Pencil them in: Five sporting events to mark in the diary for 2022

The sporting calendar doesn’t take long to gather pace. Soon fans thoughts will turn to flights and access to the big-ticket events. Simon Lewis selects five mega shows in 2022
Pencil them in: Five sporting events to mark in the diary for 2022

TAKE YOUR SEAT: The golden girl of Irish boxing, Katie Taylor, takes on Amanda Serrano in New York, with a likely April date. Picture: Inpho/Matchroom Boxing/Dave Thompson

BOXING: Katie Taylor v Amanda Serrano, New York (likely April date).

It has been a long time in the offing and there are still no firm details for diehard supporters to start booking flights to JFK this spring but this is the fight Katie Taylor and Irish boxing fans have been itching for — a long-awaited showdown with Amanda Serrano.

The London 2012 Olympic gold medallist found herself in something of a box-ticking, holding pattern in 2021, most recently taking her professional record to 20 wins and no defeats in Liverpool last month with a successful mandatory defence of her undisputed World Lightweight titles against WBA challenger Firuza Sharipova.The unanimous points victory over a tricky opponent was the 35-year-old’s third of the year and sets up a blockbuster 2022, with Serrano top of Taylor’s wishlist.

The suggestion from Taylor is that promoter Eddie Hearn is targeting New York in April as the potential location and date and believes it could lead to a career-defining fight at the Big Apple’s most iconic venue.

“I’m still undefeated, still undisputed and going into 2022 with big fights ahead. The better the opponent the better I perform and I’m looking forward to a fantastic year ahead,” Taylor said post-Sharipova.“The world has been waiting for that (Serrano) fight for a long time now. There’s been a lot of talk about it for a few years. It’s been scheduled a couple of times before and fallen through for whatever reasons on their side.

“In my opinion it’s the biggest fight in women’s boxing and potentially for it to take place at Madison Square Garden, the most iconic venue in the sport would be very special.”

GOLF: The 150th Open, St Andrews (July 14-17); AIG Women’s Open, Muirfield (August 4-7)

The first Covid-19 lockdown of 2020 made sure we had to wait an additional 12 months for the 149th Open Championship, and Shane Lowry’s title defence, as the R&A decided to not to stage golf’s oldest championship.

Eventually played last summer at Royal St George’s and won by Collin Morikawa, it means the landmark 150th Open and a welcome return of a major-championship field to the Home of Golf for the first time since 2015 will take place this summer instead.

Collin Morikawa poses with the Claret Jug after winning The Open at The Royal St George's. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire.
Collin Morikawa poses with the Claret Jug after winning The Open at The Royal St George's. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire.

It will be the 30th time the R&A has staged their historic event over the Old Course at St Andrew’s and it promises to live up to top billing with the return, hopefully, of a stacked starting list and record attendances to top the 238,787 who watched the 2000 edition play out.

That was the year Tiger Woods was at the height of his powers, first taming Pebble Beach to romp home to the US Open title and then arriving in the famous university town in Fife to win in equally dominant fashion, beating the field by eight strokes, avoiding the Old Course’s notorious bunkers throughout and setting new marks with both his major-record 19-under-par tally and an Open-at-St-Andrews-record 269 score.

There have been thrills and spills since, all played out across some of the most iconic and expansive links scenery in golf, as John Daly, Louis Oosthuizen and Zach Johnson have lifted the Claret Jug there.

Whenever The Open (and yes, I know you call it the British Open but indulge an old stick-in-the-mud) is held at St Andrews, something memorable happens and Irish golf fans will be dreaming that one of their own can add not only to this island’s remarkable strike rate in the tournament over the last 14 years but become the first man from these shores to claim one of golf’s most coveted titles at its most revered site.

And talking of iconic Championship links, Muirfield will stage the AIG Women’s Open for the first time three weeks later with Leona Maguire hotly tipped to add a major to her resumé following a stellar “rookie” season on the LPGA Tour that included her highest finish in a major with a tie for sixth at the Evian Championship.

RUGBY: All Blacks v Ireland Test Series, New Zealand (July 9-23).

Set the alarm clocks for three very early Summer Saturday mornings as Ireland’s World Cup 2023 credentials under head coach Andy Farrell are put to the ultimate test, a three-match series in New Zealand, the most challenging rugby destination of all.

If it was an uncertain start to life post-Joe Schmidt following another disappointing quarter-final exit in Japan in 2019, Farrell’s men made up for lost time in 2021, overcoming back-to-back defeats in last year’s Six Nations to go on an eight-match winning run, knocking over England and the All Blacks along the way.

MUTUAL RESPECT: New Zealand Assistant coach Greg Feek and Head Coach Ian Foster chat with Ireland counterpart Andy Farrell after the clash between the countries in November. Picture: Dan Sheridan / Inpho
MUTUAL RESPECT: New Zealand Assistant coach Greg Feek and Head Coach Ian Foster chat with Ireland counterpart Andy Farrell after the clash between the countries in November. Picture: Dan Sheridan / Inpho

Those wins were notable for the fluency, power and creativity that Ireland played with, a genuine sign that the teething problems of the first two years under Farrell, attack coach Mike Catt and, more latterly, forwards coach Paul O’Connell were simply growing pains.

It all sets up an intriguing 2022 Six Nations Championship given the other European nations’ successes over Southern Hemisphere tourists during November’s Autumn Series just past but victories south of the Equator at the end of a long domestic season are much more difficult to come by and whatever about the quality of Ireland’s three recent wins over New Zealand, in 2016, 2018 and 2021, they were secured in Chicago and Dublin (twice).

If Johnny Sexton and his fast-developing team can string together some memorable performances in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch or wherever these three Tests are staged, it would lay down a serious marker for the following year’s World Cup campaign in France and perhaps even sow a seed of doubt in the All Blacks camp with a potential knockout meeting against Ian Foster’s men coming down the tracks.

ROWING: World Championships, Racice, Czech Republic (September 18-25).

Ireland’s rich vein of rowing success could be mined once again this year with the hope that last summer’s Tokyo Olympic medal haul can be added to at the 2022 World Championships, an hour’s drive north of the capital Prague.

Fintan McCarthy and Paul O'Donovan celebrate victory in the Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final A at Sea Forest Waterway on the sixth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Picture: Danny Lawson
Fintan McCarthy and Paul O'Donovan celebrate victory in the Lightweight Men's Double Sculls Final A at Sea Forest Waterway on the sixth day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Picture: Danny Lawson

The women’s four of Emily Hegarty, Aifric Keogh, Eimear Lambe and Fiona Murtagh claimed Ireland’s first medal of the Games last August when they won bronze in a thrilling final at the Tokyo Sea Forest Waterway and though the personnel may change nine months from now there will be an appetite for further glory in the Czech Republic’s centre for both rowing and canoeing.

World’s best time

So too the men’s lightweight double in which Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy claimed Ireland’s first Olympic rowing gold having set a world’s best time in the semi-final yet the Irish contingent will also have plenty of points to prove after Tokyo with single sculls star Sanita Puspure’s gold medal bid undermined by illness and an unexpected loss of form for 2019 men’s double World Championship silver medallists Philip Doyle and Ronan Byrne.

Also watch out for women’s lightweight double Margaret Cremen and Aoife Casey, who confirmed their potential with an eighth-place overall finish in the Tokyo standings, and an uptick from women’s pair Aileen Crowley and Monike Dukarska, 11th overall last summer.

FOOTBALL: FIFA World Cup, Qatar (Nov 21-Dec 18).

Yes, there are a dozen different reasons to feel deeply uncomfortable about this latest renewal of the beautiful game’s most-watched spectacle, not least the lives of the largely immigrant construction workers that were lost in the process of getting the even up and running on time.

Yes, it’s a pain in the backside if the Premier League is your preference over international football and the Premier League is forced into a temporary mid-season break to accommodate a tournament awarded to a country under curious circumstances that was too hot to stage it in its traditional time window.

But let’s get down to brass tacks here. It’s the World Cup. The greatest show on earth is around the corner and it will take nerves of steel not to tune in, turn on and drop out in front of this one, whatever the reasons not to.

If nothing else, those eight arenas will be something to behold, even if some of the names don’t exactly trip off the tongue - Stadium 974 or Educational City Stadium anyone?

Take Al Bayt, a 60,000-seater venue the design of which is intended to resemble the tents traditionally used by nomadic people in the Gulf region, and which will host the opening match of Qatar 2022 on November 21.

Or Al-Janoub Stadium, the 40,000-seater designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid and inspired by the sails of traditional Dhow boats, used by pearl divers from the region and with bowed beams holding up the roof that resemble a ship’s hull.

It’s going to be different.

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