2020 Sporting Predictions: Six players and six pundits stare into the crystal ball

Ireland’s Olympics hopes, Euro 2020, the Ryder Cup, one to watch and more. . .

Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan will be one of Ireland’s key medal hopes in Tokyo. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Gymnast Rhys McClenaghan will be one of Ireland’s key medal hopes in Tokyo. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Each time the Olympic Games roll around, it would seem that the glass is always more full than empty. The best-ever haul of medals from an Irish team came at the 2012 London Olympics – six medals – and, it would seem, there is a sense that the record will be broken this year when Tokyo plays host to the biggest sports gig of them all.

As US swimmer Michael Phelps, the all-time record-holder with 28 medals of his own, once put it, “Don’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the further you get.”

And those athletes and sports journalists involved in casting their gaze ahead into the coming year across the board anticipate those dreams – the product of hard work, in the gym and on the road, on the water and golf course, could yield a hugely productive haul of precious metal.

Now, without wishing to burst any bubbles, it should be noted that there was a great sense of optimism – and expectation – from our soothsayers a year ago ahead of another massive sporting event in Japan. That Rugby World Cup didn’t quite turn out the way those with crystal balls in front of them expected. Perhaps that ball was cracked . . . and this one will provide a hint of clearer vision.

Anyway, while the Olympics holds hope of medals across numerous disciplines – from rowing to boxing, golf to hockey and more – there is less optimism about either of Ireland making it to the Euro 2020 finals.

As for the GAA world? Well, it would seem that Dublin’s onwards and upwards dominance in the women’s game is set to continue but there’s the whiff of change in the air with regards to the Sam Maguire with a number of our forecasters believing that Kerry have what it takes to stop Dublin achieving a six-in-a-row of titles.

THE PLAYERS

Jenny Egan (Canoeist)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
I have to go for another woman competing in the water – Sanita Puspure in the rowing.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
I do think the Republic will manage to beat the odds and make it through. Spain to win the trophy.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
In football, it is hard to see any other outcome than Dublin retaining their titles in men’s and women’s . . . it is far more open in hurling and I think it could be Galway’s year. In camogie, I’ll go for Cork.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Just the two I think. Rory McIlroy is a certainty and I also think Shane Lowry will make it into the team. Tough to win away but I do believe Europe will retain the Ryder Cup.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
I’ll hopefully be there as a competitor but there is no doubt that a ticket to the Olympics in Tokyo is the dream ticket in sport for 2020.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
Equal visibility of men’s and women’s sports!

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
I’ll finish as I started . . . Sanita Puspure is certainly one to watch in the coming year.

Sanita Puspure after winning her golf medal at the World Rowing Championships in Austria back in September. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho
Sanita Puspure after winning her golf medal at the World Rowing Championships in Austria back in September. Photograph: Detlev Seyb/Inpho

Ger Lyons (racehorse trainer)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
The first name that came into my head when asked this was Rory McIlroy – and a couple of minutes later he walked past me on Grafton Street! I believe the best we’ve ever done in terms of medals is six, so I’ll say four.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
No chance for either of them. I’ve been waiting for England for the last 15 years. No doubt they’ll blow up again but at home I’ll still go with them.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
With the change in management in Dublin I’ll give Kerry the nod in football. In hurling I always go with Kilkenny. Dublin for the ladies’ football and I know nothing about camogie bar that Cork, Galway or Kilkenny will win!

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
A maximum of two. McIlroy and Lowry. Pádraig Harrington loves Shane so even if he doesn’t qualify automatically he’ll probably be a special pick. America to win because they’ve had their arse kicked enough.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020
I’m a real TV sports viewer but I would get off the couch for the European Championships final.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
I would cut the pay of professional Premier League players. It’s ridiculous, an embarrassment to the rest of humanity.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . . .
Apprentice jockey Dylan Browne McMonagle is one to watch. Joseph O’Brien [trainer] is minding him like Goldfinger!

Leona Maguire (Golfer)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim
Straight off I can reel off so many genuine prospects: Sanita Puspure in rowing, Rhys McClenaghan in gymnastics, Kellie Harrington in boxing, both Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy in golf. . . . I think we can achieve up to seven medals.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
No, I can’t see either team making it to the finals. Belgium have been a coming force in recent times and can make the big breakthrough.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Dublin again to win the men’s and women’s football titles . . . I will go for Tipperary to retain the hurling and for Kilkenny to take the camogie.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Two – Rory and Shane. I think Whistling Straits will suit the Europeans.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
The golf at the Olympics where I’ll be competing is some distance from the main activities but I hope to get to see the gymnastics and hopefully see Rhys in action if the timing works.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
I’d like to see equal opportunities for men and women.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
I find Rhasidat Adeleke to be a hugely impressive young woman and athlete . . . I look forward to following her progress.

Rhasidat Adeleke shows off the golf medals she won at the European Youth Olympic Games in 2018. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Rhasidat Adeleke shows off the golf medals she won at the European Youth Olympic Games in 2018. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

Niamh Kilkenny (Galway camogie player)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
Ireland’s women’s hockey team keep on delivering and I think they have a great chance to claim a medal of some colour. I think four medals would make for a very good Olympics.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
It will be difficult winning away but I do think the Republic will manage to find a way of making it to the finals. The Ronaldo factor is huge, so I think Portugal can retain the title.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Dublin to keep their hands on the Sam Maguire . . . but I think we will have a great year in Galway and can win the camogie, hurling and the women’s football.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Two, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry. Europe to win.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
I love watching track and field and would love to be trackside at the Olympics in Tokyo, especially for the 1,500 metres finals.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
I’d like to see equal recognition for women athletes . . . it is definitely improving, but there is still a way to go.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . . .
Rhys McClenaghan is doing great things in gymnastics and hopefully will capture everyone’s imagination at the Olympics.

Davy Russell (Champion Jockey)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
The gymnast Rhys McClenaghan on the pommel horse. I think he’s fantastic. And I think we will equal our best ever total of six medals.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
I suspect we might struggle but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and for one of the two to make it. The Germans to win it.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Funnily enough Cork aren’t actually a million miles away in the football. It’ll be tight. But I’m going to say Kerry and hope they don’t win it! Tipperary very rarely win back-to-back but they’ve a good man at the helm . . . In camogie Kilkenny have a new manager and they can beat Galway and Dublin are a very good side in the ladies’ football.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
There has to be three. Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and one other. Europe to win – even in America.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
It has to be Olympics, for the 400 metres final.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
I’d love to have jockeys compete at the Olympics – Ireland would have gold medals every time!

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
Sir Gerhard is a four-year-old that Gordon Elliott paid £400,000 for after he won a point-to-point last month. He looked as good a point-to-point winner as I’ve seen in a good while. It will be a while before we see him over fences but he’s one to keep an eye on.

Paul McGinley (Golfer)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
One would have to say with their huge successes in 2019 that the golfers, Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy will provide our best chance in a sport where we have had great pedigree and punch well above our weight for such a small island.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
Hoping and expecting one of them to make it and my outside bet is to call Holland to win. The young Ajax team were so good in the Champions League last year and many of those players will be representing Holland. They could well be the dark horse while some of the bigger nations are in transition.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Donegal for the football and Dublin for the ladies football . . . Limerick for the hurling and Cork for the camogie.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
I expect two Irish players to make the team, Rory and Shane. I feel Europe will win due to the quality of our team as well as the nature of the golf course suiting our style of play. This, combined with Pádraig’s experience, I think will make us pretty formidable.

British Open champion Shane Lowry will be hoping he can make his Ryder cup debut for Europe at Whistling Straits. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
British Open champion Shane Lowry will be hoping he can make his Ryder cup debut for Europe at Whistling Straits. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
Any ticket to the Olympics. As much as I have been very fortunate in golf to experience many terrific Ryder Cup moments, my experience as part of the Irish Olympic team in Rio was easily the most emotional

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
A way to 100 per cent monitor the use of any performance enhancing drugs in sport

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
The Irish Olympians in Tokyo will do us proud and no doubt some new Irish stars will emerge.

THE PUNTERS

Malachy Logan (Sports Editor)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
If Sanita Puspure can maintain her 2019 form she appears to have an outstanding chance of standing on the podium in Tokyo. Other than that, hard to see Ireland picking up more than three medals.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
Difficult to see either making it through. France to underline why they are world champions.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Kerry (men) and Dublin (women) for the football with Tipp and Galway retaining their titles in hurling and camogie

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
McIlroy and Lowry to make the cut for the European team but the USA to make home advantage count.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
Think the Euro 2020 final at Wembley would be an occasion to savour as would a seat in the stands on the finish line for the 100 metres finals at the Tokyo Olympics.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
My golf handicap to single figures.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
With the changing of the guard in men’s tennis taking place, keep an eye out for 21-year-old Greek player Stefanos Tsitsipas who finished 2019 on a high note by winning the ATP finals in London. A former world number one junior, Tsitsipas has already won over €10 million in prizemoney and it is only a matter of time before he wins a Grand Slam event.

Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas showed his promise when winning the ATP finals in London in December. Photograph: Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas showed his promise when winning the ATP finals in London in December. Photograph: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Ian O’Riordan (Athletics correspondent)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
There is something purely determined about Rhys McClenaghan, Sanita Puspure if she keeps her form, and can’t rule out Rory McIlroy, can we? Four medals at least.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
The Republic definitely have a chance if they can reproduce the form against Denmark, Northern Ireland less so. Italy to win the trophy.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Dublin will still be the team to beat in football, men and women, but Kerry can take the men’s title, the women will prevail again. Tipperary have never looked better primed for that recently elusive back-to-back, and Galway can do likewise in camogie.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Hard to see anyone else besides Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry, and doesn’t really matter who wins as long as it’s not the USA.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
Put my bike in the back of a camper van for the month of May and follow the Giro d’Italia.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
To have a 100 per cent foolproof anti-doping test which could prove the use of performance enhancing drugs with a single needle-prick. Wishful thinking, obviously.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
Expecting very big things from Sam Bennett should he finally ride the Tour, and more too from Maeve Gallagher in cycling, running and triathlon.

Sam Bennett could be in line to make his Tour de France debut – on a bigger bike! Photograph: Shane Stokes
Sam Bennett could be in line to make his Tour de France debut – on a bigger bike! Photograph: Shane Stokes

Mary Hannigan (Sports writer)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
They’ve had us spoilt the last few years, so we’ll have high expectation of our rowers once again, not least of Sanita Puspure and Paul O’Donovan/Fintan McCarthy. We’ll have lots of horsey people there too and we’ll know come March the make-up of our boxing team, so they might provide some joy. Among the other ones-to-watch will be Rhys McClenaghan in the gymnastics. So, let’s be optimistic we’ll match our six medals from London 2012.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
So serious is Irish football’s need for a pick-me-up we’ll trust that the gods will be kind and help the Republic qualify, maybe even by beating NI in the playoff final in Belfast. The Dutch to win the tournament, led by their reasonably promising young captain Virgil van Someone.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Will be interesting to see how a Jim Gavin-less Dubs fare, but hard to see beyond them and the women’s team doing another football double. Cork to bounce back in the camogie and the Tipp hurlers to do it again.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Rory and Shane and Europe. We’d settle for that.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
The Irish women’s hockey team’s first ever game in the Olympics, against South Africa in Tokyo next summer. Their smiles during the anthem would light up a city.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
The ever-increasing prospect of Liverpool winning the Premier League.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
Whoever is chosen to take over as CEO of the Football Association of Ireland. Our thoughts and prayers go out to him/her.

Malachy Clerkin (Sports writer)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
With a field of just 60 – and probably only around half of the world’s top 50 playing – it will be the shallowest pool Rory McIlroy fishes in all year. Ireland usually average two medals but throw in Rory in his first Olympics and that should rise to three here (take your pick of any two from Rhys McClenaghan, Natalya Coyle and the rowers)

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
You’d presume one of them will pox their way through, most likely at the expense of the other one. The North play better football and if it happens, the playoff will be in Windsor Park so that should swing it their way. As for the overall winners, if England aren’t going to do it now, they may throw their hat at it altogether.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
With Jim Gavin gone, there is a variable that didn’t exist before but the Dubs are still supreme until found otherwise. Same goes for the women’s side of things – although a lot may depend on how Sinead Goldrick and Niamh McEvoy fare in Australia. In hurling, Tipp will finally do the two-in-a-row; in camogie, Kilkenny surely can’t keep losing finals.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Rory McIlroy is a given so it comes down to whether Shane Lowry can back up his brilliant 2019. As for the winner, these things seem to be going more and more to the home team – Team USA to hold serve.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
The Oi Hockey Stadium in Tokyo Bay, Monday August 3rd. Quarter-finals day in the Olympic women’s hockey tournament. Basically anywhere the Ireland women’s hockey team are in danger of going to a penalty shoot-out, that’s the place to be.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
I’m a bit Chicken Licken about the new Gaelic football playing rules, specifically the sin-bin (a cynic’s charter) and the advanced mark. So I’d make it possible for them to be nixed ahead of the championship once everyone sees them make a balls of the league.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
Adam Idah started the new year right where he wants to be after coming on to make his Premier League debut for Norwich against Crystal Palace – even if it was in the 92nd minute. Norwich’s striking options are thin enough behind Teemo Pukki and manager Daniel Farke had said they would have sent the 18-year-old from Cork out on loan before now if they weren’t hoping to use him. If he gets a run in the first-team, watch him go.

Ireland under-21 striker Adam Idah made his Premier League debut for Norwich on New Year’s Day. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Ireland under-21 striker Adam Idah made his Premier League debut for Norwich on New Year’s Day. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Brian O’Connor (Racing correspondent)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
Sanita Puspure is a proven world champion in the single scull so looks the one to beat for gold at the Olympics. I’ll go with half a dozen medals in all.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
Neither will make it. And The Netherlands to confirm itself a major power once more.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Football lessons aren’t learned faster anywhere than in Kerry. Limerick can bounce back in the hurling. Dublin are outstanding in women’s football while Kilkenny can get revenge on Galway in camogie.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry will probably make the team and succumb to an USA side with plenty to prove.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
A Cork victory at the All-Ireland hurling final – and I’ll be waiting!

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
My superpower would be to make sports administration a necessary but temporary chore – like jury duty – rather than a career path for wannabe politicians.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
Pinatubo was the highest rated two-year-old champion for quarter of a century. He’s bred to be even better at three. He might just be the real deal

Gerry Thornley (Rugby correspondent)


1 Who is Ireland’s best gold medal prospect at the Olympics in Tokyo? How many medals in total will Ireland claim?
Back-to-back world titles in the single sculls must make Sanita Puspure a serious contender in Tokyo. At 38, a gold for the Latvian-born Irish mum at her third Olympics would also be a great modern-day sporting story. Perhaps also Natalya Coyle in the modern pentathlon and, atoning for the injustice to Michael Conlan last time around, one or two medals in the ring as well.

2 Will either the Republic or Northern Ireland make it to the Euro 2020 finals? Who will win the trophy?
The Republic to make it and France to win the trophy. France are the modern era’s most proficient international team, reaching five of the last 11 major finals and winning three of them.

3 Who will win the All-Ireland titles in football (men and women), hurling and camogie?
Kerry had that drawn final there for the taking. They look like the coming force and no team is usually more motivated than the previous beaten finalists. Joe Canning and Galway might have another All-Ireland in them. The county can also add the women’s football crown and also retain their camogie title.

4 Pádraig Harrington takes his European team to Whistling Straits for the Ryder Cup. How many Irish players will be on the team? Who will win – Europe or the USA?
Two blokes by the names of Rory and Shane should make it. Europe to win.

5 What would be your dream ticket to a sporting event in 2020?
Seeing as Ireland’s rugby tour scuppers any chance of being at Wimbledon, on the premise that Roger Federer has the capacity to reach one more US Open final in Flushing Meadows, a ticket for the Arthur Ashe Stadium next September 13th would do. Any chance to see the great man while he’s still decorating the sport in his own inimitable way.

6 If you had the power to change one thing in sport, what would it be?
Rid football particularly and sport generally of racism. It’s barbaric.

7 One to watch in the year ahead . . .
Caelan Doris. Hardly original, but he looks like he has everything to be a Test match animal and, after a year cutting his teeth in the professional game, to make a mark in 2020.

Leinster’s Caelan Doris has put in some big performances for Leinster this season from number eight. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Leinster’s Caelan Doris has put in some big performances for Leinster this season from number eight. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
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