It’s a tough beat, trying to foresee what might happen, in sport or life. Perhaps Paul Gascoigne had the best approach when he said: “I’ve never made a prediction and I never will.”
I’ll make one to start with and we can go from there – but you have to understand that this one is made in good faith and isn’t the work of a bitter Corkman: Kerry will not win the All-Ireland senior football championship in 2023.
A strange one, you might think, given that the Kingdom finally got over the line in September, but that triumph is much of the reason why they will find it difficult to back it up again.
Going back through history, in both hurling and football, there are countless examples of a team winning an All-Ireland after a long spell without one and then struggling to match the same levels of hunger and intensity the following year.
Even Kerry’s golden era under Mick O’Dwyer saw them wait until 1978 to add to the 1975 win; similarly, when they bounced back in 1997, it took until 2000 to win again.
In recent times, Tyrone and Dublin have won multiple All-Irelands but suffered a hangover after the breakthroughs of 2003 and 2011 respectively – it was the same for hurling ‘dynasty’ teams like Kilkenny in 2000 and Limerick in 2018.
We’re not completely discounting Jack O’Connor’s team as that would be foolish – they will almost certainly win the Munster championship to leave themselves with a good seeding for the All-Ireland championship, but nobody knows exactly how the round-robin phase will impact on teams.
While Dublin’s two years without Sam Maguire might seem like a drought after the six in a row, it’s worth remembering that they pushed Kerry all the way in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The only county that retained Sam the year after a signal victory was Meath in 1987-88 – while Colm O’Rourke should have a positive effect, it’s probably too much to think that he will turn them into national champions overnight.
Mayo, with a high-powered management team under Kevin McStay, will be serious contenders, while Galway showed that they are close to an All-Ireland in 2022, though matching their achievements will be a challenge.
Of the Ulster sides, Donegal will find it difficult to replace Michael Murphy while Tyrone’s loss of Conor McKenna leaves a big gap too, especially given they have already lost quite a few of the 2021 All-Ireland-winning squad. Armagh and Derry had good years in 2022 and look set to build on that but of course nothing is guaranteed.
Hurling subplots aplenty
In hurling, it’s hard to know how to view Limerick after winning the three in a row. On the one hand, their margins of victory were narrower than in 2021 but on the other they still couldn’t be beaten.
Equally, there is more than one way to view the fact that there is no standout challenger, with the chasing pack all capable of beating each other. It means that there are more possible contenders but it also means that the side that takes Limerick out might not necessarily be on the Hogan Stand podium in mid-July.
As ever, there are sub-plots aplenty, especially with Pat Ryan taking over in Cork, Liam Cahill now in charge of Tipperary, Davy Fitzgerald returning to Waterford a decade later and Derek Lyng given the task of trying to follow Brian Cody in Kilkenny.
At half-time in the World Cup final, we were beginning to feel the tiniest bit less fearful about the Republic of Ireland’s qualification group for Euro 2024, but France’s subsequent revival against Argentina doused any growing confidence.
With them and the Netherlands for company, along with Greece – the group members to have won the competition most recently, in 2004 – and Gibraltar, the chances of taking one of the top two spots are fairly slim.
Obviously, Stephen Kenny and his side can’t take such a defeatist attitude and will be looking for a sustainable improvement on the World Cup campaign. That may not be enough for the FAI, but it’s difficult to imagine any new man coming in and having a completely transformative effect.
Anyway, as young soccer fan Emmie told us on the Late Late Toy Show in November, the women’s team is the only one that matters in 2023, gearing up for a first World Cup finals appearance.
The whole experience cannot be overestimated in terms of what it will do for the women’s game in the country but you can be sure that Vera Pauw’s side won’t just be there to make up the numbers.
Rugby World Cup
There is of course another World Cup next year – don’t worry, we hadn’t forgotten. What can we say about the rugby tournament in France, other than the fact that Ireland simply have to win a knockout game?
It’s crazy to think that, back in 1991, the country came so close to beating eventual champions Australia in the quarter-finals but are still waiting, three decades later, for that maiden post-pool stage victory. We have been here before in terms of excellent years heading into a World Cup only to fail to match that; all we can hope is that lessons have been learned.
August will see the World Athletics Championships take place in Budapest – with the Olympics just a year later and this being a three-year cycle due to COVID-19, these games are of huge importance in providing competitors with a barometer for how they are ahead of Paris.
And of course there’s Katie Taylor, recently announced as Irish Sportsperson of The Year for a third time. With 22 consecutive professional wins, there is no sign of age slowing her down and hopes are high that she can host a title defence at Croke Park. What an occasion that would be.
That’s the great thing about this time of year – all of our sporting dreams seem possible. CL