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3-goal blitz secure title for Donegal

POSTED ON September 19th  - POSTED IN Sport

Donegal captured the intermediate title with a superb second half display as a three goal blitz rocked the Rangers. Once again their weapons of destruction were principally Justin Burke who hit for 1-6 and James Moynagh who had a tally of 2-3.

However the overall firepower and superior fitness of the Donegal team were telling factors as they left the Rangers in their wake in the second half.  Rangers started well but their early attacks fell short of the mark.

Justin Burke opened the scoring with a goal after he converted a fine cross-field ball from Tommy Moran. Rangers were undaunted by the major strike and by the sixth minute they had wiped out the deficit with four points as Shane Horan, Ronan Caffrey and Dan Lehane hit the target. However Donegal responded with the next three points to lead by 1-3 to 0-5 midway in the period. Donegal continued to edge ahead though the strong running of Shane Horan and the support play Of Liam Hanley kept the Rangers on their tails. Donegal lead by 1-7 to 0-7 at the break as the Rangers wasted a good scoring opportunity right at the buzzer.

Both sides traded points on the resumption, but a goal on ten minutes had the sides level as a defense splitting move involving Hanley, Horan and Kevin Daly ended with Caffrey blasting the ball to the net. Rangers appeared to have the momentum as a foul on Daly ended with a Horan point and the lead. However the lead was short-lived as Moynagh was perfectly placed to finish the ball to the net after Mickey Annette and CJ Molloy set up the chance midway in the period. Burke and Caffrey sandwiched in points before this duo, Molloy and Annette combined well again for the latter to fire to the net. Donegal were now at full throttle as they bore down on the Ranger goal. Moynagh and substitute Vinny Gavin plus Sean Reilly hit the target.

Sporadic attacks from Rangers led to pointed frees from Horan, but Niall McMahon, PJ Flanagan and John Fitzgerald were giving little away at the back. Moynagh did add another goal to his impressive stats but at this stage the game was over as a contest. Donegal had plenty of depth in their ranks as was well illustrated by the return of Eamon Gunn to the team and the introduction of Vinnie Gavin.

Celtics will have to be content with their knockout title as they were well beaten in this game though O’Dwyer, Hanley, Horan, Caffrey, Jusifi and Caffrey certainly gave it their best shot.

 

Donegal: Brian Cullinan, Niall McMahon, John Fitzgerald, Ramie Kane, PJ Flanagan(capt), Conor Classon, Peter McNeilis, Alan Molloy, Eamon Gunn, Mickey Annette(1-0), Sean Reilly(0-1), Justin Burke(1-6), Tommy Moran, CJ Molloy(0-1), James Moynagh(2-3). Subs. Vinny Gavin(0-1), Mike Molloy, Kieran Tavey Ciaran Slattery, Brian Sweeney, Daniel Madden, Kevin Purce, Sean McGivney, Liam Deane, Simon Gillespie, Del Ferriera, Brendan Grant, Jack Donnelly

Rangers: Mike Sheridan, Mal McHugh, Donnacha O’Dwyer, Alan Carr, Ben Logan, Liam Hanley(0-1), Derek Courtney, Dan Lehane(0-1), Brian Hanamy, Kevin Daly, Shane Horan(0-6), Conor Hunter, Ronan Caffrey(1-4), Steven O’Shea, Adrian Jusifi. Subs. Sean Moynihan, Patrick O’Driscoll, John Power, Mike McCarthy, Lawrence Kennedy, Phil Kennedy, Mike Bishop, Kieran Moran, Roy Henley, Bernard Madden, Dean Murphy. Referee Alan Hearty, Man of the Match Justin Burke.

Dubs displace Cork as favorites after draw

POSTED ON August 6th  - POSTED IN Sport

DUBLIN have been made favorites to retain their All-Ireland Senior Football Championship crown after a weekend which saw Kerry, Down, Kildare and Laois qualify for the quarter-finals.

It was the quarter-final draw made following Saturday’s round four qualifiers which saw the Dubs overtake Cork as the favorites. Dublin have been drawn against Laois with their three main rivals Cork,  Donegal and Kerry all in the other half of the draw.

The full quarterfinal draw is: next Saturday, Aug. 4, Mayo vs. Down, 5 p.m. and Dublin vs. Laois, 7 p.m.; Sunday, Aug. 5, Cork vs. Kildare, 2 p.m. and Donegal v Kerry, 4 p.m. All games will be played at Croke Park.

Should they overcome Laois,  Dublin will face the winners of Mayo and Down. So, they will undoubtedly be favourites to make their second successive All-Ireland final.

The situaiton in the bottom half is far harder to predict with Donegal and Kerry meeing in what is bound to be an immense tussle. While Cork will start favourites in the remaining match, they cannot afford to underestimate Kildare.

Meanwhile, the only surprise from last Saturday’s qualifiers was Laois’s 1-15 to 1-12 success over Meath at O’Connor Park in Tullamore. Elsewhere, Kerry demolished Clare 2-22 to 1-6, Kildare trounced Sligo 0-13 to 0-4 and Down beat Tipperary 1-13 to 0-11.

In beating Tipperary, Down became only the second side since Dublin to win after a six-day turnaround. Meath could attempt to use that as an excuse for the defeat to Laois but, in truth, they would only be fooling themselves.

While the six-day turnaround obviously didn’t help, the reason that Meath lost is a complete lack of consistency. They have been up and down throughout their campaign and this was one of their down days.

Credit to Laois who have made the quarter-finals for the first time in six years. They effectively made certain of victory with a fine first half performance and looked set for a comfortable victory when 1-12 to 0-5 in front after 38 minutes.

Meath did manage a rally to get within three points but their goal from Peadar Byrne in the 68th minute came too late to change the outcome. Meath look have to look back on the performance earlier in the game when, frustratingly, they gave away a silly penalty.

Ross Munnelly took  full advantage to put his shot into the corner. He finished as top scorer with 1-4 in a decent Laois display.

But manager Justin McNulty is fully conscious that they will have to move up a number of gears to have any hope against Dublin. His opposite number Meath boss Seamus McEnaney confirmed that he expects to make an announcement concerning his future before the end of the week.

Having seen off Tyrone the previous week,  Kerry took Clare apart at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick. The only problem was that Paul Galvin stupidly got himself sent off for a second yellow card in the 49th minute and will now miss the quarter-final against Donegal.

He could have no complaints as his second offence was a dangerous head high tackle.  There was absolutely no need as Kerry dominated throughout against a Clare side that never got going.

Colm Cooper (1-4) was outstanding, while Tomas O Se marked his record 82nd appearance with a useful display. But the the performance of the emerging James O’Donoghue (1-3) at corner-forward was perhaps the biggest bonus for manager Jack O’Connor.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s quarter-final against Donegal, O’Connor commented: “I had a sneaking feeling we were going to get them. It will be a great challenge for us as Jim McGuinness has a fantastic system going there at the moment.”

Kildare also have a tough quarter-final to look forward to against Cork.  At least though, they were much more like their normal selves in beating Sligo by 0-13 to 0-4.

There had been talk during the week that the Hyde Park venue suited the Connacht side but Kildare need not have worried. Sligo were pretty dismal on the day.

Kildare, by contrast, gave a workmanlike performance, particularly when they were playing into the wind in the second half. Eoghan O’Flaherty was their top scorer with 0-4, all from frees.

McGeeney, predictably, is playing up the strength of Cork, describing them as the favorites to win the All-Ireland. “We’re up against it, but that’s why you compete. That’s why we love it so much.”

Down had to work considerably harder for their five point (1-13 to 0-11) victory over Tipperary  at Mullingar but there’s no doubt that they deserved their victory. The key moment arrived at the end of the first half when Benny Coulter scored the only goal of the game.

It was fortunate in the sense the ball broke well for Down after a shot from Kevin Duffin had come back off the crossbar. The goal gave the Ulster side a 1-6 to 0-4 interval lead.

That was extended to 1-11 to 0-7  before Tipperary managed a rally which brought them to within a goal six minutes from time. Down, however, regained their composure with a point from man-of-the-match Ambrose Rodgers to finish deserved winners.

Manager James McCartan was well pleased, stating: Everyone was tipping this as the shock of the weekend but we were determined that this wasn’t going to be the case.”

Key veterans excluded from Republic squad

POSTED ON August 2nd  - POSTED IN Sport

After a dismal performance at Euro 2012 Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni said changes would be made for the World Cup campaign. And the Italian has lived up to his promise, “resting” four of his senior players for the friendly against Serbia in Belgrade on Aug. 15. Shay Given (125 caps), Richard Dunne (76), Robbie Keane (120) and Damien Duff (100) have all been left out. Whether they will ever return only Trap knows. Also out is Keith Andrews who was our best player at the Euro finals; excluded as he is suspended for our opening World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan in Astana on Sept. 7. Trap has included just one uncapped player in the squad,  goalkeeper Darron Randolph, but has recalled: Marc Wilson, James McCarthy, Seamus Coleman, Keith Tracey and Andy Keogh, the player who scored against Serbia at Croke Park in May 2008, Trap’s first game in charge. Kevin Foley, who was dropped from the Euro 2012 squad at the Irish team’s training camp in Italy, was invited back by the manager, but said he has not yet made up his mind if he wants to play international football again.

 

O’DRISCOLL TO LEAD

NOTTINGHAM FOREST

Roy Keane will not be returning to manage his former club Nottingham Forest. Last week Keane’s agent Michael Kennedy dropped a broad hint when he said that the Corkman would be interested in the job, if asked. Earlier Forest’s new Kuwaiti owners had spoken to another out of work Irish manager Mick McCarthy. But the job went to a lesser known former Irish international in Seán O’Driscoll.  The 55-year-old Wolverhampton native, who won three caps in 1982 and ‘83 under Eoin Hand’s reign, has served his managerial apprenticeship in the lower divisions in England with Bournemouth, Doncaster and Crawley and he coached at Forest last season when Steve Cotterill was in charge.

FANS EXPECT CATS

TO BOUNCE BACK

It’s beginning to look like winning the Munster senior hurling championship might have been a poisoned chalice for Tipperary.  They will probably face Kilkenny in the All-Ireland semifinal and nobody wants to face the “scalded cats” right now. On Sunday next in Thurles Kilkenny, who were shocked by Galway in the Leinster final, take on Limerick in the All-Ireland quarterfinal. And with the winners due to play Tipperary in the All-Ireland semifinal we are certain to have a new pairing in this year’s final on Sept 9. Kilkenny and Tipperary have contested the last three All-Ireland hurling finals. Limerick, who put up a good performance against Tipperary in the Munster championship quarterfinal, have done well via the back door route, notching up big scores against Antrim and Laois and then beating neighbours Clare in the third round. But every hurling fan is expecting Kilkenny to bounce back from that shock Leinster final defeat to Galway and Limerick could feel the brunt of the Cats anger on Sunday. The other quarterfinal at Semple Stadium on Sunday sees Waterford, the beaten Munster finalists, take on Cork. Jimmy Barry Murphy, the Cork manager has introduced several young players to championship hurling this year and veterans like Seán Og O hAilpin and John Gardiner have to be content with places on the bench. Waterford are a hard team to break down, but I think this young Cork side can claim a semifinal spot against Galway.

 

ATHLETES, EXPERTS

READY FOR LONDON

When the 2012 Olympic Games get under way in London on Friday, Ireland will be represented by 65 athletes and 90 officials. With 14 sports represented, it will be the most diverse Irish team in Olympic history. Our record entry was in 1948, also in London, when the Irish entry officially numbered 100, but only 80 got to compete, as politics, in some cases, interfered. Pat Hickey, president of the Olympic Council of Ireland says that the 90 officials will not be what are commonly known as “blazers” but experts. Normally officials at Olympic events wear blazers, but the Irish back up team will wear casual sporting attire this time round. Hickey said: ‘‘Our back up team will consist of coaches, physios, nutritionists every sort of back-up an athlete could need.’’ All countries send more officials than competitors to the Games. The British Olympic Committee confirmed a final entry of 542 competitors plus a backroom team of 819. Ireland’s best medal hope will probably be in boxing with a lot of pressure on Bray’s Katie Taylor to deliver gold.

PATS WELL PLACED

St Patrick’s Athletic look the most likely of the three League of Ireland clubs who were involved in European action last week, to progress to the next round. Last Thursday the Saints drew 1-1 with Siroki Brijeg of Bosnia in Pecara in the first leg their Europa Cup tie and must be fancied to progress to the next round when the teams meet against at Inchicore tomorrow night.  If Pats progress, they will meet German club Hanover in the next round. Sligo Rovers went down 3-1 away to Spartak Trnava of Slovakia in the Europa League and while the away goal is beneficial it’s doubtful if the Bit O’ Red can overcome a two-goal deficit. Steaua Bucharest await the winners. Shamrock Rovers dominated their European Cup qualifying home tie with FC Ekranas of Lithuania in Tallaght last week, but couldn’t convert their chances and the game ended scoreless. The Hoops were in Lithuanian on Tuesday night for the second leg, with the winners playing Belgium club Anderlecht.  Meanwhile, Pats have a bye into the FAI Cup quarterfinal, a competition they last one in 1961.

 

CAVANAN STAYS ON

Former Tyrone star Peter Canavan has decided to stay with Fermanagh for another year. Earlier Canavan had hinted that he might walk away, but has now committed for another year. Canavan said: ‘‘We were involved with the team for six months and we think there was serious progress made. The potential is still there. Fermanagh has a small pool to pick from and everyone has to buy into what we are trying to do in terms of preparation. It was a divided squad that we were working with at the start, but that changed and I would hope that players would be better prepared for next season.’’

There have been very few intercounty managerial resignations so far. Jerry Wallace in Antrim is the only hurling manager to quit, while in football Monaghan’s Eamonn McEneaney last week followed in the footsteps of Luke Dempsey (Carlow) and Paddy O’Rourke (Armagh). Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick is also expected to step down so that he can ease his work schedule; he is also a TD for the Wee County.

EPL CHAMPS FOR LIMERICK

Reigning English Premier League champions Manchester City will visit Limerick on Aug. 5. City will play Limerick in a friendly at Thomond Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend. For the past few seasons Limerick has been trying to organize attractive friendlies against big clubs like Barcelona, but the fixtures have not been ratified by the FAI. Now that Limerick has finally got the go ahead it will be interesting to see what size attendance City will attract. A veteran on the Dublin soccer scene when referring to Manchester’s various trips to Ireland over the years once said to me ’they need only send over the jerseys.’ But I don’t think City has the same pulling power as the red side of Manchester.

 

Impressive Tipp win Munster, through to All Ireland semis

POSTED ON July 29th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

NOTHING too spectacular but Tipperary continue to look real contenders for the All-Ireland Senior Hurling crown following their 2-17 to 0-16 Munster final victory over Waterford at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday.

Predictably, Waterford provided much tougher opposition than in last year’s final. They were right in the mix until the final quarter of a match watched by a crowd of 26,438.

It was around then that Tipperary’s extra bit of class and superior replacements bench began to have an impact. Shane Bourke, one of those substitutes, scored the crucial second Tipperary goal in the 54rd minute.

His opportunist effort gave Tipperary a five point cushion they never likely to lose. As a matter of fact, they extended that advantage to seven points by the final whistle.

That was probably a bit unkind to Waterford, given that they had made a game of it for so long. With the memory of last year’s humiliation still fresh in ther minds, they took the game to Tipperary from an early stage.

They started much the better, leading by 0-4 to 0-1 after eight minutes. John Mullane and Shane Walsh were both causing the Tipperary defence real problems.

But when the going gets tough, there is usually someone in the Tippeary attack who delivers. On this occasion, it was John O’Brien who rattled home a superbly taken goal and point to keep his side in touch.

At half-time the sides were level (0-11 to 1-8) and Waterford were undoubtedly in with a chance of causing an upset. There wasn’t much in it for the opening period of the second half but then the Tipperary bench really began to have an impact.

Substitutes Eoin Kelly and Shane Bourke were to contribute 1-4 between them. Waterford may, however, feel that the free just prior to Bourke’s goal was a bit harsh.

Either way, the Waterford goalkeeper Stephen O’Keeffe failed to deal with Kelly’s long range free and Bourke was on hand to sweep the ball into the net.

His effort put Tipperary 2-13 to 0-14 ahead. Sadly for the big Waterford following, their team subsequently lost their way a bit, shooting some bad wides and Tippeary saw the game out reasonably comfortably.

O’Brien gave an outstanding performance to contribute 1-3 from play. Surprisingly, Lar Corbett did not figure on the scoresheet after being named in the starting line-up.

At times, he should have taken the scoring opportunity instead of looking for a colleague to pass too. But the man whose goals demolished Waterford last year is getting there, some of his distribution and positional play was excellent.

 

Manager Declan Ryan was reasonably satisfied, stating: “Lar ghosts around the place and he got some lovely ball. He uses it very well.

 

“I suppose he could have taken a couple of his own scores, but that him, he’s always been a team player.”

 

Overall, Ryan felt that his team did well enough, although there was some criticism that they went for goals too often when they should have taken points.

Mullane (0-3), Walsh (0-2) and free-taker Maurice Shanahan (0-8) showed up well for Waterford but defender Kevin Moran was undoubtedly their star man. Thirty-nine-year-old Tony Browne also did a lot of good work in defence before being substituted late on.

Manager Michael Ryan was proud of the way his team performed. He said: “Tipperary deserved their victory, they took their chances.

“But I’m proud of our lads. Last year, the crowd was leaving 10 minutes into the second half, but we have come on a long way since then.”

Cork and Limerick came through the two Phase Three qualifiers. Unsurprisingly, Cork had too much class for Wexford, winning the first Semple Stadium encounter 3-24 to 2-17.

But the meeting of Limerick and Clare was every bit as close and exciting as pundits had predicted. Previously this year, Clare have held an edge, winning their three meetings, but Limerick came good last Saturday night to get home by 3-18 to 1-20.

They did so because of their ability to get goals. It was a cracking game played between two talented young sides.

Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare had the better of the first half, scoring some magnificent points. But they went in at half-time 2-9 to 0-14 behind.

Importantly, Limerick secured two goals from Wayne McNamara and Seanie Tobin, the second of which was just before the break.  Declan Hannon subsequently got a third goal as Limerick picked up the tempo in the second half.

Surprisingly, manager John Allen had opted to name Hannon and Kevin Downes in the replacements but Hannon, in particular, was to make a big impression after he was brought on as a 29th minute substitute. The accurate free-taking of Shane Dowling (0-8) was another important factor in Limerick’s success.

But the excellent Niall Moran was deservedly named man of the match after scoring 0-5 from play. Undoubtedly, Clare’s tough battle against Dublin the previous weekend didn’t help them as they ran out of steam in the second half.

Manager Fitzgerald made that point but agreed that Limerick deserved their success because of their second half effort.

Full-forward Luke O’Farrell (2-2) was the star for Cork as they beat Wexford by 10 points  in the opening game. Cork’s ability to get three goals in a total of 3-24 was one of the most pleased features for manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy.

“We failed to score goals against Tipperary and paid the penalty. So it was pleasing that we should nail those chances in the first half.” he stressed.

 

Limerick to face Cats

LIMERICK  drew the short straw after they were

pitted against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship quarter-finals to take place on July 29.

The other quarter-final will see Cork facing Waterford. Intriguingly, should Kilkenny get the better of Limerick, they will then take on Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final with Galway meeting the winners of the Cork-Waterford quarter-final clash.

 

Some surprises in qualifiers

MAYO claimed another Connacht Championship on a weekend which saw plenty of surprises in Round Two of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship qualifiers.

Leitrim, Limerick, Tipperary and Antrim were all shock winners but the biggest surprise of all very nearly came at Cusack Park in Mullingar.

Unbelievably, Westmeath led Kerry by 0-8 to 1-3 at half-time and then extended that advantage to six points early in the second half.

A goal from Darran O’Sullivan, however, brought Kerry back into the game and at they went on to edge a 2-10 to 1-12 victory. Hardly the form of potential All-Ireland winners.

They now face a tough Round Three qualifier at home to Tyrone. Mayo, meanwhile, are straight though to the quarter-finals having defeated Sligo 0-12 to 0-10 in a tough Connacht SFC final at Dr Hyde Park.

It wasn’t exactly pretty with both teams adopting a defensive approach but Mayo manager James Horan feels that his side will improve. Presumably, their preparations weren’t helped by the decision of a disgruntled Conor Mortimer to withdraw from their squad earlier in the week.

Horan argued that the saga didn’t affect his team. Whatever about that, Mayo missed a lot of chances and only managed to get the better of a dogged Sligo outfit very late on.

“It was a dog fight and a horrible match to watch from the sidelines but we showed a lot of fighting character. Our substitutes made a huge difference for us,” Horan emphasized.

Sligo will feel disappointed that some crucial decisions went against them. With the score a 0-9 apiece, Colm O’Boyle gave Mayo the lead with a shot which many observers felt had drifted wide.

That said, Mayo just about deserved their victory. Barry Moran had a huge game in midfield while substitute Aidan O’Shea was also very prominent.

Sligo led 0-5 to 0-3 at half-time but that was never likely to be enough playing into the wind in the second half. Mayo gradually wore them down in front of a crowd of 23,257 to claim a second successive Connacht title.

Elsewhere, there was plenty of action in Phase Two of the qualifiers. Besides Kerry’s narrow victory over Westmeath, there were victories for Tyrone, Limerick, Antrim, Tipperary, Leitrim, Laois and Kildare.

If only because of the Seanie Johnston transfer saga, the meeting of Cavan and Tyrone at Breffni Park probably drew most of the attention. Understandably, in the circumstances, Kilkdare manager Kieran McGeeney chose not to start Johnston against his former colleagues.

By the time he brought him on as a late substitute the match had long since finished as a contest. In the event, Johnston contributed a free as Kildare strolled to a 3-20 to 1-9 victory.

This was Kildare back to something like their best after the surprise Leinster semi-final defeat to Meath. But Cavan, it has to be said, didn’t provide a real test.

Few could have predictated that of the three Connacht sides involved in the qualifiers, Leitrim would emerge as the only winners. Galway suffered a shock 0-11 to 0-10 loss to Antrim at Casement Park, two injury-time points from Tomas McCann and Deaghlan O’Hagan  giving the Ulster side victory.

Roscommon were no match for Tyrone at Dr Hyde Park on Saturday, losing by 1-16 to 0-8. Owen Mulligan was outstanding for Tyrone, contributing 0-5.

But Leitrim ended a long period of disappointment with a fine 0-13 to 0-10  home victory over a Wicklow side which hit 16 wides. In contrast, Leitrim made the most of their opportunities with Emlyn Mullingan finishing with 0-6 and James Glancy getting 0-5.

Elsewhere, Tipperary surprised Wexford 1-13 to 0-15 at Semple Stadium. It was an outstanding achievement, given that Wexford had run Dublin so close in the Leinster semi-final.

There’s no doubt Tipperary football is in good hands. Only last week their minors beat Kerry in the Munster Minor Football final to claim the title for a second successive year.

Limerick got the better of Longford  by 1-21 to 1-15 after extra-time. It was a big disappointment for home side Longford after what has been a very promising season.

But they ran out of gas in extra-time. Another Leinster team Laois had no such problems as they beat Monaghan 2-12 to 0-12 at O’Moore Park. Goals from Colm Kelly and Brendan Quigley proved crucial. Afterwards Monaghan manager Eamon McEneaney announced his resignation.

 

Hawkeye must tryout again

POSTED ON July 29th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

Good enough for FIFA, but not for the GAA. That’s the situation with the Hawk-Eye goal line technology. The GAA has been trialing Hawk-Eye this year, but there were problems with the wind shaking the goalpost at Croke Park. No such problems in soccer and FIFA will introduce Hawk-Eye and another system called GoalfRef at their World club championship in Japan in December. The technology will then be extended to next  year’s Confederation Cup and to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Meanwhile the GAA is still hopeful of having a further Hawk-Eye  trial at Croke Park in August.

Season is drawn out, with too few games

POSTED ON July 28th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

When they took on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim up in the Bronx last Friday, the New York Yankees were playing their 86th Major League Baseball game of the year. That left them with just another 76 matches remaining between then and Sept. 30, the date the regular season ends and the play-offs begin. The 162 game schedule yields 162 live broadcasts, 162 game reports in all the major newspapers and 162 days of guaranteed radio and television headlines. One of the main reasons the sport can claim to be America’s national pastime is because from April until October baseball is with us every single day and night.

If so many people in America measure out spring and summer in baseball fixtures, the other sports offer similarly lengthy campaigns. Apart from seasons pockmarked by strikes, the NBA demands players tog out 82 times before the knock-out stages of its competition begin and those play-offs subsequently take another two months to run off. Nobody complains about too many matches. The NHL has the same amount of games and equally elongated play-offs. Even the NFL, a sport so punishing that some reckon a 16-fixture regular season takes too much of a physical toll, has lately been lobbying its players to increase their workload by two games.

All of the above puts the bizarre nature of the GAA championship schedule into some perspective. Even allowing for the fact the major American codes are professional, the contrast with Gaelic football and hurling is stunning. Following their victory over Clare last Sunday (a game which underlined how devalued the provincial championship is now), Cork are back in action on the first weekend in August. If they go on to win the All-Ireland, Conor Counihan’s team will play five championship matches in exactly four months. And, with all due respect, one of those outings was a glorified training spin rather than a competitive encounter.

“I think the season is very drawn out,” said Colm Cooper last year. “When you have a situation where you play your first round of the championship and don’t play again for two months it’s ludicrous.”

While the Kerryman’s main problem with the huge gaps between games concerns the difficulty for players trying to find and maintain form, there’s something else for the GAA to consider here too. The biggest stars don’t get anywhere near enough exposure to draw in casual sports fans. Cork currently boasts its most exciting collection of footballers to emerge from the county in generations yet they’ll be headlining a maximum of four serious gigs this summer. If Sligo triumphed in Connacht and got to Croke Park in September, the six matches they’d play en route will have taken closer to five months because they started the campaign in New York on May 6.

What other sport, amateur or professional, puts the spotlight on their star performers so few times in a calendar year? Well, probably the closest equivalent to the GAA in the world is American college basketball and grid-iron, where amateur athletes play at a professional level in world-class stadia before enormous crowds of paying fans. In both those sports though, teams play every week (more than that in the case of basketball) during seasons that last for four and five months respectively and almost every match is on television.

The ubiquity of the fixtures is part of the reason college basketball and grid-iron are two more national obsessions in America. A rookie quarterback can make his debut for a university in early September and be a household name by the end of that month. In the GAA world, it can take years to achieve any sort of wider recognition. Cooper may well lament the haphazard championship set-up playing havoc with form but having a regular schedule would also make it easier to grow the profile of Gaelic footballers and hurlers.

For an example of how a limited schedule impacts the marketing of a sport, the GAA can look closer to home too. Is it any coincidence rugby broke out of its middle-class ghetto and took off as a national sport when the best players went from being seen a handful of times every January, February and March to playing 30-odd meaningful games over nine months, all of them on live television? The GAA’s biggest issue would be how to increase the number of serious inter-county matches without killing off the club game, the price rugby paid for expanding the profile of its elite.

In this respect, there should be much less carping than before. The Seanie Johnston affair has shown us that, whether we like it or not, there are different strata in the GAA now. The inter-county players are on one level and everybody else is on another. It might be time to consider something drastic like devoting three months of the year to the All-Ireland series, having county teams playing on an almost weekly basis with midweek replays if needed. That way, they are on show more and in such a way that still allows them be available for their clubs outside those times.

The American business model for sport demonstrates less is not more and, in reality, putting the best hurlers and footballers on show so few times each summer actually makes very little sense at all.

The biggest boon the GAA has received in years is Kilkenny’s defeat by Galway last Sunday week. Aside from suddenly making everybody believe that Brian Cody’s side may not be invincible, there’s the matter of spicing up the All-Ireland quarterfinals by their very presence. The greatest team of all time now has to play an extra game this summer, meaning they get one more day of exposure instead of their usual four outings.

Imagine any other sport where they’d have a squad reckoned to be the finest ever assembled and they put them on show four times in the competition that matters most. And still there are people in Croke Park wondering why hurling is the best-kept secret in the world.

Clarke reports for Open defense

POSTED ON July 18th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

Darren Clarke reported to Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s Golf Club in Lancashire, England on Monday morning to return the Claret Jug, emblematic of his winning last year’s British Open. Clarke, who will tee off on Thursday with Ernie Els and Zach Johnson, couldn’t attach a number to the mileage the Jug has accumulated in the last year, although it has traveled extensively.

“It was wonderful bringing it to all sorts of different countries, to a few countries where it had never been before,” Clarke said. “It’s one of those iconic trophies that people see on television, but never actually physically get to see it, but a lot of people did. A lot of people have pictures with it, and they all enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Clarke’s reverence for the Jug is of such an extent that he couldn’t countenance the notion of drinking from it.

“It just is too special a trophy,” Clarke said. “I have so much respect for The Open Championship and I couldn’t get myself to do it. I thought about it a few times, but I just decided that the trophy was too special for me to put anything into it. My replica has had, on the other hand, but that one hasn’t.”

Clarke has had the time of his life since pulling off his astonishing victory last year.

“It’s been a fantastic year being Open Champion,” Clarke said. “Obviously, it’s been a much better year off the golf course than on the golf course. But I wouldn’t change anything.”

As his defense draws near, Clarke gave this brief synopsis of the challenge that awaits him and his rivals.

“[This course] is really, really tough,” Clarke said. “If you start spraying the ball around this week, you might as well go home. There’s no chance coming out of the rough at all.”

Joining Clarke at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s this week will be amateur Alan Dunbar, Padraig Harrington, Michael Hoey, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy.

 

EUROPEAN TOUR

Harrington prepped for this week with a joint-16th place finish in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart in Inverness. He produced four respectable rounds that left him five strokes behind Jeev Milkha Singh and Francesco Molinari, who went to a playoff, where Singh prevailed. Harrington strung together rounds of 69, 69, 67 and 71.

Shane Lowry was low Irishman, shooting 13-under-par 275 (66-69-69-71) for a share of 11th place. A double bogey on the front nine on each of the first three days hampered his chances for victory.

Peter Lawrie took a share of 24th place at 277 (66-69-68-74). Paul McGinley (71-71) missed the cut by two strokes. Joining him on the sidelines were Damien McGrane (73-72), Simon Thornton (74-73) and Gareth Maybin (73-77).

 

NEW JERSEY OPEN

Niall Handley took joint-second place at Manasquan River Golf Club last week. The 40-year-old native of Malahide, Dublin shot 3-under-par 213 (70-70-73) to finish one stroke behind fellow amateur Ben Smith in a field that included several rivals with PGA Tour experience.

The tournament turned for Handley in the second round at the second hole (his 11th) when the head of his 3-wood dislodged from the shaft, with the ball dribbling some 20 yards. The result was a double bogey followed by bogeys at each of the next two holes.

Handley is a Managing Director at Cara Resources, a recruiting and staffing firm, in his hometown of West Caldwell, N.J. He is a graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

 

EUROPRO TOUR

A week after a spin at Fota Island, this feeder circuit moved to Concra Wood in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan for the Kingspan Concra Wood Open. England’s Billy Hemstock won a playoff from Scotland’s Wallace Booth after both finished with low scores of 6-under-par 210.

Low honors among the Irish representatives went to the trio of Barrie Trainor (74-70-70), Cian Curley (73-69-72) and Tim Rice (76-66-72), who all finished at 214, which accorded them a share of sixth place. Two strokes behind them stood Michael McGeady (72-71-73) in joint-18th place, with Damian Mooney (72-69-76) and Paul O’Hanlon (70-73-74) another shot back in joint-23rd at 217.

 

CHALLENGE TOUR

Colm Moriarty tied for 19th place in the Credit Suisse Challenge at Golf Sempachersee in Lucerne, Switzerland. At 3-under-par 281 (67-70-73-71), he was eight strokes off the low score. He played the front nine without a bogey over the first three rounds until opening with double bogey at the first hole on Sunday. He took another double at 10, but still managed to finish his round at even par.

 

ALPS TOUR

Gareth Shaw closed with a final-round 64 that was co-low for the day and elevated him into a share of fifth place at the Montecchia Open in Padova, Italy. His nine birdies in the final round (against two bogeys) were more than he combined for (seven) over the initial 36 holes. His aggregate 205 (72-69-64) left him four strokes off the winning number posted by Ross Kellett.

 

LADIES EUROPEAN TOUR

Rebecca Codd got 20th place in the South African Women’s Open at Selborne Park in Kwa-Zula Natal. Codd shot 78 amidst difficult conditions in the first round, and then matched eventual champion Caroline Masson with rounds of 71 and 75 over the final 36 holes. She finished nine strokes behind Masson, who shot 69 in the first round.

 

Donaldson keeps it simple, wins 1st title at 36

POSTED ON July 5th  - POSTED IN featured, Sport, Sports

The 255th time proved to be the charm for Jamie Donaldson, as the Welshman drew off to a 4-stroke victory in the Irish Open, which played to rave reviews at Royal Portrush.

The sellout crowds got their money’s worth, as Ireland’s four major champions all made the cut and played weekend rounds. Padraig Harrington was the sole Irishman in contention for the championship and put up a good challenge until fading on Sunday to a joint-seventh place finish.

Donaldson, 36, brought a 1-stroke lead into the final round and put the pedal to the metal with birdies at the second, third and fourth holes. He then went into quiet mode until the back nine, where he answered a bogey at 11 with birdies over three of the next four holes. Another bogey at 16 preceded birdies at 17 and 18.

“I just tried to keep the same thought process as at the start of the week, which is just playing simple shots and trying to hit fairways and greens, and take it from there and let the golf take care of itself,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson was effusive in his praise of the course and the galleries.

“They just made incredible use of the land that they had available and it’s just a great golf course,” Donaldson said. “It’s just such a pleasure to play. The support, you walk to every green, every tee and you’re getting clapped by masses of people who are incredibly friendly and very supportive.”

Harrington, who shot 276 (67-67-72-70), finished six strokes in back of Donaldson. He recorded six birdies against just one bogey over each of the first two rounds. He started the final round just two strokes behind the leader, but a bogey at the first hole, along with Donaldson’s fast start, proved insurmountable.

“I left a lot of shots out there most days, no more so than today,” Harrington said after Sunday’s round. “It’s tough when the putts aren’t dropping. I think the pluses, I hit the ball really well. I can only think of two less-than-perfect shots out there. There’s a lot of good play out there. It’s nice to have that going forward.”

 

FRINGE PLAYER

Rory McIlroy was always on the fringe of contention, but could never quite muster the sustained rally to put heat on the leaders. He started the final round six strokes behind Donaldson, but that rival’s early streak, likewise, proved too tall a task for McIlroy, who played a bogey-free final round to finish the event tied for 10th place at 277 (70-69-71-67).

“I didn’t hole as many putts as I would have liked, but I hit a

 

Meath stun Kildare, will face lucky Dublin in Leinster final

POSTED ON July 5th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

KILDARE, among others, have found that nothing can be taken for granted in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship.

The Lilywhites went down to a shock 1-17 to 1-11 Leinster SFC semi-final defeat at the hands of Meath. If the Croke Park attendance could hardly believe what they were seeing, then they must have been more surprised when the reigning All-Ireland champions Dublin trailed Wexford by three points in the second half of the second semi-final.

To further add to the anxiety of their supporters in the near 48,000 attendance, the Dubs  had star forward Diarmuid Connolly red carded in the 40th minute. Somehow Dublin’s 14 men raised their game to snatch a 2-11 to 1-10 victory.

But Dublin could count themselves very fortunate that Wexford failed to take their chances. They scored just two points in the second half, hitting numerous wides.

At the finish, their manager Jason Ryan commented that his team “should have beaten the All-Ireland champions.” But the truth is that they have made a habit of getting into good positions against Dublin only to lack the conviction to get over the line.

Dublin, although a long way short of their best, have that conviction. So, quite clearly,  do Donegal, successful 0-12 to 0-10 against Tyrone in the Ulster semi-final.

Up to last Sunday, most observers would have felt that Kildare were also right up there amongst the leading contenders for the All-Ireland crown but nothing went right in their semi-final defeat to Meath.

Remember, this was a Meath team that was relegated to Division Three of the National League and took two games to overcome Carlow in the quarter-finals of the Leinster Championship. What’s more, their manager Seamus McEnaney has had to withstand calls for his resignation.

But McEnaney made nonsense of  the criticism on Sunday. The Meath manager, deprived of a number of first choice players, choose to send out a very young team.

No fewer than eight players were under 23. The policy worked with one of them, midfielder Conor Gillespie being named Man of the Match.

Meath full deserved their victory after a hugely improved performance but Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney could argue, with some justification, that the sending off of Daryl Flynn for a second yellow card in the 52nd minute was a major turning point. The sides were level, 0-11 each, at the time.

Furthermore, Kildare felt they should have had a free prior to Meath scoring their goal. Instead, referee Michael Collins choose to throw

Sherlock recalls ‘humiliating’ racial abuse

POSTED ON July 5th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

Two members of Duffry Rovers club in Wexford were last week suspended for eight weeks after the referee reported alleged racist comments directed at Sarsfield’s Lee Chin in a recent club game. Chin is a member of the Wexford senior football panel and also plays under 21 hurling for the county.

Former Dublin star Jason Sherlock says he understand Chin’s plight. Sherlock said: ”I have had to endure racial abuse over the years on the football field. My late father was from Hong Kong and I understand that I look different to most Irish people. When I was growing up, Ireland was not multi-cultural and I suffered a lot more racism when I was younger. But just three years ago, I was playing for my club St. Oliver Plunkett’s and got racially abused by one of the opposition players.

“It is humiliating when it happens, as there is nothing you can do about how you look or your background. And it always leaves a mark. I think I can remember every time I was racially abused while playing Gaelic football,” Sherlock said. “I have no problem with people slagging me over lots of things, but when you get into racial territory I don’t think it’s acceptable. Most people are a bit more clued-in nowadays, but what Lee Chin has had to put up with in Wexford shows we still have a road to travel.”

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