By Dave Hannigan
[caption id="attachment_22264" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Galway's Joe Canning wins this high ball against in the All Ireland quarter final against Tipperary, the eventual champions. "][/caption]
After a sporting year which saw the Cork footballers finally and, for some of us, rather incredibly reach the top of the mountain, the Kilkenny hurlers get knocked off their perch, and a Northern Irishman come from nowhere to win a major, it seems greedy to be writing down a wish list for the next 12 months. But we are sports fans and there is no end to our appetite for glory and for entertainment, especially at a time when we have never needed distracting from real life more. Here then are the sporting dreams we hope will come true between now and next December.
That other counties look at the Tipperary hurlers and start to believe they too have what it takes to defeat a team which, for a while there, seemed beyond all of its contemporaries. Surely enough quality hurlers in Galway watched the events of last September and thought that should have been us. If it seems like Denis Walsh's Cork (weakened by his Sean Og decision) and Davy Fitzgerald's Waterford have too much ground to make up, maybe they can bank on Kilkenny slipping back farther. Huge maybe of course.
That the Irish media learn their lessons from previous editions of the rugby world cup and stop trying to convince us it's in anyway similar to the soccer version. It's a fine, little regional tournament for those who are into the game. That's all it is. The planet doesn't stop turning for a few weeks when it's on. Even in the countries where it is big news, not everybody cares enough to actually tune in. Ireland will be predicted to do well and, here's hoping they manage to for once live up to the hype. It's not the team's fault the media ludicrously inflate their chances every time this event comes around.
That Richard Dunne rediscovers his mojo. His fall from grace at Villa Park has happened at astonishing pace. What appeared first like a simple case of a wily, old defender butting heads with a new manager in Gerard Houllier has turned into something a lot more complex. The number of newspaper reports questioning his fitness and commitment to training are worrying and one hopes that all he needs is a fresh start somewhere else. Aside from the fact Ireland can ill-afford Dunne to fade this quickly, he's way too young to be slipping like this. That's what is really a cause for concern.
That the other Irish internationals whose careers are in freefall also get moves and get them fast. Robbie Keane leads a baker's dozen of squad members who need to find greener pastures, new challenges and re-invigorating circumstances in this coming transfer window. Perhaps at no time in our recent history have so many of the national team been either out of favor or out of the Premier League altogether. Not a good sign in terms of the future and a ready-made excuse when Giovanni Trapatonni walks into the sunset after failing to qualify for Euro 2012.
That only bad luck befalls Manchester City. What was once one of the easiest English clubs to root for has turned into a travesty, something to be jeered at constantly. This is not a football club anymore but an experiment in greed and avarice. The whole thing is so unseemly that it seems like karma that so many prospering careers have hit the skids in Eastlands. Step forward Shay Given, Adebayor and a host of others. The money must be great but how much more fun would life be if those guys were actually playing meaningful games every week? Surely that's a question they must be asking themselves.
That Rory McIlroy continues to live up to the hype and wins a major. It seems greedy after the feats of Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell for Irish fans to be wanting more. But hey that's the nature of sport. Watching Harrington and McDowell do it down the stretch in the biggest tournaments of all has merely whet our appetites. After all those decades without a hint of a major, the taste of the big time is hard to let go. Would it be too much to ask to see McIlroy in a green jacket in April in Augusta? Sure it would. But that's the joy of sport. We can never get enough.
That the GAA's plan to employ more players bears fruit and stems the tide of those leaving our shores on a daily basis. Any initiative that could provide almost 20 hours a week of work to people while simultaneously improving the standard of coaching nationwide is to be commended and to be encouraged. Aside from the positive impact on the games, there is the psychological boon. As anybody who's ever been without a job will testify, anything that hands back some self-esteem and provides daily purpose is very welcome.
That the FAI's plans to host a friendly against England at the Aviva Stadium bear fruit. We know the FAI need the money but it's much more than that. Those of us who were at Lansdowne Road that fateful night in 1995 will testify that, before the English started ripping the old place apart, the atmosphere was the best we'd ever experienced at a soccer match in that ground. Never mind that it was a friendly with nothing at stake. With proper policing and security arrangements, there's no reason why this match can't take place. And a few million reasons why the FAI are desperate for it to happen.
That Barcelona continue to provide such a wonderful example to aspiring schoolboy soccer players everywhere. It isn't just that they play the game so beautifully, it's also the ready-made lessons they impart. So many of their goals are the result of constant teamwork and unselfish passing and offer a chance for us to show youngsters the real benefits of working together rather than going it alone. Something that will stand the next generation in good stead in life as well as in sport.