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2021 Crystal Ball: Sports Predictions

With a massive sporting year ahead, which includes the postponed European Championships and Tokyo Olympics, the University Express Sports Team give their not so expert predictions for 2021.

Six Nations
Sam Curtin: Deputy Sports Editor
At the beginning of the tournament, I fancied England but with their surprising no show at home to Scotland, I’m leaning towards the French. They have an exciting, young team led by Head Coach Fabien Galthie who is a legend of French Rugby. Defence coach Shaun Edwards is a hidden gem and provides a superb IQ to combine with the French flair. Although their main focus is on their home World Cup in 2023, their development seems to be ahead of schedule. As for Ireland, my main hope is for the blooding of some young players such as Harry Byrne and Craig Casey as our age profile is worryingly high. Ireland will do well to get 3rd place with 5th a distinct possibility.

Liam Grainger: Sports Editor
At a time when a solid Irish Six-Nations performance was needed more than ever, both to compensate for the mishaps of 2020 and for national morale; it seems we’ll have to wait another while for Irish rugby silverware, following a lacklustre opening weekend performance against Wales in Cardiff. Instead expect to see the first French championship win in over ten years. Since Fabien Galthie took the reins as head coach with les Bleus in 2020, his side have gone from strength to strength, with impressive outings in the recent Autumn Nations League. With a nice blend of youth and experience, and with big players like Antoine Dupont hitting form at just the right time, this year’s competition is theirs to lose.

Champions Cup
Sam:
Hard to see past Leinster at the moment but with the future of the tournament up in the air due to the pandemic, anything could happen. Munster will fancy a deep run after their fantastic win away to Clermont and have appeared to have turned a corner. It’s Toulouse for me however who are mirroring the national team in their style of play and young talent. In Cheslin Kobe they have the most exciting player in world rugby, and I fancy him and the four-time winners to ascend to the throne once more.

Liam:
Before the hiatus, Leinster were topping Pool A, with recent outings against Scarlets and Munster highlighting the depth of talent in Leo Cullen’s charges. The large contingent of Leinster players lining out in the 6-Nations will no doubt benefit from the game-time there, and with Gloucester awaiting them in the last-sixteen, it’d be great for Irish rugby to have them return to the top-table of European rugby.

Premier League
Sam:
While the start of the season was as exciting and unpredictable as ever, it appears Man City are going to run away with the league. Yes, they’re an excellent team and have surprised me this season but the lack of a real challenger behind them is most disappointing. City by 10 plus.

Liam:
While Premier League traditionalists romanticise a Liverpool – Manchester United title race, it’s easy to ignore the other big names hitting form. Manchester City are making serious strides each weekend, and with Liverpool hitting a poor run of form and the inevitable demise of United’s winning streak, it’s looking like City’s year. Their 10-week winning streak which was capped by a 4-1 dismantling of Liverpool will only be added to by the imminent return of an injured Kevin De Bruyne.

Champions League
Sam:
Always a difficult one to call. Bayern will be there or thereabouts again. As for City, I still think they are jinxed at this level and lack of know-how was evident in last season’s loss to Lyon in the last 8. I have a hunch that Simeone and Athletico will get over the line this year. They should have enough nous to get past a young Chelsea side and with most of the other usual contenders not at the races this season, combined with their superb form in La Liga, It’s the mattress men for me.

Liam:
Bayern look like they’re continuing where they left off last year, with dominant displays in the Bundesliga to date, racking up 48 points out of possible 60. Currently competing in the Club World Cup, the side look just as capable in retaining European honours this season.

Euros
Sam:
There’s a lot of talk around England at the moment and they do possess one of the most exciting young squads in the world at the moment. I just don’t think Gareth Southgate has the nous to get them over the line combined with a difficult last 16 draw where they will face either France, Portugal or Germany. The former two for me will be favourites and I’ll go with the World Champions France injury permitting to continue their trophy run.

Liam:
The bookies have tipped England for this year’s title but knowing their luck at major competitions it’d be foolish to put any money on Garreth Southgate’s men. Instead look more closely at the Spanish charges, who under Luis Enrique have injected new life into a team that had failed to reach their heights of the early noughties. Impressive Nations League victories, including a 6-0 drubbing of Germany, put Spain in a great position ahead of the competition. With youngsters like Ferran Torres, and the experience of Ramos, expect big things from the Spaniards this summer.

Hurling
Sam:
The easy answer is Limerick, and it does feel as if we are experiencing a new era of dominance for the first time since the great Kilkenny team of the late noughties. However, my dark horse is Cork. Yes, they are going through a period of transition but there is enough young talent coming through along with the likes of Pat Horgan and Darragh Fitzgibbon to contend with many of their rivals not looking to be in a position to do so. It will also be interesting to see if Waterford can continue to progress under Liam Cahill while the romantic in me would love to see Wexford claim Liam in Davy’s final year at the helm. However, it’s Limerick for me.

Liam:
It’s hard to look past the Treaty County to retain their All-Ireland honours in 2021. They cruised past a much-favoured Tipperary team in Munster, and then never left third gear in their routing of Galway in the All-Ireland Final. Limerick have youth on their side and expect many of their old reliables such as Gearoid Hegarty, Cian Lynch, and Kyle Hayes injecting the same direct, flashy hurling again this year.

Football
Sam:
Dublin. The main question is who can run them close? Believe or not, I think there is hope for the likes of Mayo, Tyrone, and my dark horse Galway. Three exciting young teams with plenty of football ahead of them. Donegal are gone while Kerry aren’t the team many believe to be in my opinion. Cork? A Munster title would go a long way towards their development and I believe there are bright days ahead.

Liam:
For the sake of boring readers with the infinite qualities of the Dubs and how they’ll continue their quest for 10-in-a-row in 2021, let’s tip Mayo for Sam. This winter saw a spate of retirements from the westerners, with stalwarts such as Seamie O’Shea, Keith Higgins, and Donal Vaughan calling time of their careers. Last season saw Mayo bring a new lease of life to the team with the introduction of players such as Tommy Conroy and Oisín Mullen, who were their standout players for much of the All-Ireland series. With the winter exodus leaving space for even more youth to enter the fray, could this finally be Mayo’s year?

Olympics – Will Ireland win any gold medals? How many medals in total?
Sam:
Even though the postponement of the games will be a setback for many athletes, I believe that this could be one of the best Olympics we have had. There are two real Gold medal chances in the rowing including UCC’s own Paul O’Donovan and whomever his partner will be. Rhys McClenaghan is a fantastic prospect and gymnastics will explode in this country should he get on the podium. Jack Wooley is another exciting prospect in taekwondo along with the boxers. Watch out for the modern pentathlon too. Best case scenario 8-10 medals with possibly 3 being gold.

Liam:
Olympic predictions can be difficult, especially when one’s not certain that Irish athletes will even travel to Tokyo this summer. Qualifiers are yet to take place in many disciplines, but of those who have already booked their seat on the plane to Tokyo we can be confident in a number of Irish athletes taking to the podium. Between O’Donovans and Sanita Puspure in rowing, Kelly Harrington in boxing and Rhys McClenaghan in gymnastics, we’re spoilt for choice at this year’s games. We can improve on our 2016 tally of two silvers from the O’Donovan Brothers and Annalise Murphy, but I still don’t see us causing any shocks either. Between a larger rowing squad, Kelly Harrington’s form, and the outside chances of Natalya Coyle and Rhys McClenaghan, here’s hoping for at least 5 medals heading back to Ireland.

Golf – Will there be an Irish major winner this year?
Sam:
No. McIlroy is too inconsistent and so is Lowry. An Olympic medal would be a nice tonic, however.

Liam:
Nope!