Ireland triumph in RWC and Tiger roars back: Predictions for 2019

‘Irish Times’ journalists and sporting stars reveal what they think lies ahead this year

Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony in action against the All Blacks. Will Ireland lift the Rugby World Cup this year in Japan? Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony in action against the All Blacks. Will Ireland lift the Rugby World Cup this year in Japan? Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

“What’ve you got there?”

“I’m not sure, found it up in the attic. It’s some sort of glass ball.”

“Looks like one of those old crystal balls, doesn’t it? For looking into the future.”

“It does.”

“Do you see anything?”

“Not sure, need to polish it up a bit. Get rid of the dust. There. No. Nothing. It’s just a glass ball.”

“Wait a moment. See? There’s a bald guy lifting a trophy. He looks familiar.”

“He should be. That’s Rory Best. What does it mean?”

“Not sure. Maybe Ulster are going to win the Champions Cup?”

“He’s wearing green.”

“So he is. Maybe Ireland are going to win the Rugby World Cup?”

“You think? In Japan?”

“I think we’ll win Pool A – got Scotland, Japan, Russia and Samoa. Definitely top the group, sure we’re the class team.”

“What then?”

“Quarter-final against runners-up in Pool B. probably South Africa! New Zealand will surely top that group.”

“The Springboks. That could be tough.”

“Beat them, then we’ve got a semi-final against Australia or Wales or England or France or Argentina . . .”

“It doesn’t look too easy, does it?”

“Tough, no matter which way you look at it.”

“Look, he’s fading. There’s someone else.”

“Who’s that now? He’s not bald, got lots of hair. Curly. Playing fetch with a labradoodle?”

“That’s Rory McIlroy.”

“Look, he’s got the Claret Jug.”

“The British Open at Royal Portrush? He loves that course.”

Rory McIlroy tees off on the 8th green at the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
Rory McIlroy tees off on the 8th green at the 2018 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, at Ballyliffin Golf Club, Co Donegal. Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho

“He does.”

“He’ll need to up his game.”

“He does.”

“He’s gone.”

“What do you mean?”

“From the crystal ball. Rory’s gone. The dog too. There’s a load of colours swirling around. Blue. Red and white. Green and gold. Amber and black . . . and look, red and green.”

“Red and green? You’re not telling me James Horan’s second coming is going to end the curse?”

“It’d be about time. Wouldn’t it?”

“Can anyone beat the Dubs?”

“Which ones? The men or the women?”

“Both.”

“Oh. Maybe not the women. But the men. They can’t keep winning. I mean, no team’s ever done the five-in-a-row. There’s a curse on that too.”

“We’ll see. The colours are gone.”

“They are. Yer man is back. Rory. He’s lifting that cup again. It’s some cup isn’t it?”

“What are those things on the handles?”

“Greek mythology, they are. A satyr, and a nymph.”

“So it is the World Cup trophy, the Webb Ellis Cup. Bill. The Wallabies called it that when they won it in 1991.”

“Wouldn’t you love to be there?”

“Where?”

“Japan.”

“A sporting dream ticket, to be sure.”

“Ah, imagine if Ireland do win. Imagine. St Joe. St Johnny. St Rory. Sure they’d all be saints.”

“Give over. Less of the hype. Less of the hype. I’m not sure about this tag of favourites. We’d be better off going there as underdogs. Wouldn’t we?”

“Maybe in the old days. These are a different breed. This could be our year.”

“No pressure so.”

“No, no pressure!”

SPORTING PREDICTIONS FOR 2019

Johnny Murtagh (trainer and former champion jockey)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

I’m very fearful of South Africa. I like the manager, I like the way they set up against New Zealand, and they always do well at the World Cup. But it has to be Ireland. I was at a Leinster game recently and James Ryan is a beast.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Shane Lowry has a lot of natural talent and will do well. But Brooks Koepka is a winner.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I’m afraid they are a waste of time. If you can only use three hand-passes, and there’s nothing on in front of you, all that will happen is you kick it back and start again. Maybe the kick-out has a chance.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Dublin will do five in a row and Galway can make up for this year in the hurling. I think Dublin will win the ladies’ football again. And even though they were a bit lucky this year, Cork can do it again as well in camogie.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

Neither of them, because there should be only one team in Ireland, like the rugby. Then we could have some optimism.

Republic of Ireland’s new manager Mick McCarthy: how will he fare in the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign? Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho
Republic of Ireland’s new manager Mick McCarthy: how will he fare in the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign? Photograph: Gary Carr/Inpho

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

I would love to go to a match at the World Cup in Japan – Ireland and South Africa would be some clash.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Ciaran Kilkenny. Dublin have a great team but he’s the one player they miss most when he isn’t there.

Katie Mullan (Irish women’s hockey captain)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Ireland . . . and Peter O’Mahony would be my first pick.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

I think Rory McIlroy will be the main Irish challenger – Jordan Spieth to win out though.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

No. I think they will make the game more entertaining and take it on to the next level. The three-hand pass rule can survive.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Dublin to win the men’s, Mayo to win the women’s, Clare in hurling and Kilkenny in camogie.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

Mick McCarthy. There will be a fresh atmosphere.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

A Rugby World Cup final ticket . . . including flights and accommodation!

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Johnny Sexton.

Johnny Sexton: Ireland’s most important player this year? Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Johnny Sexton: Ireland’s most important player this year? Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Annalise Murphy (sailor)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Hopefully Ireland will make history and win . . . Rory Best, the lineout is just so important.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Paul Dunne can make a strong challenge . . . but I think Justin Rose can be the one to get his hands on the trophy.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I believe rule changes really have to come from the players and most of these seem to have come out of committee meetings.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Dublin for the five-in-a-row and Dublin for the three-in-a-row. Waterford for the hurling and Cork for the camogie.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

The draw has been pretty decent for Mick McCarthy.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

I’ve never been to Wimbledon and would love to go there.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Any one of the Irish rugby players!

Paul McGinley (golfer)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Ireland. My only worry is that they’re on everyone’s radar. Penalty kicking is huge so Johnny Sexton would be the first name down. I’ve a lot of faith in him.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Rory McIlroy is probably our best chance but I do expect a really big year from Shane Lowry, this could be a bounce back year for him. As for the winner? I’m a great believer in form so we’re too far out and a lot is going to depend on the weather that week.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I like the fact they’re exploring it because we need to find a way to make football more offensive. Trialling the rules is a good idea and let’s see where it goes. We’ve controlled bouncing the ball and soloing so why not control the hand passes as well?

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

I can’t see anyone beating Dublin in football, either in the men’s or the women’s championship . . . I expect Kilkenny to challenge strongly for the hurling but feel it will go Galway’s way. Kilkenny though for the camogie.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

The draw has been kinder to Mick McCarthy, hasn’t it?

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

I’d love to go to the Rugby World Cup . . . with this team, this is our best chance.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Joe Schmidt. I’m a huge fan of his, he is probably the best manager in any sport.

Sinéad Goldrick (Dublin footballer)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Ireland and Peter O’Mahony.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

The best prospect of an Irish winner is Rory McIlroy (we are taking him), if not Rory then Shane Lowry. Who’ll win the Claret Jug, that’s tricky one! Justin Rose or Tiger Woods would be my bet!

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I don’t envisage the rules making it into the championship at the moment, but you can’t make a call on the changes until you see them in action and the effect it has on the style of play.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Too close to home, fingers crossed it’s Dublin wins all around.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

Mick McCarthy. Northern Ireland have a very difficult draw.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

I have a few. The World Cup Rugby final or WNBA/NBA finals are right up there.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Kellie Harrington. With her hunger and fire I think she’ll make a huge impact in 2019 and I’m excited to see it unfold.

Ruby Walsh (National Hunt jockey)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

New Zealand. Ireland’s draw is not as favourable as many people think. The quarter-final will be incredibly hard and we’re likely to end up playing the All Blacks or South Africa. Even if we do get South Africa, that bruising encounter could take its toll. Johnny Sexton would be the first player on my teamsheet.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

I think Paul Dunne could do well at Royal Portrush should he qualify. He’s very familiar with the course and is an excellent links player as he showed when he became the first amateur since Bobby Jones to lead the Open after three rounds – as he did at St Andrews in 2015. Dunne would also be coming in under the radar. There are so many good golfers in the world right now, all of the majors are wide open.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I think the rule limiting consecutive handpasses to three is a good one and should make for a more skilful game. I also think the introduction of the mark has worked well. Not sure about the other rules though.

Dublin manager Jim Gavin: can he achieve five in a row? Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Dublin manager Jim Gavin: can he achieve five in a row? Ryan Byrne/Inpho

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

I think the Dublin men and ladies could do the double in football. The Dubs will have the weight of history on their shoulders but they have unbelievable strength in depth and should complete the five-in-a-row under Jim Gavin’s astute management. Their ladies have grown in confidence over the past couple of years and will probably complete their three-in-a-row. The hurling championship is wide open, with the winner most likely to come from Munster. Limerick deserved their All-Ireland in 2018 and they have a young team who could do well again next year. Cork and Kilkenny have contested the last three All-Ireland camogie finals. The Cats have lost the last two but might make it third time lucky this season.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

Michael O’Neill. I really think Mick McCarthy has a huge job on his hands. The Irish team he inherits from Martin O’Neill is light years behind the Irish team he last managed in terms of quality. He really does need to find some new players in a range of different positions soon. Most of the best players we do have play in the same positions. It is not an easy qualifying group and we will probably continue to struggle.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

I would love a ticket for the Rugby World Cup quarter-final in Japan and sure if we won that you would have to stay on! I won Japan’s richest race, the Nakayama Grand Jump, on a horse called Blackstairmountain in Tokyo back in 2013. Visiting Japan was a terrific experience and I would love to do it again.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

I think if Rachael Blackmore was to win the 2019 Irish jumps jockey’s championship it would be an incredible sporting achievement. For a female to compete with her male colleagues on an equal basis and to beat them would be a sporting story that you would have to go a very long way to beat. If she stays fit, she can definitely do it.

Malachy Logan (Sports Editor)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

New Zealand to get their act together after a fraught end to 2018 against Ireland and England. First player on teamsheet would be James Ryan.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Has to be Rory McIlroy to lead any Irish charge. John Rahm to claim his first Major.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I think the limit on hand passes will be intriguing but also difficult to monitor. Might be the only one that will survive the trial period.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Mayo to come again under James Horan; Mick Bohan’s Dubs to do three in a row, Limerick to retain hurling title and Kilkenny to go one better in camogie

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

The gods have favoured Mick with an easier draw than Michael.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

The Rugby World Cup in Japan would have to be top of the list. An opportunity to see an amazing country and, who knows, maybe watch Ireland go to the final.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Jurgen Klopp as Liverpool win their first league title in almost 30 years.

Mary Hannigan (Sportswriter)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

The levels of optimism would make you pessimistic. But there’s no harm in dreaming – so, Ireland. And Peter O’Mahony would be the first name on the teamsheet. If you ever found yourself in the trenches, you’d want that fella beside you.

Darren Clarke plays out of the sand on the 18th green at the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club, Derry, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Presseye/Matt Mackey/Inpho
Darren Clarke plays out of the sand on the 18th green at the 2017 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart Golf Club, Derry, Northern Ireland. Photograph: Presseye/Matt Mackey/Inpho

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Seeing as he’s a Portrush member, Darren Clarke has no excuse for not rolling back the years and winning it.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

Well, they have to try something, 2018 was as poor a year as most can remember in football. There’s been much grumbling, though, about the proposed changes to hand passing, the kick-out and sideline kicks, so the only ones that might survive in to the championship are the sin-bin and the extension of the application of the mark. Enough to improve the game as a spectacle? Probably not.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

It’s a struggle to see anything but a five-in-a-row for Dublin’s men and a three-in-a-row for the women. Cork to retain their camogie crown and maybe Clare for the hurling – after their contribution to that very magical 2018 semi-final and replay against Galway, it’s the least they deserve.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

After his Northern Ireland were drawn in the same group as the Netherlands and Germany, you’d have to think Michael O’Neill was left cursing the gods. Mick, then, should be the more hopeful, if only because things can, surely, only get better?

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

I got it early: Manchester United’s first game after they sacked José Mourinho, it was like witnessing puppies being released from captivity.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Undoubtedly Jordan Larmour when he Riverdances his way through all of New Zealand to score the winning try in the dying seconds of the World Cup final. Remember, there’s no harm in dreaming.

Brian O’Connor (Racing correspondent)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Ireland have an excellent chance and there’s every reason to believe we can win. And while he’s not a player the most important name on any sheet anywhere is that of Joe Schmidt.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Rory McIlroy is the best Irish hope. But Brooks Koepka has turned into a formidable win machine.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

There still isn’t a clearly defined tackle in Gaelic football so anything else is just fiddling. The rule changes sound like a referee’s nightmare to enforce. But the 10-minute sin bin could survive.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

If they couldn’t do five in a row themselves back in the eighties, then the thought of depriving Dublin will drive on the Kingdom of Kerry in 2019. A case can be made for Galway leaving the hurling behind last year and that will drive them on in 2019. Dublin in football and Cork in camogie can maintain the status quo.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

McCarthy because expectations are so low. Players just passing the ball to someone they know will represent substantial progress.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

Should Enable try for an unprecedented Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris in October, and winds up facing the Japanese star Almond Eyes, with maybe the outstanding prospect Too Darn Hot thrown in for good measure, then that will be something to savour at Longchamp.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

In tennis Alexander Zverev could finally become the young talent to knock Messrs Federer, Nadal and Djokovic off their f**king perch!

Keith Duggan (Sportswriter)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Why not Ireland? They have demonstrated that they are good enough. Beauden Barrett.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Rory McIlroy to lead the home challenge but Tiger Woods to lift the jug.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

Not a waste of time but they don’t seem very well thought out. I’d be surprised if any of them become permanent features of the game.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Kerry and Dublin. Tipperary and Kilkenny.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

Michael O’Neill has done a fabulous job but Mick McCarthy has a more reasonable group and will enjoy the momentum of a first-term (albeit second time) manager.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

You wouldn’t complain if you were handed a tournament pass to see Ireland at the Rugby World Cup, a ticket for Green Bay-Minnesota at Lambeau Field, which is reputed to be colder than MacCumhaill Park, or a ticket to see Dublin’s Aidan Igiehon play basketball for Louisville against Kentucky.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

If Ireland do win the Rugby World Cup, I’ve a feeling we will sicken in the world by banging on about it. And if Jurgen Klopp guides Liverpool to the league next year, he may have to leave the sport.

Bringing the league title back to Anfield after nearly 30 years? Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp is on track to achieving greatness. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Bringing the league title back to Anfield after nearly 30 years? Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp is on track to achieving greatness. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

Malachy Clerkin (Sportswriter)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

New Zealand have had their warning and sadly Ireland were the ones to give it to them. They will go away and work it out now and take the three-in-a-row. Beauden Barrett is the man and will continue to be.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Rory McIlroy is still the best of the home challenge, as much because those in behind haven’t kicked on in recent years. Bryson DeChambeau is in line for a huge year and he’s 50/1 for this. He won’t be that in summer. He’ll do for me.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

Not a waste of time at all, even if none of them come to pass over the longer term. Starting the conversation about what to do with football could be their true lasting legacy. The sin-bin will almost certainly survive, if only because it gives teams more licence to be cynical.

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Mayo will stop the five-in-a-row (because simply ending the famine wouldn’t be dramatic enough for them). The Dublin women will keep clear water between them and the rest. Hurling is a take-yer-pick job – maybe Tipperary? As for camogie, Kilkenny have revenge on their minds already.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

The draw has been kinder to McCarthy, certainly. Denmark and Switzerland are no gimmes but they’re not Holland and Germany either. Whether we should be optimistic is another matter. Nothing in 2018 suggested optimism.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

Behind the scenes access to the Dublin football team as they go for the five-in-a-row. The level of coaching and improvement going on there is obvious to everyone when they get to the pitch. Would be a treat to see it in action away from the arena.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the first Norwegian manager of a Champions Lea... hmmm, maybe not. Let’s play it safe and say Katie Taylor, as she becomes undisputed champion of the world by the end of the year.

Gerry Thornley (Rugby correspondent)

1) The hype, the hype . . . who do you think will win the Rugby World Cup in Japan? Which player would be first on your teamsheet?

Even though New Zealand are still hot favourites to complete a third title in a row, I couldn’t back against Ireland now. Johnny Sexton would assuredly be the first name on Joe Schmidt’s teamsheet so why would any of the rest of us differ? Sexton is the orchestrator in chief of Schmidt’s game and, with the experience he has gleaned he’s playing the best rugby of his life.

2) Golf’s British Open returns to Royal Portrush for the first time in 68 years. Who is the best prospect of an Irish winner? Who do you think will lift the Claret Jug?

Rory McIlroy for sure, and Francesco Molinari. I backed him last year on the morning of the final day at good odds.

3) Are the rule change proposals in the GAA a waste of time, or do you envisage any of them ever making it to game time in the championship? What’s most likely to survive the trial period?

I’ll take a (hand) pass on this one!

4) Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?

Football: Mayo to have one more crack at it and reach their Holy Grail. Last year’s Super Eights were duller for their absence. Dublin and Cork looked well ahead of the rest last year and perhaps Dublin’s women will retain their title. Joe Canning’s wizardry to steer Galway to the title. Cork to retain the camogie.

5) Which manager has the most cause for optimism heading into the Euro ‘20 qualifying campaign. Mick McCarthy or Michael O’Neill?

Probably McCarthy. Judging on the recent friendly in the Aviva, O’Neill has better young talent coming through and Northern Ireland play more progressive football, but Northern Ireland have the Netherlands and Germany, which is even tougher than Denmark and Switzerland.

6) What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in the year ahead?

Given I hope to be at the Rugby World Cup final in Japan, I’d love to see Roger Federer one last time in the Wimbledon final.

7) Which individual do you think will make the biggest sporting impact in 2019?

Johnny Sexton.

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