Arsenal were the top scorers in the English Premier League at the weekend, beating second from bottom Blackburn Rovers 7-1 at the Emirates. Robin Van Persie got a hat-trick for The Gunners on a weekend when good football was difficult as several games were played in snowy conditions.
Also in London Irish striker Kevin Doyle got his first goal since October to give Wolves a 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. Doyle’s goal probably saved his manager Mick McCarthy from getting the sack. In midweek Wolves chairman Steve Morgan went into the dressing room to let the players know he wasn’t happy with their performance after their 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool. McCarthy was not impressed with Morgan’s actions and the former Irish manager says he has had clear the air talks with his chairman.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given returned to St James’s Park, Newcastle, for the first time since he left theew to join Manchester City in 2009. Robbie Keane scored again for Aston Villa, but the Birmingham club went down 2-1 to the Geordies. Sunderland keep own winning under Martin O’Neill. On Saturday Derry-born James McClean got the winner as the Black Cats won 1-0 away to Stoke.
Manchester City and Manchester United went into the weekend on 54 apiece atop the table after the former lost Tuesday night (vs. Everton, with Darron Gibson the winner) and the latter won (2-0 vs. Stoke). But City are two points clear again at after they beat Fulham 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, and United drew 3-3 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. The Blues led 3-0 at one stage and it took too two penalties from Wayne Rooney and a late header from Hernandez to get United a share of the points.
In Scotland, Celtic beat Inverness C.T. 2-0 in the 5th round of the Scottish Cup, while Rangers were knocked out, losing 2-0 at home to Dundee United. The 21-year-old Dubliner Gavin Gunning got the Tangerines first goal at Ibrox.
Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni has said that barring injury he will stand by the players who played in the Euro qualifying campaign when he sits down next May to name his squad for the Euro 2012 finals. But I feel that Sunderland’s new sensation James McClean will be named by Trapp in the Irish squad on Friday next for the friendly against the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium on Feb. 29. McClean, who was signed from Derry City by Steve Bruce last August, has really blossomed since Martin O’Neill replaced Bruce as manager of the Black Cats in December. Trapattoni has seen very few Irish players in action with their English clubs, but he recently made a trip to Stamford Bridge to check on the 22 year-old play for Sunderland against Chelsea. McClean, who has played under 21 football for the North, declined a call-up from former Northern Ireland manager Nigel Worthingon last year and said that he wants to play senior football for the Republic. That was a comment that obviously upset up new Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, who asked his former Northern Ireland colleague Martin O’Neill for help. The Sunderland manager spoke to the McClean, but O’Neill said that the player had already made up his mind. The Sunderland boss said: ‘‘It’s very much a personal choice and I’m not in a position to persuade anyone. Michael did ring me and ask me to chat with James. But James had made his mind up and that was the end of it. Players have to make that choice themselves. That choice was not available during my time as a player, so it didn’t affect me.’’
Two current Irish internationals secured transfers on the final day of the English mid-season transfer window last week. Keith Andrews, who had been on loan to Ipswich Town from Blackburn Rovers for most of the season, joined West Bromwich Albion just a few hours before the transfer window closed. On the same day Andy Keogh, the player who scored Ireland’s first goal under Giovanni Trapattoni, joined Milwall from Wolves. Despite travelling to Glasgow for talks with Celtic, Leon Best didn’t complete his proposed move from Newcastle United.
TO VIEW SON’S RACE
John Coghlan, 23-year-old son of Eamon Coghlan, emulated his famous dad when he ran his first-ever sub four minute mile in Boston recently. Eamon, who is now a Senator in the Oireachtas, ran 83 sub-four miles in his career and the “Chairman of the Boards,” who won gold in the 5,000 meters in the World Championships in 1983, will be back in New York on Friday night to see John compete for Dublin City University in the Millrose Games at Armory. The Coghlans are the fifth father and son combination to run sub-four miles, following in the tradition set by the Keinos (Kip and Martin), Blairs (Sam and Sam junior), Browns (Barry and Darren) and the Centrowitzs (Matt and Matt Junior)..
LEEDS TO GIVE
O’BRIEN 2ND CHANCE
More and more prominent Irish people are coming out and admitting that they suffer from depression. Recently best-selling author Marian Keyes confided that she just about managed to complete her latest book, her first in two years, in the periods that she wasn’t suffering from the illness. Now former Irish soccer defender Andy O’Brien had admitted that he also suffers from the dreaded illness. O’Brien was disciplined by Leeds United last November when he refused to play against Burnley. However, it was later discovered that the player was having treatment for depression at the time he refused to play and now Leeds say that they will give O’Brien, who won 26 Irish caps, a second chance. O’Brien resumed training last week. Separately Leeds sacked manager Simon Grayson last week after a run of bad results.
Top Irish National Hunt jockey Tommy Carberry hopes to be fit in time for the big National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham in March. The County Meath-based jockey broke his collar bone last month in a skiing accident. Carberry missed the 2007 Cheltenham Festival after he picked up an injury while out riding with his local hunt.
TO TAKE IT EASY
Golfer Paul McGinley is under doctor’s orders to staggerhis start to the 2012 season. McGinley, who will be playing in his 20th season, has been troubled with a knee injury since November. After a six-week rest and a small procedure on the troublesome knee, McGinley has been advised by his doctor to ease himself into the new season. After playing in the Qatar Masters last week he will take this week off and resume at the Avantha Masters in India on Feb. 16. Paul said: ‘‘I’m disappointed that I can’t play every week because I still have a real desire to play, but I don’t want to go at it hell for leather starting off. The advice I have been given is to have one week on and then one week off.’’
MULRYNE TO TAKE VOWS
When professional soccer players retire most of them tend to stay in the game whether it’s as a coach or manager. So it’s strange to hear of a former footballer who is studying for the priesthood. Philip Mulryne, who won 27 caps for Northern Ireland, is now studying to become a priest at the Irish College in Rome. The 34 year-old Mulryne played for Manchester United’s 1995 FA Youth Cup-winning side and was a team mate of stars like David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. He played a few FA Cup and League Cup games for United, but made only one Premiership appearance before being sold to Norwich City in Feb. 1999. He later played for Cardiff City, Leyton Orient and non-League King’s Lynn before injury ended his career in 2008. Apparently the Belfast man was invited to study to become a priest a few years back by the Bishop of Down and Connor.
GAA REFS ORGANIZE The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) is now officially recognised by the GAA, but the players’ body had difficulty gaining recognition in the early days. Now a group of intercounty referees have taken the first steps towards proper recognition and they have formed the Gaelic Match Officials Association (GMOA). The association was founded by former Tipperary umpire Alan Nash and the interim president is former Antrim referee Ray Matthews, who needed hospital treatment after he was assaulted in a club game in Ballymena last October.
Matthews said: ‘‘An organisation like this is something we have been crying out for because of the politics of refereeing and the fear factor of not getting good matches if referees complain about what has happened to them. It’s not like the GPA because we are about representing all referees, especially club referees. Until we get the whole thing organised and properly set up with democratic elections, I will be hold the position of president.’’
Ten people received bans from the Antrim County Board following the under 21 football game between St Mary’s Rasharkin and Lamh Dearg, but some of the bans were later reduced by the Ulster Council. However, Matthews said more people should have been suspended. ‘‘A neutral witness who was at the game said he couldn’t see me from the amount of people trying to kick me,’’ he said.
Eight Derrytresk players and three from Dromid Pearses have received suspensions varying suspensions and both clubs have been fined following an investigation by the GAA into the ugly scenes that marred the All-Ireland junior club semifinal between the Tyrone and Kerry clubs in Portlaoise recently. Despite calls to have them expelled from the competition, Derrytresk has not been thrown out and they will contest the All-Ireland Junior final against Galway club Clonbur in Croke Park next Sunday. Both clubs are expected to appeal the suspensions and fines.
The New York GAA Minor Board kicks of its season by hosting the Annual Awards Banquet on Feb. 18, at the Polish Center, 92 Waverly Place in Yonkers. This year the guests of honor are Sean McEvoy (St. Barnabas), Collie Mathers (Shannon Gaels) and the James O’Sullivan Award goes to Pat Guerin (Rockland). In addition, the New York Under -14 All-Star and Minor teams will be recognized. The various Championship, League and CYC winners along with the 2011 players of the year in each age group plus the MVPs will also achieve recognition. The John Clarke and John Brady scholarships will be awarded along with three high school and three college scholarships to active Minor Board players.
Sean McEvoy, the youngest of seven, is a native of Crosserlough, Co. Cavan. He received his primary education at St. Mary’s Crosserlough and his secondary at St. Claire’s, Ballyjamesduff. Sean honed his football skills with the famed Crosserlough team, who were once the kingpins of Breffni football, and later with St. Claire’s team. After arriving in the United States in 1980 he linked up with the Cavan team and played for many years with the Breffni Blues. He continues his involvement in sport by being a major sponsor of several teams in all the divisions of Gaelic sports in the Big Apple. During his time in his adopted city, Sean has been mainly involved in the bar trade and currently he is the proprietor of Danny Mac’s along with Dan Curtin. In 1990 he married Julie Carey and now the McEvoys have two children, Sean and Katie, both avid and skilled footballers. Sean junior has won a host of Minor Board medals with the St. Barnabas club, in both hurling and football, while he has also featured on various New York under-age teams. Daughter Katie has come through the ranks of the Gaelic 4 Girls program, progressing to the Feile teams and also winning senior medals with the Cavan Ladies team. In addition the fleet-footed Katie is also an accomplished collegiate track athlete with Marist. Besides his generous sponsorships, Sean senior is a great promoter of darts, golf outings and youth basketball.
Collie Mathers, the second eldest of four boys, was born in Killeavy, Co. Armagh. Collie began his football journey at Cloghugue Primary School and he continued his educational and sporting careers at St. Paul’s, Bessbrook. He played his college football with Newry Technical College, the Down Vocational Schools and the University of Jordanstown, picking up five All-Ireland medals in the process. His under-age football was played with Killeavy as Collie collected a number of championships before lining out with the senior team while still just a 16-year-old. He eventually captained and managed the team before arriving in New York in 1997. On this side of the Atlantic Collie joined the reformed Down team and played with them for six years while also performing the roles of trainer and manager at various times. He also played senior football with Westmeath as well as lining out for the New York All-Stars and picked up a medal when the Big Apple squad beat London in 1998. After playing for 25 years Collie decided to hang up the well-worn boots in 2005 and become involved in the promotion of under-age football in Queens. His experience and expertise have become a great asset for the mushrooming Shannon Gaels club. He has managed and coached numerous teams while also being a very instrumental player in helping the Club acquire and develop a Gaelic field in College Point. Currently Collie is the Chairman of the club.
When it comes to promoting Gaelic games, Collie is far from a one person show. It certainly is a family affair, as Collie is married to Stephanie Rooney, a native of Longstone , Co. Down. The Rooney clan have a very staunch GAA pedigree and Stephanie and Collie have eight children, between the ages of three and fourteen. Seven of the eight are currently playing with Shannon Gaels while Stephanie also coaches and patrols the sidelines with as much fervor, enthusiasm and energy as her husband does. Soccer moms and basketball fathers often complain about their harried schedules of taking a kid or two to practice, perhaps they should consult the Mathers to see how it is done. Without a doubt the Mathers are giving Gaelic Games a great foundation in Queens. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that they eat and sleep football.
Patrick Guerin grew up in the Bronx where he attended Sacred Heart and St. Philip Neri grammar schools. Long before it became popular for students to study overseas Patrick had the opportunity to split his secondary education between Tarbert Comprehensive, Kerry and St. Raymond’s Boys High School in the Bronx. He graduated from Mercy College with a BS in accounting and later obtained his CPA. Patrick has worked in the financial industry for over 20 years and presently works for AVON. He started his Gaelic football with the Celtics playing all the way from under-10 to junior. In addition Patrick had the good fortune of representing New York at all under-age levels. He is also very proud to have donned the famed green and gold of the Kingdom, his parents’ county. Patrick and his wife Sheila moved to Rockland 20 years ago where they still reside with their four children. In Rockland Patrick continued his involvement in Gaelic games, coaching and encouraging his family to play the games of their ancestors, while also becoming immersed in traditional Irish music and step dancing. He is delighted to receive the James O’Sullivan Award, but just wishes he will be able to say that he has done a thimble of the work that “Sonny” and all the founding members of the Minor Board did in the origins of this special family.
So with a very notable slate of honorees coupled with an array of the Gaelic stars of the future, this promises to be a banner event. The Minor Board continues to be a very bright light on the Big Apple Gaelic sporting landscape as it continues to expand. Currently there are fifteen affiliated teams with Setanta the last one to join the fold. So to ensure your spot at the banquet table call Roger Slattery at 917-574-6759 or Denis Twomey at 347-680-0380, the dinner dance chairmen.
KENNY EGAN, the Olympic silver medalist from Beijing, will not be going to the 2012 event in London this summer after losing to teenager Joe Ward in the Irish light heavyweight final.
The 18-year-old Ward proved much too strong for the 30-year-old Egan at a packed National Stadum, winning by 29-10. An astonishing margin given Egan’s record.
When Ward scored an upset victory over Egan in last year’s national championship, it was argued that the Olympic silver medalist wasn’t properly prepared. This time around, it was felt that he was in far better shape.
But he could do little against the strength and punching power of Ward. Egan had to take a standing count in the second round and by the third round had little to offer.
To Egan’s credit, however, he paid tribute to his talented young Moate opponent. He said: “The best of luck to him [Ward] in the qualifiers. If he qualifies, I’m going to put a couple of grand on him to win a medal.”
IT hasn’t taken Dublin long to realize that they are going to have to work incredibly hard to repeat last season’s All-Ireland winning achievements.
Watched by a crowd of 45, 836 in their opening National League encounter against Kerry at Croke Park on Saturday night, they went down to a 0-11 to 1-14 defeat. Kerry’s determination to exact some small revenge for their All-Ireland defeat saw them gain what was a very comfortable victory.
It is, of course, only the start of the season and Dublin will improve but the match did serve to show the reigning All-Ireland champions that it can be very tough to deliver for a second successive year. There were some excuses in that they were missing the Brogan brothers Bernard and Alan, but manager Pat Gilroy was the first to admit that they weren’t good enough.
“Our effort in the second half wasn’t what it should have been,” he agreed. “Our use of the ball at times was terrible.
“There were unforced errors and that really knocked the stuffing out of us. Also, Kerry were completely on top in the middle of the field in the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
“There’s no question, they were the better team. We have got to make that ground up,” he added.
Kerry, by comparison, were much happier. Manager Jack O’Connor was entitled to feel pleased, particularly as the victory was achieved without Colm “Gouch” Cooper. He said: All of the young lads played well. They were not in any way overawed by the occasion ñ in fact, they relished it.”
The best player on the field, however, was Kerry’s veteran defender Tomas O Se. Bryan Sheehan also made a big impact in midfield, while the Daran O’Sullivan were well supported in attack by young corner forwards Barry John Keane and James O’Donoghue.
Dublin were only really in contention in the first half, at end of which they trailed 0-7 to 0-5. Kerry subsequently took complete control and would have had a much bigger winning margin had it not been for 17 wides.
As it was, Sheehan finished with 0-5, five from frees, while Darran O’Sullivan got their goal and Keane contributed 0-3. Tomas Quinn was the top scorer for a disappointing Dublin, scoring 0-4, three of which were from frees.
Elsewhere in Division One, Armagh secured a surprise 0-10 to 1-7 draw with the defending champions at the Athletic Grounds. But Cork didn’t help themselves by having Paul Kerrigan red carded and subsequently playing the second half with 14 men.
Cork manager Conor Counihan didn’t offer an opinion about the straight red card. What he did say was that he was “reasonably happy” given the situation his team found themselves in during the second half.
At the time of the sending off, Cork were 1-3 to 0-1 up and seemingly well in control. But Armagh gradually grew in confidence and, in the end, could have snatched it.
They relied on a point from Andy Mallon three minutes from the end to get the draw but top scorer Eugene McVerry (0-4) then saw a free drift wide.
Elsewhere, Down won an entertaining encounter by 1-10 to 1-9 against Ulster rivals Donegal at Newry. In a game which could have gone either way.
Liam Doyle’s accuracy proved the difference with the Down man getting an all-important goal and finishing with 1-4. Substitute Martin McElhinney gave Donegal a second half lead with a goal but a Doyle inspired Down did enough to hit back and secure victory.
Mayo started their campaign with a 1-11 to 0-8 away success over Laois. Conor Mortimer (0-5) and alan Freeman (1-2) were significant contributors.
The big game in Division Two saw Tyrone beat Kildare by 2-11 to 0-12 in the first match at Croke Park on Saturday night. It was an impressive effort which argues well for the prospects of Mickey Harte’s new-look outfit.
The difference was Tyrone’s ability to put away two goal chances through the impressive Peter Harte and Martin Penrose while Kildare wasted their goalscoring opportunities. “We owed ourselves a good league start. In recent years we’ve put ourselves under a lot of pressure by losing our first few games,” stressed Mickey Harte.
Mick Conway did well to contribute six points for Kildare but manager Kieran McGeeney was quite right in his assessment that they missed too many goalscoring chances.
Elsewhere in the Division, Stephen Bray spearheaded Meath’s 1-15 to 1-9 victory over Monaghan, scoring six points, while Galway’s young side got the better of Derry by 1-15 to 1-11 at Celtic Park. The final game saw Louth prove too good for Westmeath, winning by 0-12 to 1-6.
Wexford, Roscommon, Antrim and Longford all made winning starts in Division Three. Wexford beat Cavan (4-9 to 1-13), Roscommon defeated Tipperary (1-12 to 0-12), Antrim edged out Sligo (0-13 to 0-12), and Longford got the better of Offaly (2-15 to 0-8).
Division Four saw Clare, Wickow and Limerick start with victories. Clare beat Waterford (1-17 to 0-12), Wickow trounced Kilkenny (3-25 to 1-1) while Limerick got the better of Leitrim (1-9 to 0-9).
On the hurling front, Galway and Kilkenny qualified for the Walsh Cup final, beating Laoise and Westmeath respectively in the semi-finals. Galway succeeded by 2-19 to 0-11, with Kilkenny getting the better of Westmeath by 1-23 to 1-16.
IRELAND could so easily have blamed some highly controversial decisions on the part of the English match officials for their 23-21 opening Six Nations Championship defeat by Wales at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Without doubt, the visiting forward Bradley Davies should have received a red card for a dangerous second-half spear tackle on Donnacha Ryan. Instead, the second-row only received a yellow card after referee Wayne Barnes consulted with touch judge Dave Pearson .
To add fuel to the situation, Barnes then controversially awarded Wales what proved to be the match-winning penalty in final minute. He deemed that Stephen Ferris’s tackle on Ian Evans was dangerous.
But, to most people’s minds, it was the earlier decision was an extremely harsh call. Even Warren Gatland, the Welsh coach, admitted that Davies was lucky not to have received a red card.
For all that, there’s the undeniable fact that, on the balance of play, Wales deserved their victory. Yet, the Irish team and fans left the Aviva Stadium deeply frustrated, not only due to the bad decisions on the part of the officials but also because Ireland blew a great chance of victory.
It would not have mattered too much that they were a long way short of their best. The important thing was to get the win that would have provided some impetus for the Six Nations campaign.
Instead, Ireland must travel to Paris to face World Cup runners-up France this Saturday night, with the prospect of two consecutive defeats in their opening matches. Last Sunday’s events appears to have destroyed Ireland’s Six Nations ambitions.
At least there was a realization in the Irish camp that there’s no point in blaming everything on the officials. Even allowing for those decisions, Ireland were totally in charge of their own destiny as the game entered the closing stages.
Ahead 21-15 with seven minutes remaining, Ireland decided that Johnny Sexton should take a kick at goal from just inside his own half. Many would have felt that the correct decision was to kick into the corner and keep the pressure on the Welsh.
Either way, Ireland did regain possession after Sexton’s attempt went wide. Paul O’Connell brilliantly secured the ball from the drop out only for Ireland then to be penalized after Sean OíBrien found himself isolated.
That, to my mind, was the winning and losing of the match. At that point, with five minutes remaining, Ireland only had to keep possession to make certain of victory.
To give Wales their due, they seized their opportunity. Initially, their powerful wing George North got over for a try before Leigh Halfpenny kicked the winning penalty in the final minute.
Of course, Halfpenny was given that chance by a highly questionable refereeing decision. But the point must also be made that Wales had moved, or were moving to a position, where they could have easily landed a match-winning drop goal.
As skipper Paul OíConnell stated afterwards: “We had put ourselves in with a great chance of winning. We had a bit of work to do to see that game out, and we didn’t do it.”
Coach Declan Kidney is always going to choose his words carefully. Typically, he refused to comment on the referee’s decisions, preferring instead to concentrate on what Ireland can do better for the French match.
And the answer to that is an awful lot. “I know we are a lot better than that,” insisted Kidney. “We have buckets of work to do and six days to do it.”
“We had to defend for 60 percent plus of the game and, if you do that, you are in trouble,” That’s exactly what happened as Wales ran in three tries to Ireland’s two.
Unfortunately, they were helped by some poor tackling on the part of the Irish team. Somehow though, Ireland managed to lead 13-5 at half time, despite the fact that Wales had dominated possession.
They led 3-0 with an early Sexton penalty before Wales deservedly went in front through Jonathan Davies’s first try. That’s how it stayed until Ireland produced their best move of the game, with Tommy Bowe sending hooker Rory Best in for a try.
Sexton’s conversion made it 10-5 and the same player then added a penalty to give Ireland their 13-5 interval advantage. But Wales came roaring back with a penalty from Halfpenny before the hugely impressive North powering through a suspect Irish defence to set up Jonathan Davies for his second try.
Halfpenny’s conversion made it 15-13 in the visiting team’s favor, only for Sexton to regain his goalkicking touch to pick a penalty and leave Ireland 16-15 in front. Thatís when the controversy started with the decision 20 minutes from time not to send off Bradley Davies for a blatant spear tackle.
Still, Wales were down to 14 men for 10 minutes because of the yellow card, and Ireland did initially take advantage with full-back Rob Kearney sending Bowe over for a try in the corner and Sexton then adding a penalty.
At 21-15 that should have been that but sadly they just could not go through with their effort. Okay, the decision to penalize Ferris and yellow card him was very harsh but, in truth, Ireland should never have found themselves in that position.
The GAA come in for criticism every summer when the football championship gets under way without any high profile game to capture the public’s imagination. No such problems in the National League in recent years as the All-Ireland champions were normally involved in a high profile game on the opening weekend. This year will have a high-profile double header at Croke Park to kick start the Allianz National Football league. Division two teams Tyrone and Kildare meet at 5 p.m. and then at 7.15 p.m. we will have a repeat of the 2011 All-Ireland final when Dublin play Kerry. Kildare are looking good this year and with Dermot Earley and Hugh Lynch both due back from long-term injuries in March the Lillies should be serious challengers for the All-Ireland this year. There has been much talk about Seánie Johnston transferring from Cavan to Kildare, but at the time of writing the talented forward hadn’t secured a transfer from Cavan Gaels to the St Kevin’s club in Staplestown, but Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney has said that newcomers would be welcome in his squad. In Cavan, Johnston was a one-man show and he will have to become more of a team player if he joins Kildare, where he could be the final link in the team being built by McGeeney.
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte is also re-building after Brian Dooher, Brian McGuigan, Philip Jordan, Enda McGinley and Ciarán Gourly all retired. But there is plenty of talent coming through from the minor ranks in Tyrone and for their recent Dr. McKenna Cup semifinal against Fermanagh, Harte included eight players under the age of 22. As usual Tyrone will be hard to beat, but I think Kildare are looking very good at this early stage of the year.
Meanwhile Dublin will be short several regulars against Kerry. The Brogan brothers Alan and Bernard are both unavailable, as are Paul Griffin, Denis Bastic and Barry Cahill and Kevin Nolan. So this game will give manager Pat Gilroy an opportunity to judge the strength of his extended panel. Kerry didn’t play in the McGrath Cup in Munster and apart from a game against Dr. Crokes we don’t known how they are going. But no doubt manager Jack O’Connor will be trying to avenge that All-Ireland final defeat. Tommy Griffin is the only one of the of the Kerry squad from last year who has retired, so we should see some familiar faces in the green and gold on Saturday night although O’Connor is unlikely to call on the Dr. Crokes trio of Colm Cooper, Eoin Brosnan and Kieran O’Leary as the Killarney club prepare for their All-Ireland club semifinal against Crossmaglen Rangers in two weeks.
This is the first of the GAA’s Spring Series, which worked well last year with two games and a musical act in between. The latter on Saturday night is a Limerick duo called the Rubberbandits, who wear platic bags over their faces when performing (they will be appearing in New York in March).
Elsewhere on Saturday night in division one, Laois are home to Mayo and Down play Donegal in Newry. On Sunday in division one reigning League champions Cork travel to play Armagh and new Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan should get off to a winning start when he takes the Erne men to Ruislip to play London in a division four fixture. Kilkenny who didn’t field a team in the O’Byrne Cup, have confirmed that they will play in the League and they will be at home to Wicklow in division four on Sunday.
IT’S PAYBACK TIME VS. WALES
Irish rugby coach Declan Kidney is a conservative, modest man and when Ireland win he is never one to show his emotions in public. After much success with Munster Kidney got the Irish job in 2008 and led Ireland to the Grand Slam in 2009. That success was not repeated in the Six Nations Championship in 2010 or last year. In September Ireland went to the Rugby World Cup on a downer after a few below par performances in the warm up games. But morale was lifted with a win over the U.S. and then there was that historic win over the Aussies which gave Irish fans at home and abroad a massive lift. But we were brought back to down earth when Wales beat us 22-10 in the quarterfinal in Wellington on Oct. 8. Now four months on it’s time for revenge when Wales visit the Aviva Stadium for our opening game in this season’s Six Nations championship. It will be Wales’ first visit to the new Ballsbridge arena.
Among the people who claim that Kidney has been conservative in his squad selection is Ulster coach Brian McLaughlin. However, Kidney has called up six uncapped players and if any of them impress at a training camp in Limerick, they could make the Six Nations squad. Apart from the glory of winning the Six Nations a few of the national coaches will be hoping to improve their own CV and the honor of leading the Lions in 2013.
Warren Gatland has recalled Gavin Henson to the Welsh squad. Henson, who is famous for having one of the best fake tans in rugby, has been troubled with injury and has not played in the Six Nations since 2009. Also Michael Kearney takes over from Paul McNaughton as Irish team manager, but in rugby the team manager’s job is more of a logistical role and coach Kidney plus his backs and forwards coaches the shots.
MUNSTER, ULSTER PLAY EASTER SUNDAY
The much anticipated all-Irish Heineken Cup quarterfinal clash between Munster and Ulster will be played at Thomond Park, Limerick on Easter Sunday with a 1.45 p.m. kick-off. Leinster’s quarterfinal tie against Cardiff goes ahead at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Easter Saturday, with a 5.45 p.m. kick-off. It promises to be a fantastic weekend of rugby and with the winners of those games kept apart in the semifinals, we could yet see the first-ever all-Irish Heineken Cup final.
PLAYERS TO WEAR SOS LOGO
Suicide is a major problem in Ireland right now, especially among young males. In an effort to raise further awareness of the mental health problems, Vodafone has agreed to vacate its jersey sponsorship of the Dublin hurlers and footballers for the opening games in the hurling and football National Leagues. On Saturday night the Dublin footballers will wear jerseys with the Suicide or Survive Charity logo as will the Dubs hurling the following week against Galway. This will be the first time a jersey logo will be handed over by a sponsor to a charity for competitive intercounty games.
EAGER IS LIMERICK’S BOSS Ladies football has become very popular in recent years, but most of the intercounty teams are managed by men. Limerick has now broken with tradition and they have appointed Kerry-born Ann Eager as their new manager. Eager takes over from former Limerick footballer Tommy Stack. Eager is an experienced coach, having being in charge of a number of club teams over the last few years, while she is also a former PRO of the Kerry Ladies board.
NORTH AIM TO BREAK SOUTH DOMINANCE
Linfield won the inaugural Setanta Sports Cup in 2005, but since then League of Ireland clubs have dominated the All-Ireland competition and the last two finals have been contested by clubs from the premier division of the League of Ireland. The League of Ireland winners have been: Drogheda (twice), Cork City, Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers. The draw was made last week for the first round of the 2012 Setanta Sports Cup and the pairings are: Bray Wanderers v Glentoran, Bohemians v Portadown, Lisburn Distillery v Derry City and Cliftonville v St Patrick’s Athletic. The ties will be played on Feb. 13 and Feb. 20. The draw for the quarterfinals will be made on Feb. 20 when the four seeded clubs: Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Linfield and Crusaders, will enter the draw. The final is fixed for May 12 and it will be played in the North if an Irish League team is involved.
Providence College senior David McCarthy exceeded his own personal best in the indoor mile by two seconds in winning that event at the Terrier Invitational in Boston on Saturday. McCarthy, who hails from Waterford, broke the tape in 3:55.75. That mark also betters the NCAA qualifying standard by two seconds, establishes new records for both the school and all New England collegians, and ranks as the best in the country thus far this season.
Teammate Shane Quinn got 10th place in the 3,000 meters at the Terrier. He finished in 8:06.3 in a race won in 7:54.59 by Iona’s Leonard Korir. Quinn, like McCarthy, is a Waterford resident.
Ursinus dropped two games last week, despite strong performances down low from freshman Jermaine Kamara. The Corkman pulled down 17 rebounds and scored 14 points in Wednesday’s 73-66 loss to Washington (Md.). He took 11 of those caroms off the defensive glass and the six he claimed off the offensive window matched the team high for anybody on the opposition. He also redirected three Washington shots. Going the other way, he scored his points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field and he was perfect on six free throws.
Ursinus then fell to 7-12 overall and 6-6 in the Centennial Conference with Saturday’s 84-56 road loss to Dickinson. Kamara managed a game-high 13 rebounds and scored six points, shooting 2-for-5 from the floor and 2-for-4 from the foul line.
Dara McKeon had an all-around solid game as he and his Drew mates defeated Susquehanna, 67-56, in Madison, N.J. on Saturday. A senior forward from Dunboyne, Co. Meath, McKeon scored eight points on 4-for-9 shooting, with five rebounds and four assists. Drew is now 4-15 overall and 2-6 in the Landmark Conference.
Neil Randolph hit three of four shots from outside the 3-point perimeter to provide Elmira College with nine points in Friday’s 65-52 home loss to St. John Fisher. The Soaring Eagles then dropped to 0-19 on the season on Saturday, when they came out on the short side of a 90-78 verdict to visiting Nazareth. Randolph scored eight points on 3-for-5 shooting from the floor, including 1-for-2 from long range, and 1-for-2 from the foul line. A freshman from Co. Wicklow, Randolph also had four rebounds in the Nazareth loss.
Fionnaula Toner shot 50 percent from the field, making four of eight shots, for eight points in MacMurray College’s 69-35 road loss to Eureka on Wednesday. Toner, a senior from Belfast, also had a team-high three steals. The Highlanders then returned home, where they lost, 69-47, to Fontbonne on Saturday. Toner put six points on the scoreboard on 2-for-4 shooting from the floor and 2-for-5 from the foul line. She also recorded three assists and two steals. MacMurray is now 6-10.
Orla O’Reilly scored nearly half her team’s points in a defensive struggle as Binghamton lost, 37-36, in Vestal, N.Y. on Wednesday. O’Reilly netted 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the floor, including 2-for-6 from bonus territory, and 2-for-2 from the foul line. She played every minute of the game, as did her sister Sinead, who pulled down nine rebounds and cashed on one of three field goal attempts for two points. The O’Reillys are both seniors from Cork. The Bearcats are 10-12 overall and 4-5 in America East play.
Yale swept Brown, 9-0, in Providence, R.I. on Tuesday. Senior John Roberts manned the 4 spot, where he defeated William Bryan, 3-0 (11-5, 11-3, 11-5). Sophomore Neil Martin knocked off John Eric Oberbeck, 3-0 (11-7, 11-9, 11-3), at the 6 position, while freshman Joseph Roberts also pulled off a 3-0 (11-5, 11-4, 11-6) victory over Charles Lebovitz at no. 8. The trio hail from Belfast.
Kiaran McLaughlin had a big day at Aqueduct on Saturday, winning three races, including one of the two stakes races on the card. The Evening Attire Stakes was run as the third race on the program and Fitriani Hay’s Redding Colliery led all the way to post a 2-length victory over I Want Revenge, the odds-on favorite. The winner, ridden by Alan Garcia, returned a $6.90 win mutuel.
Darley Stable’s Side Road, a 3-year-old colt, finally put it together in the fifth race, breaking his maiden in his fourth career start. Mike Luzzi was along for the 4-length victory that returned $11.60 to win. Shadwell Stable’s late-developing Ghaaleb then made it 2-for-3 when he won the ninth race, a first-level allowance at a mile around two turns. He paid $7.30 to win. Garcia had the mount.
Naoise Agnew came away a winner after Saturday’s sixth race, a restricted claimer at a mile, at Laurel. His More Mayhem, which he trains, battled the entire trip with Wheresmokethrsfire, and prevailed by a nose over that rival. Juan Rios rode More Mayhem, which was bred in Kentucky by Moyglare Stud. Agnew picked up an additional $7,500 when rival trainer Hugh McMahon claimed the 4-year-old gelding. The win mutuel was $4.20.
The third time proved to be a charm, as did the first and second times, where Cathal Lynch and Bellezza Rosso are concerned. The Derryman is on his third go-round with the 4-year-old filly, winner of Sunday’s fourth race, a 2-turn starter allowance, at Parx. She’s been claimed from him twice before and he’s thought highly enough of her to claim her back twice. Angel Arroyo had the seat on Bellezza Rosso, which is now owned by Earl Daniels and George Scotland. She paid $4.00 to win.
Hog’s Hollow left no doubt who was best in Friday’s second race at Santa Anita. The Pat Gallagher trainee led this second-level allowance race at 10 furlongs on the grass from flagfall to finish, reaching the wire in front by almost four lengths with Rafael Bejarano aboard. Derrick Fisher’s homebred 6-year-old gelding likes to go long – his previous wins came at nine and 11 furlongs. He paid $14.60 in winning this race.
Tugger’s Light didn’t really fit into Eddie Kenneally’s plans, so he offloaded the 3-year-old gelding onto Jimmy Corrigan. The latter got a maiden win out of Tugger’s Light in Saturday’s first race at Turfway Park, the fourth career start for the winner. Tugger’s Light moved up with a flourish on the far turn and led the field to the wire, winning by one and one-half lengths with Victor Lebron in the saddle for a $4.60 win mutuel.
James Graham remains in the thick of the jockeys’ race at Fair Grounds. The Dublin native won two races on both Friday and Sunday to boost his meet total to 50. He trails only Rosie Napravnik, the reigning queen of New Orleans, who has 62.
Graham won Friday’s first race on Sterling Madame ($4.40 to win) and got the second in the seventh race on Wheemaway ($4.60). Purple Barbie ($5.60) got him home on top in Sunday’s second race and he came right back in the third aboard Bergman ($6.40).
Do the math. It doesn’t lie. Going to press Arsenal and Newcastle are 18 points behind Manchester City with 16 games left. Basically that means City have to lose 6 games while the Gunners and Toon likely have to win all remaining matches. And on that note with 19 points adrift it’s safe to also write Liverpool off to win the EPL title.
Chelsea can also be considered a reach to win the league. When they beat City 2-1 on Dec. 12 all agreed they would contend. Then 4 ties and a loss in the next 7 games leaving them 13 points behind City all but ended Chelsea’s title hopes. City (leading by three points and a 9-point superior goal difference), Manchester United and Tottenham, would have to collapse for Chelsea to have a chance, and so the latter is highly unlikely. So, what’s in store for the table toppers in the next handful of games through February and into early March?
If there is one thing the Blues do have going for them it’s the February and early March schedule. It begins this weekend with home advantage at the Bridge over Manchester United. New Blues boss Andre Villas-Boas knows this is the biggest game since he arrived in London. If Boas wins this one then his Blues can fancy their chances to stay in the hunt for a top-3 spot with games against Everton away, Bolton at home, West Brom away and Stoke at home.
Chelsea can close the gap at least on United and Spurs. Their biggest challenge will be to collect 3 points apiece over Bolton and West Brom, as failing against the bottom-half teams has continued to hurt them.
Chelsea’s hopes are also based on comparing their next 5 games to Spurs. It’s like night and day. Tottenham have it all to do to sustain their attempt to challenge City. The away fixtures of Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton are tough roads to travel. Liverpool do not lose at Anfield while Arsenal is the most unpredictable team in the league. On certain days the Gunners can still be invincible. Tottenham’s home games are even tougher against Manchester United and high flying Newcastle.
Poor old Harry Redknapp is having such a hard time in court these days: ‘Arry is battling bad tax raps. He claims he’s a giver not a taker and that he’s a bad businessman man. It’s a lot of pressure that Tottenham don’t need over the next 5 games. Business must be taken care off at the Lane’s ground not in the court and a lack of focus will certainly take Spurs out of the race.
Alex Ferguson is known for his famous comment, “Squeezy Bum Time.” Well it looks like the squeeze is ahead of its time. Like Spurs, United will be tested in the next month as try to keep the pressure on their neighbors, City. Chelsea away and Liverpool at home are two massive hurdles to get over to stay in the race. While United may close the gap when they play Norwich on the road, another big hurdle is around the corner at White Harte Lane. These back-to-back road games will hurt United taking them out of their comfort zone.
Every game has become a challenge for United as the fear factor has gone from opponents. Finally United seem beatable and that includes games at Old Trafford. Bringing back Paul Scholes was a step backwards for United. Now everybody knows just how brilliant Roy Keane was for Utd. It’s a void Ferguson has found next to impossible to fill for both Keano the player and the man.
Make no mistake about it, it’s Manchester City’s league to lose. And while nobody in their right mind would write off Fergie’s United even the Old Trafford legend would admit that City’s schedule can open up a bigger gap. Fulham, Villa, Blackburn, Bolton and Swansea are certainly preferred games that the top teams would rather. While the chasing pack can potentially knock each other out of the race City can cruise ahead into the spring season.
Roberto Mancini continues to speak up about injustices against his team and all the while his side manage to win games, at least in the league they do. He’s clever enough with the media, meanwhile taking away any nonsense that could have a negative impact on his players. Mancini managed to stay out of the circus surrounding Carlos Tevez who in the end may stay at Maine Road. Go figure. Mancini is also managing Mario Balotelli really well, though the star is currently banned for violent conduct. Good management of his superstars has allowed Mancini to bring his team together, another factor to keep an eye on throughout