(A) is for AA. Arteta’s Arsenal seeking to take one day at a time, even as their increasingly giddy support – after 19 enforced, prohibitionist seasons on the Premier League wagon, years when they were denied even low-grade, bootlegged hope – abandon the clear-headed, restrained and sober approach. Five points clear of City, The Emirates finds itself drunk on the possibility of the biggest title upset since Leicester in 2016.
(B) is for Battle of Croker. One of those generational, national-coming-together nights looms. The arc of Katie Taylor’s immense sporting life arriving at a natural capstone: A thunderous eve in the company of Amanda Serrano that would supercharge her native coliseum. The Irish nation, to borrow a line Joe Biden borrowed from St Augustine, reimagined as a “multitude defined by the common objects of their love”. A date in May is mooted. Pray it happens.
(C) is for Clontarf. Where Brian Boru defeated the Vikings. And from where, 1009 years later, a local boy, Jack McCaffrey, has returned from exile with the ambition of driving an even more formidable foe – Clifford’s Kerry – into All-Ireland exile.
(D) is for Davy. On the sideline, the body language of hurling’s hyper, impassioned general can seem as deranged as Lear on the heath. But Fitzgerald is a brilliant and charismatic coach with a phenomenal record of instant impact. Could his second Waterford coming finally unlock the door to treasures beyond the county’s reach since 1959?
(E) is for both Eric and Erik.
Having faced down Ronaldo, applied jump leads to Manchester United’s stalled motor and, lately looked the most likely post-Fergie appointee to restore the 20-time champions’ lost aura, might Ten Hag have taken the first steps on a steep and arduous climb toward joining Cantona on United’s Mount Rushmore?
(F) is for Fossa. Where two weeks short of 24 years ago – January 22, 1999 – thunderclaps smote the Kerry soil and the divinities upon Olympus gifted the Kingdom one of their own. The GAA world awaits David Clifford’s sequel to the immortal, God-like tome he penned in 2022.
(G) is for Gakpo. Like Clifford, a child of 1999 and charged with delivering similar levels of jaw-dropping alchemy at his new Anfield home, as Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool search with increasing urgency for the old, misplaced coherence.
(H) is for Hegarty. Soaring toward the clouds like a Manhattan skyscraper, Limerick’s All-Ireland final course-and-distance specialist, Gearóid, pursues another untouchable July afternoon, one that would extend Limerick’s golden age to five titles in six years.
(I) is for Insignificance. The outpost from which an increasingly erratic Conor McGregor howls at the moon, oblivious to the fact that the world has moved the dial to a different, kinder wavelength.
(J) is for Johnny. Sexton’s career of enduring excellence approaches its closing, defining autumnal chapter. Can the great out-half’s battered and, by then, 38-year-old body, carry Ireland beyond the foothills on which they have perished at every previous World Cup?
(K) is for Kilkenny. For the first time since the Jurassic age, they are walking toward a hurling summer without their unbending, apple-cheeked, 11-time All-Ireland-winning Methuselah. Stripped of Brian Cody’s unrivalled accumulated wisdom, a new era begins on Noreside.
(L) is for L’Oréal. Alone in the Saudi desert, a dollar for every grain of sand in the Arabian gulf, Cristiano Ronaldo considers his $75m-a-year salary for playing AUL-standard football. “I’m a unique player, for me it’s normal.” Or to translate into a famous hair-product slogan: Because I’m worth it.
(M) is for Majors Rory McIlroy is restored to world No 1 status but without the affirmation of one of golf’s big-four titles, even that towering achievement feels somehow hollow. Thirty-two majors have slipped by since Rory’s 2014 PGA Championship victory at Valhalla prompted Jack Nicklaus to announce the Holywood sensation would win “between 15 and 20 majors”. 3,073 days on, the most naturally talented player since The Tiger remains cemented on four.
(N) is for Now or Never. Despite a winning percentage inferior to any of his predecessors, Stephen Kenny has enjoyed an unprecedented 28-month honeymoon period. His supporters’ strident defence that the Dubliner has led an aesthetic revolution will crumble unless Ireland deliver something substantive in a Euro 2024 qualifying campaign that launches in March with an appetising Aviva date with Kylian Mbappe and France.
(O) is for Oz. Some 33 years on from Italia 90, Ireland’s women walk onto the gilded World Cup finals stage. Guided by the light of their Dutch North Star, Vera Pauw, Ireland travel to Australia this summer to face their hosts (Sydney, July 20), Canada (Perth July 26) and Nigeria (Brisbane, July 31).
(P) is for both Pegasus and Prestbury Park. One might host the other at Cheltenham in March, when the freakish flying machine Constitution Hill goes to post in the Champion Hurdle. Willie Mullins’ trio, Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup), Energumene (Champion Chase) and Facile Vega (Supreme) also arrive at the Festival with wonder-horse potential.
(O) is for Queen-in-waiting. In February of 2022, Leona Maguire made history by becoming the first Irish woman to win a tournament on America’s LPGA Tour. After 10 top-10 finishes last year, a Major glows as a shimmering 2023 possibility.
(R) is for Royal. Some 27 years after hanging up his inter-county boots, Colm O’Rourke swaps the Sunday Game studio for the sideline. A figure of myth in Meath, seeking to serve a taste of Sean Boylan-era glory to football’s sleeping giants.
(S) is for Shane. Lowry gifted the nation an eternal week among the Portrush sandhills. A return to the winner’s enclosure at Wentworth in September re-announced his Major credentials. With McIlroy an automatic choice and the late-blooming Séamus Power establishing himself as a global force, Irish golfers will be central to Europe’s September attempt to bounce back from the 2021 Ryder Cup humiliation.
(T) is for Terminator. An avalanche in human form, Erling Haaland has generated unstoppable momentum. With 21 goals scored in just 17 games (he has 27 in all competitions), the Norwegian appears certain to smash the 34-goal all-time Premier League record jointly held by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole.
(U) is for Unbelievable. Cork, hurling’s aristocratic southern house, the seat of Ring, JBM and Seán Óg, last lifted Liam McCarthy in 2005. Pat Ryan, the latest figure charged with returning the Rebels to the Promised Land, was refreshingly candid last week in admitting anything less than traversing that yawning chasm will be a failure.
(V) is for Vikki Wall. The 2021 Footballer of the Year sent Meath hearts soaring with her announcement that, despite signing a two-year Aussie Rules deal with North Melbourne, she will return to lead the Royals’ three-in-a-row bid in 2023.
(W) is for Walsh. Shane led Galway to the cusp of 2022 All-Ireland glory with a performance for the ages, only to be repelled by David Clifford. Kerry, in the shape of Kerins O’Rahillys – again form the roadblock today as he looks to lead his adopted Kilmacud to the biggest stage in club football.
(X) is for XXX. The symbol of love; Argentina’s feeling for Lionel Messi that will endure beyond 2023 and toward 3023.
(Y) is for Young Hopefuls. From Munster out-half Jack Crowley to Brighton centre-forward Evan Ferguson, 2023 has begun with youthful talents making impressive statements.
(Z) is for Zaur Antia. Father of Ireland’s sustained gold-laden boxing revolution, pursuing further World Championship riches in 2023... but already, perhaps, with one eye drifting toward the potential treasure to be plundered at the Paris Olympics, now just 18 months away.