THE YEAR AHEAD – 2016 IN… SOCCER
Twenty-sixteen is going to be a year to remember for sports fans in this country. SuperBowl 50, Cheltenham, the Olympics, the Euros, the All Ireland championships, the Autumn Internationals…. we’re exhausted even thinking about all that is on the horizon, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg!!
In anticipation of a bumper year of sport we’re looking ahead to some of the most hotly anticipated events of 2016, today it’s the turn of … soccer!
Airtricity League Begins – Friday March 4th 2016
With ten different counties represented in the Premier Division this year, it really is a nationwide competition. The days of Dublin dominance are being eroded but no doubt St Patricks Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians will be keen to establish themselves as the kingpins of capital and country in 2016. Cork, Galway, Derry, Longford, Wicklow, Sligo, Wexford in the shape of Premier League debutants Wexford Youths, Donegal represented by the play-off heroes Finn Harps and Louth, proud home of double winners Dundalk, will all feature in the top flight meaning you are never too far from some great football any weekend between March and November.
Can Dundalk overcome the loss of main man Richie Towell? Can Cork City shrug off their bridesmaid tag? Can Sligo regain their place among the top teams in the league? How will Wexford Youths take to life in the upper echelons for the first time ever? So many questions, we can’t wait to see them answered over the course of the season!
Champions League Final – May 28th 2016
Will we finally see a team put together back-to-back Champions League triumphs? No team has won the biggest club prize of them all since AC Milan back in 1990, and while we have expected Barcelona to defend their titles before – in 2010 & 2012 especially, the Catalans still have not achieved that feat. This year though looks as good a chance as any, and with Arda Turan now in the team, plus the magical trio of Messi, Neymar and Suarez scoring for fun, will they ever have a better chance? Might a supposedly new look Arsenal deny them in the last 16 or will their personal Champions League malaise continue? What of Pep Guardiola and his hope of leaving Munich on a high – can he guide his uber-talented squad to victory. Will PSG finally deliver on their promise or will Chelsea replicate their improbable triumph in 2012? Will Zidane guide Madrid to title number 11?? It’s going to be fun!
For those looking for omens for the final in Milan’s Stadio Giuseppe Meazza San Siro it will be the fourth final played there and the previous winners were Inter Milan (1965), Feyenoord (1970) & Bayern Munich (2001).
The May 28th date has seen finals won by Real Madrid (1958), AC Milan (1969, 2003), Bayern Munich (1975), Nottingham Forest (1980), Borussia Dortmund (1997) & Barcelona (2011).
Euro 2016 Group E Ireland v Sweden – June 13th 2016
The absolute excitement already… When the draw was made in December many Irish fans were slightly worried but since then confidence has grown bit by bit. Yes Sweden, Belgium and Italy are good sides but they are not unbeatable and getting the Swedes in the first game is a great chance to get off to a winning start. With 16 of the 24 teams getting through the group stages, one win could be all it takes. Remember the delirium in the run up to the Croatia game in 2012? That joy is starting to come back and the closer we get to the kick off on June 10th between hosts France and Romania, the more bullish no doubt the vast travelling Irish support will become – and why not?!
With Northern Ireland, Wales and England all qualifying as well it promises to be wall-to-wall football for the entire month and it promises to be out of this world. With the shrewd old heads of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane guiding the lads, don’t be surprised if the party goes on and on – even into July!
2016 Paralympics 7 a side Football Tournament – September 2016
It might not get the headlines of the senior international side but the Irish Cerebral Palsy side have qualified for the Paralympics thanks to a sixth place finish at the World Cup last summer and will be doing us proud in Brazil next summer. It promises to be a chance of a lifetime for the Irish lads and with trials held recently to find the best players in the country to join the Elite International Squad, the boys in green are going out there with nothing less than gold on their minds.
FAI Continental Tyres Women’s Cup Final – November 2016 (TBC)
Hopefully 2016 will be a year that sees Ireland qualify for the 2017 Euros in the Netherlands, and no doubt many of those involved in the international set up will be involved on the biggest day for Irish women’s soccer on a national level too. This final has provided some unbelievable memories in recent seasons from Raheny’s three in row and their extra time victories over Castlebar Celtic and UCD Waves to Wexford Youths astonishing tussle and penalty shoot-out victory over Shelbourne late last year in the Aviva.
The finalists are both in fine form already this season but with Galway WFC and UCD nipping at their heels it promises to be an interesting few months ahead in Irish women’s soccer.
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