Graeme McDowell had to take the bitter with the sweet in this year’s U.S. Open, settling for joint-second place with Michael Thompson, one stroke behind champion Webb Simpson. The chances were certainly there for McDowell, who failed to sink a 24-foot putt on the 18th green on Sunday that would have forced a playoff with Simpson.
That was a far cry better than Rory McIlroy could do. The defending champion missed the cut and joined Peter Lawrie on the sidelines, leaving 2010 champion McDowell and Harrington to make strong bids for an Irish “three-peat” at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Ultimately, McDowell shared 2nd spot with Mark Thompson, while Harrington was a shot back on 4th with four others.
McDowell contended for the lead from the outset, shooting rounds of 69, 72 and 68 to work his way into Sunday’s final pairing with Jim Furyk. He minimized his mistakes for the most part, but where he did fall prey to bogeys, such as in Friday’s round, where he recorded six, he countered with a fair amount of birdies (four).
Four bogeys on the front nine on Sunday had McDowell backpedaling severely, but he hung in, getting a couple of those strokes back at 11 and 12 with some crafty putting. His putter nearly earned him some more merits, but putts at 13 and 15 for par and birdie, respectively, were slightly off the mark.
The biggest problem for McDowell on Sunday was finding the fairway. He landed in the short grass on only three of the par-4s and 5s, leaving him with compromising approach shots that sometimes took bad bounces or stuck in thick grass.
Despite whatever flaws came to the surface on Sunday, McDowell found himself on the cusp of victory late in his round, rolling in a needed birdie putt on 17 to draw to within one stroke of Simpson, who was then in the clubhouse with the lead. McDowell needed to again hole a 24-foot birdie putt on 18 to match Simpson and appeared to relish the challenge as he charged and then stalked the green, but the break that he thought he saw wasn’t there and he rolled his putt straight left, four inches wide of the cup.
“That putt, it was weird, because I hit that putt in practice and it bumped left and it moved right of the hole and I just didn’t do that today,” McDowell said. He expressed a mix of frustration with his inability to place his ball where he needed to, with a sense of pride for hanging in and still having a chance on the 72nd hole.
“Mostly just frustration, just because I hit three fairways today,” McDowell said. “That’s the U.S. Open. You’re not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to hit it in some fairways. And that was the key today, really, for me. Not like I drove the ball awful. I just seemed to hit it in the semi-rough all day long.
“But I just really didn’t have much of an ‘A’ game this week. I’m not sure you can have your ‘A’ game on this golf course, because it beats you up. The fairways are very elusive, the greens are rock hard, and it’s a tough test of golf, the toughest, and I don’t think anyone had their ‘A’ game this week; it’s impossible to do. So to compete as well as I did with my ‘B plus’ game, I’m very proud of myself.
“I don’t know what it is about these setups that I enjoy as much as I do, but they certainly do appeal to me. The tougher the golf course, the better for me. I’m happy with my preparation this week and happy with my execution in general. I hit enough quality shots this week to store in the memory banks and I’ll be back.”
Kerry supporters will be hoping that midfielder and ace free taker Bryan Sheehan will be fit for Kerry’s first game in the back door route on July 14. Sheehan injured his knee in the quarterfinal win over Tipperary and missed the Munster semifinal defeat to Cork when goalkeeper Brendan Kealy took over the free taking duties. But the Kilcummin player was not successful, missing two ’45’s. Dublin’s Stephen Cluxton kicked 12 points from frees last year and other goalkeepers who have been successful from ’45’s include Limerick’s Brian Scanlon and Mayo’s Robert Hennelly, but it’s a recent trend in Gaelic Football to see goalkeepers come upfield to take ’45’s.
LONDON MOVE UP
After their recent win over Wicklow in the Christy Ring Cup final the London hurlers are now entitled to play in the top tier MacCarthy Cup next year. London selector tom Quaid said: ”We have spoken about it and I think we are all very keen to into the Liam MacCarthy Cup, who not? I’m sure Kerry are now probably wishing they had gone up last year because the competition is fierce in the Christy Ring competition.” With Antrim and Galway both playing in Leinster it looks like London will also be included in the Leinster championship next year, if they wish to step up to the top grade.
STATUE OF DAVIN
A planning application to erect a 9-foot statue in honor of GAA founder-member Maurice Davin in Carrick-on-Suir has been submitted to the local Town Council. The plans for the monument were recently put on display to give members of the public an opportunity to view them and put any questions to sculptor Barry Wrafter. Davin, who lends his name to one of the stands at Croke Park, is the only man to serve two terms as president of the GAA.
Irish-born Aussie Rules star Jim Stynes is to have a bridge named in his honor in his adopted city of Melbourne. The “floating bridge” which will link Melbourne’s docklands to the city centre along the Yarra River, will be named after the Dubliner. Jim died in March this year aged 45, after a long battle with cancer.
The Republic of Ireland went into Sunday night’s game against Croatia in Poznan on the back of a 14-game unbeaten run, but our luck finally ran out on a wet night in Poland and we went down 3-1. The nation had built itself into frenzy by 7.45 p.m. on Sunday night; streets in many towns and villages were decorated with bunting and many cars flew miniature tricolours.
But homes and pubs across the country were silenced after three minutes when Croatia scored. From a corner the ball broke to Mandzukic and his weak header beat Given from 16 yards. Given, who got his finger tips to the ball, was probably unsighted and had begun to move in the opposite direction when Mandzukic headed towards goal.
After that terrible start the Irish began to play attractive football, passing the ball confidently and they got the equaliser they deserved on 19 minute. Kevin Doyle was causing the Croatian defence problems and when he was fouled by Corluka, McGeady’s free kick found the head of Seán St Ledger, who made no mistake from two yards out.
Ireland depended very much on the long ball tactic, while Croatia played more composed football and towards the end of the first half they began to take control of the game. When Croatia’s second goal came on 42 minutes, it was a controversial one. Ward appeared to have been fouled when trying to clear and the ball fell to Jelavic, who beat Given from close range.
Three minutes into the second half it got worse, when Mandzukic was allowed a free header and the ball bounced off the foot of the upright on to Given’s head and into the net. Disaster.
Robbie Keane was denied a penalty on 62 minutes, but the view from the RTE panel was that the Dutch referee didn’t give the penalty as a Croatia player had been lying injured for approximately 30 seconds and the Irish players didn’t kick the ball out of play. Overall very disappointing and with Spain and Italy to come, it’s not going to get any easier for the Boys in Green.
Irish line-up: Given, O’Shea, Dunne, St Ledger, Ward, McGeady, Andrews, Whelan, Duff, Keane, Doyle. Subs: Walters for Doyle 53 mins; Cox for McGeady 53 mins; Long for Keane 70 mins.
The name at the top of the leaderboard midway through Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament at Muirfield in Dublin, Ohio was Rory, but that was the southern hemisphere Rory; Sabbatini, to be precise. As for Rory McIlroy, he was headed out the door, having missed the cut in his third straight tournament. Tiger Woods claimed the title on the Sunday, equaling Nicklaus’s own record of 73 PGA tour wins.
McIlroy was three strokes off the mark at 36 holes, having shot 150 when 147 or better was needed. He began the tournament on the back nine on Thursday and went four strokes over par at the par-3 12th hole with a quadruple-bogey 7. He salvaged his round by taking five strokes off par the rest of the trip, including an eagle-3 at the fifth hole, for a score of 71.
Friday just turned plain ugly, however. McIlroy couldn’t buy a birdie. The front nine wasn’t too bad, as he made the turn two strokes over par. But matters turned surreal at 11, where he carded the first of two double bogeys. He managed to save par at 12 on this occasion, which was the highlight of his round. The numbers totaled 79 and he was soon left to contemplate how to spend his weekend.
“It just seems like every time I go out there I make one or two big numbers and that sort of throws me, a couple [double bogeys] on the back nine,” McIlroy said on Friday. “Just those big numbers at the beginning are killing me, and I just need to get those off the card and I’ll be okay.
“I don’t feel like the scores are actually reflecting how I’m hitting the ball. I was able to string nine good holes together yesterday. I just need to keep working on it and try to string 18 good holes together and then try and string two days together, and obviously three days and, ultimately, four.”
McIlroy will now play this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis as a tune-up for his U.S. Open defense the following week.
Paul McGinley and Peter Lawrie continue to prosper. The duo tied for sixth place in the Wales Open at the Celtic Manor Resort. They both shot 4-under-par 280 to finish two strokes in back of Thongchai Jaidee.
McGinley put 72, 73 and 70 on his scorecards before finishing with a Sunday low round of 65. Lawrie shot 72, 73, 69 and 67.
McGinley had parred each of the first seven holes on Sunday, and then took birdie on six of the remaining 11 holes without bogey. Lawrie, likewise, had a bogey-free Sunday, but took all his birdies (4) on the front nine.
A less is more attitude, while he pursues outside interests, may be behind McGinley’s resurgence.
“I’m really focused this year and spent a lot of time the last few years setting up businesses and that’s gone very well,” McGinley said. “I’ve got seven golf courses under construction at the moment and that’s taken up a lot of time, but to be honest it’s worked in my favor, because it’s given me a freshness when I play golf. I haven’t played a whole lot, but I’ve played well in all my tournaments so far this year and, hopefully, I can keep that up.
“Might have a little bit of an Indian summer in my career. I’m 45 years old now, so there’s still a chance for me to do some good.”
Damien McGrane and Simon Thornton also made the cut. McGrane finished joint-28th at 286 (71-71-69-75), while Thornton was two strokes back at 288 (69-73-77-69), which was good for a share of 35th place.
Gareth Maybin, 149 (73-76), and Michael Hoey, 151 (75-76), both missed the cut, which fell at 147. Shane Lowry withdrew after an opening-round 81.
Arlington’s Friday card had something of an Irish tinge to it. James Graham rode Grazie, the second-longest shot on the board, to a nearly 6-length victory in the second race, a claiming mile on the main track. The win mutuel came back $25.80.
Two races later, it was John Haran’s turn to unleash a winner at double-digit odds. His Henry’s Time used the old turf-to-dirt angle to capture the fourth race, a claiming sprint at the $16,000 tier for non-winners of three career races, by almost a length. A.L Contreras rode Henry’s Time, which had to withstand an objection from the trainer of the second finisher, before punters could collect their $22.40 win payoffs.
As if the win prices hadn’t been high enough, along came Irish-bred Freedom Reigns from the barn of Doug Matthews to win the seventh race. The 3-year-old filly, a product of the Irish National Stud, is owned by John Wade in partnership with Ben McElroy and Darrell and Lendy Brown. Freedom Reigns, previously winless in five starts for Kevin Prendergast in Ireland and one start for Matthews, rallied under Florent Geroux to get up by a nose in this maiden special weight grass race and post a $47.40 win mutuel.
Earlier in the week, Graham was in Erie, Pa. to kick off the season at Presque Isle Downs, where he had the honor of winning the first race on the card. He aired by five lengths on Angel Terrace for trainer Jonathan Sheppard in a maiden special weight sprint. Angel Terrace returned $3.20 to win.
Cathal Lynch got wins out of two of his barn’s erstwhile stalwarts. The Derryman kicked off Preakness weekend at Pimlico by sending out his Universal Language to win Friday’s first race. By winning this starter handicap, the 5-year-old mare made it seven victories from her last 11 races. Kendrick Carmouche rode Universal Language, which returned $3.40 to win as the heavy chalk.
Then, on Sunday, Ko-Ko-Mo Stable and Smith’s Lil Kiara rallied under Angel Arroyo to score by almost two lengths in an allowance/optional claiming race around two turns at Parx. The winner, a 5-year-old homebred mare, has won stakes races for New Jersey-bred stock and can be expected to line up in similar races at Monmouth Park this spring and summer. She paid $4.60 in winning at Parx.
Derek Ryan had a winning weekend at Monmouth Park, although he bid adieu to one of his runners via the claim box. He sent out Metro Thoroughbreds’ I’m Not Myself to a neck victory in Saturday’s first race, a claiming sprint restricted to those having only broken their maidens. After Carmouche (back from Pimlico), disembarked in the winner’s circle, Ryan was informed that rival trainer Juan Serey had ponied up the $12,500 for I’m Not Myself. The win mutuel came back $7.60.
Sunday’s sixth race at Monmouth went to Liam Benson’s Choral Society, which Ryan trains. This 3-year-old gelding has suddenly gotten into a winning habit since hitting New Jersey. He broke his maiden at the Meadowlands two weeks prior after going winless in six races in Florida. Most recently, the Benson homebred prospered as the favorite under Joe Bravo, rallying to reach the wire in front by just over a length against rival claiming stock racing on the grass. Choral Society paid $5.40 to win.
Eddie Kenneally also won a pair of races, only in New York at Belmont Park. He sent Douglas Arnold’s Powhatan Princess out to a 3-length tally in Wednesday’s fifth race, a claiming sprint. The win mutuel came back $11.20 in the filly’s second race since Kenneally took over her training.
Kenneally then won Thursday’s fourth race, another claiming sprint, with Wallace Fluhr’s A Boy Named Em. Javier Castellano got him to the wire almost five lengths in front for a $9.40 win mutuel. But the 3-year-old gelding will do his racing next time out for Gary Gullo, who put up the $14,000 required to claim A Boy Named Em.
It’s Lansdowne Bhoys vs. New York Greek-American/Atlas in the Cosmopolitan Soccer League [CSL] championship match June 3. This follows the Bhoys’ dramatic 5-4 sudden death penalty victory over defending champs Pancyprian Freedoms in the playoffs at Tibbetts Brook Field Park last Sunday.
There was more Irish glee in the CSL playoffs with Shamrock, the Over-30 Div. West titlists, also prevailing 5-4 in sudden death against East runners-up Barnstonworth Rovers Premier on Randalls Island. They clash with Atlas’ Over-30 side on June 3 as well to decide the division’s undisputed champions.
And in the D’Arpino Cup, Lansdowne’ reserves overcame Metro Div. One Korabi 4-2 to advance to the semi-finals against Missile FC.
Livewire forward Conor Hunter was key in Lansdowne’s victory over Pancyprian with a goal in the 1-1 regulation time draw — his fourth in as many games for the Bhoys.
He struck from the spot on the hour after Craig Purcell was fouled and then converted a penalty in the ensuing shoot-out after the Greek-Cypriots had leveled.
Hyden Johns, Mike Fernandez, Sean Purcell and Steven Conway also connected in the shoot-out, whose other hero was goalie Andrew Tartara with two saves.
“Credit goes to the whole squad for a great performance,” said coach Kevin Grogan. “We deserved it, but we’re not getting carried away.”
Lansdowne qualified for the playoffs as East division winners, while Pancyprian, the national amateur champions, finished second to Atlas in the West.
The Greeks, meanwhile, also needed penalties to defeat Barnstonworth Rovers, runners-up to Lansdowne in the East, in the other First Division playoff.
Bingo O’Driscoll, Shamrock’s veteran midfielder, put on a Man of the Match performance with both goals in the Rocks’ 2-2 regulation tie with Premier that led to penalties.
His first came from a Stevie Keating through ball that he chested and blasted home [10th].
Alan Tardeau [35th] leveled for Premier who then sighed with relief after Mike Bishop’s header came off the post. The Rocks would briefly rue that miss when Andy Bay [70th] shot Premier ahead.
Coach Paddy McCarry’s response was to go with three men upfront. The move paid off with O’Driscoll [80th] smashing in a thunderous header — a la Drogba, McCarry noted — from skipper Steven Doyle’s delivery.
Paddy Geraghty, Bingo, Bishop and Eddie Gilmartin connected during the first round of penalties that ended 4-4. Burim Ljuta then grabbed the winner after Shamrock goalie Alan Quirke had made a save and Premier then smacked their next effort against the post.
“Pure heart, the lads never gave up,” McCarry said about his men.
He also had props for assistant coach and Shamrock reserve team ace Sean McMullen. “We wouldn’t be here without him,” McCarry remarked.
McMullen would later return to Randalls and notch both goals in the Shamrock seconds’ season- ending 2-2 draw with Central Park Rangers Reds.
Robbie “The Touch” Green struck twice in the Bhoys’ D’Arpino Cup triumph over Korabi.
Brendan Hansbury also connected to set up a semi-final date with another Metro One side, Missile FC.
To reach the quarterfinals, Lansdowne saw off mtul Nieuw Amsterdam 2-0, Pancyprian’s second unit 6-2 and New York Athletic Club 5-2.
It was rocky at first at Bushwick Inlet. But after falling behind early, eight unanswered goals powered Manhattan Celtic to an 8-1 romp over Turkish American that saw them end a remarkable campaign in the Second Division with a hundred percent record [16-0, 48].
John Tanios and Man of the Match Mat Negus both scored hat tricks while Mohammed Ndua added a brace for the new champions.
Celtics’ reserves won 1-0, courtesy of Dan Callow to finish the season atop the log with a 15-1  record.
“Both teams played well. All the guys where delighted to be part of a successful season,” summed up Ian Woodcock.
At a Boston venue better known for its musical offerings than fisticuffs, New England junior welterweight Danny O’Connor attempts to hit a high note this Thursday night in a renewed quest for world title contender status.
The Framingham, Mass., prizefighter [16-1] is scheduled to go 10 rounds with Daniel Sostre at the House of Blues, in the main event of a Boston vs. New York card co-promoted by his new manager, rocker Ken Casey of the group Dropkick Murphys.
“I probably know about [Sostre] as much as he knows about himself,” O’Connor told the Echo from Houston, Texas, last Sunday before winding up training camp under Ronnie Shields. “I’ve been watching tapes of him every single day.”
The former national Golden Gloves champion spoke highly of his foe, who touts an 11-5-1 record [4 KOs], and expects a good fight.
“He’s a really skilled fighter, sharp and throws crisp punches,” noted O’Connor, adding that he would still handle Sostre if he listened to trainer Shields and stuck to their fight plan.
He described Shields, who’s worked with greats such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and Pernell “Sweetpea” Whitaker, as an amazing trainer with a vast knowledge.
“KID” ROONEY BEATEN
Light middleweight Kevin “Kid” Rooney, Jr. was knocked down twice en route to a four-round unanimous points loss to Anthony “Sweet Tooth” Jones at the Times Union Center in upstate Albany last Friday.
Rooney, the son of famed trainer Kevin Rooney, appeared to have brushed off Jones’ quick start when he was adjudged to have been knocked down by a sweeping right hand late in the first round.
His second trip to the canvas in round two from a hard left to the jaw from the southpaw Jones was more obvious. The Fordham graduate, nonetheless, dusted himself off and proceeded to have a good third heat during which he connected with one-twos throughout the round.
Rooney had his moments in the fourth and final stanza as the two fighters exchanged punches liberally. But at that point he needed a knockout to salvage the fight after fallen behind because of the knockdowns.
The three cards read 39-35, 38-36, and 38-36 all in favor of the now 2-0-1 Jones. Rooney’s ledger dropped to 4-2 with two KOs. The fight was televised nationally on ESPN.
The FAI are calling next Saturday’s soccer friendly against Bosnia Herzegovina at the Aviva “The Big Send Off,” the final home game before the Boys in Green head off to a training camp in Italy prior to the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine. Giovanni Trapattoni was the first manager of the 16 Euro finalists to name his squad; indeed the Italian could probably have named 22 of the 23 players on New Year’s Day. The only question was whether Trap would reward the excellent form shown by Derry’s James McClean for Sunderland this season. McClean saw 11 minutes of international action in the 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic last February and it will be interesting to see if the 23-year-old Derry man features on Saturday afternoon.
After a long, hard English season, where all but one of the Irish squad ply their trade, the players will probably be taking it easy on Saturday and trying to ensure that they won’t pick up any injuries. However, fringe players like McClean, midfielder Keith Fahey and strikers Jonathan Walters and Simon Cox will be trying to impress the manager if they get some game time. John O’Shea, who injured his calf in Sunderland’s last league game of the season against Manchester United is fit to travel, but may be rested on Saturday. This will be our first-ever meeting with Bosnia Herzegovina, who finished runners-up to France in their qualifying group and then lost 6-2 on aggregate to Portugal in the play-offs.
Meanwhile the FAI has confirmed that the UEFA has granted permission for the Irish players to wear black armbands against Italy on June 18 to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the 1994 massacare in Loughlinisland. The game against Italy in Poznan falls exactly 18 years to the day when six Catholics were shot by the UVF in a the County Down pub while watching the Republic’s game against Italy at Giants’ Stadium at the 1994 World Cup.
The Munster GAA has made a good call by putting on a double header at Semple Stadium on Sunday next. Normally a football game between Tipperary and Kerry in Thurles would not attract a huge crowd, but pair it with a Munster hurling game between Tipperary and Limerick and you then have a mouth-watering double
header. Kerry had a slight blip in their preparations with coach Donie
Buckley stepping down, he is now replaced in the backroom team by Eamon Fitzmaurice.
In Kerry, where supporters concentrate more on the playing personnel, the backroom changes are not seen as hugely important. This will be the third year in-a-row that Tipp and Kerry meet at the quarterfinal stage in Munster; Kerry won by 11 points in Killarney last year and by 12 points in Thurles in 2010. When Declan Browne played for Tipp he really caused problems for the Kerry defence, but since his retirement the Kingdom have had it easy and with many of Jack O’Connor’s young players playing for their places on Sunday they are unlikely to slip up. The hurling game in Thurles should be much closer. Lar Corbett is back for Tipp, but he has not played a competitive game since lining out for his club Thurles Sarsfields last October. It’s good news for Tipp that Corbett is back and while Lar definitely won’t start I wouldn’t rule out a late appearance as a sub if Tipp are struggling in attack. There is no love lost between Tipp and Limerick when it comes to hurling and while Limerick will travel to Semple as underdogs they certainly won’t be overawed by the opposition. Limerick had a blip in their preparations with selector Ciaran Carey quitting after complaining about the team’s training methods. I fancy Tipp to win.
MEATH SHOULD WIN
VS. IMPROVED WICKLOW
A big game also in Dr. Cullen Park, Carlow. where Meath take on Wicklow. Seamus McEneaney just about survived as Meath manager last month and the Monaghan man will be hoping for a good performance from his team on Sunday. Mick O’Dwyer had some great days in charge of Wicklow, but new Wicklow manager Harry Murphy has done something O’Dwyer failed to do, get the Garden County out of division four. Not only did Wicklow win promotion, they beat a fancied Fermanagh side in the division 4 final. This is real championship stuff, two counties with great football traditions playing in the compact Dr. Cullen Park. It will be tight, but Meath should progress.
Clones is another great GAA summer venue and on Sunday Monaghan take on Antrim at their own St Tiernach’s Park. Antrim finished mid-table in division three, while Monaghan were relegated from division two. I fancy Antrim to cause a mild upset here.
GUNNER RICE TO RETIRE
Pat Rice is retiring as assistant manager of Arsenal at the end of this season. Rice, who was born in Belfast, grew up in London and joined the Gunners as an apprentice in1964. Apart from four years with Watford between 1980 and 1984, He spent his entire playing and coaching career with Arsenal. For long spells in the 1970s the Arsenal 1-2-3 was all Northern Irish: Jennings, Rice and Nelson. And then, O’Leary and Brady from the Republic made it majority Irish at times (such as when the day they won the 1979 F.A. Cup). Rice, who was 63 on St Patrick’s Day, is quitting due to chronic knee problems. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger paid a glowing tribute to his former assistant and confirmed that another former Arsenal star Steve Bould will replace him.
HEAD FOR APPLE
New York will be the destination for this year’s All Stars football tour later this year. Last year the All Star hurlers visited San Francisco, but there were fears that this year’s football trip would not go ahead after Vodafone ended their sponsorship. Gaelic Players CEO Dessie Farrell said: ‘‘The tour will be reviewed on a year-by-year basis but, to be fair, Opel has been a great sponsor. I think they are in it for the long haul.’’
PLAYERS TO STUDY
STATE OF THE GAME
New GAA president Liam O’Neill has turned to former Offaly manager Eugene McGee to try and analyze the current state of Gaelic football. McGee in turn has formed his own group of former intercounty players who will watch various games over the summer months and submit a report on the state of the game by October. The eight former players in the working group are: Killian Burns (Kerry), Declan Darcy (Leitrim and Dublin), Paul Early (Roscommon), Kevin Griffin (Mayo), Tim Healy (Wicklow), Ciaran McBride (Tyrone), Tony Scullin (Derry) and John Tobin (Galway).
It will soon be eight years since Spain defeated Russia 1-0 in their opening game at the 2004 European Championships in Portugal. The match was watched by just under 30,000 at the Estadio do Algarve in Faro-Loule and the venue looked small yet impressive as fans all over the continent tuned in on television. These days, the pride the Portuguese locals felt during that event has been replaced by embarrassment and regret. The Estadio do Algarve was recently turned into a temporary school as a debate rages about whether or not the authorities should make the prudent financial decision and demolish it.
This is not the only stadium from Euro 2004 to be under consideration for demolition due to the fact the facilities are no longer viable. Estadio Dr. Magalhaes Pessoa turned into another white elephant when the local club UD Leira could no longer afford to pay to play home games there. Given their average attendance of just over 2000, it was costing Leira too much to stage matches at the same place which hosted Croatia versus France eight summers back. With no tenant and precious other activity, it has turned into a drain on the public coffers and many politicians have pointed out it would make more sense to knock it.
Against this unpromising background then, the recent news the FAI is exploring the possibility of trying to host the 2020 European Championships in tandem with Wales and Scotland should not be greeted with any acclaim. Yes, it would be fantastic to have the best countries in Europe playing competitively in Ireland. No, it would not be worth it. Even if the FAI are making no immediate plans for purpose-built stadia (at least none they will confess to right now), the lesson to be learnt here is that, for all the glory that would be involved, there is precious little financial return.
Of course, the problem here is that UEFA don’t officially accept bids until 18 months from now. This means we are about to exposed to a year and a half of absolute balderdash regarding the potential impact such an event would have on the country’s beleaguered economy. After all these are the same people who told us the 2011 Europa League final would be worth €50 million to the local economy. Co-hosting the Euros would generate more than that fantasy number but at what cost?
Before the first silly number is thrown out then by those trying to convince us a financially-strapped sports body in a financially-strapped country should be getting involved in those sort of enterprise, please consider the following quote.
“Estimates of the economic effects generated by major sporting events should not be exaggerated. The complexity of cause and effect and the various overlapping aspects make any reliable measurement of these effects accurately impossible. Realistically, neither macroeconomic nor lasting direct economic benefits can be expected from such events.”
That nugget comes from the official Swiss report into their part in co-hosting Euro 2008 with their Austrian neighbors. It’s an interesting read. Indeed, one wonders if anybody in the FAI will bother to cast a glance over it some time in the next year or so. The Swiss were happy with how things went because, from the outset, they knew it was a loss-maker. Amongst other things, they warned future bidders though that fans from other nations tend to spend a lot less time and money in host cities than is predicted beforehand.
That’s not the kind of information you are likely to hear once the FAI start convincing people that this is just what Ireland needs at this juncture in its history. Maybe John Delaney needs to talk to the Swiss (not for nothing a wealthy, independent country) before he does anything else. Between 2002 and 2006, the Swiss estimate for hosting the tournament went from 11 million to 178 million Swiss Francs, largely due to them not realizing the prohibitive price of improving security at games and around squads during the event. Who’d be a fly on the wall when the FAI and the Gardaí sit down and try to work out the overtime bill? That will be an interesting accounting exercise.
The sad thing about this is we thought all these kind of lunatic plans were the preserve of the Celtic Tiger era when, to quote our mothers, our eyes were bigger than our bellies. You’d think that the lessons of the last few years would have taught people not to be overstretching themselves. You’d also imagine the FAI need to be spending more money on improving grass-roots facilities and coaching rather than on fanciful castles in the air.
The stupidity of getting involved in these kinds of grand schemes at a time when the country is mired in so much debt would seem to be obvious to all except the denizens of Irish soccer. If they need any further examples of ambition outstripping reality, they should turn to Greece.
As part of the €265 million renovation of Athens Olympic Stadium ahead of the 2004 Olympic Games, they built a high-tech indoor training facility. This was regarded as the type of legacy project that would stand the country’s athletes in good stead for generations to come. These days, a leak in the roof means long jumpers have to negotiate a strategically-placed bucket as they sprint towards the sand pit. The money isn’t there to fund basic repairs and the budget is so tight the heating in this cavernous building where Greece’s finest medal prospects come to train can only be turned on for one hour each day. One hour.
“The expression of interest is preliminary after the principle was discussed and is being put forward by the three associations so that the opportunity can be explored in more detail,” said the FAI in a statement. “At this stage no bids would be expected or required by UEFA for at least 18 months.”
Eighteen months is surely long enough for them to see sense. Well, we can only hope.
THE All-Ireland Football campaign is very much up and running following victories for Donegal, Galway, Louth, Longford and Limerick over the weekend.
And while no sensible person will read too much into preliminary and first round matches in May, both Donegal and Galway have good reason to feel pleased with themselves. Donegal opened their defense of the Ulster Championship with a 1-16 to 1-10 victory over Cavan at Breffni Park.
Galway were even more emphatic winners, trouncing Roscommon by 3-15 to 0-10 at Dr Hyde Park. There was clear evidence that both are moving in the right direction.
Take Donegal. During last season’s campaign that eventually saw them lose to Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final, there was considerable criticism of manager Jim McGuinness’s over dependence on a blanket defense.
But there are definite signs that they have moved on. While they are still strong defensively, they are now more prepared to throw players forward in support of the attack.
Basically, they did what they had to do against a young Cavan side. Despite the absence of the injured Michael Murphy, they had the match well in control by half-time.
At that stage, they were 1-7 to 0-4 clear, a six-point cushion they maintained during the second period. In the absence of Murphy, Colm McFadden was the main torn in Cavan’s side.
He contributed 1-6, slotting home a penalty and also kicking five frees. Rory Kavanagh also did well, marking his 100th appearance with three points from play.
Cavan started promisingly, picking off long range scores to lead 0-3 to 0-1 after seven minutes but thereafter they couldn’t match a much superior Donegal outfit. In the circumstances, Cavan full-forward Eugene Keating did really well to manage five points from play.
He was also pulled down for a second half penalty which substitute Niall McDermott scored from with 10 minutes left.
Kavanagh, the Donegal captain summed it up: “It wasn’t a classic, but we had to go out to win and we did that. We’ll have boys like Michael Murphy back from injury the next day and will be the better for it.”
That next day will see Donegal play Derry on June 11 while Cavan will go into the qualifiers, starting on June 23. In Connacht, Galway are through to a semi-final meeting with Sligo on June 9 following their demolition of a disappointing Roscommon.
Manager Alan Mulholland has every reason to feel encouraged. They started really well, had a bit of a digy patch in the middle of the game, but then pulled well clear again following the introduction of Padraic Joyce and Michael Meehan.
But the man-of-the-match was undoubtedly Paul Conroy at full-forward. He delivered 1-4 from play and also helped to set up Mark Hehir for Galway’s first goal.
Effectively, the match was over by the 23rd minute after Conroy had sent a low shot into the net for Galway’s second goal. Behind by 2-7 to 0-3, Roscommon were already a beaten team.
Sadly, their main threat Donal Shine had an off day, managing just two frees. To further discourage the home supporters, Galway brought on Meehan and Joyce to wreak havoc in the second half.
Meehan showed that he is hopefully at long last over his injury problems by scoring two points and then setting up a goal for Gary Sice. Joe Bergin also had a big day, dominating at midfield.
Mulholland expressed his satisfaction saying: “We are not going to pretend we didn’t play well. The first 20 minutes was really good, the middle third a bit ropey but we brought on Padraic Joyce and Michael Meehan to see us out for the last 20 minutes.”
In Leinster, Louth booked a clash with All-Ireland champions Dublin at Croke Park on June 3 after winning a nail-biting encounter 2-9 to 0-14 against Westmeath at Navan. It took a scrambled goal from debutant substitute Danny O’Connor six minutes into injury time to give Louth their victory.
It was hard on Westmeath who had looked in control for much of the second half. As their manager Pat Flanagan put it: “Sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green, we hit the crossbar, they score with a toe-poke of a goal.”
Louth boss Peter Fitzpatrick reacted, stating: “A match is not over until the final whistle and we have learnt that the hard way in recent years. Danny O’Connor is a young lad only 21 years of age.
“We saw him playing for his club a few weeks ago and put him in the panel. He got the goal and that’s what it is all about.”
Either way, Louth are going to have to improve an awful lot if they are to extend Dublin. Importantly, they got the goals and Westmeath didn’t, the first of them coming from Ronan Carroll in the first half.
John Heslin gave fine performance for Westmeath, scoring five points, but unfortunately his efforts counted for nothing when O’Connor struck home his late goal.
Neither was there much in the meeting of Longford and Laois at Pearse Park. Longford staged an outstanding comeback to come from 0-9 to 0-3 behind before winning 1-10 to 0-12.
Laois must still be wondering how they let it slip. Manager Justin McNulty reflected: “We controlled the game for long periods. They took their chances, we didn’t.”
That’s true but credit must go to Longford for beating Laois for the first time in 44 years. The game changing moment came early in the second half when Paul Barden was on hand to score a well taken goal.
Barden, the Longford center-forward and captain, was an inspirationl figure, finishing with 1-2. Eventually, Longford got their noses in front but they had to witstand a late scare when the ball finished in their net following a free.
But the Sligo referee Michael Duffy quite rightly ruled it out. All of which means that Longford will play Wexford in the next round at Corke Park on June 3 with Laois going into the qualifiers.
The only game in the Munster Senior Football Championship, meanwhile, saw Limerick comfortably get the better of Waterford 2-12 to 0-7. Ian Ryan was the hero, scoring 1-8.
Westmeath shock Antrim
THERE was a big shock in the first round of the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship when Westmeath overcame Antrim 0-14 to 0-12 at Mullingar.
The victory was all the more noteworthy because Westmeath played with only 14 men for 46 minutes. Ahead 0-8 to 0-3 at the interval, Antrim must have thought the job was done.
But Westmeath roared back with an outstanding second half effort. Niall O’Brien contributed 0-8, six from frees, as they went ahead in the closing minutes.
Their reward is a quarter-final meeting with Galway. Elsewhere in the Leinster Championship, Laois got the better of Carlow by 0-20 to 0-13 at Dr Cullen Park with Willie Hyland getting a remarkable 13 points. They will face Dublin in the last eight.