Sporting Predictions: Playing the annual guessing game

Players and pundits consult their crystal balls for the big calls of the sporting year ahead

With Ireland and Wales at Twickenham, England are favourites to retain their Six Nations title. Photograph: James Crombie/inpho

With Ireland and Wales at Twickenham, England are favourites to retain their Six Nations title. Photograph: James Crombie/inpho

 

Unfortunately, we’re getting a little too used to being on the outside looking in when it comes to World Cup years. And after the dastardly Danes put an end to Ireland’s hopes of making it to the big show in Russia, and the Swiss edged out Northern Ireland, there’s nothing for it but to adopt a team to call our own for the 2018 finals.

Outsiders: Panama (500/1) anyone?

Long-shots: perhaps Iceland (175/1)? At least it’s only one letter out  . . . swap the “c” for an “r” and we can pretend it’s us. No? Okay.

Well, for those tasked with casting their eyes into the crystal ball to predict the outcome of the tourney that will drag supporters from Moscow to St Petersburg, Kaliningrad to Kazan and Volgograd to Sochi and other far-flung places that sound like we’re actually better off staying at home, it is the usual suspects who head the list with defending champions Germany (miserly 9/2 favourites with the bookies) the most popular choice. Where’s the sense of adventure boys and girls?

Funnily enough, there’s no mention at all, at all from our esteemed pundits of Neymar stuffing the Golden Boot into his luggage for the homeward journey after all is done and dusted.

The Brazilian is the 7/1 favourite with the bookmakers to score more goals than anyone else and, if you didn’t already know it, he has his own branded Nike boots - Mercurial Vapor, if you must know - which, among other things, include references to his first goal for Brazil (against the USA in 2010) and a nod to his Olympic Gold triumph on home turf in Rio (in 2016). He also has included the birth dates of his sister, Rafaella, and his son, David Lucca, as well as his own. So, there’s a lot going on with those trademarked boots!

But we’re sure Neymar won’t be too impressed to know that Ronaldo, Messi, Silva, Morata, Kane, Mbappe (hmmm, a 40/1 shot and nominated by two of our experts), Cavani, Coutinho and Hazard are all rated more likely to emerge with the Golden Boot than he is.

Away from the footie, and there is an overwhelming tip of the cap in the direction of the brilliant Faugheen to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles on the first day of Cheltenham, whilst Dublin - surprise, surprise - get the nod to keep on trucking in the All-Ireland football championship, new format et al, and keep Sam Maguire in the capital.

As for the Ryder Cup in Paris in the autumn? Only one dissenting voice - but a rather powerful one, our sports ed. - swimming against the blue tide of everyone else in plumping for an American win.

The Players

Robbie Power (Gold Cup & Grand National Winning Jockey)

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Brazil to peak at the right time. I will definitely support England. I follow Liverpool so I’d like Liverpool’s English players to do well. And Philip Coutinho can win the Golden Boot.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

Ireland have a great chance to win the championship. I don’t think they’ll win a Grand Slam though. If he stays injury-free Sean O’Brien is always a huge player for us.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Faugheen still edges it for me, despite being pulled up at Leopardstown.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

My grandfather used to say “keep knocking on the door and it’ll open.”’ So I hope Mayo can do it. Arguably they’ve been the better team in the last two finals. As a Meath man it’s time for a change! In hurling I think Galway are still an up-and-coming team. They were worthy winners in 2017 and I hope they back it up.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin and Cork to keep things as they are.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Winning the Gold Cup on Sizing John was definitely my highlight of the year. The Gold Cup is the pinnacle, the best National Hunt race. And because it’s 10 years since I won the National I appreciated it more.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

I think Europe will win. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise if Tiger played, he had a decent return and it would be great for the Ryder Cup if he did feature. Two Irish - McIlroy and Lowry - will definitely play and Paul Dunne might yet be an outsider.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

It’s hard to say Jack Kennedy is up-and-coming as he’s done so much already. But he’s only 18 which makes what he’s achieved phenomenal. If he stays injury free he could break a lot of records.

Sinead Aherne (Dublin All-Ireland football winning captain)

Sinead Aherne is hoping Dublin can retain the Brendan Martin Cup. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Sinead Aherne is hoping Dublin can retain the Brendan Martin Cup. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Germany look like the team that can go all the way again. No, I won’t be shouting for England. I did say Germany would win but I think it will be one of the French players who scores most goals, maybe Antoine Griezmann or Kingsley Coman.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

Ireland, although Scotland seem to have come on a lot and should have a great chance. Garry Ringrose.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Before Christmas I’d have said Faugheen. Now I’m not so sure.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Dublin for the football and Clare in hurling . . . I watched them in the Fenway Classic in Boston and liked what I saw.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin (hopefully!) and Kilkenny in camogie.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Personally lifting the Brendan Martin Cup was a high point; generally the women’s Rugby World Cup was a great success. Unfortunately I couldn’t get to any of the matches but I kept up to date with it, it was brilliant for the country and we had good winners in New Zealand.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe to win but only Rory McIlroy from Ireland will make the team.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

I’d say Con O’Callaghan but he has already well and truly arrived on the scene. Away from GAA, I think the swimmer Mona McSharry is someone we will all hear more about over the next year.

Enda Smith (Roscommon footballer)

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

I can see France winning it all out next summer. As for England, I won’t be cheering them on but I would like to see them doing well and going on a good run over there. I think Kylian Mbappé for France will be one to watch and could win the Golden Boot.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger.....who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

I’d be confident that Ireland will end up as champions this time around. The star of the show will be Ireland’s young Garry Ringrose.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

I haven’t much of a clue really with the racing but I’ll go with Faugheen for this one.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

It’s hard to look beyond Dublin winning four in a row in the football. And in the hurling I think Tipperary are well set to win it back. 5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin will win the football again and I think Cork will retain the camogie as well.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

My sporting highlight was definitely winning the Connacht final against Galway in July.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

I think Europe will edge it on home soil. The only Irish players I can see making it are Rory McIlroy, and possibly Shane Lowry if he can get back and stay consistent. I think Tiger will make the US team and I really hope he does.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

The one to watch out for is David Clifford. He could have a massive summer next year is he plays with the Kerry seniors.

John Caulfield (Cork City manager)

Cork City’s Conor McCarthy could make a big impact in 2018.
Cork City’s Conor McCarthy could make a big impact in 2018.

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Germany look to have what it takes to win and, yes, I will be supporting England. Harry Kane to take the Golden Boot.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger.....who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

Ireland . . . Peter O’Mahony.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

No actual clue to be totally honest . . . Faugheen?

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Dublin to keep on their winning ways and make it four in a row . . . and Galway to go back-to-back in the hurling!

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Cork and Cork!!

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Cork City winning the double obviously :)

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe to win. Seems that home advantage is a big thing in the Ryder Cup; two Irish players and no Tiger!

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

One of our own: Conor McCarthy. We have high hopes for him. He’s been with Cork City since he was 16 and already part of our first team squad. And Phil Healy, she’s an athlete to watch out for.

Chloe Magee (Badminton international)

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Brazil. No. Lionel Messi to score the most goals.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

Ireland . . . Garry Ringrose.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Faugheen.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Donegal . . . realistically though, it’ll probably be Dublin again. Galway can retain the hurling title.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Cork and Cork!

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Winning a first European medal for Ireland in badminton was pretty big for me personally.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe will win . . . . I think Rory McIlroy will be the only Irish player to make the team . . . and, no, Tiger won’t be there. Not as a player anyway.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

Gina Moses, the sprinter, is someone who I think is going to make an even bigger impact on the international stage.

Des Smyth (Golfer)

Germany are always there when it matters most.
Germany are always there when it matters most.

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Germany. They always seem to be around at the business end of affairs when it matters most. With no Irish team in it, of course I’ll be cheering on our nearest neighbours. Ronaldo is the man.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

Ireland . . . Sean O’Brien.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Despite Leopardstown I’d like to think Faugheen can make it back-to-back wins.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Oh dear but I think Dublin again . . . they’re some machine; in the hurling, Tipperary to bounce back.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Cork are the real hotshots and are capable of winning the double.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Paul Dunne’s win in the British Masters stood out for me. It is tough to win out on tour and he has hit the ground running in his professional career. To win for the first time is a fantastic achievement but it was also the manner of the win that so impressed me.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe on home soil. I think we can have three - Rory, Shane and Paul. It’s still too early to know if Tiger can be back fully fit but it would be brilliant if he made it.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

There are just too many really good young players bubbling under the surface and ready to make an impact. I couldn’t honestly pick just one.

And the Pundits

Malachy Logan (The Irish Times sports editor)

Scotland’s Finn Russell has the potential to light up the Six Nations.
Scotland’s Finn Russell has the potential to light up the Six Nations.

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Germany have the players and a fantastic pedigree to retain the trophy. Never have an issue with England doing well. The longer they stay in, the more interest people have. It’s always a bit small-minded for Irish supporters to blindly follow English clubs and then cheer on any team England come up against. Antoine Griezmann to be top goalscorer.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

England appear to have the advantage with home ties against Ireland and Wales although Murrayfield could be as tricky for them as it was for Ireland last year. Finn Russell to be one of the brightest stars of the tournament.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

If his comeback performance in November was anything to go by, you would have thought Willie Mullins would have been waiting to greet Faugheen in the winner’s enclosure but the Leopardstown collapse hardly augurs well.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

All eyes point west with Mayo to finally, finally get their hands on the Sam Maguire and Galway to retain the hurling crown.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin again and more medals for the wonderful Rena Buckley in camogie.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Back-to-back Sundays in September when the Dubs men and women clinched the All-Ireland titles.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

The US to win the trophy on European soil for the first time in 25 years with three Irish players making the home team. Tiger’s time has passed.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

If Diarmuid Connolly is right, Brian Howard is set to follow Con O’Callaghan and make a huge impact for Jim Gavin’s four-in-a-row seeking Dubs.

Keith Duggan (The Irish Times chief sportswriter)

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Putin has already won but on the field, Germany are the safest choice while France have vast potential and will be have learned from the disappointment of Euro 2016. Spain are also strong contenders; David Silva.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

England, with Owen Farrell putting his stamp on the tournament.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

There hasn’t been a repeat winner since Hardy Eustace, and Leopardstown was hardly a triumph, so Buveur d’Air.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Mayo and Galway.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin and Kilkenny.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

The All-Ireland senior football final was riveting from start to finish.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe. Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

LaMelo Ball is the youngest of the most talked about sports family on earth and is due to start playing professional basketball in Lithuania this month.

Mary Hannigan (The Irish Times sportswriter)

Forget Faugheen or Buveur d’Air, Melon will win the Champion Hurdle!
Forget Faugheen or Buveur d’Air, Melon will win the Champion Hurdle!

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

France. Only if we get a soft border. Alvaro Morata.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

Scotland haven’t won it since the turn of the century, so surely it’s their turn? Star of the show? Simon Zebo. (Rugby Dept: Sigh.)

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Eh, no idea. Although a quick Google shows that Melon is third in the betting, and any horse landed with such an unregal name deserves to win the Champion Hurdle. So, Melon.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

What you wouldn’t give for it to be Mayo and Waterford . . . but probably Dublin again, and maybe Galway too.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

You’d fancy Dublin to do it again - although we can expect Cork to be rather eager to return to winning ways. Kilkenny to regain their camogie crown. Possibly.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Impossible to separate two wonder-points at Croke Park - the sideline gem from Joe Canning that won Galway the All-Ireland semi-final, and Gemma O’Connor’s brilliant equaliser for Cork in the last second in the camogie final against Kilkenny. And she wasn’t even meant to be playing because of a knee injury.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Home soil, so Europe. Rory, Shane and with a few British Masters-like performances, maybe Paul Dunne too. Hard to imagine Tiger staying fit long enough, but it would be good to see him there.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

She probably shouldn’t be categorised as up-and-coming any more, having already won three senior caps, but it will be fascinating to watch the progress of 16-year-old footballer Tyler Toland next year when Ireland play the five remaining games of their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Brian O’Connor (The Irish Times racing correspondent)

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

They need everything to go right, and they’ll have to genuinely believe rather than throw shapes, but little Belgium somehow have enough talent to compare with anyone. And they’re 12-1 - more than twice the odds of Germany and Brazil. Since Belgium are in England’s group, I’ll be cheering on ‘De Rode Duivels.’ And if they’re actually to win the thing, Eden Hazard needs to have his scoring boots on.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

England to win the championship. And West Cork’s Darren Sweetnam to show just what a good hurler can do in his spare time!

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Faugheen ‘The Machine’ broke down and Leopardstown but if Mullins gets him right he should still win.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

With all these format changes it’s reassuring to know there’s still nothing more dangerous than a Kerry team sore from looking up at Dublin. And Tipperary have something to prove, which makes them dangerous.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Now that Dublin have got to the top it will be hard to knock them off. And Cork to maintain the camoige status quo.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

Federer turning back the clock, and turning the momentum of his Australian Open final against old bogeyman, Rafa Nadal, was genuinely enthralling. And the liberation of that result was apparent in his record against the Spaniard throughout the rest of 2017.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

The question that’s going to keep me awake all year! ‘We’ will win. McIlroy and Lowry to make ‘our’ team. Tiger not to make ‘theirs’.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

Not a ‘person’ but this organisation has a tiny sentimental stake in the Derby favourite, Saxon Warrior. The first of his three unbeaten juvenile starts did after all come in the ‘Irish Times Maiden’ at the Curragh in August. The best looks like it’s still to come from a colt actually bred in Japan.

Malachy Clerkin (The Irish Times sportswriter)

Europe can regain the Ryder Cup this year.
Europe can regain the Ryder Cup this year.

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

France will win. They’ve a nice draw - could easily make the semi-final without playing another contender. As for England, this is their first likeable, watchable team in a while so I’ll be a little bit up for them. The Golden Boot will go to Kylian Mbappe.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

If Scotland get over Wales the first weekend, they could bounce all the way to Paddy’s Day. It will probably be England though. Jacob Stockdale won’t go his whole career without making a mistake but he hasn’t put a foot wrong yet.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

If Faugheen is fit to go, he’s fit to win. Buveur D’Air is beating everything in sight but you’d still wonder how much they think of him as a hurdler when they intended him to be a chaser.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Dublin still have those inches when it counts that nobody else can match - they’ll do the four-in-a-row. In hurling, Tipperary weren’t as far away as they made it look in 2017 and can make amends.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin could be in line to rack up a few football titles - they didn’t look like a one-and-done team in 2017. In camogie, Kilkenny have a gut-punch final defeat to make up for.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

The All-Ireland football final had everything you could wish for. It’s not often the final of anything is the best game of the year but this was. The tension, the goals, the red cards, the injury-time winner. An incredible occasion.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe, as long as Brexit hasn’t taken Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood out of the picture. McIlroy and Lowry will make it, Tiger won’t be within a par-five of playing.

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

Kerry’s David Clifford is the most hyped-up minor footballer to emerge in probably 20 years. He has laid waste to everyone his own age so watching him step up a level will be fascinating.

Emmet Malone (The Irish Times soccer correspondent)

1 Who will win the World Cup in Russia? Will you be cheering on England? Who will finish up with the Golden Boot as leading goalscorer?

Hard to see past Germany again but I’ll go for Spain. It would be Belgium on the basis of the players alone but the coach is an issue. As for England, I’m 50 and Irish so no and yet I’d be kind of happy if my kids did. Edinson Cavani of Uruguay for the Golden Boot.

2 The Six Nations looks set to be humdinger . . . who will end up as champions? What player will be the star of the show?

England. Owen Farrell.

3 Faugheen or Buveur d’Air for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham?

Assuming he’s firing on all cylinders again, Faugheen.

4 Who will win the All-Ireland football and hurling championships?

Dublin and Tipperary.

5 Who will win the women’s All-Ireland football and camogie championships?

Dublin and Cork.

6 What was your sporting highlight of 2017?

The Man City/Monaco games from February/March were certainly fun.

7 Who will capture the Ryder Cup . . . how many Irish will make the team? Will Tiger Woods make it?

Europe, two and ‘What am I, a doctor?’

8 Which up-and-coming sportsperson should we watch out for in 2018?

Youri Tielemans chose Monaco over Arsenal when leaving Anderlecht because, the 20-year-old said, he wanted to play. Already a star back at home, this could be a big year abroad with the midfielder having the potential to make an impact for Belgium at the World Cup.

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