Ireland’s top amateur boxers took five medals home from the European Championships last summer and will look to match that achievement at the world finals in Baku this year when Olympic qualification will also be the carrot for Beijing veterans Kenny Egan and Paddy Barnes and their teammates.
B IS FOR PAUL BROGAN
Bernard Brogan was the star of the summer for the Dublin footballers in 2010, and watch his younger brother explode onto the inter-county scene this year. An imposing full-back, Paul has finally shaken off the knee injury that threatened his career and is going to shine in the blue shirt.
C IS FOR SEAMUS COLEMAN
Giovanni Trapattoni has yet to cap the Donegal born full-back who has taken the Premier League by storm with Everton, but all that is sure to change when Wales provide the opposition for the Carling Cup opener at the Aviva Stadium in March.
D IS FOR DUBLIN
Cork go into the championship as title holders and favorites, but those who know their Gaelic football far better than I do suggest that this could finally be the year when the Dubs win their first All-Ireland since 1995. Pat Gilroy went close with a rebuilt side last time around and has the firepower to go all the way this time.
E IS FOR EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL
Only Michael Buble has managed to fill the Aviva Stadium since it opened, but all that will change when Dublin welcomes the Europa League finalists in May in a game that could yet feature Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City against Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool. What a financial boost that would bring to our capital city.
F IS FOR FAILURE
This is the year when destiny will catch up with Giovanni Trapattoni and Declan Kidney as they face European Championship and World Cup tests with our national soccer and rugby teams respectively. Neither man can afford to fail.
G IS FOR GRAEME McDOWELL
He won the U.S. Open for himself in 2010 and the Ryder Cup for Europe and closed out the year with a sensational Chevron Challenge win over Tiger Woods in a California playoff, so how can 2011 be better for Ulster’s finest golfer of the moment? Well, an Irish Open win would be a good start.
H IS FOR HENRY SHEFFLIN
Kilkenny reckon their talismanic forward won’t be back training after surgery to repair his cruciate ligament until May at the earliest, with a playing return in June, but what a boost that will be as the Cats seek to get the McCarthy Cup back from its current Tipperary abode. If Shefflin comes back as good as ever, don’t bet against Kilkenny regaining the All-Ireland.
I IS FOR IPSWICH TOWN
The New Year wasn’t even a week old when the power brokers at Ipswich Town lost faith with Roy Keane and sacked him as manager. That old windbag Eamon Dunphy has claimed Keane will never manage again, but since they don’t talk anymore you can bin that with most of his other assertions. Keane for Ireland anyone?
J IS FOR JAMES McCARTHY
Like Seamus Coleman, McCarthy represents the future of Irish football. The Wigan schemer is currently recovering from serious injury but could be fit in time for the February friendly against Wales and will definitely be fit for the Euro qualifier at home to Macedonia in March. He has to play.
K IS FOR KATIE TAYLOR
Olympic qualification won’t come up for decision until a year from now, but Taylor will continue her countdown to London in her own inimitable way in the coming months. She won’t make much of a fuss about it, but this is a world class boxer with real gold medal potential at the next Olympics.
L IS FOR LEINSTER
Munster’s days as the kingpins of Irish rugby are in grave danger and the might not even make the quarterfinals of the Heineken Cup this year. No such problems for Leinster coach Joe Schmidt, whose side are playing so well that they have to be one of the favorites for the European Cup.
M IS FOR TONY McCOY
The BBC Sports Personality of the Year has already added the Welsh National to his list of achievements this month, and 2011 promises to be just as successful for the Ulster man as 2010 was when he won a first Grand National at Aintree.
N IS FOR NEW ZEALAND
Rugby’s World Cup heads for the Southern Hemisphere in September when Ireland’s Golden Generation of Dricco, Rog and D’Arcy get the chance to atone for an horrendous tournament in France four years ago. It’s also their last shot at the biggest prize in international rugby so it had better be a good one.
O IS FOR IRISH OPEN
Sponsors 3 have abandoned our national golf championship in favour of our international soccer team and that’s the bad news. The good news is that the Irish Open is heading for Killarney again at the end of July and promises to be something special with the likes of Harrington, McIlroy and McDowell in the field.
P IS FOR PAUL O’CONNELL
The sooner the Munster captain gets back to action the better. Suspended on his return to action last month, after a pubic bone injury of all things, O’Connell’s leadership has been badly missed by the Ireland and Munster packs and both need him to save their World Cup and Heineken Cup dreams respectively.
Q IS FOR QUALIFICATION
Russia are the favourites to win our European Championship qualifying group after their emphatic win at the Aviva Stadium late last year, so Ireland will probably have to go through playoff hell again before their qualification hopes are decided. I don’t think we’ll make it, for what it’s worth.
R IS FOR THE ROVERS
Shamrock Rovers are the reigning Airtricity League champions and Sligo Rovers are the Ford FAI Cup and EA Sports Cup holders. Between them they will dominate the domestic Irish soccer season in 2011 and it will come as no surprise if Sligo pip the Hoops to the title.
S IS FOR SKOPJE
Mark down the date, June 4, when Ireland return to the Macedonian capital of Skopje for a game that has banana skin written all over it for Giovanni Trapattoni’s side. Remember what happened Mick McCarthy’s team the last time we were there? Yes, they had a Macedonia.
T IS FOR TIPPERARY
Liam Sheedy is gone as manager, but Tipperary will fight on as reigning All-Ireland champions under new boss Declan Ryan. They are going to find it twice as hard to beat Kilkenny as underdogs as they did to beat them at title holders last September.
U IS FOR ULSTER
Sport was put in perspective this week when news broke of the murder of Mickey Harte’s daughter Michaela on her honeymoon, but you can still bet your bottom dollar that the Ulster Championship will be the most fiercely contested of all four provincial tests this summer with Harte’s Tyrone most likely to win it.
V IS FOR LOUIS VUITTON BAGS
That’s the Louis Vuitton suitcases that Robbie Keane has packed at Tottenham in case you’re wondering. The sooner the Ireland captain leaves White Hart Lane and finds a team that wants to play him every week the better -- for Robbie and for his national team.
W IS FOR WOMEN’S GOLF
Dunsany in Co. Meath is a lovely part of the world as the world itself will discover in September when the top lady golfers from America and Europe compete for the Solheim Cup at the wonderful Killeen Castle golf course. If you’re coming over, do drop in for a cup of tea -- I live across the road!
X IS FOR X-RATED
Ireland’s soccer team travel to Moscow in September, but this is a trip only for the bravest of the brave Boys In Green. The Irish fans were bullied and intimidated when we last played there in 2002 -- and that was by the local police! Stay away unless you’re mad. In Moscow that’s a bonus.
Y IS FOR ROSCOMMON’S YOUNG GUNS
Fergal O’Donnell guided his very young team to their first Connacht title in nine years when they shocked Sligo in the provincial title back in the summer of 2010. Now that they’ve tasted success, the young Rossies will fancy more of the same when they defend their title in the coming months.
Z IS FOR BIG ZEB
The Colm Murphy trained Wexford wonder will look to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase trophy at Cheltenham in March with his supporters adamant that Ireland’s Horse of the Year for 2010 doing it all over again.