I have been occupying this corner of Irish Country Living since 2018. A lot has changed since then but a lot has remained the same.

This is my sixth annual review – the fifth to feature Limerick as All-Ireland hurling champions and the fourth with Dublin as football kingpins. Unfortunately, it’s also the second, of a possible two, with a Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat.

If you were to go searching for moral victories, you wouldn’t have to look too far. Only one country beat the eventual champions South Africa during the World Cup tournament and the Springboks have beaten every major nation over the past half-decade, except one.

The fact Ireland holds both those accolades is indicative of where the team ranks in the global status right now. Equally, it didn’t count for a whole lot when the squad were home, watching England and Argentina in the semi-finals.

It’s not an excuse to say that the make-up of the draw was a factor – and it’s something that World Rugby will seek to put right for the 2027 tournament in Australia – but there’s no escaping the imensely disappointing quarter-final loss to New Zealand.

Didn't perform

Ireland didn’t choke. They didn’t suffer embarrassment and they weren’t played off the field. However, going in as the form team against an All Blacks side that had already been bruised by France, Ireland didn’t perform to the levels that they had been.

That they came so close in such circumstances is another sign of the resolve of the team but we cannot pretend that this was anything other than a big opportunity that was missed.

Given how the World Cup went, it’s easy to forget that Ireland won the Grand Slam this year. When one thinks back to the dark days of the 1990s, the notion that Ireland would win every game in the Five or Six Nations Championship and not be overly happy is incredible. It might seem a bit joyless, given that it took until 2009 to add to the 1948 victory, but it shows the increase in standards and expectations.

Kilkenny v Limerick - GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final.


Equally, if we were to rewind back to, say, 2010, when the Limerick hurling squad was in exile following a dispute with then-manager Justin McCarthy, and tell people what lay ahead, the responses would have been disbelieving, to say the least.

That Limerick would have completed an All-Ireland four-in-a-row – and five in six years – is something that would have seemed hard to credit even in 2018, when they finally ended the long wait.

That the hunger and motivation remain as strong as ever is testament obviously to a special group of players but also to manager John Kiely, coach Paul Kinnerk and the support structure they have created.

A year ago, we wondered if the narrow victories Limerick had en route to the three in a row were a sign that the field was getting closer or if the Shannonsiders were becoming ever better at coming out on the right side of scorelines. In a way, both things were true.


While the All-Ireland football winners were different to 2022, there was a sense of familiarity. After winning six in a row and then going two years without glory, many wondered if Dublin had passed the apex of their curve – when the SOS call was sent out to Stephen Cluxton, some wondered if it was an act of desperation.

Manager Dessie Farrell was under pressure, without a doubt. While he was in charge for the 2020 victory, it was easy for critics to paint that as still being part of the Jim Gavin era.

With Kerry having got back to the top of the tree, Dublin faced a big challenge but they met it in an absorbing final. It meant that James McCarthy, Cluxton and Michael Fitzsimons now each have nine All-Irelands to their name, an astounding record.

Ladies football

The Dublin ladies managed something similar to their male counterparts, claiming the Brendan Martin Cup back after two years where Meath had been on top. Kerry were the team beaten, as they had been against the Royals in 2022, and unfortunately, their wait dating back to 1993 still goes on.


They might take some inspiration from the Cork camogie team. After winning four out of five between 2014 and 2018, the Rebels saw Kilkenny and Galway take centre-stage, with the Leesiders beaten by them in each of the previous two finals. They came back strongly though, beating both on the way to a final victory over Waterford.


In domestic soccer, another empire continued to dominate, with Shamrock Rovers making it four SSE Airtricity League titles in a row. With such a supremacy at home, their objective is to push on in Europe but unfortunately, 2023 was disappointing in that regard.

Rovers being unshakeable in the league isn’t turning the punters away, at least. Crowds were up across the board and the FAI Cup final, in which St Patrick’s Athletic beat Bohemians, provided a record-breaking attendance of 43,881 and that can only be a good thing.

As for the national team, the Stephen Kenny era ended as many feared it would. Perhaps his legacy might be seen a few years from now, with credit given for the number of young players he blooded.

For the Republic of Ireland women’s team, there was the high of competing at a first World Cup combined with the disappointment at the performances there and the subsequent departure of Vera Pauw as manager.

Opinions differ on the last matter – the players will no doubt point to the impressive post-World Cup results in the Nations League under Eileen Gleeson – the year marked a change in the perception of the team. Rather than the condescending ‘aren’t they great?’ coverage of professional sportspeople, there was as much criticism as praise. Ultimately, that is a good thing in that it shows women’s soccer is being taken more seriously here.


For Rory McIlroy, 2023 was a bit like 2022 in that he again finished second in a major – the US Open this time, compared with the Open Championship last year – after failing to make big putts down the stretch. He is contending though and there is no reason to expect that to change.

Cameron v Taylor 2 - Undisputed Super Lightweight Championship Fight.


The final word has to go to the brilliant Katie Taylor. Beaten by Chantelle Cameron in March, she turned 37 in July. There was nothing left to prove to anybody but the way she bounced back to defeat Cameron in November’s re-match was as impressive as anything in her highlight-laden career to date.

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