With 2021 now in the history books, attention now turns to what 2022 has in store...
The world’s fourth oldest national cup competition is already off to a tremendous start, with teams currently vying for the chance to take the cup.
The competition has been won by Linfield a total of 44 times, most recently last year, and previously in 2017. However they are expected to face fierce competition from the winners of previous years such as Glentoran, Crusaders and Coleraine.
Cliftonville have not won the competition since 1979 and the Red Army is desperate to see that rectified. The Solitude club faces Carrick Rangers in the next round, while and other upcoming games which will see Glentoran take on Queens University, Crusaders versus Ballinamallard United and Coleraine against Portadown.
2022 World Cup
Sadly this World Cup will not feature any Irish talent, but the 2022 tournament, held in Qatar will see France seeking to retain the cup from their victory last tournament.
England sailed through the qualifying rounds after some easy victories, particularly against San Marino.
Scotland will be seeking their entry into the tournament, which will be their first since France 1998 and are due to play Ukraine for the chance to do so in later on March 24. On the same day, Wales will also be vying for a place, facing Austria.
Portugal face an uphill battle to qualify after a shock 2-1 defeat to Serbia in November, and have been placed in Group C with Italy, meaning one of the teams will not go through, in what could be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last ever chance to participate in a World Cup.
It will be strange watching the World Cup final on the cusp of Christmas, but it is certainly an end of year treat to look forward to.
This year’s Commonwealth Games will see many local athletes head to Birmingham with high hopes, particularly the boxers who have been the standard bearers in the past.
The 2018 Games in the Gold Coast saw seven silver medal winners in boxing from the North including names such as Belfast’s own Michaela and Aidan Walsh, Kristina Carly McNaul and Brendan Irvine who will all be hoping to return and go one further, while up-and-coming stars like Irish champion JP Hale will also be keen to make the breakthrough.
Allianz National Leagues
Antrim’s hurlers surprised many with their performance back in Division One in 2021, taking the scalp of Clare in the opening game before a memorable draw against Wexford ensured they remained in the top division with a game to spare.
It is another run of glamour fixtures for Darren Gleeson’s charges that begins with an away day in Kilkenny on the first Sunday of February, before back-to-back home games against Dublin and Waterford.
The chance to get the better of Laois is next before the run of fixtures concludes with an away day at Gleeson’s native county, Tipperary.
The footballers achieved promotion from Division Four last year, so hope springs eternal as Enda McGinley’s men get ready to take on the tougher challenges up in Division Three.
Retaining that status will be the minimum requirement, but then the division is filled with teams that Antrim will feel they can have success with on their day.
It all begins on Saturday, January 29 as Antrim make the trip to face Fermanagh in Enniskillen in an Ulster derby.
Antrim Club Championships
Can anyone knock Dunloy’s hurlers off their perch in 2022?
That will be the challenge facing all teams this year as the Cuchullains bid to secure the Volunteer Cup for a fourth-straight season, but the chasing pack including the city sides will have high hopes of making it their year.
Rossa fell short in last year’s final and will be determined to go one better, while St John’s have been left disappointed on semi-final day in recent years, so will be hopeful of making a breakthrough.
Also, Naomh Éanna surprised many by reaching the quarter-finals last year and the Glengormley outfit will be keen to take the next step.
In football, Creggan took the title of winners in 2021 after beating Aghagallon 1-12 to 0-7 but will be facing stiff competition from neighbours Cargin, who have won the championships every year since 2015, except for 2017 when it was won by Lámh Dhearg, and will be determined to get back into the winners enclosure.
Last year, there were no city representatives in the semi-final at senior or in the Intermediate or Junior deciders, so will 2022 see a resurgence to break the South West dominance?
Michael Conlan goes for world glory
For Irish boxing, this will be one of the biggest fights of the year, and could see Michael Conlan become world champion if he defeats Leigh Wood in Nottingham on March 12.
Recent comments from Eddie Hearn suggest that former Carl Frampton opponent and current ‘Super’ champion Leo Santa Cruz could be stripped of his title with as he hasn’t defended the title or fought at the weight since 2019, so the full WBA title could be up for grabs in March.
The occasion will be a huge one for fans in what is shaping up to be a close fight, and will pit two of the best fighters from Ireland and England against one another with many other Belfast fighters expected to fight on the card.
A Conlan win could even see a unification showdown at the Falls Park in August with the winner of the IBF title fight between Kiko Martinez and Josh Warrington.
Women’s European Championships
With the Republic not getting through, the only team representing Irish players at this year’s Women’s Euros will be Northern Ireland. Kenny Shiels’ side will be competing in the Women’s Euros for the very first time and will be facing England in July in what will be an exciting match.
Rachel Furness is currently the side’s top goalscorer, with West Belfast’s Marissa Callaghan captaining the side and the McGuinness sisters, Kirsty and Caitlin, also representing local talent in the upcoming matches.
The biggest event in horse racing will once again be upon us in all its pomp and excitement with Irish trainers hoping to dominate the races, as they did in 2021.
Bookies favourites include Minella Indo at 5/1 who won last year’s prestigious Gold Cup.
Other favourites include Honeysuckle, so far unbeaten in 11 races, and other well-known names such as Galopin Des Champs, Shishkin, Kilcruit and Klassical Dream all poised with good odds.
2022 Elite Ice Hockey League concludes
League results for the last few years have been called off due to the pandemic, with last year’s season being called off in February 2021, meaning the current reigning champs are still the Belfast Giants, who won the 2018-2019 season.
The league consists of ten teams, one from the North, one from Wales, three from Scotland and five from England.
The Belfast Giants are currently sitting third in the league, a point under the Cardiff Devils, with the Sheffield Steelers in the top spot. However the Teal Army are currently in the midst of a 10 game winning streak as they enter to face off against the Cardiff Devils on Friday, hoping to push on for the rest of the year.
Having defeated New Zealand in November, there is a spring in the step of Andy Farrell’s Ireland as they gear up for another campaign.
Last year, Ireland opened with a pair of defeats to eventual winners Wales and France before wining their final three games.
Wales are up first again this year when the competition begins in Dublin on February 5, with Ireland hoping to carry over their excellent form into this season’s championship.