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How 2020 could turn out to be a glorious year for sport in Northern Ireland

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Grand designs: Rory McIlroy could win an elusive Masters in April and complete the Grand Slam

Grand designs: Rory McIlroy could win an elusive Masters in April and complete the Grand Slam

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Iain Henderson

Iain Henderson

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Michael Conlan

Michael Conlan

�INPHO/Emily Harney

Carl Frampton

Carl Frampton

�INPHO/Stevie English

Ciara Mageean

Ciara Mageean

�INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Jonathan Rea

Jonathan Rea

Tyrone could all be celebrating major success over the next 12 months

Tyrone could all be celebrating major success over the next 12 months

�INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Golden boys: Michael McKillop (left) and Jason Smyth will be aiming for gold in Tokyo

Golden boys: Michael McKillop (left) and Jason Smyth will be aiming for gold in Tokyo

�INPHO/James Crombie

Tight battle: Glentoran’s Patrick McClean and Shayne Lavery of Linfield have their sights on league glory

Tight battle: Glentoran’s Patrick McClean and Shayne Lavery of Linfield have their sights on league glory

�INPHO/Brian Little

Final aim: Stuart Dallas of Northern Ireland and the Republic’s Seamus Coleman could be in line for a Windsor Park showdown

Final aim: Stuart Dallas of Northern Ireland and the Republic’s Seamus Coleman could be in line for a Windsor Park showdown

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Mark Allen

Mark Allen

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Grand designs: Rory McIlroy could win an elusive Masters in April and complete the Grand Slam

The sporting vision for 2020 looks wonderful. If all goes according to plan, it could be one of the greatest years in the history of Northern Ireland sport. Here the Belfast Telegraph casts an eye over 10 events to be excited about as a new decade begins…

Master McIlroy

Rory McIlroy enjoyed a fabulous 2019, arguably producing the most consistent golf of his life. But there was no Major title.

In fact, there has been no Major title since the Holywood hero claimed No.4 back in 2014.

That's far too long a gap for the most naturally talented golfer on tour right now. Expect McIlroy to hit a high five of Major titles in 2020.

This could be the year when he joins that elite group of golfers to win all four and complete the Grand Slam. To do it, he must win the Masters. April in Augusta could be Rory's time. The green jacket awaits, and who would hand it over? McIlroy's boyhood hero, Tiger Woods.

How fitting would that be? The pair could go head-to-head later in the year in the Ryder Cup.

New era for Ireland and trophy hopes for Ulster

The 2019 World Cup was a shocker for Ireland. Not for the first time in the tournament, they flattered to deceive and yet again were knocked out at the quarter-final stage.

A new era will begin in 2020 with the two most prominent figures in a highly successful period (bar World Cups), coach Joe Schmidt and captain Rory Best, both gone. The Six Nations begins in February with Ireland, under Andy Farrell, hosting Scotland.

As for Ulster, also minus the inspiration of Best, could the new decade herald trophy success for the first time since 2006?

New skipper Iain Henderson would love that. There are certainly promising signs in the Champions Cup and Pro14 with Dan McFarland at the helm.

Allen out to make Mark on the world

Antrim's Mark Allen is one of the most talented snooker players on the planet.

Just ask Ronnie O'Sullivan, who enjoys watching the Ulsterman on the green baize. Throughout his career, Allen has won a glut of trophies including the Masters but the World Championship has eluded him so far.

How he would love to put that right in 2020. He certainly has the game to go all the way. Only Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor from here have won the world title at the Crucible. Allen has the qualities to make it a Northern Ireland treble on May 4.

North v south Windsor wonderland

The Euro 2020 finals take place this year from June 12 to July 12.

The final is at Wembley. Other games will be at Hampden Park and the Aviva Stadium.

That's exciting enough, but what about a Northern Ireland versus Republic of Ireland play-off at Windsor Park with the winner-takes-all prize of playing in the summer tournament!?

To make the all-island clash possible, Michael O'Neill's men must win in Bosnia & Herzegovina in March and the Republic must do the same in Slovakia.

Throw in a new boss for Northern Ireland with the successful O'Neill focusing solely on Stoke later in the year and 2020 could be some year for the Green and White Army.

Belfast boys boxing clever

This time next year, Carl Frampton and Michael Conlan could be world champions.

That's the dream for the dynamic duo from Belfast. Frampton, of course, has been down this road before. Twice. It's to his credit that despite some disappointments in recent years, the Tigers Bay man is still in there fighting.

Such is his popularity, he could have jumped on the reality celebrity TV circuit by now but that burning desire to be king of the ring again remains.

He has the quality and character to become Ireland's first three-weight world champion.

One day, Conlan may do the same. In 2020, though, his only focus will be on claiming that first world title. He feels it is his destiny. Many in the boxing world agree.

High-class performer Conlan is surely a world champion in waiting.

Golden days in Tokyo

Roll up, roll up for the greatest show on earth. From July 24 to August 9, world sport will be dominated by the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Japan is a special country so expect a spectacular and then some. Also look forward to some big performances from Northern Ireland's finest.

Middle distance athlete Ciara Mageean is improving with every year and might just fancy her chances of winning a place on the podium, while Ulster's Katie Mullan will captain the Ireland women's hockey team who qualified for the Games in dramatic fashion.

The biggest story, though, may come from brilliant young gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, who has a genuine chance of bringing home gold.

Rory McIlroy will be in Tokyo too, having decided to give the Olympics a shot. He could deliver another medal for Northern Ireland.

Golden days in Tokyo (The Sequel)

Once the Olympics finish, the capital of Japan will begin preparing for the Paralympics which will be staged from August 25 to September 6.

That means Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop and Bethany Firth chasing more glory.

Swimmer Firth is sensational and will be aiming to add to her haul of four gold medals in Tokyo.

Smyth is the fastest Paralympian on the planet and has won gold in Beijing (2008), London (2012) and Rio (2016). Five times he has stood at the top of the podium and has the inner belief and ability to increase that figure.

Middle distance ace McKillop has also been a winner at the previous three Paralympics. Don't rule him out adding to his total of four golds.

Six of the best for Rea

When Alvaro Bautista moved 61 points clear of Jonathan Rea in the 2019 World Superbike Championship, many on the circuit wondered if there was any way back for the Ulsterman.

Rea stayed cool and slowly but surely as Bautista faltered, he clocked up victory after victory after victory to overhaul the Spaniard and then go on to win his fifth consecutive title. It was the best yet.

World title No.6 in 2020 is now the driving force for Rea.

Also on two wheels, Michael Dunlop will be looking for a big season on the road while Alastair Seeley will be keen to add to his record number of victories at the North West 200.

Ulster must down the Dubs

Dublin have dominated Gaelic football for so long it's tough to recall when they weren't the best team around.

What's that on the horizon, though, for Ulster counties? Yes, it's the first sign of hope in ages. The outstanding Jim Gavin has decided to call it a day as boss, having guided the Dubs to five All-Ireland triumphs in a row.

Of course even without Gavin in charge Dublin will be favourites to retain their crown but maybe, just maybe, Mickey Harte has been building blocks in recent years so that Tyrone can take advantage.

Donegal, too, will feel there is light at the end of the tunnel. Cavan and Down also. The last time an Ulster side (Donegal) won an All-Ireland title was in 2012. People in the province will hope somehow that will change in 2020.

What a finish in the Irish League

Entering the Christmas period of fixtures, just five points split the top five teams (Linfield, Cliftonville, Crusaders, Coleraine and Glentoran) in the Irish League table.

There's been plenty of excitement in the first half of the season. There could be a whole lot more in the second part.

Wouldn't it be fantastic if the title race went to the last day of the campaign, preferably with all five of the above in the mix?

Across the water, Neil Lennon's Celtic and Steven Gerrard's Rangers will battle it out in Scotland, while in England Liverpool could finally end their long title wait. The last time the Reds were top dogs in their own country was in 1990.

Thirty years on, there would be some party if Jurgen Klopp's side go on and lift the trophy, adding to the European Cup, Super Cup and Club World Cup that they clinched in 2019.

Belfast Telegraph