You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

Who will enter the national consciousness in 2016, and go from someone only an anorak or dedicated ‘Irish Examiner’ reader might know to a name — possibly even a face — that the casual sportsfan, even a Tubs or D’Arcy, might recognise? Here are tips offs about some names you can later brag to mates that you told them about them first.

RIO: BARR AND SOME DOUBLE-BARRELLED NAMES

For everything else that may be going on in 2016, the centrepiece of the sporting year will still be the Olympics, and as blighted and as discredited as it may be by drugs, athletics will remain its centrepiece.

From an Irish perspective we can at least take comfort that our athletes are among the most regularly drug-tested on the planet, and with it, among the cleanest, something in previous decades we couldn’t justifiably say.

Of course that among other reasons might explain we probably wouldn’t medal on either the track or the field, but we could have a couple of finalists who elbow their way into the top eight or 10 in the world — no small feat when you think about it — and in a couple of events outside the main Estádio Olímpico Joao Havelange, a few others that could well make it onto the podium.

Thomas Barr (400m hurdles) and Mark English (800m) both just missed out on making their respective finals at the world championships in 2015 but expect at least one of them, if not them both, to make a final in Rio. 

Those worlds in Beijing came a bit too soon for Ciara Mageen because of all her injury woes in recent years but she’s already qualified for the 1500m in Rio and with her talent and resilience it would be no surprise to hear her being namechecked when the bell goes in that event’s final.

Unfortunately though it takes medals to make it onto Tubs or D’Arcy, so besides a constant contender like Rob Heffernan and outside IAAF-run events, what bolter could surprisingly appear on their couch and your screen some weekend night?

Well, someone possibly mixing in the green room with the likes of Ross O’Carroll-Kelly could be another magnificent double-barrelled-named Dubliner called ARTHUR LANIGAN-O’KEEFFE. 

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

In 2015 he became European modern pentathlon champion, winning gold in Bath. 

The 24-year-old fits the profile of a potential Olympic medallist. 

He won a junior worlds bronze a couple of years ago, and earlier in 2015 he won silver at the World Cup confirming his gold in the Europeans was a natural progression. 

He has the experience of competing at London 2012 and the example of Natalya Coyle who showed him and everyone else with her ninth-place spot there that an Irish athlete can challenge in the event. 

You probably had never known about the distinctively varied and unusual sport — it compromises of five disciplines: fencing, the 200m freestyle, swimming, showjumping, and a final combined event of pistol shooting and a 3200m cross-country run. 

But between Coyle and Lanigan-O’Keeffe, you could be a lot more familiar with it next August.

Another versatile athlete to watch out for at Rio is AILEEN REID, formerly Aileen Morrison. 

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

The Derry woman finished ninth in the 2015 world series rankings, and after the lessons and experience of a disappointing 2012 Games, should seriously push on and for a podium spot in Rio. 

Someone else who will be in the water — but not on the bike or on the road — in Rio will be SHANE RYAN. 

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

He might not be a name you’d know from the Irish system like a Gráinne Murphy, Melanie Nochter or the already-Rio qualified Fiona Doyle, but then Ryan only joined the system in 2015, having swum for the US at the London Games.

The 21-year-old finished fourth in the 100m backstroke at the US trials when only the top two qualified for the Olympics, so with his dad hailing from Portarlington, he’s relocated to here since April. 

With legitimate roots like that, no wonder he’s claiming Irish nationality, and with his times in numerous events within the Olympic qualifying standard, no wonder Ireland has claimed him too. 

Expect the Penn State swimmer to final in at least one event.

GAA

It’s a precarious game, this “ones to watch” lark, especially when it comes to Gaelic Games. 

At the start of 2005 we identified Kieran Donaghy as one you could chalk down to be successful on the hardwood with Tralee Tigers and on the grass with Kerry. 

Yet it would take until 2006 for him to shine on the national stage, from seemingly nowhere, when in fact he played regularly with Kerry in the previous year’s league and came off the bench in a tight Munster final and again in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

So, we don’t know if 2016 will be either just a moving year or an outright breakthrough year for a couple of talented GAA players we’re about to name, but take it you’ll be hearing more about them in the future.

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

PATRICK CURRAN

was on the fringes of the Waterford hurling team in 2015, only coming off the bench for the last quarter of each of their championship games and not featuring at all in their league final success, but focusing on his first-year studies at UCC restricted his involvement.

In 2016 it’s hard not to see him starting. He’s exactly what Waterford now need at this point in their evolution — a goalscorer. 

Still only 19 — he’ll turn 20 in March — the Dungarvan clubman has a record of finding the net just when his team needs it, like in the 2013 All-Ireland minor final, the pivotal one-point Munster semi-final win over Clare earlier that year, and in the U21 clash between the counties in Clare and Waterford meet again in 2016 in the first round of the senior championship. Whoever wins — and very probably Clare — a glorious season and era could be opening up. 

For the losing side, right into a piranha pit of a qualifier. Whatever side of the result he ends up in Thurles next summer though, Curran will impress on the U21 and senior stage at some point over the next couple of seasons.

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

MARK O’CONNOR

is a major reason why Jack O’Connor’s Kerry minors and Corca Dhuibhne’s Hogan Cup teams have swept the lot the past two years. 

In three of those four All Ireland finals they won between them, O’Connor was man of the match. 

He’ll probably have enough on in the spring between playing Freshers with UCC and an U21 campaign to feature significantly for Eamonn Fitzmaurice in the league, something he’d probably need to break into the best midfield in the country. 

But you can see him serving an apprenticeship in Fitzgerald Stadium this summer, pushing David Moran and Anthony Maher hard or playing on the wings. 

Eventually we’ll see him on the big stage. It’s a matter of time.

RUGBY

Irish rugby and its European Cup teams have had little to be encouraged by since that game against Argentina but Ulster have been the one shining light, and STUART McCLOSKEY, their brightest star.

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

So bright, you’d expect him after missing out on the World Cup squad to start centre for Joe Schmidt at some point in the Six Nations championship, especially with Rob Henshaw and Jared Payne’s respective injury troubles.

McCloskey’s form mightn’t be news to anyone who watched Ulster batter Toulouse in consecutive weekends, or indeed how he and Luke Marshall have combined all autumn, but for the likes of Tubs or D’Arcy, despite all the rugby players they’ve had on their couch, McCloskey’s still a secret. 

At some point though he won’t. With pace, power and skill, the 23-year-old 6ft4in unit is breaking through some of the defences in Europe, so breaking through in 2016 with the national team seems an obvious progression.

HOCKEY

Probably the most underrated Irish sporting achievement of 2015 was the Irish hockey team medalling at the sport’s European championships.

Invariably that’s something established powers like England, the Netherlands, Germany, and possibly Belgium do, not someone like Ireland.

But Craig Fulton’s men did, and because of the tournament-nature of their sport, with a minimum of five games involved, they will add a new dimension to how in this country we follow and watch the Olympics. 

They’re in a hell of a group, tougher than Martin O’Neill’s team have in France in June, but then it’s harder to make the Olympic hockey tournament than the Euros: at this level you invariably have to play the likes of Germany (reigning Olympic champs), Netherlands (reigning European champs), Argentina (sixth in the world), and India. 

But Ireland have shown they belong and compete at this level, and one of the most pleasing aspects of their greater prominence is that more people in this country will finally get to appreciate talents like DAVID AND CONOR HARTÉ

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

From playing together with Bandon Grammar School in Cork all the way to playing professionally for Dabang Mumbai in the Indian league, the 6ft5in twin towers — sorry, lads, but expect plenty of similar headlines in 2016 — have been literally central to Ireland. David is considered among the best goalkeepers on the planet while Conor anchors the defence.

SOCCER

We could speculate about who could make their way into Martin O’Neill’s squad for Euro 2016, the Derryman having learned from Trap’s folly of not shaking things up a bit at Euro 2012. 

But with Northern Ireland having qualified for the big show in France and most of their team still a secret to most southern folk, it’s better to highlight a talent that you’re almost certain to see and enjoy in June. 

You heard them here first - the sporting names set to make the breakthrough in 2016

STUART DALLAS has a great name and an even better story, not unlike one James Vardy. 

The 24-year-old winger five years ago was an apprentice joiner and playing for Coagh United in the third division of the Northern Ireland leagues. 

After a couple of seasons then with Crusaders, he was signed by Brentford, hardly again the big time.

Now the Cookstown native is playing with Leeds, and has been a regular starter for Michael O’Neill the past year, his fearlessness and directness reminiscent of James McClean first arriving upon the scene in Sunderland. 

You’ll enjoy him.

Who will enter the national consciousness in 2016, and go from someone only an anorak or dedicated ‘Irish Examiner’ reader might know to a name — possibly even a face — that the casual sportsfan, even a Tubs or D’Arcy, might recognise?


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