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8 to watch in 2020: the stars we are tipping to make headlines next year

Here are some names that may be dominating conversation next year.

Rhys McClenaghan

rhys-mcclenaghan Rhys McClenaghan, Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

McClenaghan’s has been a prodigious rise that may peak in time for Tokyo 2020. European and Commonwealth gold in 2018 was followed by bronze at this year’s World Championships. Not that this success has been entirely stress-free: a fall sat the 2018 Worlds in Doha left him with a shoulder injury from which it took months to recover.

Although he is younger than the first tape of Manchester United’s Champions League final win over Bayern Munich, McClenaghan has already become the first Irish gymnast to win European and World medals…what price of adding ‘Olympic’ to that list?

Paddy Donovan

Image from iOS Paddy Donovan with Andy Lee. Source: MTK Global

The 20-year-old welterweight is a former Junior World Championship silver medalist and has been an Irish underage champion just the 13 times. Trained by Andy Lee and promoted by Top Rank, Donovan is 2-0 as a pro thus far.

Bob Arum of Top Rank has called him the best-looking fighter since Muhammad Ali and, if all goes to plan, Donovan is expected to fight six or seven times in 2020.

Aaron Connolly

aaron-connolly-dejected-after-the-game Aaron Connolly. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

All hail the chosen few who can hack away at all of the gloom and the bullshit that has stuck to Irish football this year. Troy Parrott may be in for a big year, but so too is Aaron Connolly. He has made his full Irish debut and is now a regular Premier League starter with Brighton.

If he can stay injury-free and score more regularly, he could be ready to deliver for Ireland in the play-offs in March, and give the FAI a desperately-needed windfall for Euro 2020 qualification.

Caelan Doris

caelan-doris-scores-a-try Caelan Doris. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Newspaper headlines you may read in 2020: Doris’ Day. (Please send all royalties to The42.)

Andy Farrell will shake-up the Irish team this Six Nations, but it may be an evolution rather than the full-scale, statue-toppling revolution some wish to see.

There may be some room for change, however, in Ireland’s injury-ravaged and underperforming back-row. Step forward Doris, who has established himself in the Leinster team and has forced his way into Farrell’s mid-season “stocktake.”

Katie McCabe

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katie-mccabe-celebrates-after-the-game Katie McCabe. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

2020 will be a huge year for the Irish women’s team, as they seek to capitalise on strong public momentum and qualify for a first-ever major tournament in 2021. As captain, McCabe is one of the team’s most recognisable faces. Separately, as the profile of the WSL in England grows, McCabe’s Arsenal will bid to defend their title and get beyond the last-eight of the Champions League.

Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne

peadar-o-cofaigh-byrne-dejected-after-the-game Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

One of the most notable aspects of what proved to be Jim Gavin’s final year in charge – aside from the whole five in a row business – is the fact the team didn’t quite have the breakout star that glittered through previous years, like Brian Howard or Con O’Callaghan.

Midfielder Ó Cofaigh Byrne probably came closest to filling that role, given he impressed throughout the year for the U20s and made the bench for the drawn All-Ireland final, presumably as back-up to Brian Fenton.

If there are any spots open in the Dublin midfield alongside Fenton next year, Ó Cofaigh Byrne may be well-placed to stake his claim.

Kellie Harrington

kellie-harrington Kellie Harington. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Breathe a deep sigh of relief: there will be boxing at the 2020 Olympics. Excited murmurs of Harrington’s Olympic medal prospects followed quickly after her winning World Championship gold in 2018, but she endured a luckless 2019 and was forced to withdraw from her European final with a hand injury.

Although Harrington will find herself in a difficult division, if she can fully overcome injury, her medal prospects in Tokyo are bright.

Craig Morgan

craig-morgan Craig Morgan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

An infusion of fresh blood will help Tipp if they are to defend an All-Ireland senior hurling title for the first time since 1965, and one of those new faces may well be Craig Morgan. 

He was captain from corner-back of the U20 team that won an All-Ireland title in August, and made an appearance from the bench in the U21 All-Ireland victory of 2018. 

He made his senior debut in a pre-season game with Clare this month, so may be primed for a significant impact in 2020. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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