One day last week, Paraic Duffy, the Director General of the GAA, announced the association would soon be unveiling a new marketing plan. Not just any old marketing plan either. This will be the most comprehensive promotional effort in the history of the games.
Of course, last Sunday week, the marketing geniuses currently employed by the GAA booked cavernous Croke Park for the National League semi-finals, forcing some of the best footballers in the country to play matches before a crowd of just over 11,000. It looked and sounded like one of those behind-closed-doors games soccer teams are forced to endure after their fans wreck stadia.
The problem with GAA and marketing has always been the absence of logic.
In this case, the poor attendance was blamed on the presence of Cork and Kerry in the line-up, two counties whose fans are notorious for not traveling far for league games, even semis or finals.
Why, if the GAA knew that, would they still fix the games for a stadium that holds 82,300? Why not opt for a venue in or around Dublin that would have been attendance appropriate? A crowd of 11,000 doesn’t look or sound ridiculous in Portlaoise, or even Parnell Park. By opting for Croke Park, the GAA cheapened their secondary competition and underlined again how no sporting body makes less of more than this outfit.
Walk into any bookstore in Ireland today and when you find the sports section, count how many publications there are related to the Munster rugby team, its history and its stars. Last time I checked, it was well over a dozen.
Anyway, the exact figure isn’t that important. What’s significant is that Munster rugby in its modern incarnation (invented in the mid-nineties) has spawned more literature than more than 125 years of Cork hurling and Gaelic football. Whose fault is that?
It’s not the rugby crowd. Fair play to them for doing such a good job promoting their inferior product. It’s the GAA’s fault for not selling the media on the magnificence of the indigenous games.
Kilkenny may just be the greatest hurling team of all time. How many books have been written about them? It’s all very well blaming publishers too. That’s an easy way out. The GAA is big enough, wealthy enough, and powerful enough to have its own publishing arm. Aside from promoting the games, bringing out these books would also create jobs and make money for the association if it was done properly.
The GAA’s new campaign could do a lot worse than hire away the people who’ve made Irish rugby matter to people who previously didn’t know it existed. This might be the greatest marketing achievement in the modern era, even if some of the stuff rugby did to promote itself was borrowed from other sports.
For decades, the build-up to Cheltenham has been marked by hugely popular preview nights. I’m not sure who started the idea of packing trainers, jockeys and journalists into a venue where they could talk about the runners and riders ahead of the National Hunt festival.
All I know is that fans love those evenings and look forward to them as much as the week itself. After all, a huge part of every sport is the anticipation and the forensic analysis.
Rugby started to do something similar with a road show in recent years. Again, with huge success.
As we stand a few weeks away from the start of the championships in both codes, we wonder do the GAA have anything like this planned. All over Ireland right now, in hurling and football counties, people are sitting around at work during the day, and in bars at night, talking about their teams’ chances come summer.
Can the Cork footballers sustain this form? Are the Tipp hurlers slipping faster than Kilkenny? People who are into games tend to enjoy talking about them, before, during and after the events. It’s not rocket science to decide to get them to a clubhouse or hotel to do this in a public forum.
In spite of its status as the most successful association in the history of Ireland, the GAA has always been backwards about selling itself. It wasn’t until Guinness came onboard in the mid-nineties that hurling ever received any sort of marketing push.
People who didn’t know a hurley from a hockey stick suddenly found themselves intrigued by this weird and wonderful game popping up on billboards all over the island.
There is an even more recent example. Since Cadbury’s got involved in the All-Ireland Under-21 football championship, it has grown in stature. It has garnered more column inches in papers, more media coverage on radio and television, and generally benefited hugely from the promotional arm of a major company getting behind it.
There is a reason companies like Nike and Coca Cola spent billions each year on marketing. It usually works.
The American sports have been cognizant of this fact for a long time. During any PGA Tour event, there is at least one television commercial every hour which promotes the tour itself. The ads are so prevalent that the slogan is actually stuck in our heads. These guys are good. Understated but effective, it reminds those watching from their couches that the men out there on the course are actually capable of doing things with a golf club beyond the ken of us mere mortals.
Against that background, we can’t wait to see what the GAA comes up with in terms of its new marketing push. There is so much raw material for them to work with.
Of course, you don’t have to be a professional marketer to come up with smart slogans to sell the games. How about these for starters? More authentic than rugby. More loyal than professional soccer. More skillful than both of the above (obviously this applies to hurling rather than Gaelic football). Hate thy neighbor (God would understand if he lived next door to Tipp or Kerry).
The Ladies served up a very entertaining and competitive game at Gaelic Park on Saturday evening. There was some drama at the final whistle as the general consensus was that the game was a draw. Indeed the subdued responses by both teams would seem to reinforce that
conclusion. However the referee’s tally had Kerry/ Donegal winning by a point, much to the delight of the eventual victors and the disappointment of the losers.
The press and the scoreboard also had it as a draw. However upon reflection it was determined that the referee had the correct score and the perceived discrepancy resulted from the umpire failing to give clear signaling, in fact there was no signal about a particular shot whether it was wide or a score. The referee was in a good position to award the point, but he was the only one aware that it was a score. It definitely would have behooved him to stop the game and correct the score board. However it was unfortunate that the score board remained in error in such a close game, especially for the players and their mentors.
Meanwhile. Fermanagh were first to raise a flag as a good run by Saoirse Finnegan set up Loretta Cunningham for a score. They were looking impressive early on as Johanna Levine, Meabh Redmond and Cunningham were running strongly at the Kerry/Donegal rearguard, but they failed to capitalize fully on their opportunities.
Kelly Roche finally got Kerry/ Donegal motoring with a fine long range effort. Indeed the industrious midfielder was the perfect link player as she set up chances as well as hitting the target frequently herself. They now had the momentum as veteran Denise Dunnion pounced on a wayward clearance to blast over but it could also have been a major score.
The post denied the combo outfit another score but Roche landed another fine effort from distance. However Fermanagh were soon back in front as Redmond was grounded in the penalty area with Cunningham blasting the spot kick to the net. A few former GAA stalwarts questioned the legitimacy of the score as the taker had buried the rebound from the crossbar.
Ah they were just displaying their vintage more rather than their knowledge of the rules of Gaelic football. Even those from the Kingdom nation have to stay up to date. Kerry/Donegal responded with a point and stepped up their performance markedly for the remainder of the half as Michelle McVann and Kelly Roche held sway in the middle and Jennifer Moran and Amanda McGovern made telling runs from the back. With a goal from
Niamh Britton, Kerry/Donegal looked to be heading in with a lead at the break but Fermanagh’s Caitlin McGuigan blasted in a goal, after the first attempt was well saved by keeper Power to level the game on the cusp of the short whistle.
Fermanagh started impressively on the resumption adding two quick points, courtesy of a free from Levine after she was fouled and the
other from Redmond, but for the next quarter Kerry/Donegal dictated matters as they appeared much fitter and their support play was more effective. With goals, one from Britton and the other from Dunnion, plus a trio of points, the combo were ahead by seven with ten minutes left.
Fermanagh then struck back with a vengeance as they pinned Kerry/Donegal back in their own half and produced their best and most productive period. Saoirse Finnegan began the comeback rally with a powerful shot to the corner of the net. Soon alarm bells were ringing in the Kerry/
Donegal defense as the ever dangerous Cunningham and the reenergized Finnegan hit a brace.
Levine went goal poaching but a goal bound shot was well blocked on the line. A minute later Levine appeared to be the savior as she worked her way in from the wing to land a fine score and apparently tie the game. As time ticked away Fermanagh thought that they had at least a share
of the spoils, but the harsh reality was that they were still a point adrift in the referee’s jotter. It certainly was an exhilarating finish, but better communication among all involved would eliminate the unnecessary agitation and aggravation at the end. Overall Kerry/Donegal just about
deserved the victory as they were more consistent over the hour.
Kerry/Donegal: Maeve Power, Aoife Gibson, Louise Lilly, Kerilyn O’Keefe, Noelle Brophy, Jennifer Moran, Amanda McGovern, Michelle McVann, Kellie Roche(0-3), Anita McKenna, Niamh Britton(2-0), Claire McCourt(0-2), Denise Dunnion(1-3), Michelle Dowd, Janette Dalton .Subs .Ciara Healy, Maebh McDaid, Sinead Leavy, Lauren McMahon, Shannon Walsh.
Fermanagh: Asling Clarke, June Martin, Annemarie Kelly, Dearbhla Crowe, Kerry McGinley, Tracey Ann McCullough, Katie Power, Roisin Toner, Caitlin Slattery, Maebh Redmond(0-2), Johanna Levine(0-2), Saoirse Finnegan(1-1), Loretta Cunningham(1-2), Caitlin McGuigan(1-0), Andrea McGlade. Subs. Claire McElroy, Donna Traynor, Marie Dunleavy, L Mulhern, S Meaney, A Fitzpatrick, C O’Reilly. Referee Dean O’Connor, Player of the Match
NEW YORK PREPARATIONS
With just less than less than two weeks to the Connacht championship game against Sligo, word from the Big Apple camp is that preparations are going well. Competitive challenges matches have always being an issue with preparing a team. To date the New York squad has played various combinations of club teams in an effort to see how the team is progressing. They looked impressive in recent games against Cavan and Cork, especially their fitness levels. There have been some new additions to the panel, which will help offset the unavailability of a number of regular New York players. The panel gets a good boost from the Kildare trio, namely Sean Kinahan, Eoghan Carew and Mike Kennedy. In addition the former
Limerick forward Eoin Hogan and the return of Paddy Smith will add a bit more bit to the attack.
A number of players form the successful New York collegiate team, particularly CJ Molloy, Donnacha O’Dwyer and the Hogan brothers, Conor and Shane, will be in serious contention for positions. Evidently the clash with Sligo will be a daunting task for the New York squad, but the
manager Connie Molloy and trainer Mickey Coleman and the rest of the backroom team have stuck diligently to the task.
Negotiations are complete for Andy Lee’s crack at World Boxing Council [WBC] middleweight champion Julio César Chávez, Jr., June 16 at Sun Bowl Stadium in El Paso, Texas, and tickets go on sale this Saturday.
The scheduled 12-rounder will be broadcast live on the HBO cable network’s “World Championship Boxing” show beginning at 10 pm EST. The card is billed “Viva Chávez!”
Chávez, a 26 year-old Mexican, is undefeated with a 45-0-1 [31 KOs] record. Lee, who’s a year older, is 28-1 with 20 KOs. The Limerick southpaw avenged his only pro defeat last October with a unanimous points decision over Brian Vera in Atlantic City.
“I am facing a tough, difficult opponent in Andy Lee. This will be the toughest fight of my career,” said Chávez, in a statement from fight co-promoters Top Rank.
In Lee, who’s ranked third by the WBC at 160-pounds and second by both the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organization, Chávez will be facing his third Irish opponent. He holds wins over the now retired duo of Oisin Fagan  and John Duddy , both on points.
Lee, meanwhile, is champing at the bit.
“I have been waiting my whole life for this opportunity. It is going to be a great show,” he said.
“I’d like to thank Emanuel Steward, Perry Mandera, my entire management team along with Lou DiBella and DiBella Entertainment for everything they have done to make this a reality. I also would like to extend a very special thank you to Top Rank and the Chávez family and Freddie Roach. The boxing world is going to see a World Class Fight!”
Promoter Bob Arum concurred. “This fight between Julio César Chávez, Jr. and Andy Lee is a remarkable one – two young, handsome warriors, from different parts of the world,” he noted. “Chávez is from Mexico, Lee is from Ireland and each will be doing his best to make his country proud.”
Said Lou DiBella, Lee’s promoter: “I am thrilled that Andy is getting his long-deserved shot at a middleweight championship. Julio César Chávez, Jr. deserves credit for taking on the biggest challenge of his career. On June 16 a new champion will be crowned in El Paso, Texas.”
“Julio César Chávez Jr. vs. Andy Lee is a terrific match-up that will intrigue fight fans everywhere,” said Kery Davis, senior vice president of programming, HBO Sports. “With the Sun Bowl in El Paso as the backdrop this will be a very compelling and significant World Championship Boxing telecast.”
Ticket sales begin this Saturday at 2 pm [EST]. They are pegged at $200, $100, $60, $40 and $25 and available from the UTEP Ticket Center, all Ticketmaster outlets, online at www.ticketmaster.com and by phone at (915) 747-5234.
Kevin “Kid” Rooney won’t get a chance to avenge his only pro loss after all when he returns to the ring May 18 at the Times Union Center in upstate Albany. The 4-1 junior middleweight with two KOs to his name was to meet Danny Lugo who handed him a points defeat last October. Lugo has pulled out and will be replaced by the debuting Nick Castaldi, a former local Golden Gloves champion. Tickets are available by calling (718) 823-2000 or from starboxing.com. Rooney, who’s 27, is the son of the former Mike Tyson trainer.
HARDWICK FIGHT CANCELED
Dublin native Thomas Hardwick is off this Saturday’s Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson II undercard in Atlantic City. The 5-0 heavyweight was to face Tobias Rice, a 4-5 cruiserweight out of Macon, Ga.
KILKENNY and Cork will renew their great rivalry in the May 6 final of the Allianz National Hurling League Division One A final.
You couldn’t ask for better. Cork, reborn under Jimmy Barry-Murphy, recorded and outstanding 1-25 to 2-15 success over Tipperary while Kilkenny got the better of Clare by 1-20 to 0-14 in the other Semple Stadium semi-final.
There’s just one problem. Cork will be without their captain and goalkeeper Donal Og Cusack after he sustained an Achilles tendon injury which is set to rule him out for the remainder of the season.
It’s a devastating blow, not only for the much respected 35-year-old goalkeeper but for the Cork team. His influence in pulling the older and younger members of the new Cork set-up has been immense.
“We are so disappointed for him. He’s been a great captain for us, a great leader for the players in the dressing room.” stressed manager Barry-Murphy.
“At half-time he said ‘go away and look after the players. Don’t mind about me. Cork hurling is all that matters and drive on with the team.”
Fittingly, that is exactly what Cork did to achieve a seven point victory. Everything suggests that this new Cork outfit is the real deal, good enough to be very serious contenders for the All-Ireland crown.
Before then they could well be crowned National League Champions. The general consensus is that the decider against Kilkenny is going to be a very closely fought affair. Kilkenny’s experience is obviously going to work in their favor but they are still missing some key players, most notably Henry Shefflin. Either way, the National League final will be well worth watching.
It wasn’t that Cork were at their best throughout last Sunday’s semi-final. Indeed, they were level at 0-10 apiece following an average enough first half, the main talking point of which was the injury to Donal Og Cusack.
After saving a long range shot from Tomas Stapleton, he scrambled to push it out of danger. It looked harmless enough but Og Cusack was clearly in enormous pain and had to be stretched off.
The game progressed with Anthony Nash taking over in the Cork goal. He was to pick the ball out of the net twice as Tipperary established a 2-13 to 0-17 lead by the 53rd minute with goals from Brian O’Meara and Eoin Kelly.
It was then that this Cork side showed what they are capable of. Initially, good work from Niall McCarthy provided Luke O’Farrell with the opportunity to slam home a well taken goal.
The time was now right for Barry-Murphy to bring on the two highly rated youngsters Conor Lehane and Darren Sweetman. Both had been kept in reserve because they had exam commitments last week.
Lehane’s first touch saw him sweep over a beautifully taken point. Sweetman soon followed his example by skippering past a few defenders and scoring another well taken point.
It was now all one-way traffic as Cork outscored Tipperary by 1-8 to 0-2 from the 53rd minute on. Patrick Horgan finished with 0-9, six from frees, O’Farrell contributed 1-2 and man of the match William Egan got 0-3. Pa Bourke, with 0-7, five from frees, was a disappointing Tipperary’s chief scorer.
Manager Declan Ryan admitted: “From our perspective, it was a very flat performance. In fairness to Cork they looked a lot sharper than us today.” Barry-Murphy was understandably pleased with his team’s second half effort. He said: “I think we are on the right road to being really competitive. This gives us another competitive game before the championship and we are looking forward to it immensely.”
So, it seems, are Kilkenny. They, in truth, were pretty average in first half against Clare, only leading by 0-8 to 0-7 at the interval.
With Richie Power missing a penalty, Clare must have felt that they had a chance of an upset. But Kilkenny simply moved up a gear to dominate the second half.
Despite his penalty miss, Power still finished with 0-9 (six frees), while the emerging Matthew Ruth contributed 1-3. Manager Brian Cody commented: “The goal we got early in the second half gave us some breathing space. Overall, it was a very competitive game.”
As usual, Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald held some strong views. After initially admitting that Kilkenny fully deserved their victory, he laid into the referee Alan Kelly from Galway.
His argument was that Ruth’s decisive second half goal should not have been allowed.
Fitzgerald continued: “”Referees have got to get those decisions right. How come those decisions always go against the Clare’s of this world? I think the decisions go with the bigger teams.”
JUST a year after winning the National Hurling League title, Dublin have found themselves relegated. They lost out 4-21 to 0-19 to Galway in the Division One A play-off replay at Portlaoise. They could be no complaints, Galway, or rather Joe Canning in particular, were just too
The major difference was the finishing. Whereas Galway scored four goals, two of which came from Canning, Dublin just couldn’t find a way past the Galway goalkeeper Fergal Flannery. As good as Flannery was in making a string of outstanding saves, Canning was always going to be man of the match. He finished with 2-7, 1-6 of which came from frees. His second goal was a brilliant effort. Damien Hayes was also back to his best, setting up many of the scores. Paul Ryan did his bit for Dublin, getting 0-11 (eight frees) but this was another case of goals winning games. Anthony Daly, the Dublin manager’s only real complaint was the state of the sand covered pitch.
“You look at the scoreline and say we were hammered, but it wasn’t like that. We coughed up a few balls and got punished.
“Fair play to them, they won it deservedly. No arguments.” Galway boss Anthony Cunningham was well pleased, commenting: “This gives us a bit of confidence going into the championship.
“We’ve done well in the league, albeit with a poor performance against Kilkenny. We’ve secured our position in Division One A and it’s up to our guys to drive on.”
Meanwhile, Dublin and Roscommon have qualified for the All-Ireland Under 21 final after beating Cork and Cavan in the semi-finals.
Dublin were enormously impressive in defeating a talented Cork outfit 3-11 to 0-14 in Portlaoise, Philip Ryan (two) and Jack McCarthy got the goals.
Over at Pearse Park in Longford, nearly 8,000 spectators turned up to see Roscommon defeat Cavan by 2-7 to 2-2. Conor Daly and Colin Compton found the back of the net for Roscommon. Compton’s effort in the dying minutes was a gift but there was no disputing that Roscommon fully deserved their victory.
LEINSTER prepared for this weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Clarmont with a 16-8 away victory over their fellow semi-finalists Ulster. Their RaboDirect Pro12 meeting at Ravenhill on Friday night was a hard fought affair with Leinster fully deserving their victory. Importantly, they had no major injury worries to complain off.
But Ulster did lose Chris Henry, Paddy Wallace and Pedrie Wannenburg during the game which is hardly ideal prior to Saturday’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh at the Aviva Stadium. Fortunately, coach Brian McLaughlin is optimistic that all three will recover in time.
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt was delighted, most especially that there are no injury worries.
He said: “It will be a hell of a task against Clarmont away, no we need everyone available.”
Flanker Kevin McLaughlin scored Leinster’s try with the remainder of their points coming from the boot of Jonathan Sexton. Good work from Wallace provided Johann Muller with the opportunity to get Ulster’s try, although there was some doubt as to whether he had grounded the ball properly.
His effort must have given Ulster fan Rory McIlroy and his girlfriend Caroline Wosnaicki in the Ravenhill stand some hope of a home victory but Leinster regained control. Remarkably, they have now won all of their six games against the other Irish
provinces in the RaboDirect Pro12 League.
Elsewhere, Munster made certain of a RaboDirect semi-final spot by drawing 20-20 away to the Scarlets. But they will face an away semi-final, probably against the Ospreys. Donnacha Ryan and Simon Zebo scored their tries with Ian Keatley converting both and landing two penalties.
Connacht continued their good finish to the season with a 19-16 victory over Aironi at the Sportsground. Their only try came from the wonderfully named prop Rodney Ah You from New Zealand. The victory means that they have moved up to eight place in the table with just one game left. That match is, however, away to a high flying Glasgow side, determined to make certain of a semi-final place.
Meanwhile, international second-row Mick O’Driscoll has become the latest Munster player to announce his retirement. The 33-year-old, who was capped 23 times by Ireland, follows in the footsteps of John Hayes and Jerry Flannery. He said: “It has been a tough decision. I have enjoyed my career, but now is the time to move on.”
ADAM NOLAN and Paddy Barnes have become the latest Irish boxers to qualify for the London Olympics.
The two Irish fighters made certain of their places in Trabzon, Turkey. Wexford man Nolan, in fact, won the 69 kg gold medal at the Olympic qualifying event by beating Germany’s Patrick Wojocicki on countback after they had finished level at 14-14.
Barnes qualified by reaching the semi-finals of the 49 kg division. But he was far from happy that the decision went to his Turkish opponent Ferhat Pehlivan.
“It wasn’t even that it was close, I hammered him. The whole crowd knew it” argued Barnes..
That verdict followed an even more controversial decision which went against the highly rated Joe Ward early in the week. The 18-year-old light-heavyweight from Moate was rated as a real contender for the Olympics but will not be going to London after losing out to a 18-15 scoreline against another Turkish contestant, Bahran Muzaffer.
On Sunday April 1, Tipperary and Cork played out a thrilling draw in the last round of the National Hurling League at Semple Stadium, Thurles. On Sunday next the counties return to the home of hurling when they meet in the second semifinal of this year’s National Hurling League at 4 p.m.; the first semifinal between Kilkenny and Clare gets under way at 2 p.m. For hurling affinicados there is nothing quite like a Munster championship game between Tipp and Cork at Semple Stadium and now it looks like we could witness the same excitement about a League semifinal. This will be the third meeting between these great rivals this year; extra time was needed to separate the counties in the Waterford Crystal Cup with Tipp eventually getting through and they could meet again in the Munster Championship semifinal in June if Tipp overcome Limerick in the first round next month. Jimmy Barry Murphy seems to have restored faith in Cork hurling in his first season back as manager. Barry Murphy has discovered a few new stars like: Conor Lehane, Darren Sweetman, Stephen McDonnell and Lorcan McLoughlin. Barry Murphy said: ‘‘I would probably prefer not to be playing Tipp again so soon, but it’s great to be in the semifinal. That’s all I am concerned with. That was our aim for the start of the League campaign and so far so good.’’ Meanwhile Tipperary are getting used to life without Lar Corbett, who announced his retirement in February. Manager Declan Ryan seems to have changed their style of play this year, opting for more fluid moments rather than high balls into the opposition’s parallogram. With Eoin Kelly being used mainly as a sub, Pa Bourke is now Tipp’s main free taker and Noel McGrath has also been scoring freely. It’s a hard one to call and while Cork will not fear Thurles I give the vote the home team.
Clare staged a great comeback against Limerick to win the division two hurling final two weeks ago and manager Davy Fitzgerald will no doubt be conjuring up a plan to try and topple Kilkenny. When he was manager of Waterford Davy got a few hammerings from Brian Cody’s team and I think it will be business as usual for The Cats on Sunday.
IRISH MAY PLAY CHINESE
The Republic of Ireland could have a friendly against China in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Sept. 7. The Boys in Green start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign away to Kazakastan on Sept. 7, but they have a free date the following Tuesday and it looks like China will provide the opposition. The Republic has played China twice previously; in 1984 we won 1-0 in the Japan Cup tournament in Sapporo and in March 2005 a Clinton Morrison goal secured a 1-0 win in a friendly at Lansdowne Road.
The FAI is giving away 150 free tickets to Irish fans who are planning to travel to see the friendly against Hungary in Budapest on June 4. Very few Irish supporters are expected to make the trip, which comes six days before the European championship opener against Croatia in Poznan on June 10. FAI CEO John Delaney said: ‘‘The Irish supporters will be our 12th man this summer when they travel in record numbers to Poland. Although only a small number of supporters are expected to travel to Budapest, this small gesture of 150 free tickets is the least we can do to recognise their huge commitment.’’
INJURED PLAN RETURN
Irish defender Richard Dunne is targeting Aston Villa’s game against West Brom on April 28 for his comeback. The Dubliner, who fractured his collar bone in a league game against Manchester City in February. Another player hoping to be back in action on Saturday week is Stephen Hunt. The Irish winger travelled to Germany last week for surgery to remedy a troublesome groin problem, but expects to be back for the game against Swansea on April 28. Trapattoni will name his squad for the Euro finals on May 7 and any player who gets injured now will be worried about missing out.
NIALL QUINN BACK
There can’t be many GAA clubs in Ireland whose football manger also managed a club currently in the English Premier League. Niall Quinn, who managed Sunderland prior to Roy Keane’s arrival on Wearside, has been appointed manager of Kildare club’s Eadestown’s second team for the year ahead. Four years ago Quinn won a Junior ‘C’ Kildare football championship medal with Eadestown. Quinn’s children Mikey and Aisling also play football with Eadestown, whose claim to fame before Quinn moved to live in the Kildare village, was that it was the home club of former Kildare and Cork star Larry Tompkins. Meanwhile back at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light the club has named the sports bar after their former player, manager and chairman. The popular fans bar will in future be named Quinn’s Bar.
O’CONNELL TO GET
FREEDOM OF LIMERICK
It has been a disappointing season for rugby player Paul O’Connell with Munster and Ireland failing to deliver, but the season will end on a high on Sunday next when O’Connell is made a Freeman of his native Limerick. The 32 year-old second row, who has captained Munster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, says it’s a great honour to following in the footsteps of Eamon de Valera and John F Kennedy in receiving the accolade. Paul said: “I’m always conscious, while I’m playing for either Munster or Ireland, that I am also representing Limerick.’’
TRAP TO VISIT
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni is to visit Croagh Patrick in Mayo for a charity climb on April 28. Trap, who is 73, is unlikely to climb the famous mountain, but on a visit to Mayo last year he promised that he would return if Ireland qualified for the Euro 2012 finals. Trapattoni will join Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Sport Michael Ring in a charity fund raising initiative which will raise money for several local charities. Trap, who is a devout Catholic, said: ‘‘I’m really looking forward to returning to Croagh Patrick. It’s a very special place and hopefully this visit will bring us some luck before we set off for Euro 2012 in June.’’
The U.S. synchronised swimming squad are very happy with the facilities at the National Aquatic Centre in Blanchardstown in West Dublin. The U.S. team trained in Blanchardstown last week and national team co-ordinator Gigi Grizanti said they were glad that they chose Dublin over London and Sheffield for their pre-Olympic training camp. He said: ‘‘The girls really appreciate the welcome they have received in Dublin and we would like to make Blanchardstown our European training base when we have other competitions in Europe.’’
TWO STARS QUIT
Two long serving intercounty GAA players retired last week. Declan Prendergast has quit the Waterford senior hurling squad after 12 years and Steven McDonnell, who had given 13 years service to the Armagh footballers, also retired.
Good news for a change for Liverpool FC. Last week Fenway Sports Group, the club’s American owners, sacked Damien Comolli, who was director of football at Anfield, but they kept faith with manager Kenny Daglish. And the Scot in turn kept faith with his expensive striker Andy Carroll. Daglish spent a club record £35 million last year bringing Carroll from Newcastle and it was a deal which many supporters and pundits have questioned over the past 13 months. In midweek Carroll scored the winner as Liverpool beat Blackburn Rovers 3-2 in the Premier League. Then on Saturday, Carroll scored another late winner as the Pool beat their Merseyside neighbors Everton 2-1 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley. Liverpool, who have already won the League Cup trophy this season, will now play Chelsea in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on May 5. Chelsea, who face Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semifinal tonight, beat London rivals Spurs 5-1 in the second semifinal at Wembley on Sunday.
Meanwhile no change at the top of the Premier League with Manchester United now odds on favorites to win their 20th League title. There was an upset in midweek when lowly Wigan had their first ever win over United on the same night that City beat West Brom 4-0 to reduce the lead at the top to five points. Then on Saturday City beat Norwich 6-1 at Carrow Road to reduce United’s lead to two points, but by 5 p.m. on Sunday evening United had stretched the lead once again to five points after a 4-0 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford. For the second week in a row United went ahead with a Wayne Rooney spot-kick after yet another questionable penalty secured by Ashley Young going down easily in the penalty area. Wolves, who drew 0-0 with Sunderland on Saturday, are now five points adrift at the bottom of the table and seem certain to be relegated. But the other two relegation places will be a dog fight between Blackburn, Bolton, Wigan and QPR.
In Scotland Hibernian, who are managed by Dubliner Pat Fenlon, qualified for the Scottish Cup final, beating Aberdeen 2-1 in the semifinal at Hampden Park on Saturday. Hibs have not won the Scottish Cup since 1902 and they face Edinburgh neighbours Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final for the first time since 1896. Hearts ended Celtic’s hopes of a League-Cup double when they won the second semifinal 2-1 on Sunday.
Fergal Rafferty tied for ninth place in the Hall of Fame Classic played at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla. Rafferty, of Carrickmore, Omagh, Co. Derry, was in the mix from the get-go of this event which is part of the National Professional Golf Tour. He opened with 65, just one stroke off the lead. Subsequent rounds of 73, 71 and 70 dampened his title hopes and left him 10 strokes behind medalist Tony Finau. Rafferty earned $3,700.
So much for the idea that Padraig Harrington turned a corner after his top-10 finish at the Masters. He followed that with a missed cut at the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town in Hilton Head, S.C. He finished 36 holes four strokes over par after rounds of 74 and 72, during which he put seven bogeys and three birdies on his cards. That’s 146 for 36 holes; 145 made the cut.
Tonight looks like it will be a night of high drama at the Meath County Board meeting in Navan. Reports at the weekend suggested that Seán Boylan will return to manage the county after a seven-year absence. After being relegated to division three of the National Football League the Meath County Board asked their Monaghan-born manager Seamus McEneaney to stand down last week, but he refused.
Then it transpired that Boylan, who only two weeks ago had quit his post as Director of Football in Meath, was being lined up as McEneaney’s replacement. Boylan retired as Meath manager in August 2005 after a record 23 years in charge of The Royals. During Boylan’s reign Meath won four All-Ireland senior football titles. Since then, Meath have had a high turn over of managers and with no success at minor or under 21 level, it’s going to be difficult for Boylan to produce a winning team. Boylan, a herbalist in Dunboyne, has stayed involved in football by managing the Irish International Rules team and the Leinster team in the interprovincials.
The Amherst College community has scheduled the Andrew O’Brien Stand Up and Play Golf Fundraiser for Thursday, April 26 at the Amherst Golf Club in western Massachusetts.
O’Brien, a student at Amherst, suffered a spinal aneurysm at the age of 15 while skiing that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Before the injury, he had been an avid golfer. He tested a Paramobile last year and was able to chip balls with a wedge, which he described as “a great feeling.” The Paramobile costs $25,000 and the fundraiser will attempt to defray that cost for O’Brien, who lives in New Canaan, Conn.
Participants can play for $25 in the 9-hole scramble that begins at 5 p.m. Hole sponsorships of $100 are also available.
Further information about the event and contributing to the fund can be obtained by contacting Michelle Morgan, Amherst’s women’s golf coach at firstname.lastname@example.org. The event website, which includes links to photos
and a demonstration of the Paramobile, is www.amherst.edu/athletics/misc/2011-12/0409_standup.
In that wonderfully Irish way, we have been counting the days until Katie Taylor goes to London, puts her on gloves and wins a gold medal in the women’s boxing. Since the day in 2009 that it was announced the Olympics were going to allow distaff bouts into their shindig for the first time this summer, it has been assumed Taylor, the acknowledged pre-eminent female fighter of her generation, will beat all-comers in the lightweight category.
While Taylor herself has remained humble and modest about her chances, the rest of us have got a little carried away from time to time. Could you blame us? How often is an Irish competitor the favorite to win out on the world stage in anything? Of course, the 25 year old from Bray knows more about the sport than us glory-hunting bandwagon jumpers. She knows she will have to fight real opponents with genuine pedigrees.
In this respect, Queen Underwood is the American boxer reckoned by most observers to be the fighter most likely to stop Taylor’s quest for lightweight gold. The 27-year-old may not yet have formally secured qualification for the Olympics but she is already trailing all the accoutrements of a superstar. Underwood has her own website, her own charitable foundation and not one, not two, but five nicknames. Depending on the mood, she can be “Queen of the Ring”, “Seattle’s Own”, “The Mocha Mayhem”, “The Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop”, and “The Central District Diva.”
Watching her clock up more talk show miles than any other American Olympian so far this year, popping up everywhere from Anderson Cooper’s daytime show to the female-oriented gabfest, “The View,” it might be glib to point out the only thing left for Underwood to do is actually fly to England and collect her title. But her life is a little more complicated than that. In many ways here is a fighter whose journey is as important as her destination.
“I learned about responsibility, pain, and suffering, and I started to dream,” wrote Underwood in the manifesto on her website. “I’ve had challenging fights where I didn’t get the decision. I’ve had things in life that have knocked me down or tried to hold me back. Instead of giving in, I insisted on coming back stronger, making changes for the better.”
The pain and suffering she alludes to were far removed from the travails of the sporting arena. Her parents met in Seattle, Wash., when her father Azzad was 21 and her mother Alonna was 14. That was the age she gave birth to Underwood’s older sister Hazzauna. Two years later, Queen was born. After her parents split, the girls moved to South Carolina to live with their father and his new wife. There, Azzad Underwood began creeping into his daughters’ bedroom at night to molest them, the abuse starting with the eldest first,
“When Hazzauna would get dragged out of the room, I’d get up, go to the bathroom, flush the toilet, make noise, knock on doors, ask where’s she’s at,” said Underwood in an interview with the Seattle Times last month. “He’d make her tell me, ‘Go to sleep. Everything’s O.K.’.”
Soon, he started subjecting his younger daughter to the same horrors, always careful to do so when nobody else was home. Although Queen thought of getting a weapon and taking the law into her own hands, the abuse ended when the two sisters finally talked to each other openly about what was happening and contacted their mother. Their father was sentenced to seven years in jail and the kids ended up back in Seattle, where Queen, a promising runner and basketballer in high school, turned down college scholarship opportunities as she battled depression and other demons.
After school, she drifted, smoking too much weed, and struggling to find any direction until one fateful day a friend directed her to Cappy’s Boxing Gym in Seattle’s Central District. All she knew about the sport was one of her uncles used to box, she possessed the athletic ability to adapt to any sport and she had the toughness to take a punch. At 19, she discovered the vocation that would suddenly change the direction of her life.
“I feel a lot of people, when they start boxing, they really don’t know what they want to do or who they want to be or whether they just want to get in shape,” says Underwood. “But I honestly didn’t take on this sport to get in shape; I already knew I wanted to be a famous boxer. It takes a desire to want that. But there is a great reward when you set goals for yourself and you don’t give up. I don’t take too easy to giving up.”
Not that there weren’t bumps on the road. At her first U.S. Nationals in 2006, Underwood didn’t get past the first fight. Thereafter, she rededicated herself, giving up her day job as a pipefitter so she could train and turning into the formidable opponent who fought back from 10-2 down after the first two rounds against Taylor in the 2010 World Championships semi-final before finally losing by just 18-16. It was the type of performance many felt offered evidence Underwood might actually be able to defeat the Bray woman down the road.
“It’s not really about what happened and went on then, it’s what I am doing now,” said Underwood, talking about how she didn’t want her abuse to define her. “It’s how I’m adjusting. Just to know that all types of abuse that I’ve been through and to be a five-time national champion, five years in a row … I just don’t want everything to be all about the bad part. It’s good for me to finally get it out there. My wish: when your young ones hear of Queen Underwood they’ll be able to look up to me as I once looked up to my role models and say… ‘I can.’”
She can. Only Katie Taylor can decide whether she will.