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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.”

Clare’s Fitzgerald is boon to hurling

POSTED ON July 5th  - POSTED IN Sport, Sports

The rather excellent GAA website AnFearRua.com ran a poll the other day trying to gauge the popularity of the Clare hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald. At the time of writing, 32 respondents proclaimed themselves to be fans of his, 11 didn’t, and four sat on the fence. An unscientific reading perhaps but even allowing for the fact a lot of Clare people frequent the site, the numbers demonstrate that the majority of those in and around the sport of hurling recognize that Fitzgerald contributes more than he detracts from the game. A fair point.

In a time when safety concerns mean that so many of hurling’s finest exponents are hidden away beneath helmets so they remain largely anonymous to the world at large, Fitzgerald is just what hurling needs. Is there any other manager out there who features so regularly on YouTube and in so many entertaining ways? Never mind that half of his videos feature bad language (of a kind that is normal in every dressing-room), the amount of hypocrisy surrounding his swearing on the sidelines is more offensive than most of the stuff he comes out with.

You’d think that nobody had ever heard an F bomb dropped during a championship encounter. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have a friend who brings his 10-year-old son to games. When they set out on the day of a big match, the father reminds the child of the golden rule which must always be observed. You must never repeat the language you hear in the stadium. Ever. Do you think Fitzgerald said anything worse than what many of the supporters are roaring once the whistle blows?

The brouhaha surrounding his unsportsmanlike yet hilarious taunting during the recent clash with Waterford was bigger than it needed to be. But everything with Fitzgerald always seems to come freighted with extra controversy. And that’s the way it should be. The GAA needs managers with the sideline decorum, class and dignity of JBM and John Allen yet, like him or loathe him, the GAA needs characters like Davy Fitz too.

It needs him the same way that English soccer needed Brian Clough, the same way Irish soccer needs Roy Keane (what does it say that a retired player turned pundit was the biggest Irish performer at Euro 2012?).  He may not be the best manager out there but he is the most box office in terms of generating publicity. While that may annoy some people, there are others who find his every move and utterance to be so entertaining they add a whole new dimension to the games.

Back in 2005, Fitzgerald published a fascinating autobiography. My only criticism of it was that he gave it the rather dull title, “Passion and Pride.” There were so many other options. “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean everyone in the GAA authorities isn’t out to get me!” “A little bitterness goes a long way!” “Nobody likes me, I don’t care!” It says much that just seven years down the line, he already has enough material for a second volume.

After watching the interaction between himself and John Mullane recently, who wouldn’t want to read about Fitzgerald’s stint in charge of Waterford? Anybody with even the slightest interest in hurling would relish that because they know the author wouldn’t be holding back. The fact he wears his heart so much on his sleeve is one of the reasons why this guy is a huge boon to the sport.

Never mind RTE’s faux attempt at staking out the moral high ground on “The Sunday Game”. The suits in Donnybrook would be better served spending less time on bad language and more time trying to drag their GAA coverage into the 21st century.

“I was texting Dalo on Sunday before the draw was made,” said Fitzgerald after Clare were drawn to play Anthony Daly’s Dublin in the All-Ireland hurling qualifiers next Saturday. “I think we both had a feeling we’d be playing each other. It’s a very hard draw for us. We all know Dublin aren’t as bad as they showed and they will want to prove that they didn’t become a bad team overnight and it’s unfortunate for Clare that we’re the next team they play.”

Imagine what Sky Sports in England or ESPN in America would do with a fixture as mouthwatering as Clare versus Dublin in Cusack Park. The former goalkeeper from the greatest team the county ever produced taking on the former captain, both at crucial stages of their careers with their respective teams. A defeat for Dublin will mean Daly won’t be traveling the long road from Ennis to Parnell Park any more after next week. A defeat for Clare will mean everybody in the town will be questioning the training methods, the playing style and the sideline antics of Fitzgerald and wondering if he’s the man to lead the county forward.

Indeed, some are already questioning the training after it emerged Fitzgerald had the Clare squad climbing Carrantuohill in the dark as part of a team-building exercise. Many baulk at this kind of stuff creeping into the GAA but the reality is the perception of this carry-on depends on the results. When a side wins, the fans think these innovative approaches were progressive, when they lose they think there were wrong-headed and a waste of time. Witness the gags about Clare hurlers being able to find the top of the mountain faster than they could find the goalposts against Waterford.

There’s something else to consider too when Clare meet Dublin. Presuming he has two or three years left in charge of his own county, where will Fitzgerald go then? Limerick? Don’t think so. Kerry? Too low-profile. Galway? Still smarting from the last Clare guy they brought in. Where then? Why Dublin of course. Ambitious, willing to spend and with a high profile, it’s he perfect place for Fitzgerald. Next Saturday is much more than a game then. It’s also an audition.

Galway hurlers take control early on

POSTED ON June 27th  - POSTED IN Sport

In this senior hurling clash a powerful first half performance by Galway set them up for a well-deserved win over the perennial power house Offaly. Though it looked as if it was going to be business as usual when Offaly’s Dan Dwyer and Eoin Dillon had an early brace of points, however goals from Robbie Jackson and John Byrne showed that Galway was stamping their authority on this game. Initially Offaly appeared unruffled by the early goal blitz as they responded a goal and a point from Shane Sweeney and Ethan O’Brien. From the ten-minute mark on, Galway was very much in control as they would add  another 1-7 in the period. Robbie Jackson was superb in the middle while forwards John Madden, John Byrne and Aidan Roche were operating very effectively.

At the back the defense was being very well marshaled by David Kelly with good help from Liam Butler and Luke O’Loughlin.  Roche had goal number three mid- way as he capitalized on a good pass from David Fahey while an Offaly player was down injured. Indeed Galway looked to have another goal but the referee had whistled for an infringement. The game then took a very ugly turn as hurls, helmets and limbs flew. When order was restored both teams were down a player The scoring continued as Jackson led the way with some long range specials, though Offaly’s Niall Marshall goaled  to leave Galway leading by 3-9 to 2-4 at the break.

On  the resumption Offaly rallied as Aidan McInerney landed three excellent long range points, two from play and one from a free. This trifecta was soon followed by another Marshall goal after an incisive run through the middle by Dan O’Dwyer. Offaly’s confidence was now growing as they were within a goal of Galway, though points from Jackson and Madden appeared to take some pressure of the Galwegians. Offaly was still in the hunt as a Dwyer foul led to a McInerney goal, while a Donie Broderick pass set up Marshall for a point to leave the minimum between the sides midway in the period.  However a goal from David Fahey ignited the Galway attack again as Madden, Jackson and company would add another six points and Eoin Hogan forced a great save from Brian McNaughton. McInerney added two for Offaly, but with Kelly and company clearing their lines so effectively that was as close as the perennial champions would get in this encounter. Now that Galway has taken the champion’s scalp, it sets the scene for what will be a much anticipated rematch.

Offaly: Brian McNaughton, Killian Lenard, Mark Quinlan, Terry Grogan, Eoin Dillon, Ethan O’Brien(0-1), Dan O’Dwyer(0-2), Kaelim O’Hare, Paudie Kyne, Aidan McInerney(1-5), Donie Broderick, Brendan Blackwell, Shane Sweeney(1-1).

Sub. Niall Marshall(2-1)

Galway: Ger Corcoran, Pa Guiney, David Kelly, Liam Butler, Luke O’Loughlin(0-1), Alan Sherlock, Robbie Jackson(1-8), Eoin Hogan(0-2), David Fahey(1-0), Aaron Farrell, John Madden(0-5),  John Byrne(1-0), Aidan Roche(1-1).

Subs. Jamie Lynch, Cormac Condron, Gary Curly, Hugh Rooney, Tadgh Lyons. David King(0-1). Referee Finbar Flood

Man of Match Robbie Jackson

 

Leitrim win, but

need to improve

Leitrim was early out of the blocks in this senior football encounter as they had three points in as many minutes. The crafty Hartnett showed the way with the opener while Cian Reynolds finished off a good move involving Ken O’Connor, Rory Woods and Paddy Kelly for the second. Dan Doona would add one of his specials before Kevin McGeeney had Armagh on the board. Leitrim was having the better of the exchanges as O’Connor and Kelly in the middle were giving them the edge.  The well-connected channel between Doona and Hartnett saw the latter hit another but Armagh was doing quite well with limited possession and opportunities as Richie Morgan and Paddy King had points. Still  Hartnett kept edging Leitrim ahead as he pointed for fouls on O’Connor and Reynolds. With five minutes left Armagh got within one, as Kevin McGeeney punished sloppy Leitrim defending, while substitute Ciaran Conlon gave a superb pass to Morgan for a score. If  Leitrim started the period strongly, they also finished it in style. First the hard-working Kelly landed a fine left-footed effort for a minor, while a defense splitting move involving Mark Dobbin, Woods and Hartnett ended with Doona getting the major. Incidentally Dobbin, the former architect of many Down victories, looked very comfortable in the Leitrim colors. Meanwhile Leitrim led by 1-7 to 0-6 at the short whistle.

Leitrim had the perfect start to the second half as the Hartnett and Doona combination produced the goods again. Hartnett, aka Dodo, was strategically positioned in the vicinity of the square to make the most of Doona’s “45” after it came back off the post to knock it in for a goal.

The rest of the second half was rather mediocre  as Leitrim would add just another two points, Dobbin being the scorer. The Walsh duo, Darren and Damien, along with Shane Maher kept the defense tight Meanwhile Armagh did create a minor buzz as Chris Morton headed in the Orchard county goal. Indeed the powerful propulsion of the header would be the envy of any soccer player. It also invoked memories of another powerful header that resulted in a goal in the eighties at Gaelic Park. That was also from an Armagh man, Fran McMahon. Meanwhile Armagh, apart from the goal, just managed two points from the battling Kevin McGeeney. Though Leitrim won, they will have to improve considerably if they are to upset the Kingdom on next Sunday. Armagh still struggle and so far they have not reached their standards of the previous seasons.

Leitrim: Conor O’Loughlin, Mike Creegan, Darren Walsh, James Grant, Shane Maher, Damien Walsh, Henry Mitchell, Ken O’Connor, Paddy Kelly(0-1), Cian Reynolds(0-1), Rory Woods, Emmett Killeen, Mark Dobbin(0-2), Dan Doona(1-1), Donal Hartnett(1-4). Subs. Danny O’Sullivan, Paddy Daly, Aaron Brannagan, James Mitchell.

Armagh: Alan Hearty, Collie Fearon, Patsy Martin, Ramie Kane, Aidan Morton, Stuart Stokes, John Lynch, Paddy King(0-1), Kevin McGeeney(0-3), Gary Nugent, Seamus Toner, Seamus McDaid, Ken Cox, Richie Morgan(0-2) Mathew Cartman. Subs. Chris Morton(1-0) Ciaran Conlon(0-1), Brian Patton, Sean McKeown.             Referee Sean Jones,

Man of Match Donal Hartnett.

 

Tyrone prove too

strong for Dublin

Tyrone easily had the measure of the Dubs. for most of the game, though a two goal blitz did shake up the proceedings for a while in the second half. Tyrone are progressing steadily through the championship as their strong running and good support play is getting the job done. Incidentally Shay McGuigan, a son of Frank and  a member of the famed McGuigan clan, also played a major part in this victory, but he had also a strong supporting cast in Jackson, Power, Coleman, Morgan, Farrell and company.

Though Tyrone were on the attack early and often, their attempts fell short or into the keeper’s hands, and it was left to the Dubs. to get the opening score from Ciaran McColgan. Eventually the constant pressure paid off as Adam Fitzgerald goaled, while Aidan Power sailed in for a point before helping Mickey Coleman fire over another.

Tyrone were now in the zone as they enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, which propelled them into 1-5 to 0-1 lead entering the last ten minutes of the period. However the Dubs finished strongly as Michael Henderson pointed while McColgan had a shot come off the post after a strong run through the middle. Further pressure led to a fine point from Niall Coughlin while keeper Corrigan did well to deny Henderson on the goal-line Tyrone led by 1-5 to 0-3 at the break. Midway in the second half the game looked as good as over as David Morgan had hammered in a goal after a great cross field ball from Adam Fitzgerald while McGuigan was on a merry dance with scores from frees and plays. They were ahead by 2-9 to 0-3, then  a great  goal from Niall Coughlin was the catalyst for a Dublin comeback. Good support play by Grey, McKeown and Connolly put Coughlin through for another goal while the crossbar denied him from the penalty spot for a third.

Tyrone weathered the late Dublin storm and soon points from Conor Skeffington and Coleman had them back on an even keel. Dublin was still creating chances as Mark Connolly pointed but poor free taking did not help their case.  Meanwhile a late flurry from Coleman and McGuigan emphasized their potency and potential while also suitably embellishing the score board for the O’Neill County.  Tyrone’s performances are going in the right direction, while the Dubs. though still winless, play great in short spells, but unfortunately not for long enough. They also need a reliable free-taker.

 

Tyrone: Damien Corrigan,  Daniel Jackson, Ger McCullough, Joe Bell,  Ciaran Queally, Aidan Power(0-1), Niall Maguire, Conor McNabb, Mickey Coleman(0-3), Conor Skeffington(0-1), Shay McGuigan(0-8), Adam Fitzgerald(1-0), Michael Gallagher, David Morgan(1-1), Niall Farrell(0-1). Subs. Darren Doherty, Seamus Skeffington, Pat Maguire.

Dublin: Eoghan Loughnane, Colin Larkin, Adam Keaney, Fergal Powell, Sean Gibney, William Foran, Ciaran McColgan(0-1), Andy Grey, Peter Keaney, Niall McKeown(0-1), Niall Coughlin(2-1), Jonathon Moloney, Chris Corcoran, Mark Connolly(0-1), Michael Henderson(0-1).

Referee John Fitzpatrick

Man of Match Shay McGuigan

 

Feile Results

There was cause for much celebration this weekend in Ireland as both the boys and girls from the Big Apple won their respective finals in the Feile Peil nOg competition. The girls defeated Bredagh(Down), while the boys topped Burren also from Down. Congratulations to the respective managers Joe McGirl and Eoin McSweeney and their mentors and selectors. Next week there will be a more complete account of these historic achievements.

Uruguayans are doing something right

POSTED ON June 27th  - POSTED IN Sport

It would be easy to write a column this week asking why the FAI’s head honcho is the only chief executive from the competing nations at the European Championships to have his enthusiastic socializing so readily available on YouTube. It would be even easier to ask why the FAI’s head honcho seems to be more famous for being famous than for ever talking about his views on how kids should learn how to play the game in Ireland, especially now that it’s become apparent we are producing players so deficient in basic technique. But, that would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

It’s much more instructive to consider what just happened to Ireland and then to look at Uruguay.  At the 2002 World Cup, that faraway tournament when Mick McCarthy’s team gave Spain all they could handle, Uruguay exited in the first round, finishing third in Group A behind Denmark and Senegal. Not a distinguished showing by any means, it caused much hand-wringing and introspection in the South American country. When they subsequently failed to even reach the 2006 finals, following a play-off defeat to Australia, there was plenty more debate about how the national team had started to underachieve so badly.

As anybody who’s been paying attention knows, the Uruguayans reached the semi-finals in South Africa two years ago. Last summer, they defeated Lionel Messi and Argentina (the host nation) on the way to winning the Copa America. At this point then, a decade along from Japan and South Korea, the Uruguayans will be expected to seriously contend when the planet’s best teams gather in Brazil 24 months from now. John Delaney and the FAI should be investigating exactly how the Uruguayans went from doing so badly in 2002 to being among the world’s best ten years later.

Uruguay is a perfect model for Ireland because it has a smaller population and a tiny playing pool to choose from. Not to mention either that almost all of its international players earn their living outside their home country. When the Scottish FA recently began to examine the reasons why that nation was no longer producing top quality players (they were recently trounced 5-1 by the USA in Florida), they sent a deputation to Montevideo to research the work being done there. Why? Because, in the past decade or so, the Uruguayans have produced, amongst others, Diego Forlan, Edinson Cavani, and Luis Suarez (moral considerations aside). They must be doing something right. So what is it?

With the help of FIFA money (we did mention the Uruguayans are cash-strapped just like the FAI), they established something called the Goal Projects, an initiative designed to revamp the way young players were developed and coaches were taught. A high-tech national centre of excellence was established in Montevideo and from there the new way of thinking and approaching the game was brought all over the country. The results in just over a decade have been spectacular. The current run of success being enjoyed by the senior team is only the most obvious example of that.

Last summer, Uruguay’s U-17s trounced Brazil 3-0 in the semi-finals of the World Cup before eventually losing the decider to what Mexico considers to be its greatest generation of young players. A good omen for the future. This year, Uruguay’s Under-20s have reached the Olympics for the first time since 1928. Unlike idiots like Great Britain, countries like Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina treat the five-ringed circus soccer tournament as a serious chance to give young players invaluable international competitive experience, not a pre-retirement party for has-beens like David Beckham. They reap what they sow.

The Uruguayan revolution has been helped too by the input of Oscar Tabárez, the senior team manager.

“Tabárez personally oversees the Uruguayan youth team set-up, appointing coaches himself and assuring the continuity in players’ development, in the philosophy, and in the planning,” wrote Joel Richards on FoxSoccer.com. “The group comes first, and this is exactly what is translated onto the pitch and in their performances at the highest level.”

In his second stint in charge, Tabárez is keenly involved in educating and promoting coaches at youth level because he wants to ensure that, long after he’s retired, there is a conveyor belt of coaches and players of the quality required.

 

“Since 2006 we have been developing a project which is an integrated plan which includes studying, playing, competing and learning about football,” said Tabárez, explaining his approach last summer. “The foundation of that is what we are enjoying now. Suárez, Cavani, Cáceres, Lodeiro, Coates, Hernández and other players all emerged from this project. They weren’t thrown into the full national team too early, they were moved up to the team at the right time.”

Imagine. Here we have a national team manager with long and medium-term plans and ideas about improving the type of players being produced. This is the type of visionary Ireland need to get involved, somebody who is thinking beyond just trying to bore our way through the qualification process of the next tournament, an individual with notions about how to make sure the next generation of players are technically better than the last.

There is something else to consider here. John O’Shea, Richard Dunne, Damien Duff, and Robbie Keane, four of the 10 outfielders who started for Ireland last Monday night, all starred for Brian Kerr’s magnificent underage sides back in 1997 and 1998. Aside from when Dunne’s off-field problems made him a sub on Mick McCarthy’s side, this quartet has been bulwarks of the senior team for a decade now.

How ironic then that Kerr has no role in the future direction of Irish football. Our most successful under-age manager ever, a fellow who groomed nearly half the starters against Italy and the man who worked miracles for the Faroes, he is judged to have nothing to contribute to the grass-roots in Ireland. In Uruguay, they’d make good use of somebody like him because they know they couldn’t afford not to. Therein lies the difference.

Cats demolish Dubs, while Tipp edge Cork in Munster

POSTED ON June 27th  - POSTED IN Sport

HURLING fans may well have another Kilkenny-Tipperary clash to look forward to in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park on September 9. The big question remains, just who if anyone is going to stop Kilkenny after their 2-21 to 0-9 Leinster semi-final demolition of Dublin at O’Moore Park last Saturday?  The reigning champions were awesome as they took Dublin apart.

But if there is a team that just might provide problems for the Kilkenny machine then it just might be Tipperary. Their performance in beating Cork 1-22 to 0-24 in an epic Munster semi-final before 32,568 at Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Sunday would suggest that they are returning to the type of form which has seen them contest the last three All-Ireland deciders.

Manager Declan Ryan needed a big step up from their display in the previous round against Limerick. He got it against a Cork side that also contributed hugely to a wonderful exhibition of hurling.

Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy probably got it right when he said that Tipperary’s extra bit of experience probably made the difference. They were, after all, able to call on Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly from the bench.

Kelly’s introduction, three minutes from the end of normal time came too late for him to make a difference, but Corbett was brought on two minutes before half time. Predictably, there was a lack of match sharpness at times after his long absence.

But he did crucially play a part in Tipp’s second half goal, laying a pass off for Noel McGrath to find the net with a beautifully struck shot. It gave Tipperary a three point advantage which was just as well as they had John O’Brien sent off for a second yellow card  just two minutes later.

So Tipperary had to play from the 48th minute with 14 men. It was a battle until the finish with Tipp just holding out for a one point victory which was just about deserved.

That said, Cork have reason to feel disappointed. They were unrecognizable from the  National League defeat to Kilkenny, producing a wonderful brand of hurling throughout.

The fact that they scored 24 points speaks for itself. Their problem was that they lacked the necessary composure to take some goalscoring chances.

That was evident in the dramatic closing stages when substitute Cian McCarthy drove wide from a good position. “Yes, we had opportunites but we didn’t take them.” admitted Barry-Murphy.

“The disallowed goal shortly before half-time was a major factor. It would have given us a five point cushion playing into the breeze in the second half.

“But I couldn’t be more proud of the players because the league final was a debacle for us. Tipperary’s exta bit of experience told in the end.”

The disallowed goal that Barry-Murphy referred to came in the 30 minute. Pa Cronin flicked a dropping ball into the Tipperary net but referee Brian Galvin decided that there was a square ball offence.

That was just one event in an incident packed first half. The accuracy shown from both teams was marvellous with Cork going in at half-time 0-14 to 0-12 in front.

Patrick Horgan, who finished with 0-11, was exceptional. But Tipp always looked capable of a big second half performance, especially as they had the breeze behind them.

No one was better than Patrick “Bonner” Maher. While he may not have scored, he seemed to be involved in everything.

It was his magnificent catch and pass which started the move for the goal. The ball was subsequently moved on through O’Brien and Corbett for Noel McGrath to shoot low into the net.

McGrath finished with 1-4 but the accurate Pa Bourke was Tipperary’s top scorer. He finished with 0-12, a tally which included seven frees and to 65’s.

Declan Ryan could not have been more pleased. “The goal was crucial, it was a real team effort. I was delighted with the way Lar (Corbett) got his pass in there and the way Noel (McGrath) finished it. We needed the goal at the time.”

Corbett was just pleased be back in action. Asked about his decision to pass to Noel McGrath, rather than go for goal himself, he replied: “Whatever percentage chance I had of scoring, Noel had a higher percentage chance.

“The man in the better position gets the ball, and that’s it.”  No doubt,  Corbett was thinking back to the Kilkenny-Dublin encounter the previous day.

That was only a contest for the first 18 minutes. It was then that Kilkenny got the type of team goal they so often score.

TJ Reid was the man responsible. He combined with Richie Power before hitting an unstoppable shot on the turn into the Dublin net.

Game over. Kilkenny, despite playing into the wind, were 2-10 to 0-6 in front at the interval and then then coasted through the second half against an admittedly hugely disappointing Dublin outfit.

Henry Shefflin finished with 0-10 on his return, while Power got 1-3 and Reid 1-2.  Needless to say, manager Brian Cody had few complaints.

“We played very well, no doubt about it. We got two very good goals playing into the strong wind in the first half, which was huge for us. The attitude of the boys throughout the field was excellent.”

Unfortunately, Dublin boss Anthony Daly could not say the same for his team. “We didn’t seem to have a go at all — that’s the most disappointing thing. Being beaten by Kilkenny isn’t a shock to my system but  it’s a shock how poor we were on the day.”

 

Daly to go home to

Clare for qualifier

CORK have been drawn to face Offaly at home in Phase Two of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship qualifiers with Clare at home to Dublin.

Following their fine performance against Tipperary on Sunday, Cork will undoubtedly start as favorites for the July 7 Pairc Ui Chaoimh encounter but the match between Clare and Dublin, due to take place at Ennis on the same date, is far tougher to call.

The game will see Dublin boss Anthony Daly return to his native county. Wexford and Limerick, meanwhile, moved past the preliminary round of the qualifiers with victories over the weekend.

Wexford beat Westmeath 3-22 to 2-9, while Limerick trounced Laois 6-21 to 1-11. Diarmuid “Gizzy” Lyng was very much the hero at Wexford Park, contributing 0-15.

A year ago Lyng was working in a New York bar as he watched Wexford exit the championship. Manager Liam Dunne is delighted to have him back, stating: “Gizzy was in sparkling form in a good team performance but we must take into account that Westmeath were a long way short of their best.”

Wexford will now face Carlow in Phase One of  the qualifiers while Limerick will meet Antrim. They absolutely demolished a poor Laois outfit at the Gaelic Grounds with Niall Moran firing home three goals and a point.

 

Mayo easily take Leitrim

DOWN and Mayo are through to the Ulster and Connacht Senior Football Championship deciders after very contrasting matches.

Mayo powered past Leitrim in the Connacht semi-final by 4-20 to 0-10 before 14,000 at McHale Park in Castlebar. Predictably though the Ulster semi-final between Down and Monaghan at the Morgan Athletic Grounds was a far more competitive affair.

In fact, Down had to come from nine points (0-11 to 0-2) down to snatch a late 1-14 to 1-13 victory. They were, by their own admission, dreadful in the first half but they emerged a different team for the second period.

Four points without reply in the last five minutes gave them victory and a place in the final for the first time in nine years. Benny Coulter came off the bench to get one of those scores with his first touch.

That received quite a cheer given that Coulter sustained a broken ankle seven weeks ago. Two more Down points from Liam Doyle and Donal O’Hare were to follow before Darren O’Hagan fisted the winning score in injury time.

Monaghan only had themselves to blame. They seemed to be cruising when 0-11 to 0-2 ahead but an Aidan Carr penalty provided Down with some hope just before half time.

Just as Monaghan dominated the first half, Down, inspired by Conor Lavery, dominated the second. The only blip was a controversial Tommy Freeman goal for Monaghan in the 57th minute.

That left Monaghan four points clear but they were unable to hold out as Down came good in the closing stages. Frustratingly for Monaghan supporters Dick Clerkin saw an attempted equalizing point from a good position curl wide with virtually the last kick of the game.

A much relieved Down manager James McCartan commented: “We were headless for most of the first half. I had rent-a-cab waiting for me outside before half-time.

“I just asked the team to put their bodies on the line in the second half and thankfully they responded.”

Monaghan boss Eamonn McEneaney could hardly believe what had happened. He said: “I suppose we might look at the positives but the reality is that we had the game won and we gave it to them.”

Mayo had no such problems after establishing a 2-9 to 0-7 advantage over Leitrim at McHale Park. They simply continued where they left off in the second half to run up an impressive 4-20 total.

The young Leitrim team, to be fair, were competitive in the opening quarter, only trailing by 0-6 to 0-5 after 20 minutes but, once Alan Freeman hit the first of Mayo’s goals, the writing was on the wall. To add to their difficulties, Leitrim had to play the last five minutes with 14 men and Mayo took full advantage to score 1-4.

Encouragingly, no fewer than 14 Mayo players got on the scoresheet, with the impressive Kevin McLaughlin contributing 1-2. But manager James Horan definitely wasn’t getting carried away.

He said: “The substitutes we brought in did very well, so there is good competition for places. But the final against Sligo will, of course, be a different match altogether.”

 

 

Harrington shares 11th in Connecticut

POSTED ON June 27th  - POSTED IN Sport

Sure, Padraig Harrington carded three bogeys en route to his 65 in Saturday’s third round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. But his aggressive play also brought forth eight birdies. So, although he limited his bogeys to just two in Sunday’s final round, he finished with 69 as he could only manage three birdies.

Harrington, who began the final round three strokes off the lead, finished in joint-11th place at 10-under-par 270 (69-67-65-69). Marc Leishman shot 266 for the victory.

River Highlands posed a different test, a sort of “come hither” challenge for Harrington, after the previous week’s U.S. Open.

“I’m struggling to play any conservative shots at all out there,” Harrington said of River Highlands. “If you hit a good shot here, you can hit it close and you’re drawn into going at every single pin because of that. And there are some tight pins out there. You know, you can short side yourself easy enough. But I think coming off such firm greens last week when there were certain pin positions you just couldn’t get close to, this week you always feel like you have an opportunity.”

 

SATURDAY RUINS

MCGINLEY’S BID

After a Saturday round of 77 that “featured” five 3-putt odysseys, and seemingly playing for a respectable finish, Paul McGinley really had nothing to lose when he teed off in Sunday’s final round of the BMW International at Gut Lärchenhof in Cologne, Germany. Without the burden of needing to play conservatively, McGinley fired 66, low round of the day and was left to ruminate on his fortune had he only shot 75 or even 76 on Saturday.

He finished 72 holes, one stroke off the low number of 277 established by Marcus Fraser and Danny Willett (Willett won the playoff). In so doing, McGinley continues a remarkable renaissance that has resulted in three top-10 finishes in his last four tournaments.

He showed that he meant business from the outset in Germany, shooting 65 on Thursday, benefiting from five birdies, one eagle and no bogeys. He was still only two strokes off the lead after a second-round 70.

McGinley’s putter betrayed him on Saturday, however. The birdie he recorded at the first hole would be the last to grace his scorecard, which fell prey to six bogeys before he called it a day.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had five 3-putts in a round of golf in my life before,” McGinley said. “I lost my speed on the greens and lost my confidence.”

A younger player might have lost heart, but McGinley collected his thoughts and resumed play on Saturday with a resolve that resulted in seven birdies against just one bogey. He shared third place with two others.

“I had a good think about my putting last night,” McGinley said. “[The greens] were not as dry as they were yesterday and when there’s a bit of moisture on them, they run a bit smoother. But that was a good reaction today to come back and shoot the score I did today, so I’m pleased.”

McGinley has a lot to be excited about as his game is suddenly top-shelf with the Irish Open looming at Portrush this week.

“It’s a real thrill to be playing good golf again and to be back up at the right end of the leaderboard,” McGinley said. “It’s been a few barren years and it’s a real thrill and a lot of excitement. It’s good to go [to Portrush] in good form. I’m looking forward to it. It’s one of my favorite golf courses in the whole world.”

Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton also tuned up for Portrush with 72 holes in Germany. McGrane’s 287 (76-66-73-72) was good for a share of 44th place, while Thornton’s 290 (71-72-74-73) entitled him to joint-54th place.

McGrane bungled his chance for a top-20 finish when he lost five strokes to par over the final three holes on the front nine on Sunday. That tarnished an otherwise fine round in which he managed five birdies.

 

EGOLF PROFESSIONAL TOUR

Seamus Power of Waterford won for the second time this year on this feeder circuit when he captured the Spring Creek Classic in Gordonsville, Va. He overcame three early bogeys in the third and final round to birdie seven of his 11 final holes and finish five strokes clear of his nearest pursuer.

Those three bogeys were the first that Power, an East Tennessee State grad, had suffered in this event. He shot 67 and 64 over the first 36 holes, amassing nine birdies and one eagle, to enter the final round tied for the lead.

Power was still down by two strokes early on the back nine when his playing partner, Anthony Mitchell, cratered. While Power was racking up the birdies, Mitchell worked out four bogeys and a triple bogey at 17.

A rain delay also factored into the equation, as play was suspended for just over two hours with Power’s group on 15. When play resumed, Power hadn’t lost his edge, and he continued to drain putts to finish with 66 for the round and 197, 16 strokes under par, for the tournament.

“Last year, I learned a lot,” Power said. “I was trying to do too much at times, thinking everyone else was a lot better than they actually were. I found myself trying to birdie every hole and trying to keep up, whereas this year I’ve had more patience with myself.

“I knew I had plenty of holes left after those bogeys, and that I just had to stay patient early on. I stayed within myself and later found myself walking down 18 fairway with six birdies in my last 10 holes. That was a pretty cool feeling, when you think about it. It’s always nice when you can rally like that to win.”

Power pocketed $15,000 for his victory and stands ninth on the Tour’s money list for this year with $36,768 earned in nine events. Drew Weaver leads the pack with $77,813.

NGA TOUR

Waterford’s Barry O’Neill got a share of 31st place in the Texas Honing Open at the Sterling Country Club in Houston. Consistency enabled him to finish at even par-288 for the event, having shot rounds of 73, 72, 70 and 73. Nine strokes separated him from the winning score posted by Anthony Broussard. O’Neill earned $1,349.

 

 

Improved Ireland go down to 3rd defeat

POSTED ON June 21st  - POSTED IN Sport

Ireland wore white against Italy in Poznan on Monday night but they didn’t raise the white flag and put up a creditable performance before eventually going down 2-0.

After conceding goals after only three minutes against both Croatia and Spain we knew after a few minutes on Monday night that Italy were not in the same league as Spain and the Republic were not going to lose 4-0 again.

Ireland passed the ball well and Kevin Doyle looked dangerous when he ran at the Italian defenders. But he and his teammates failed to get any shots on target.

Glen Whelan and Stephen Ward both gave the ball away cheaply and then the Italians went ahead on 35 minutes. Shay Given fumbled a shot from Cassano and Italy went ahead from the resulting corner. Cassano rose high get his head to Pirlo’s corner and head past Given. Damien Duff, who was captaining the team on his 100th appearance, kicked the ball clear, but it was already over the line.

The Irish improved in the second half and with only one goal between teams there was always a chance we could snatch an equaliser. Andrews had the first real Irish shot on target on 59 minutes and the same player brought a great save from Italian ‘keeper Buffon on 78 minutes with an excellent free kick.

Trapattoni was very slow to make changes but eventually Long and Walters were given a chance to impress and they did bring more energy to the team when introduced.

Andrews was Ireland’s best player of the tournament, but unfortunately he got sent off for a second yellow card on 89 minutes. Then on the stroke of full time Italian sub Balotelli easily beat John O’Shea to volley past Given from yet another corner.

Trapattoni has come in from criticism from some Irish fans, but it looks like the 73 year-old Italian is going to stay on for the World Cup qualifiers, which begin in September. Our next game is a friendly away to Serbia on August 15 when Trapp will have to start re-building.

Irish line-up: Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, McGeady, Andrews, Whelan, Duff, Keane, Doyle.

Subs: Long for McGeady 64 mins; Walters for Doyle 75 mins; Cox for Keane 85 mins.

 

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