GAA Football

Time Out: Cluxton, Conlan and Qatar - looking ahead to what 2022 holds in store

As we prepare to say farewell to 2021, Neil Loughran gazes into his crystal ball to see what the year ahead might hold in store…

Stephen Cluxton hasn't featured for Dublin since their 2020 All-Ireland final win over Mayo - could he make a shock return in 2022? Picture by Philip Walsh

‘IT’S THE WARRIOR!’

MIDWAY through the first half of Dublin’s National League opener against Armagh, the eyes of crowd and player alike are drawn to the tunnel as a familiar figure bounds onto the field, making a beeline for the Dublin goals.

Flogging Molly’s raucous cover of ‘The Rare Oul Times’ suddenly fills Jones’s Road as the game grounds to a halt. Shirtless, exposing the AIG tattoo emblazoned across his chest, sky blue and navy headbands purchased off one the hawkers outside the ground are tied tight around his bicep, Sam Maguire Cup-shaped markings adorn either side of his face.

Philly may be gone, so too Super Kev Mac, but Stephen Cluxton is back.

Fists pumping, cheeks puffing wildly after a long trek from the Coolock suburb of Parts Unknown, Cluxton – seeing himself on the big screen - holds aloft a picture of Niall Morgan then rips it to shreds, eating the remnants, before gorilla-pressing Evan Comerford. The Hill goes wild.

He grabs the PA microphone, thanks all the staff at Croke Park for facilitating tonight’s game, and offers his gratitude to Dublin’s sponsors for their continued support.

After dumping Comerford to the ground, Cluxton takes a six yard run-up before lacing his prone former deputy straight into the chest of James McCarthy on the 45. Dessie smiles… almost.

Clucko hasn’t lost it. Not one bit.

JIMMY’S GOOGLE MATCHES

TYPE the words ‘Jim McGuinness linked’ into Google, and you’ll be met with 401,000 results. A few Linkedin profiles of men with the same name pop up, but none have as many search engine matches as our Jimmy. Not even close.

Scroll through and they’re all there – Dundalk FC, Galway, Mayo… remember the Mayo one that spawned David Brady’s immortal ‘I can honestly say that Stephen Rochford has never met Jimmy McGuinness in his life’ line, weeks after he was apparently nailed on for some kind of role?

Then there was Cavan at one point, the Waterford hurlers a few weeks back, and a long, lingering dalliance with the Down footballers before, like that girl you fancied all summer, an all too public rejection swiftly ended any interest.

McGuinness insists his full focus is on furthering his soccer career yet, by the end of 2022, he will have been linked with every single county side, across all four codes. You read it here first.

Michael Conlan and Kiko Martinez sparred ahead of the Belfast man's 2019 showdown with Vladimir Nikitin - could they meet again down the line?

‘LA TASCA’

A YEAR ago this might have seemed as far-fetched as a possible showdown between Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez and Butterbean (watch this space), but boxing’s ultimate Cinderella man is back, still swinging gloved hammers at heads and upsetting the odds just when you think he’s done.

Let’s not forget it was August 2007 when Kiko Martinez – already with 16 fights behind him! - burst onto the scene, stopping Bernard Dunne inside 86 seconds at whatever The Point was called at the time.

The Celtic Tiger was just about still prowling as the global financial crisis loomed large. Gordon Brown had just become the new British Prime Minister. Stephen Cluxton won his third Allstar (but far from his last, I tell ya). The very first iPhone was released at the start of that year, not that ‘Banty’ McEnaney took any notice.

Michael Conlan was 15 then, the most famous middle digits in Irish boxing as yet unfurled for public consumption. Yet now, 14 years on, a summer showdown with Ireland’s favourite Spaniard is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Having ripped the IBF featherweight title from Kid Galahad, all Kiko has to do is hold onto it until the summer (a few well-timed lateral flows should keep him in cold storage) to set up a potentially money-spinning, Magners-scented bout at Falls Park – provided Conlan does the business in his March challenge for Leigh Wood's WBA 'Regular' world title.

JUST DESERTS FOR ARGENTINA

IT had to be. It just had to be. Two years after the untimely passing of their most famous son, Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina will be crowned world champions at the Lusail Iconic (if they do say so themselves) Stadium on December 18, 2022.

Maradona, of course, made an instant impression on his United Arab Emirates Ltd paylords after being appointed Al Fujairah manager in 2017.

“Qatar must realise that football, especially the World Cup, shouldn’t be bought by bribes,” said ‘El Diego’, whose moral compass could never be questioned.

"The choosing process is doubtful. I believe that Qatar bribed many Fifa members, which appears more clearly day after day.”

Those words will echo around the Middle Eastern dustbowl when Lionel Messi lifts the new World Cup trophy - a bust of Sepp Blatter’s smiling face - to spark wild celebrations among those rich enough to make the trip out to Qatar and the assembled local dignitaries nodding politely, letting on they have the faintest clue what just happened.

After Jorge Sampaoli’s antiperspirant failed to hold out in the face of the notoriously not all that warm Russian summer four years ago, the more temperate Lionel Scaloni kept his cool to guide ‘La Albiceleste’ to glory beneath desert skies.

Earlier, a flying France – brilliantly orchestrated by Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, playing nothing like Manchester United’s Paul Pogba – saw their grip on the World Cup slip after posting 17 positive PCRs ahead of a semi-final showdown with England, leaving the door ajar for Gareth Southgate’s men to end the not as catchy 56 years of hurt.

Captained by Harry Maguire, now at Glentoran, the Three Lions were going well until they made the mistake of going ahead. Panicking at the years of unbearable national hysteria their victory would inevitably prompt, they allow Argentina back in as Messi outjumps Pickford to punch to the net.

With penalties on the horizon, flares edge ever closer to arses back in Blighty. They know it’s over, we know it’s over but, as always, it’s the hope that kills them. And potentially the flare.

Heading into sudden death, 47-year-old David Beckham - whose selection was a non-negotiable condition of the World Cup – needs to score. His kick whips, it curls, it arcs… it sails high into the Lusail Iconic Stadium stand behind the goal.

Champions of the world, Lionel Messi walks away from the beautiful game there and then, his stride slowed only slightly by the weight of the Qatari millions earned over a couple of seasons spent in Paris.

What a perfect way to end the year.

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