Maybe 2019 will see the first actual GAA off-season.
D is for Declan Rice
Even if we achieve very little in the next two years, if Mick McCarthy has somehow managed to convince Declan Rice to play for Éire, then 2019 will have been a year to remember. Should it happen, we may never know what sealed it, maybe Mrs Rice was won over by Captain Fantastic’s northern charm, maybe by his ‘cheeky grin’ montages set to Careless Whisper on YouTube, but if he pulls it off, he will have done this state some service. As for the English, we will gladly swap them Damian Rice for Declan.
E is for Environment
OK, buckle up. It’s time for Irish sporting bodies and their stadia to get serious about the environment. It’s bad enough that all of us as individual consumers buy enough plastic to give the earth a continent-sized tumor but it is unacceptable that very wealthy sporting bodies double down on this by shoving free plastic flags, stickers and beer glasses into our hands at every event, many of them with over 50,000 attendances. These flags and stickers and beer glasses most likely end up stuck in the throats of choking sea birds. And that’s not an exaggeration. The IRFU, GAA and FAI make enough money off punters — they have a moral obligation to lead on an issue as serious as this.
F is for Freddie de Jong
With a name like Freddie de Jong, you just know you’d be good at football. But this Freddie is not just good, he is being hailed in his native Holland as the next Johan Cruyff. Currently at Ajax, de Jong (21) is due a move to either Barcelona or Manchester CIty in 2019 and will be very much in the shop window when his Ajax face Real Madrid in the knockout stages of the Champions League.
G is for Gweedore
This country’s reputation for enjoying ourselves by wetting our whistles was nothing if not enhanced after Gweedore captured the Ulster Club championship and then live-streamed the celebrations across social media for what seemed like 10 lifetimes. Their willingness to call out their next opponent has been a welcome and novel addition to the usually banal ‘Corofin are a great team and we respect them’ schtick we get fed. When the movie is made of this journey, it’ll be written and directed by Martin McDonagh and will be blacker than a Doc Martin boot.
H is for Hurling
If the game of hurling was a young fella home for Christmas last week, he would’ve had a brand-new sheepskin coat on at mass and be the talk of the village. This past year saw hurling and camogie granted UNESCO cultural and heritage status. Whether that had anything to do with John Mullane’s radio commentary is unclear — but, right now the game is in rude health. Heading into the 2019 season, any one of seven teams (Limerick, Galway, Clare, Tipp, Cork, Kilkenny and Waterford) could capture Liam MacCarthy. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to see a sport so top heavy with contenders.
I is for Instagram
Cristiano Ronaldo has 147 million followers on Instagram. Neymer Jnr must be sickened to have just a mere 106 million. They say it’s important to them because it helps connect with their fans, which sounds nice. It is a big part of what drives the needle for clubs in assessing the worth of their stars. The more followers, the more zeros. The only outcome is income.
J is for James Horan
If rumours are to be believed, all men of fighting age, and Martin Carney, took part in open trials for the Mayo senior team after Horan’s reappointment. Whether these trials unearthed the next big thing is unknown, but last season the country became a little Mayo weary, and this may be no bad thing. The current squad may be still young in years (Aidan O’Shea is 28, Diarmuid O’Connor is 24 this week), but the miles are on the clock. Horan made some early pleas for patience, but he hardly came back to paint the Sistine Chapel. It’s now or never. Again.
K is for Dr Martin Luther King
Surely the inspiration for the Arsenal defensive strategy of non-violent protest. He would be immensely proud to see how completely unwilling, in the face of much provocation, the Gunners’ back four were to raise as much as a boot in anger as they were overrun by Liverpool attackers. January should tell a lot about Unai Emery and where he believes his Arsenal are deficient. You can imagine Arsene is sitting quietly somewhere in a kimino, reading a Japanese translation of Finnegan’s Wake, smiling to himself thinking, they thought it would be that easy?
L is for Liverpool FC
There. I’ve said it. And now that I’ve said it, it won’t happen, will it?
M is for Leona Maguire
Over the past three years, Maguire was the number one amateur golfer in the world for an incredible 135 weeks. After graduating from Duke, the Cavan native won her European tour card in a play-off last week. Expect big things in 2019, inevitably followed by a tweet from the Minister for Sport congratulating “our very own Majestic Maguire on her wonderful achievement”. The bandwagon won’t bother her. She is the real deal.
N is for the NBA
Kyrie Irving thinks the earth is flat. Steph Curry doesn’t believe in the moon landing. Lebron James arrives to games drinking a glass of red wine. The athletic endeavours and skill levels of the players are otherworldly in the NBA right now, and they have a current crop of players that are willing to express themselves, on and off the court, so it has never been more watchable. This year, check out the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, aka The Greek Freak, a man who is living up to his rather impressive name.
O is for Offaly
Each Christmas brings with it great nostalgia of events past, and the showing of
Players of the Faithful
was a timely reminder what outliers that 1982 Offaly football team were. They also had the broadest sets of shoulders of any collection of men ever filmed since the rowing scene on the galley in Ben Hur. Maybe the nostalgia will serve as the impetus for change in a once great hurling and football county.
P is for Perspective (complete abandonment of)
If Ireland win the Six Nations, you fear Joe Schmidt might bring forward his retirement six months and skip the Rugby World Cup altogether, as the noise from the runaway gun that is the New Rugby Public will become deafening. If we tank the Six Nations, it will be all part of the grand plan to lower expectations, thereby exploding said expectations in the process. Poor Joe, he can’t win. Unless he wins.
Q is for Qatar 2022
The promotional videos which will be everywhere this coming year may leave you nauseous, not least because of the plight of the migrant workers laboring in 50-degree heat just to get the job finished. You get the feeling that last summer’s World Cup was a success because it was in Russia, not in spite of it — a country so rich in culture and history that those who travelled could park their conscientious objections, just watch football and be tourists. Qatar 2022 will have little to redeem it in that regard, and might be best avoided, which, given our recent World Cup history, shouldn’t be a problem for the Boys in Green.
R is for Roy Keane
He is too big a part of our lives to go quietly into the night. Please, Sky Sports, give him a job.
S is for Ship the Dropkick Murphy’s back to Boston
This song... in so many stadiums... played so loudly... never made any sense... please send it home.
T is for the Toughest Trade
We should all dread the day that the Miracle of Mullinalaghta is hijacked by the corporate sponsors of the Club Championship and turned into a TV ad that looks like it was directed by Ingmar Bergman, but it will come.
‘One Club. One Bank. One repossessed home!’. So, while they are at it, here’s my pitch for The Toughest Trade, Season 4: swap Jim Gavin and his backroom team with the head of all the financial institutions. Let Jim have a go at the banks for a year while the bankers have a go at the Dubs! What television! Within two weeks the Dubs will be shite and the banks will be running smoother than a Dublin warm-up. Given what real-life altering pain the banks have heaped upon tens of thousands of Irish people and their families, having their name attached to grassroots sports is unnecessary and disingenuous. Those who rail against Sky’s investment in broadcasting GAA — they provide a highly functional service people pay for — should look closer to home. While we are at it, let’s have the church sponsor the Sigerson.
U is for Ubiquity of the varsity stars
You can only hope sense prevails with the young stars of the country this spring as the collegiate competitions gasp for whatever oxygen the inter-county season leaves them. The GAA should rule any player registered for Sigerson or Fitzgibbon Cups ineligible for the national football and hurling leagues in order to spare their young bodies and preserve the integrity and tradition of the competitions. They won’t of course, which leaves it to individual players, many of them just 20, to decide who’d they’d rather piss off — their college buddies or the under-pressure inter-county manager.
V is for Vendetta
So, Jose is gone, never to return? No man bears a calculated grudge quite like Jose. He has carved a rather brilliant career out of rubbing peoples’ noses in it. He will take his scolding following his Old Trafford exit for now, but expect him to be back, all knee slides and ears cupped, before too long.
W is for Wind
The Irish Open comes to Lahinch GC this July this year, and with it, hopefully, comes the wind. We know the course is magnificent. A strong gale should make the pros appear mortal, enhance the drama and have them remember their visit all the more.
X is for Xenophobia
Racism on the terraces raised its medusa head in recent weeks, both in the Premier League and Serie A, prompting some more realistic commentators to wonder how far we have come. Despite the outcry, perhaps it is little wonder such disgusting proclivities still exist in sports arenas, given that they are but a microcosm of society, and England is as confused a nation as any right now. What is encouraging is the united stand of footballers the world over, led by the likes of Raheem Sterling, who have proved unanimous in their condemnation and unwillingness to accept it.
Y is for Yemen
A country we should never stop hearing enough about in 2019, even in the sports pages, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel. The world’s worst humanitarian crisis is ongoing there, due to a war contrived and funded by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the same Saudi Arabia that are rumoured to be launching a bid to buy Manchester United. Yes. Manchester United. Of Busby, Charlton and Best. Of Mike Duxbury, Neil Webb and Denis Irwin. The team a billion boys grew up supporting, may soon be owned by the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia. Do we care? We should.
Z is for Zumba class
Sure, I just realised how few words start with the letter Z. But it’s New Year’s Day, so no better time to remind ourselves of the lie we will tell ourselves for the next 30 days: get in shape and you can have one more year at the edge of the square, demanding better ball and first refusal on all easy frees. After all, Horan is watching...