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Friday, 31 July 2009

Cork City RIP

It seems that the League of Ireland club, Cork City F.C., are no more. This afternoon (Friday) the High Court said it couldn't compel the Revenue Commissioners to accept a compromise offer from the club on moneys outstanding to them. The club have just over one hour to lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court (4: p.m.) but as of yet it's unclear whether they will do this, or whether their scheduled game againt Bray Wanderers tonight goes ahead.

This is a piece I wrote, initially for Extra Time, on the wider impact of their demise.


There’s really only been one story in the League of Ireland this week, and unfortunately it is again a solemn one. If we didn’t have such a passion for the sport here, than I wonder whether these knocks would test our resolve and love of League of Ireland football. One shudders to think how many casual fans have been lost with each scandal that hits our sport. We give out about the number of English Premier League jerseys seen on our streets, yet at the same time even the most hardcore League of Ireland fan has to grudgingly admit that stories such as the collapse of Dublin City, the impending death of Cork City, the implosion of Shels and the rumours surrounding the likes of Bohs and Galway United have all given the League here a dubious reputation.

Sometimes, when sport makes the jump from the back pages to the front, it’s brilliant. Obviously, this week was not one of those times. I despaired when the news came down in work on Monday (I’ve do some work as a newsreader so was one of the first to learn of the judgement in the High Court). Though I’m a Galway United fan, this is the sort of news you hate to hear about for the reasons I’ve outlined above. The loss of Cork will hurt us all.

The news was everywhere; Newstalk led with it in their main bulletin, as did other national stations. Again, it was all over the papers the next morning. I don’t want to go into the reasons for the collapse here, that’s for someone more qualified than I. I will, however, recommend that you check out Con Murphy’s latest blog on RTE.ie. That’s telling. It’s just a shame that the wins of Derry and Pats in the Europa League last week didn’t get the same coverage.

I hope that you’re going to forgive me some self-praise for this week’s Media Watch, but I feel that I have to point out Alan Smith’s excellent piece right here on Extra Time on the demise of Cork City F.C. Most media outlets have focussed on the bare facts of the piece, and rightly so. All bar the most in-depth sports shows/publications don’t have the time or space to truly encapsulate what the potential demise of Cork City F.C. would mean. And for all those that have tried to sum this up, none have done so as well as Alan. It sums up, simply and honestly, what it would mean to the Rebel Army if they fail to find the needed miracle. The clock is ticking, but we’re all behind you lads.

EDIT: Cork have announced that they will lodge an appeal with the Supreme Court

EDIT to the edit: Things are looking good!

R.I.P Bobby Robson

Footballing legend Bobby Robson has passed away peacefully at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.

Numerous sites reporting on this RTE and BBC.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

A Youtube Gem

So for reasons I won't get into here, yet, I've spent most of today looking back on Ireland's trek through Italia '90. I've been reading, listening, watching everything I can find and while digging through it all, I came across this on Youtube. Christy Moore, performing Joxer Goes To Stuttgart, in the RTE Studios during the build-up to the Quarter-Final against Italy.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Michael Schumacher To Return!

I’ve been writing about a lot of other things today but the news from the world of Formula 1 has made me down my pen on all of those and give my initial thoughts on the shock return of Michael Schumacher.

I’d heard the rumours – there was a story on the BBC website yesterday that Schumacher’s spokesperson wouldn’t rule out a possible return in place of the injured Filipe Massa. But did I really think that Ferrari would choose him over both of their reserve drivers and even, possibly, Fernando Alonso whose Renault team have been banned from the next event in Valencia.

Yet, no, Schumacher will be breathing fresh life into what’s already been a compelling Formula 1 season.

In many ways, it’s an odd decision. If it were any other driver who was in his circumstances, my response would be as follows. This is stupid: Schumacher hasn’t driven competitively since 2006, and hasn’t sat in any Formula 1 car for the best part of eighteen months, since when the regulations have been given a complete overhaul. He’ll also have no possibility of stepping into the car for any testing in the meantime, due to the ban on testing between now and the race in Valencia. Schumacher picked up back and neck injuries in a motorcycle crash this year and after three years away from the sport, there’s no doubt that his fitness would have deteriorated. He also is returning to a car that is far from a race-winner and thus it doesn’t make sense for his career. Bringing him back makes no sense.

However, Michael Schumacher was never any normal driver. He’s arguably the fastest man in the history of the sport and if anyone can overcome all of those issues, it’s someone who’s as technically-minded, focussed and determined as Schumacher. It’s a decision that I’m sure is driven out of company loyalty rather than a lust for competition, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t be driven from the moment he pulls out the pits for Friday practice in Valencia. I, for one, can’t wait.

Brett Says Bye

The annual ‘will-he-or-won’t-he’ Brett Favre soap opera is no more. Allah Be Praised.

There’s been little more annoying for fans of American Football to see the sport’s headlines dominated by the retirement saga of Number Four. We want to read about off-season trades, the repercussions of the NFL Draft, the all-too-regular misdeeds of the players. We don’t want to read speculation and conjecture about the future of a man who unfortunately out-stayed his welcome.

In an alternative universe, Brett Favre hung up his helmet in the wake of the NFC Championship Game loss against the New York Giants. It would have been an ignominious retirement, but one that would have came with honour. Brett would have led the Packers to their finest season in many years, and would have walked away as the battle-hardened hero he always was. Most of all, despite his final play interception, we’d have all had respect for the gunslinger.

However, in this universe, Brett is a figure of mockery. He’s more annoying than amazing, and the respect held for him by American football fans, and possibly even more importantly, the love held for him by the Packers’ fans, has all but evaporated. The man who led the Packers to their first Lombardi Trophies since Vince himself is no longer beloved by the Cheeseheads. Yesterday’s decision to retire before an unpleasant return to Lambeau in a Vikings’ uniform perhaps saves the semblance of respect they have for him, but his intention to move down the road to Minnesota in the first place has most definitely left a sour taste in the mouths of some.

The ironic thing, for Favre, is that after all of his previous humming-and-hawing, there are a lot of people who don’t believe his announcement that he has given up the sport forever. Today, on NFL Total Access, pundits openly speculated that they almost expect him to line-out again while over on Sports Illustrated Peter King is of a similar opinion. I, for one, do believe that this is indeed it for Favre, but like The Boy Who Called Wolf, we’ll have to wait-and-see if this, indeed, is it.


Favre’s announcement overshadowed another bit of NFL-related news that emerged last night. A true football hero, Eagles’ assistant Jim Johnson lost his valiant battle against cancer. One of the best defensive minds of all-time, Johnson’s long-term influence within the Eagles’ organisation led to the increased influence of co-ordinators across the League. I hope that, within the League, Favre’s announcement does not stop people from remembering Johnson as the great he was.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Vernon Forrest RIP

Another weekend, another boxer loses his life.

This time the man murdered is Vernon Forrest, a three-time world champion. Forrest was murdered during an attempted carjacking in Atlanta overnight. There's more details in the report on ESPN.com.

Forrest, and I mean this in as pleasant a way as possible, won't be mourned as much as either Arturo Gatti or Alexis Arguello who have also died in this horrible month for boxing.

Forrest's career highlights are his pair of wins over 'Sugar' Shane Mosely while he also won the WBC Light-Middleweight Champion with a win over Sergio Mora in what turned out to be his final fight last September. It was a good, if not great career, but to be murdered at the age of 38 is a terrible fate for anyone.

We've all heard of instances in which a terrible year has been referred to as an annus horribilis and while I don't know what the Latin for the word 'month' is, July 2009 will go down as a dark period for pugilism.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Cooper & O'Sé join the Naughty Boys club

Tomás O'Sé and Colm Cooper can add their name to list of players who have been disciplined by their Countys for apparently breaking rules regarding drinking. So the names of one the most famous families in GAA history & the name of one of the most celebrated players in a generation go alongside the names of pretty much in the entire Donegal panel in the Naughty Boys Club.

Attitudes towards drinking by GAA players during the Championship season is something that rears its head every season. But usually the Kerry stars steer well clear of that type of behaviour. This is an issue which seems to effect some counties more than others. Keith Duggan, in today's Irish Times, writes about the sensational reports about the the social dimension of Donegal teams have dogged them throughout the decade. The tales of a Behanesque pub-crawl in Dublin after a draw in the quarter final in 2002 are legenardy. Yet again though to Donegal players have been dropped from the panel for breach of discipline Neil Gallagher & Ciaran Bonner have been suspended by John-Joe Doherty for boozing it up.

Knowing Donegal as I do, and having witnessed first hand some players enjoying themselves thoroughly on nights out during the Championship I can understand where this reputation comes from. But it is hard not to feel sympthay for the squad. I mean Letterkenny has five massive niteclubs. The Grill, The Pulse, Voodoo, Milan, The Orchard and numerous late night bars all competing with each other to get the crowd in. Plus with the streams and streams of hen parties that flock to the town on a weekend from all over Northern Ireland, it must be hard for a young impressionable GAA star not to use his local fame to good effect.

Also it begs the question, if the GAA players were professional would this trend cease or just grow? Players would be less inclined to down pints in Voodoo Lounge if they were to be docked a few weeks wages.

When questioned about this recently a former Donegal County star said; "Jeez hi, i dunno sir, but that doll over there is fine." She wasn't.

Anyway Kerry take on Antrim this weekend without Cooper & O'Sé, while Donegal play Galway in Sligo. Both should be pretty tasty encounters with places in the All-Ireland Quarter Finals up for grabs. There'll be serious celebrations tonight in the towns and villages of the winning Counties. The losers will just drown there sorrows and dream of Sam coming home next year.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Marvellous Marcus

This is quite simply amazing. Footage of Marcus Gronholm driving a Ford Fiesta RallyCross up the famous Pikes Peak hill climb. Stunning.

Haye Gets His Title Fight

So David Haye has given up in his quest for a fight against either of the Klitschko brothers.


But he is still to fight for a version of the World Heavyweight Title.

For those of you who've not heard, the Brit is to fight Nikolai Valuev on Saturday November 7th. The fight will be for the Russian's WBA Heavyweight Title who, for once, have not gone down the route of making Haye fight for their interim Championship first (Through 'Regular', 'Interim' and 'Super' Champions, the WBA will soon have 32 World Champions in 17 weight classes. Read Dan Rafael for more on this).

Due to the differences in fighting styles and size, I can't see this being a great fight. Haye will be giving away eight stone and about as many inches so you can expect to see him use his speed to outbox the Beast From The East.

Nonetheless, it will be a great event and hopefully Haye can win, propel himself onto a fight with one of the Klitschko's, and breathe some much needed life into the heavyweight division.

Roll on November.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Media Watch - Real Comes To Dublin

If more has been written about a game of soccer involving a League of Ireland club, then I for one can’t remember it. When did we last see an event that got such press attention? When Shels came so close to the Champions League group stages? When Rovers left Milltown? When J.R. was shot in Dallas?

The talk about the game was dominated by the debut of a wonderkid named Cristiano, but there was to be no waltzing through the Rovers’ defence for the Portu-geezer. Instead ‘the other Ronaldo’ was given a welcome ‘not all...fitting the 'friendly' title of this match’ or so said RTE.ie’s match report. The boo boys were out in force, as anyone with even a cursory notice of Tuesday morning’s papers would have noticed, but is that as big a deal as some claimed? Were those who booed the most expensive Galactico rude and disgraceful or were they merely doing all they could to intimidate the opposition? I’ll leave you to answer that one.

Such an event, of course, drew attention from beyond our little isle as hacks galore descended on North Dublin to report on the debut of the most expensive football side ever assembled (computer games, obviously, not included). Real Madrid TV (available on SKY) reported on their preparations for the game, the preparations which (we were told) took place in Carlton House in ‘May-Nooth.’ The reporter in question obviously hadn’t rambled into the Kildare town for a wander as she struggled with a relatively simple pronunciation.

Still, bad as she was, the reporter in question deserves a Pulitzer when compared to a hack from the normally exemplary Guardian newspaper. Daniel Taylor (who deserves this naming and shaming) filed a report which was as inaccurate as a drunken surgeon. Tallaght Stadium, he told his readers, was a ‘modest little ground...with a half-built shiny block that, on first glance, appeared to be made out of Lego.’ He then went on to call Pat Flynn ‘Shamrock’s obligatory hard man.’ Shamrock, he obviously surmised, was now an actual place! Lovely, just lovely.

Though such blatant mistakes are to be expected from foreign journo’s, at least things are different here in Ireland where our domestic press supports the League, right? Wrong. Those who tuned into RTE to watch the Tallghticos on Monday were instead treated to Monday Night Soccer. All well and good, but not being able to see the game on RTE was undoubtedly an underwhelming experience to those in non-SKY land. Probably a similar feeling to that of a Madrid fan who had vested too many hopes in Cristiano.

Instead of the Real match, RTE showed highlights of Rovers’ game against Sligo (also known as The Return To Tolka) as part of MNS. Therefore, there was no Benzama or Van Nistelrooy of Madrid, but Boco and Rafter of Sligo. And who was Sligo’s answer to Cristiano? Goalscorer Shaun Holmes perhaps? No, wait, he did something of use...

But hey, at least we only missed a friendly. At least RTE or our other terrestrial broadcasters will show us the exploits of Bohemians and co. in Europe this week, yes? Ah...no. Off to the streaming sites I go.


This was originally written for the League of Ireland website, Extra Time.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Ronaldo set for a Real debut.

Tonight in Tallaght, Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to make his first appearance for his new club Real Madrid against the Irish football Giants Shamrock Rovers. Almost 11,000 eager soccer fans have snapped up tickets to see the world's most expensive footballer, who transferred from Manchester United in a world record-breaking summer signing.
It is hoped the 24-year-old Portuguese star will be in the starting line up against Rovers in south Dublin's Tallaght Stadium. Karim Benzema, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Heinze, Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben are also in the Real squad.

The Shamrock Rovers fans have been in very excited about the upcoming game. When quizzed about the fixture one Tallaght resident said "Finally we'll get to see a real football team playing in Tallaght."

Hoops manager Michael O'Neill has all thoughts firmly on an upset. "We can take 'em. I played them 3 times in Football Manager 2008 and I drew one game without cheating, so that gives me hope." Inspiring stuff.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Knocked Out? Nowhere Close

I tweeted about this last night and now I've found it on Youtube. Look at how Danny McIntosh gets up from the second knockdown in the second round of his British Title Fight against Nathan Cleverly last night. It's a good round, so watch it all, but the moment in question comes after 2:05.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sports-Packed Sunday On The Way

It’s not football season, uneventful pre-season friendlies notwithstanding, but tomorrow could nonetheless be a great day of sport.

Now, as a Galwegian, you might think that I’m about to blog about the fortunes of my county’s footballers. I should, I know, and I hope we beat Mayo, and follow the example of our hurlers who were impressive in the second half of tonight’s win over Cork. However, I won’t.

I may not even watch tomorrow’s match. My interests tomorrow lie in the fate of two very different sportsmen. Though both are American, there’s little else to unite Tom Watson and Lance Armstrong. While Kansas native Watson is amiable, likeable and easy to root for, Armstrong is divisive, brash, arrogant and a controversial figure. Depending on the outcome of their prospective events tomorrow, this pair could vie with each other for the sports story of the year.

Hard as it would have been to believe just three days ago, Tom Watson goes into tomorrow’s final round of the Open Championship at Turnberry with the outright lead. He’s looking for his sixth Championship, a mere 26 years after his last. Nicklaus’ 1986 Masters triumph was great, but a Watson win tomorrow would eclipse even that.

Watson has already lifted the Claret Jug at Turnberry, though the last time was in 1977. On that day, Watson was involved in an epic duel with Nicklaus. He had shot 65 on the Saturday and did so again on the Sunday to take the title by just one shot. Good? This was one of golf’s and arguably Watson’s finest ever hour. Tomorrow could beat both.

Another...storied competitor in his sport is Armstrong. I wanted to say legend there but I couldn’t bring myself to do so. My feelings on him are clear. Armstrong, a cancer survivor who has been called a cancer to his sport, has had as many drugs accusations levied at him as Michael Jackson and he needs a good result in tomorrow’s mountain top finish in Verbiers. 8 days ago I tweeted that Armstrong’s 2009 Tour was over when his teammate Alberto Contador blitzed him and the other competitors near the end of the mountain-top finish in Andorra-Arcalis. I’m not sure if that’s the case anymore. Armstrong looked strong in yesterday’s climb up the Col du Platzerwasal but whether that was a fleeting show of force or a sign of things to come, only time will tell.

Armstrong is one of those men who won’t go away...hence his current comeback. He’s also, despite his many, many, many faults, one of the fiercest competitors in sport. He can end tomorrow in yellow. He can win an eighth Tour de France. Will he? Probably not. But you can bet that he won’t give up battling until he crosses the line atop Mont Ventoux next Saturday.

Tomorrow afternoon, I and several other sports fans will sit at our television screens to watch both of these events. It will be a brilliant day of sport, with drama and intrigue. Watson and Armstrong will be at the centre of events in Turnberry and Verbiers. I know which one I will be rooting for.


PS Congratulations to Nicholas Roche on his fine performance today. Second place was a great achievement and a good performance in the mountains could cement a place on the Grand Tours for him in years to come. Was great to see an Irishman doing well in Le Tour for the first time since the days of his dad and Seán Kelly.

Bring Back Bunce

I'm just watching the boxing on ITV4 now. I heard a familiar voice interview McIntosh after his knockout defeat to the very impressive Nathan Cleverly in their British Title fight - the one and only, Andy Kerr.

It was nice to hear Kerr's voice on TV for the first time in a number of weeks. He's a man I came to like as he co-hosted Steve Bunce's Boxing Hour on the dearly departed Setanta Sports News. The Boxing Hour was one of the best sports magazine shows I've ever seen. Always jam-packed with guests, Buncey's show was lively and fun. It wasn't perfect, but it was the only place to go for an unbiased review/preview of boxing events.

After Setanta's collapse, the show is no more, but a campaign to revive it has begun. Supported by The Big Man himself, http://www.bringbackbunce.net has attracted attention from the boxing world and beyond. If you are a boxing fan then go there, sign the petition, and hopefully one day we'll see Bunce (and Andy Kerr) back on our screens.

Friday, 17 July 2009

No Munroe For Dunne

RTE are reporting that Bernard Dunne has been told that the first defence of his WBA Super Bantamweight title must be against Thailand's Poonsawat Kratingdaeng.

The National Lottery will be disappointed - Poonsawat Kratingdaeng isn't a name likely to fit on the back of a scratchcard so he won't be entering the Winning Streak draw if he gets three stars!

In all seriousness, Poonsawat is a serious operator who has won 38 of his 39 fights, 27 by way of knockout. A lot of his wins are over fighters who are not of Dunne's calibre though but a man who can punch is a man who can punch. Poonsawat has two things in common with Dunne. They both have a win over Panama's Ricardo Cordoba and they both have one defeat. Poonsawat's came at the hands of Wladimir Sidorenko, who normally operates at the Bantamweight division. That fight was Poonsawat's only one to be held outside of his homeland so let's hope (from an Irish point of view) that he's a bad traveller. We still don't know where the fight will take place - the RTE article reports that it's up for purse bid and negotiations are ongoing - but given Dunne's financial clout another night at Dublin's o2 Arena is likely.

The news has repercussions for Rendall Munroe. The European Champion and undisputed best Super Bantamweight in the UK seems a natural future opponent for Bernard (he was at the Cordoba fight in March to scope out the Dubliner). It's a fight that makes cash common sense (to quote the dearly departed Buncey), especially if held in Dublin as Munroe's ticket-selling abilities aren't the best. Munroe must now wait for Bernard, but I've no doubt that it's a fight we'll one day see in Dublin, just as we shall see him take on the tough Thai Poonsawat. After sampling the amazing atmosphere at the Cordoba fight, I know I'll be there for both.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Open Championship - Day 1

Just a quick update on the tips I gave you yesterday. Here's how my selections have gotten on after the first round at Turnberry.

Hunter Mahan @ 34
Mahan had a nightmare start today, playing the first 12 holes in +3. Despite a double bogey on the 15th, he fought back well near the end of his round. I can see him moving up the leaderboard tomorrow - but he has to.

Now available @ 170.

Graeme McDowell @ 85

McDowell shot an impressive 68 today, leaving him on -2. A victim of the tricky 16th, he could be even higher up the leaderboard but the Northerner knows this. Out at a tricky time weather-wise tomorrow though. Needs to be sharp.

Now available @ a very tasty 60.

Soren Hansen @ 140

Statistically my best tip interms of odds improvement, Hansen also shot a 68. It was a round that could have been better - he played the last six holes in three over par. Nonetheless, the Swede is a contender heading into the weekend.

Now available @ 80

David Duval @ 150

David Duval only hit 6/14 fairways, but he drove the ball long and his putting was fine. His +1 today shouldn't rule him out of contention at all, but like many others he needs a better Friday.

Now available @ 300.

Padraig Harrington @46

A 69 for the two-time defending champion, hence a shortening of his odds. But I didn't like what I saw from the Dubliner today. He seemed timid and lacking confidence. I shall be laying him immeadiately.

Now available @ 27.

A couple of other comments. I was very impressed with Ryo Ishikawa. The 17-year-old didn't flinch under the spotlight of being with Woods. He won't win this weekend, but he did well>

Woods didn't. He was shaky throughout and punters who backed him at such low odds must be regretting that now. He's now available at 6.6 on Betfair. I wouldn't, but there's a little bit of value there if he handles tomorrow's high winds.

Does anyone care about the Lyle/Monty spat? Didn't think so.

And I know I didn't tip them, but I'd just like to point out that the other golfers I named yesterday (O'Hair, Villegas and McIlroy) all had decent outings today. Let's hope they don't fall into the 'ones that got away' pile.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Open Tips

After picking Lucal Glover for the US Open, I thought it only fair that this time I put my neck on the line and publish my picks for this week's Open Championship.

The winner should be Tiger. Sorry. But he's unbackable at 12/5. On Paddy Power the second favourite is 22-1 so if you can pick a winner that's not named Eldrick than you're on to a good one.

As I always do, I'll go with five. If one of them comes in, mine’s a Guinness.

First up at Turnberry, the weather is King. This is a micro-climate given it’s proximity to the sea so there’s little point in checking area forecasts. For the record, local folklore is that the wind is at it’s highest when the tide is too so for calm conditions (I’ve looked this up) you want to be on course from apx. 9:30-2:30 each day. The wind should be more calm on Thursday, so I’m focussing on players who will get the best of things on the Friday, which will be key this week.

Padraig Harrington, David Duval, Kenny Perry, Soren Hansen, Paul McGinley, Rory McIlroy, Hunter Mahan are all among the players who fall into this category. On the Thursday, there’s Tiger Woods, Robert Rock, Camilo Villegas, McDowell, Sean O’Hair.

These players have a huge advantage – in the recent US Open, 12 of the top 13 finishers were lucky enough to be given a nice draw and were out on the calmest day, Friday.

You can make cases for so many of these...

Hunter Mahan: hasn’t missed a cut all year, is striking the ball well.

Padraig Harrington: two-time defending champion is quietly confident having returned to form in recent weeks.

Sean O’Hair: 6 top tens in 15 starts.

Greame McDowell: Grew up on a links course.

Camilo Villegas: one day he will win a major. I’m not sure that’s this weekend.

David Duval: He can putt, he’s won this before, and Bethpage gave him confidence.

Soren Hansen: 3 top 10’s in his last four outings.

Rory McIlroy: a future star.

I’m going to go with the following (quoting Betfair prices)

Hunter Mahan @ 34

Graeme McDowell @ 85

Soren Hansen @ 140

David Duval @ 150

Padraig Harrington @46

I’ll also pick one more, extra long-shot special (now known as the Lucas Glover award)

Paul McGinley @ 510

Best of luck. Tips are given for free, but taken at your own risk.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Arturo Gatti R.I.P

Just came into work to the news that Arturo Gatti has died while on holidays in Brazil. I'm not going to examine his life here, nor the circumstances of his death, but I just felt that I should mark the death of a man who was one half of Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year on four occasions. An all-out slugger who never took a backward step, Gatti gave boxing fans some of our most thrilling nights.

Here's my own personal favourite. It's the obvious one - Round 9 from Gatti's first clash with Mickey Ward.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Waterford & Tipp Teams Named

In this the 125th year of the GAA, the Munster Hurling Championship Final could take place in no town other than Thurles.

Tipp haven't won a Munster Final on their home ground at Semple Stadium since 1989, when Waterford were the opposition that day. A bloodied affair (the Déise finished with 13 men), Tipp ran out fairly convincing winners. However, the Waterford team of this decade are a far different affair, and have been very much Tipperary's bogey team.

The teams for both teams were announced last night. As predicted here yesterday, Tipp have made no personnel changes from the team that defeated Clare in the Semi-Final, with a couple of positional switches in the forwards that'll make no real difference given manager Liam Sheedy's tendency to continually change it around anyway.

A big boost for Waterford comes with the news that captain Stephen Molumphy is fit enough to start, which means no place in the starting line-up for former hurler of the year Dan Shanahan or Eoin McGrath who was a thorn in the side of the Tipperary corner-backs in last year's All Ireland Semi. Interestingly, Mount Sion and Ballygunner, traditionally the two heavyweights of Waterford club hurling have just a sole representative each on the starting 15.

Waterford Team: C Hennessy (Ardmore), E Murphy (Shamrocks), D Prendergast (Ardmore), N Connors (Passage),T Browne (Mount Sion), M Walsh (Stradbally), A Kearney (Tallow), S O'Sullivan (Ballygunner), K Moran (De La Salle), J Nagle (Dungarvan), S Prendergast (Ardmore), S Molumphy (Ballyduff Upper, Captain), J Mullane (De La Salle), E Kelly (Passage), J Kennedy (Ballyduff Lower)

Tipperary Team: B Cummins (Ballybacon-Grange), P Stapleton (Borris-Ileigh), P Curran (Mullinahone), C O'Brien (Éire Óg Annacarty), Declan Fanning (Killenaule), Conor O'Mahony (Newport, Captain), P Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), J Woodlock (Drom & Inch), S McGrath (Ballinahinch), P Kerwick (Killenaule), S Callanan (Drom & Inch), John O'Brien (Toomevara), Noel McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney), Eoin Kelly (Mullinahone), Lar Corbett (Thurles Sarsfields).

Prediction Time: Trying to shade off any personal bias, I still think Tipp have just about enough. A win for them against Waterford in a Munster Final will be a massive monkey off their backs, and if the Waterford full-forward line can be contained sufficiently, Tipp should do it by about two or three points. It's going to be another tight one, I reckon

Could Liverpool End Up With Europe's Two Most Handsome Wide Players?

The 'Pool already have Dutch stunner Dirk Kuyt in their ranks, and now have become the 58th team to be linked with a summer swoop for Frank Ribery (pictured).

According to Sky Bet, a flurry of bets came in for the Bayern star in the last 24 hours, but in fairness, it would be a complete shock if this move actually happened, as the Reds just don't have the dosh. However, the suggestion that Voronin, Dossena and Babel may all be shipped off to Munich in exchange has put a wishful smile on this fan of England's most successful club. Gone would be the days of buying the Jermaine Pennants and Luis Garcias of the World (United seem to be taking that part over with that Obertan bloke) if this was to happen. Dream on, I suppose.

The Tour Hits B-Arse-elona

I’ve spent the last few hours online searching for today’s Tour De France action, Stage 6, in full.

The video of it I mean. I saw a lot of it live and I’m convinced there was an anal sex joke in the coverage. Allow me to explain.

With 36.4km remaining in the stage, shots of one of Barcelona’s most famous buildings appeared, the Agbar Tower. After showing this, there was a dissolve into a close-up of the bum of a cyclist.
Subtle, it was not. Funny, it was.

I’ve drawn an artist’s impression below. Well I say an artist...it’s not very good. You’ll have to use your imagination.

TdF Bum

Now all I have to do is find a video. I’ve checked and checked but so far, no luck. It wasn’t in Eurosport’s highlights package. TG4 don’t have the full stage archived on their site. I’m at a loss.


Thursday, 9 July 2009

Teams for Munster Final Expected Tonight

With three days to go to the Munster Hurling Championship Final, both Waterford and Tipperary are expected to name their starting 15 tonight, with the Tipp selection unveiled at 9pm after training in Thurles.

Ken McGrath and Gary Hurney are definitely out for the Déise, while captain Stephen Molumpy is a major injury doubt, according to today's Irish Examiner.

Tipperary, on the other hand, could very well start with the same 15 that disposed of Clare in the Semi-Final. Shane Maher still doesn't appear to be quite fit after the injury he picked up in the League Final in May, and lack of game time will go against him also. Worryingly for the Premier County, new hotshot Noel McGrath (pictured against Cork) and old hotshot Eoin Kelly both sat out training on Tuesday night, with thigh and back strains respectively. However, both are expected to be fit for selection tonight.

Other rumours emerging from this writer's home county include a possibility of an introduction of Hugh Maloney to the half-forward lines, and Brendan Maher to the backs, but as aforementioned don't be surprised to see the same 15 that lined out against Clare.

Update on teams will follow tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Cristiano's Circus

So I watched a bit of Critiano Ronaldo’s ridiculous unveiling at the Bernabéu last night. Wow.

80,000 fans turned up apparently. 90,000 if you believe the Spanish press (which I don’t), the most that have ever turned up to watch a player hold up a scarf and do a couple of keepie-uppies (75,000 turned up to see Diego Maradona unveiled at Napoli in 1984).

I don’t really know what to make of it. Part of me thinks it’s absolutely ridiculous. 80,000 people? Really? Sure, there were some great footballing figures past and present there – Eusebio, Alfredo Di Stefano (God, he’s looking old), and of course, Cristiano Ronaldo, but do they not have better things to be doing on a Monday afternoon in Madrid? Not if Florentino Pérez has anything to do with it.

But then part of me buys into it. I love the spectacle as much as the game sometimes. I love players with personality. I love ridiculous celebrations. I love the whole sideshow that comes with the game. I was always an Eric Cantona man as opposed to an Alan Shearer man.

Ronaldo’s unveiling was over the top in so many ways, but would Cristiano have it any other way? The whole stadium was covered in green carpet, they had a stage. There were photographers scrambling on top of other photographers to get the best shot of Ronaldo in his new number 9 jersey, worn before by greats including Di Stefano, Hugo Sanchez and Ronaldo (the other one – that’s going to get confusing).

The scene with the little boy was priceless. Ronaldo drops the ball while doing some tricks, and this little boy, about 6 years old, steals his ball. Ronaldo bends down, gives the boy kiss on the head, signs the ball (that pen came out of nowhere – great improvisation!), and the crowd goes wild! Not only a great footballer, but a charming gentleman too. You couldn’t write this stuff (no, wait. They definitely did).

So will Real actually manage to win anything next season? Cristiano seems to think they should “just win the Champions League next year, then just build up gradually”. Always very modest, young Cristiano.

Well they’d better win something, considering their squad has cost €512.5 million. And they probably will, if their €94 wonder boy has anything to do with it. In the words of Cristiano himself (come on, in your thickest Madeira accent) “uno, dos, tres - ¡Hala Madrid!"

Cristiano Ronaldo's unveiling at the Bernabéu

Monday, 6 July 2009

Steve McNair: 1973-2009

I got a text message on Saturday evening from a friend in the US wishing me a happy 4th of July, and at the bottom it read “did you hear about Steve McNair?”. I called him right away. At first I didn’t know if he was joking, or if someone had fooled him into believing it.

“Dude, I didn’t believe it either, but they’re reporting it on CNN. I think he was shot”.

I was stunned. It had been a crazy week and a half. With the passing of Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Ed McMahon, people were ready to believe anything. I fell for the Jeff Goldblum is dead story. Apparently there were rumours of Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears too. I didn’t want to believe the McNair story.

As soon as I got home I logged onto Sports Illustrated and there it was – “Steve McNair: 1973-2009".

As a fan of the NFL for about decade now, there haven’t been many better players than Steve McNair. The first season that I really got into the NFL, he lead his Tennessee Titans team to the Superbowl, and came within one yard of winning it all. Four years later, he was named the league’s most valuable player, along with Peyton Manning. He was a leader, he was athletic, he was one of the first prominent black quarterbacks. He could run, pass, do it all as a QB.

But for all the post-season success, and MVPs, and other accolades he collected, he will be remembered for one thing above all others. Toughness. For me, Steve McNair defined toughness in the NFL. It was a miracle that he played as long as he did, given his bruising style of play.

Said former Miami Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tim Bowens: “Hitting him was like trying to tackle a defensive tackle. … He wasn’t one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league, he was one of the toughest players in the league.”

Of his ability to play with pain, McNair says: "It goes back to high school, when my coach told me that when you're in pain, you tend to stay more focused on what you have to do. I took that to heart, and I think that's how I play now. I can just concentrate better when I'm playing in pain."

He did not take the traditional route to stardom. Growing up in smalltown Mount Olive in Mississppi, a town of less than a thousand people, he was an all-around athlete. He starred in football, baseball, basketball and track. He was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 1991 Major League Baseball draft, but opted to play college football at historically black Division 1-AA university, Alcorn State. There, he garnered national attention, when in his senior season, he set more than a dozen records on his way to finishing third in the Heisman Trophy - something unheard of for a player at a 1-AA school. It was enough for Sports Illustrated to put him on the cover with the headline "Hand Him the Heisman"

He was drafted No. 3 overall by the Houston Oilers (who later became the Tennessee Titans) in 1995, the highest ever for a player from a Division 1-AA school, and the highest ever for a black quarterback (Donovan McNabb, Michel Vick and JaMarcus Russell have since been taken higher). He may have been the Oliers/Titans best ever draft selection, and they’ve made some great picks, including Earl Campbell, Bruce Matthews and Eddie George.

Watching him over the years, I got the feeling that he was the type of player that you would absolutely love playing with, and hate playing against, because you knew he was going to give 100% on every single play.

He was oldschool. Earl Campbell with a cannon of an arm, the face of a franchise, a warrior. He was Steve "Air" McNair. Rest in peace.

YouTube - Steve McNair Tribute

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Wimbledon Womens Winner Will be Williams

Wow, lots of w's. Oh inevitability. The William's brothers will play each other in the Womens final in SW19 for the fourth time. Its actually a pretty remarkable record and to be honest on their day they are by far and away the two best ladies on the tour.
Venus put out No.1 ranked Russian Safina with such ease she barely broke a sweat. 6-1 6-0. All to easy.
Serena on the other hand played out an absolute classic with the lovely Elena Dementieva. In an enthralling encounter the younger Williams sibling lost the first set on a tie break, but won the remaining two sets in a match that the Ladies game really needed. Serena was not at her best, and to be fair Dementieva looked nervous and at times looked very much like she was punching above her weight.

Between them the Sisters have won the prestigious championships on six occasions. It'll now be seven. It is a 4th July showdown for the two Americans. Their Dad and coach Richard Williams has said he's not attending the final. When asked why he stated; "I've a 4th july BBQ to take care of back home & bought a helluva lot of fireworks, I ain't gonna let them go to waste." Priorities indeed Mr. Williams.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Owen to Man United?

Apparently Michael Owen's representitives are in talks with officials in Old Trafford regarding Michael signing for United. This is a very interesting development, and somewhat surprizing for Ferguson who looks like he's willing to gamble on a player who many Premiership managers weren't willing to risk signing.
Owen has had a number of injury riddled seaons at Newcastle, but to be honest, he was always a threat when fit.
Ferguson has been on the look out for a new striker after the departures as Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo. He had hoped on bringing French internationals Karim Benzema and Franck Ribery to Manchester, but Real Madrid seem to have won the race for both their signatures.
Owen could be a massive hit with United, if he remains fit, but that is something that may be beyond him.
On the streets of Manchester earlier one local Unted fan gave this reaction. "He's Shit". A bit extreme, but maybe that gentleman is speaking the truth. Hull City were chasing hard to bring Owen to the KC Stadium. A Hull fan (pictured) gave this reaction when he heard that his club may have lost out on Owen's services; "Ah Shit!".
We'll see what the outcome is and where Michael Owen will be playing his football next season.

Not Such A Bastareaud After All?

While Andy Murray and Michael Jackson continue to dominate the headlines in this part of the word, there is a very interesting scandal involving a rugby star brewing in France.

You may remember Mathieu Bastareaud from this year’s Six Nations. Very impressive in the win over Wales, Bastareaud brought a lot of positive attention to himself and it seemed that, at the age of 20, French rugby was looking at a player who could play at centre for the next decade.

More likely than that, however, is that Mathieu Bastareaud came to your attention approximately two weeks ago after France’s second test defeat against New Zealand in Wellington. Not for anything to do with the match itself but for what happened that Saturday night. The initial reports were that he’d been beaten up by “three or four men” while out on the town. Naturally, this provoked a media storm in New Zealand. Ahead of their hosting of the 2011 World Cup, the country was ashamed that a touring international rugby player could be beaten up by one of their own. Yet that’s not what happened.

Within a matter of a few days, the ‘truth’ had emerged. Bastareaud definitely returned to the team hotel in full health. It seems that he had fallen, drunk, in his room, and had lied to avoid getting into trouble with the team management. He returned home to France, disgraced, where it seems he was met with vilification in the national press. RTE reported this revelation with the witty headline Lying Bastareaud Comes Clean.

In the media storm that has erupted, rumour and conjecture have been flying around France. My French is not the best, so I must rely on second-hand reports, but among the rumours is that Bastareaud’s injuries were caused in a fight with other members of the French squad, a fight for which he was made a scapegoat and thus sent home.

So far, this is the tale of a player who, in either the official story (he lied, got caught, owned up) or the rumoured version (he got into a fight with teammates) did wrong and has righty gotten into trouble for doing so. But this is a story that has taken a new turn, one that could have been tragic. It was reported that Bastareaud attempted suicide over the weekend and is now under observation in a psychiatric clinic. Otherwise, he is said to be fine. Thankfully.

Today the French Prime Minister has written a letter to his counterpart in New Zealand, John Key, apologizing for Bastareaud’s actions. Key has termed this an end to the affair and hopefully that is the case, in terms of a public sense, even if it will not be for Bastareaud, who is left to cope with his now damaged career, and possibly also his life.

Today’s development, the intervention of Francois Fillon, most worries me. Bastareaud is one of the few French rugby players who has heritage outside of the country (Guadalupe I believe). This foreign heritage is something which has been seen with many French soccer players but, perhaps for class differences, not in the oval ball game. Would Fillon have intervened if, say, Cedric Heymans was the player involved? Was (if the rumours about the fight are true) Bastareaud made a scapegoat based on his ethnicity? I’m not qualified to discuss the intricacies of French society but to see how this can affect France, watch the Palme D’Or winning The Class from Laurent Cantet. This stunning film engages with the issue in a simple yet philosophical manner, giving an outsider such as myself an insight into everyday life in multi-cultural France.

Whether or not race is a factor, there is also no doubt that Bastareaud has been exposed by French rugby authorities. Little has been done to defend him after the incident and, it seems, next to nothing was done to care for him during the media storm that followed. He reportedly told friends he was feeling suicidal before this weekend but, again, nothing was done to aid him. He was hung out to dry; even representatives of New Zealand police agree with that much. “At least two French players, maybe more, know the truth,” said Peter Cowan, the police chief in Wellington. “One day it will come out.”

Until that day, let’s hope that Bastareaud recovers, and returns to the rugby field sooner rather than later.

Lions 3rd Test Team

After a prolonged absence due to lack of an internet connection I'm back to give my opinion on all things rugby, specifically the Lions team for the 3rd Test this weekend.

With this match being something of a dead rubber and the injuries mounting up McGeechan has gone with an interesting selection.

There are four changes in the pack. Sheridan and Vickery come in for the injured Jenkins and Jones respectively while Williams and Worsley replace Wallace and Croft.

Sheridan acquitted himself well as a replacement in the second Test and he should dominate John Smit in the scrums. Fears that Beast Mtwarira will best Vickery in the scrums again should be allayed by the improved scrummaging power afforded by Shaw in the second row.

Martyn Williams will offer more in link play and at the breakdown than Wallace which will be needed after the injury to O'Driscoll who is like a third flanker in midfield. In Worsley the Lions at last have selected a blindside flanker whose defence is strong enough for the Boks unlike Tom Croft who despite constant championing by the English media has only proved what Martin Johnson has said before. He's a hybrid forward stuck between two stools. Too lightweight to be a world class second row and not aggressive enough in the tackle to be a Test blindside.

In the backs Shane Williams and Ugo Monye have come onto the wings with Tommy Bowe being partnered by Riki Flutey in the centre. Luke Fitzgearld is paying the price for his defensive error in the lead up to the first try, however he rarely put a foot wrong elsewhere and this call seems harsh on the young Leinster player considering Williams is out of form and Monye missed two try scoring oppurtunities in the first test.

It's asking a lot of Bowe to play at second centre as he has played there rarely for the Ospreys and never at test level. Perhaps the Lions management are hoping if he gets his hands on the ball more often he can create chances for others as he did earlier in the tour. Kearney continues at full back as do the half back partnership of Jones and Philips. These three players will have to be at their best if the Lions hope to avoid a whitewash.

The Lions management have gone with a 5-2 split on the bench. It's an odd decision that could see Harry Ellis playing on the wing if injuries like last week repeat themselves. The Irish pair of Keith Earls and Gordon D'arcy can feel hard done by to be left out the squad altogether considering the paucity of centres on tour.

There is hope for the Lions in that South Africa have named a very inexperienced side with ten changes overall. Yet some of the changes may not weaken the Boks at all. Wynand Olivier and Jaque Fourie are a very strong centre pairing, perhaps stronger than last weeks centre pairing. Morne Steyn replaces Ruan Pienaar which will strengthen the Boks kicking game and in swapping Spies for Ryan Kankowski the Lions are faced with another freakish athlete at No. 8.
After the heroics of the last two Tests the last thing the 2009 Lions deserve is a whitewash however it seems on the cards. South Africa to win.

Morning All

A quick post to send a melancholic thank you to the good people at ESPN America who’ve provided me with an interesting breakfast this morning. I’m sitting here eating a bowl of muesli and watching, for reasons best known to those at the channel formerly known as NASN, a re-run of the 1996 MLB Home Run Derby. 1996 is a couple of years before the height of the steroids era but it had begun, and it’s almost amusing to listen to Chris Berman and his co-commentator (I don’t know who it is) talk about players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Gary Sheffield in positive terms. Looking back on it, it’s difficult to see how anyone was fooled.