With the return of live sport still some time off, Paddy Tierney takes us through his sporting bucket list of events he hopes to attend when the gates reopen.
Aintree Grand National
The Cheltenham Festival may be the highlight of the National Hunt season, but the three-day Aintree Festival remains one of my favourite sporting events.
I’ve been to several top meetings in Ireland, but I’d love to attend Aintree for the Grand National some day.
My affinity with the world’s most famous horse race goes back to 1997 when I placed 50p each-way on Lord Gyllene ridden by Tony Dobbin in the infamous Monday Grand National after an IRA bomb scare forced the postponement of the race.
I had to wait until 2005 before I found the winner of the race again when Ruby Walsh steered Hedgehunter to victory. In recent years, back-to-back wins for Tiger Roll helped improve my strike-rate even further.
Gordon Elliott’s legendary chaser was bidding for a third straight win in the race until the Covid-19 pandemic saw this year’s staging of the event cancelled. I failed to find the winner of the virtual Grand National and lost a non-virtual £10 on the race - at least it went to a good cause.
Maybe next year, I’ll make it to Liverpool to see Tiger Roll attempt to emulate the great Red Rum by winning a third Grand National?
Chances of it happening: 95 per cent – I’ll definitely make it to Aintree some day!
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final
Probably the most realistic target on my bucket list, but I’ve never managed to attend a senior All-Ireland Hurling final. The main reason being, I’ve been on the hunt for football tickets in the past and I know how tough it can be to make sure family members are all catered for.
I’d hate some genuine fan in Kilkenny, Galway or Tipperary missing out on their team’s bid day because some fella from Tyrone wanted to attend instead.
I’ve been fortune to attend four All-Ireland football finals (2003, 2005, 2008 and 2018) and witnessed the Red Hands lift the Sam Maguire on three occasions. In 2005 I was actually looking directly down on Brian Dooher as I’d landed seats in the middle of the premium level from a Mayo man who won them in a raffle.
That being said, I’d probably jump at the chance to go if I was offered a ticket. I reckon the next year a final goes to a replay I could probably get one as replays often don’t sell out so I wouldn’t feel guilty.
If all else fails, I could start making video clips expressing my love for the great game of hurling and hope the GAA gives me one on the house.
Chances of it happening: Cert! It is a matter of when, not if.
US Masters at Augusta
From the most realistic to one event I know I’ll probably never make it to.
Of all the golf tournaments that take place across the globe, none compare to the US Masters at Augusta National, Georgia.
While I’d be happy just to attend the other events on this list, I actually know where I’d want to be at Augusta. Behind the 12th tee, slap bang in the middle of ‘Amen Corner’ with views of the 11th green and the entire 12th hole.
It is the spot when dreams of Masters glory can be realised or dashed.
Last year’s tournament was a prime example when leader Francesco Molinari found Rae’s Creek with his tee-shot on 12 with Tiger Woods, also playing in the final group, holding his nerve to claim a fifth green jacket.
This year’s tournament looks set to be rescheduled to November and could help Rory McIlroy claim that elusive career grand-slam.
Perhaps it is because it is the only major that returns to the same venue each year, but there’s something magical about Augusta National. They also refer to spectators not as fans, but as ‘Patrons’ - I like that.
Chances of it happening: 0.5 per cent – Think I’d need to land a job on telly. When does Stephen Watson retire?
World Darts Finals at Alexandra Palace
From the Patrons at Augusta to the lager-guzzling lunatics at the darts - from one extreme to the other.
Darts is my guilty pleasure when it comes to sport. As a cub, I met the late Eric Bristow at a tournament in Fermanagh along with former world champions Keith Deller, Dennis Priestly and John Part.
For my 30th birthday, my family bought me a replica Michael Van Gerwen jersey and a two-night stay at the Citywest in Dublin for the World Grand Prix.
As my luck would have it, MVG, along with several other high-profile players were knocked out in the early rounds while Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson withdrew from tournament. Fortunately, I managed to interview MVG a few years ago ahead of an appearance at The Devenish.
While the atmosphere and the craic at the Citywest was brilliant, the World Championships at the Ally Pally in London would be something else. Fancy dress is optional of course, but I dare say Joe Exotic (AKA The Tiger King) costumes will be popular when the darts return.
Chances of it happening: 50/50 – A return to the Citywest in the Autumn is more likely.
Six Nations - Wales v Ireland in Cardiff
The Six Nations, like many other tournaments, remains in limbo and the 2020 version may be abandoned.
It could be some time before the biggest and best stadiums in Europe are packed with Rugby fans or perhaps this year’s tournament will be finished behind closed doors.
For atmosphere alone, a trip to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium (formerly known as the Millennium Stadium) should be on the bucket list.
Getting tickets for the Aviva Stadium, the smallest venue used in the Six Nations by a considerable margin, is difficult to say the least.
The 72,000-capacity Stadio Olimpico is rarely full so a trip to Rome is another option, but you’d want to see a competitive game if you are paying all that money for a game?
Few clashes are as keenly-contested as Ireland versus Wales and the teams seem evenly matched regardless of form or previous results. Ever since watching Ronan O’Gara’s stunning drop-goal to win the Grand Slam in Cardiff in 2009, I’ve wanted to watch Ireland versus Wales in the Six Nations.
Worse case scenario, Ireland lose? You can still have a good session in Cardiff. Sure the Welsh are a great bunch of lads. That conundrum would also rule out a possible trip to Twickenham.
Chances of it happening: 20 per cent - only so low because of the likelihood of getting a ticket is so slim.
Formula One Grand Prix at Monza
As a youngster, the first sport outside of Gaelic football and hurling, I properly followed was Formula One.
Michael Schumacher was my childhood idol. Well him and Peter Canavan.
I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit the Ferrari Museum in Maranello in 2011 and a picture of me in a Formula One simulator remains my Twitter and Facebook avatar to this day.
I used to set my alarm for the middle of the night for the Australian and Japanese Grand Prix and you’d be half sleeping as ITV’s Jim Rosenthal told those mad enough to be watching that they were the true F1 fans.
When Schumacher retired, so did my enthusiasm for the sport. Countless rule changes and advances in technology means it is more about the best car, not the best driver. Then again the same can be said for all motorsports these days.
I’d still like to take in a race some day and the Italian Grand Prix at the Monza circuit near Milan would be my pick. A spot in the grandstand near the famous Parabolica Curve would be ideal and, travel wise, Italy’s public transport services are on another level. I briefly toyed with the idea of having the Monaco Grand Prix as my ideal trip, but purely on terms of finance, that’s a bit too far-fetched!
Chances of it happening: Extremely unlikely – Unless Formula One reinvents itself, my interest in the sport nowadays is minimal.
Watching Lionel Messi at Camp Nou
As a Manchester United supporter, the 1999 Champions League final at what was then called the Nou Camp is one of my fondest sporting memories.
Barcelona’s ground, as of 2001, is now revered as Camp Nou and is the biggest stadium in Europe, boosting an incredible capacity of 99,000. Current redevelopment work is set to bring the capacity to 105,000 by 2024.
Yet, rather than take in a game when the work is finished, it could be best to visit Camp Nou asap – at least while Lionel Messi remains on the books at Barcelona. If recent speculation is correct, his time at Barcelona could be limited.
A free agent in the summer, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Messi could end up at PSG or Man City – few other clubs would be in a position to pay his reported £500,000 weekly wage.
At 32-years of age and provided he stays injury free, Messi has a good few years of professional football left.
Yet, it would seem foolish to pass up the chance of seeing the greatest player in world football at one of the world’s greatest football stadiums.
Chances of it happening: 10 per cent – Time is of the essence with this one!
Michael Conlan’s World Title Fight
Unfortunately, I had to pass up on the chance of seeing the biggest night of Michael Conlan’s career thus far at last year’s Féile bill in Falls Park. A family bereavement on the morning of the fight meant my accreditation wasn’t used.
Hopefully, I’ll be in attendance for Conlan’s next appearance at Falls Park.
Until the Covid-19 pandemic, a World title fight had been mooted for August with Carl Frampton also set to challenge for Jamel Herring’s WBO super-featherweight strap at in Belfast in June.
Shakur Stevenson’s decision to move from featherweight to super-featherweight means that Conlan could challenge for the vacant WBO featherweight title next as he is the number one contender with the WBO.
It remains to be seen how major fight nights could be scheduled anytime in the near future and Conlan’s world title plans could be put on hold. It would be a fantastic occasion for the West Belfast boxer if he could challenge for, and obviously win his first world title in his home city.
Chances of it happening: No sweat. If it is happening in Belfast, I’ll be there.
All-Ireland Road Bowls finals in Cork
My last trip to Cork didn’t end so well. I was taken to Cork University Hospital after being hit on the ankle with a bullet – a road bowl.
I was only 10 at the time and I started my secondary education hobbling around St Brigid’s with a cast on my right leg. The experience didn’t put me off Road Bowls and I’m an active member of the Tullysaran club which hosted the All-Ireland finals in 2018 and 2019.
The experience also didn’t teach me to stay of the way of the bullet and I received another whack on the knee a few years back!
Fortunately, injuries are few and far between in a sport which might seem slightly bonkers to outsiders. The object is to throw a 28oz cast iron cannonball along a road in the fewest shots possible with the course usually measuring around a mile and a half to two miles depending on the grade.
This year, the Senior final was to be held in Ballyvourney Co Cork with Newtownhamilton hosting the 2021 senior final.
The Ból Fada tournament at Tassagh, traditionally the first major event of the year, was cancelled at Easter and it remains to be seen if this year’s All-Ireland, scheduled for the second weekend in July, will proceed.
If they do, and a few local throwers qualified for the finals, I might take a trip to Cork once again. Maybe this time, I’ll stay out of the way of the thrower and stay out of A&E.
Chances of it happening: Probably not this year anyway.
NFL game in Las Vegas
At the time of writing, I’m locked in negotiations with a travel agent to try and reschedule a trip to Las Vegas which is/was planned for June.
Our party of five had everything planned out and had planned the usual touristy things to do in Vegas – shopping, Grand Canyon trip, shooting range and much more.
We aren’t exactly sure when we will get to Vegas, but it would be for a day or two at least. Depending on what time we visit ‘Sin City’ the NFL season could be in full swing with the Raiders set to play at the brand new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas for the 2020/21 season.
Built at a cost of a staggering $1.8 billion, the roof on the 65,000-capacity domed stadium was completed earlier this month with work continuing on site during the pandemic.
I’ve little more than a fleeting interest in American Football and really only pay attention when talk of the Superbowl makes onto my social media feeds.
Yet, I wouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to watch a game should the dates align for my Vegas trip.
Failing that, a major gig at the stadium is another option with Garth Brooks set to become the first major artist to appear at the stadium in August.
“What happens here, only happens here” is the slogan of Las Vegas. A Garth Brooks stadium show certainly fits that billing.
Chances of it happening: Wouldn’t bet any amount of sterling or dollars on it. The NFL season is likely to be done and dusted by the time I roll into Vegas.