A Land of Sporting Giants
Sport and physical exercise play a central role in the lives of people in Northern Ireland, and it is no surprise! Our rolling green acres, wild seascapes and soaring mountain vistas beckon us to put down the screen and get moving. The result is that Northern Ireland people are among the most active in the UK. The most recent figures show that 59 percent of the population participate in some type of physical activity or sport on a weekly basis. The most practiced sports in Northern Ireland are football, swimming, keep fit, jogging and cycling.
Home crowd advantage
After three Covid-hit seasons, Northern Ireland sport is back up and running with capacity crowds back at events. The roar of the local crowd is bound to add a hometown advantage, acting as an extra player on the field.
After acing the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham back in the summer, Northern Ireland has set the bar high. It was Northern Ireland’s most successful year, taking home eighteen medals across seven different sports. Their triumph is sure to be a good omen for the sporting season ahead and good preparation for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
Ulster men go for glory
As autumn turns to winter nothing beats a Friday night under the lights at the Kingspan Stadium, watching live rugby. Ulster is aiming to improve on 2021-22 when they were defeated semi-finalists in the United Rugby Championship and exited the European Cup at the first round of the knock-out stages.
With only one defeat in their first seven league matches so far this season the team have started strong, particularly with a historic win against the Lions at Ellis Park in Johannesburg last month. Ulster are boosted by the return of star player Jacob Stockdale, who has returned from long-term injury. As well as experienced players the Ulster squad can claim to have a host of emerging talent. This was demonstrated when nine Ulster players were recently selected for the emerging Ireland squad tour of South Africa. With such a wealth of young talent, Ulster’s future is looking bright.
Playing a blinder!
2022 is football World Cup year. And whilst Northern Ireland did not make the finals the country can claim several footballing firsts. Linfield F.C. won a 56th Irish league championship – a world-breaking record for the club who have won more domestic league titles than any other football club. And did you know that the penalty kick was first invented by William McCrum in 1890?
Northern Ireland’s senior women’s team are making the headlines too. They are on a winning streak after defeating Luxemburg in the women’s 2023 world cup qualifier. Their achievements were celebrated at a reception in Stormont. Aston Villa’s Simone Magill stated, “it’s all about giving (young girls) hope. We had to go and create this and fight to get women’s football where it is now, and we want to improve it to create pathways for young girls to become professional.”
Giant by name, giant by nature
Since their inception in 2000, the Belfast Giants have bagged thirteen major honours, including six British League championships, four Challenge cups and two British playoff titles. 2022-23 looks like another stellar season; led by head coach Adam Keefe, the Giants are enjoying recent wins over Fife, Cardiff Devils and Dundee Starts.
After a two-year hiatus, the Friendship Four tournament returns to the SSE arena over the Thanksgiving weekend. Four of the top U.S. College teams will go head-to-head, competing for the highly coveted Belpot trophy. Several England dignitaries will attend the games – a golden opportunity to strengthen the connection between America and Northern Ireland.
Will an Ulster team make it to Croaker in 2023?
The new season for our Gaelic players is just around the corner, and we can’t wait for it to return to our screens. The National Football League will take place in late January - where thirty-one Irish teams compete for victory. This year there are four Ulster teams in Division One - more than from any other province! And later in the summer, Ulster teams will try to reclaim the Sam Maguire cup and become All-Ireland champions. Tyrone were the 2021 champions.
And let’s not forget our individual sporting stars! With victory at the 2022 CJ Cup Rory McIlroy returned to the top of the golfing world rankings, ten years after first achieving the feat. Rory rounded off a great season by finishing as US and European number one. And congratulations to Rhys McClenaghan who recently became the island of Ireland’s first-ever gymnastics world champion with victory on the pommel horse at the World Championships in Liverpool.
There is much to look forward to in Northern Ireland’s sporting calendar. Now more than ever, we appreciate the camaraderie and competition sport brings. No matter our differences, sports continue to unite us. After two years of matches cancelled and tournaments postponed, there’s nothing quite the thrill of chanting and standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a crowded stadium.