Sunday, September 3, 2017


Galway finally reached hurling's promised land as they captured the Liam MacCarthy Cup for the first time in 29 years and for only the fifth time ever on an emotional day at Croke Park.
So often the bridesmaid on All-Ireland final day – Galway has lost six finals including two in the last five years – their day in the sun finally dawned.
In a nervous decider before a full house, they finally exorcised the demons despite failing to score a goal and conceding two to their opponents.

Joe Canning hit nine points while team captain David Burke scored 0-4 from midfield as the Tribesmen tamed the Waterford challenge in the closing 15 minutes.
It was a poignant win too, given that two of those who featured prominently in previous victories,
Joe McDonagh – who sang the West Awake on the dais of the Hogan Stand when they won in 1980 and Tony Keady who was Man of the Match in their 1988 win – both died in the last 16 months.
Ever since coming back from a ten-point deficit to beat Waterford in the quarter final of the Allianz League earlier this spring, Galway looked like a team on a mission.
They have now completed the clean sweep, winning the Walsh Cup, the Allianz League, the Leinster championship and now the All-Ireland.

Micheál Donoghue, their quietly spoken manager, deserves much credit for turning their fortunes around, though the bulk of the credit belongs to the players who put their credibility on the line by ousting their previous boss Anthony Cunningham in 2015 and
finally, Joe Canning, one of the game's great talent's, won the only medal to have eluded him in his distinguished career.

Well done Galway.

Monday, August 28, 2017



There were so many moments of defiance and examples of iron will from Mayo in this All-Ireland semi-final that they are almost impossible to divide and number in accordance of importance.
But two simply jump off the page in terms of summing up the level of obstinacy that they bring to their football.

The first focused on that sequence of opportunities for Kerry in the 45th minute when Kieran Donaghy deftly put Stephen O'Brien bearing down on goal.
But there to block his initial shot was Keith Higgins. From the rebound David Clarke spread himself to deny O'Brien again. Then Paul Geaney stepped in and he too was thwarted by a combination of Clarke and Colm Boyle.


Mayo were 2-9 to 0-9 ahead at that stage. Any leakage would have been a firm invitation to keep coming but, instead, the vibe emanating was one of absolute resistance that said 'not today'.
In added time James O'Donoghue, omitted by Eamonn Fitzmaurice for the second successive year, twisted and turned to engineer a decent shooting platform off his left foot.
At this stage Kerry were five points down, 2-15 to 0-16, but the mindset of those Mayo players hadn't shifted.

Higgins got the block, Boyle gathered the rebound. The old firm.
Five years on from their first All-Ireland final in this current cycle, six years on from the first of nine All-Ireland semi-finals they've been engaged in, here they were still banging down the door, hassling and harrying the perceived No 1 contenders to Dublin's title off the premises.

Those snapshots perhaps encapsulated all that is best about them.
Paul Geaney of Kerry is tackled by Mayo players, from left, Colm Boyle, Keith Higgins, Séamus O'Shea and Aidan O'Shea. 

After a ragged and fractured first six championship games they have exploded into life in their last three, getting to a performance pitch that has been there in more abbreviated versions over the last six years.

The All-Ireland semi-finals of 2012, when they beat Dublin, and 2014 when they turned a five-point deficit into a five-point lead with 14 men against Kerry before Donaghy intervened, were previous high points.

But, in totality, this is as good as it has been from this group, something loosely acknowledged by manager Stephen Rochford afterwards.
"Possibly, because it is an All-Ireland semi-final. There is only one other bigger game in your year. I won't rush into that before I review it. I'm just proud of the way the players performed, they went out to make sure we didn't leave it behind us," he reflected.

Essentially, it's the same players pushing and probing, the same central characters who drive it. They were aggressive, and equally patient, when they had to be. They pushed up on Kerry's kick-outs and destroyed Kerry, winning eight from 14 in the first half.
Kerry suffered the ignominy of Brian Kelly knocking one kick-out over his own end-line for a '45 and had another penalised for not going the required 13 metres. When it went longer, invariably Tom Parsons, Boyle or Kevin McLoughlin were on hand to scoop it up and take it away. Parsons was immense throughout.

All the time Kerry were showing high levels of cynicism to halt Mayo runners at source. The first quarter wasn't complete when the free count was 12-4 in Mayo's favour. But by then Mayo were already edging clear with some authority, 0-6 to 0-4 ahead.
Kerry's decision to play Paul Murphy in a sweeping role for the first half will be the focus of much revision in Kerry this week and beyond.

The bigger picture though will focus on where Kerry find themselves with this team that has been carefully nurtured over the last two years.
The county is teeming with underage talent but finding the right formula, especially in defence, is particularly difficult.

Mark Griffin was one of four players omitted from the drawn game but in his absence the Kerry full-back line was only slightly more secure with Shane Enright again struggling on Andy Moran despite the protection.
Moran finished with just 1-1 this time but his hand was over so much and the sight of him turning inside Enright so often gave Mayo real impetus.
Making his 71st championship appearance, Moran's Indian summer continues and he looks as sharp and agile as he has done in 14-year career.

Kerry got themselves into a defensive flux. In addition to Murphy's role, there was the addition of Tom O'Sullivan, only the second U-21 player Eamonn Fitzmaurice has started in 26 championship games. But Murphy dropping back allowed Mayo to erect stronger ramparts around Donaghy.

After his risky deployment of Aidan O'Shea at full-back on Donaghy the last day, Mayo largely went for that tactic again, this time with much more success though the collaborative effort around O'Shea made a big difference.
Donaghy still set up four scores and helped to create two goal chances but his contribution was more limited.

Rochford felt the slings and arrows in his direction over O'Shea's placement the last day but wasn't looking for retribution now against his critics.
"I don't do things with this team to seek outside approval - or disapproval for that matter," he said. "I didn't lose any sleep about it. We are aware that if we don't deliver in three weeks' time there will be another headline coming but so be it."

Diarmuid O'Connor's cleverly punched goal had given them a first-half cushion, 1-8 to 0-6, and Moran's goal on 38 minutes provided the biggest chink of daylight. After that it was matter of locking it down.
They became just as cynical as Kerry had been as the game degenerated into a messy affair but they got a big contribution off their bench, especially from Conor Loftus who had a hand in the second goal and scored two points.

Cillian O'Connor was black-carded for taking down Stephen O'Brien in the 50th minute, not long after O'Connor had been central to Darran O'Sullivan being wrongly black-carded.

By the end 18 cards had been shown, three red, two black and 13 yellow cards (eight for Kerry) with Peter Crowley and Patrick Durcan picking up double yellows and Donaghy a straight red for lashing out at O'Shea, possibly his last act in an inter-county game.
It was that type of frustrating afternoon for Kerry as they succumbed to the precision and aggression of the most relentless group of men in Irish sport.

Colm Keys

SCORERS - Mayo: C O'Connor 0-6 (6f), J Doherty (1f, 1 '45) 0-3, A Moran 1-1, D O'Connor 1-0, C Loftus, K McLoughlin 0-2 each, C Barrett, P Durcan 0-1 each. Kerry: P Geaney 0-10 (8f), J O'Donoghue 0-3 (1f), J Lyne, J Buckley, J Barry, F Fitzgerald all 0-1 each.
MAYO - D Clarke; C Barrett, A O'Shea, D Vaughan; B Harrison, K Higgins, C Boyle; L Keegan, T Parsons; D O'Connor, S O'Shea, K McLoughlin; A Moran, C O'Connor, J Doherty. Subs: P Durcan for Vaughan (35+2), C Loftus for D O'Connor (h-t), C O'Shea for C O'Connor BC (51), S Coen for S O'Shea (61), D Kirby for Boyle (69), G Cafferkey for Barrett (74).
KERRY - B Kelly; S Enright, T Morley K Young; P Crowley, P Murphy, T O'Sullivan; D Moran, J Barry; D Walsh, J Buckley, J Lyne; P Geaney, K Donaghy, S O'Brien. Subs: J O'Donoghue for Walsh (h-t), D O'Sullivan for Buckley (h-t), F Fitzgerald for Enright (39), J Savage for O'Sullivan (BC, 45), M Griffin for Young (51), BJ Keane for T O'Sullivan (63), A Maher for Barry (blood, 66).

Monday, August 7, 2017


Galway marched into their third All-Ireland final in six years when they avenged last year's semi-final defeat by Tipperary in a pulsating semi-final at Croke Park.

This was the third successive semi-final clash between the counties; Galway won by a point two years ago while Tipp prevailed by a single point last year.
Remarkably, this time around it was another one point game; Joe Canning scored the winning point from under the Cusack Stand in the fifth minute of injury time.
After an indifferent first half in which he was booked and missed a straight forward free, the Portumna centre forward was immense in the spell-binding second period and finished as the game's top scorer with a personal tally of 0-11, seven of which came in the second half.
While the margin of victory was considerably less than the 16 points between the teams when they clashed in the National League final, when Galway first served notice that they would be serious contenders for All-Ireland honours this season.

This was a far more significant win for the Tribesmen than their league win. They're on the cusp of ending their All-Ireland famine which stretches back to 1988.

But their record in finals – they have lost six since their last triumph – will leave their fans on tender hooks ahead of the September showdown against the winners of next Sunday's second semi-final between Cork and Waterford.

Tipperary's demise - while hardly a shock – their form has been erratic since losing that League final to Galway – reinforces the view that the Premier County struggle when it comes to defending All-Ireland titles.

They last won back-to-back titles in 1964-65. Ironically, this was probably their best performance of the championship but it just fell short on the day.
Two missed 65's from Seamus Callanan in the second half proved costly for the Premier County.
There were no changes in personnel on either side and a minimum of positional switches, though the placing of Galway's Niall Burke at wing forward, where he was marked by Padraic Maher, was a surprise.

Galway showed understandable signs of their five week lay off in the early exchanges and Tipperary dominated racing into a 4-1 lead after eight minutes. The Premier County won their first five puck-outs but once they started to struggle in this department Galway got back into the contest. They hit four points in a row between the 9th and 14th minutes to level the tie, and such was the influence of Conor Whelan that Tipperary switched their corner-backs in an effort to curb his influence.
He ended the half with 0-3 while Conor Cooney scored 0-2, but ultimately, it was the Galway full back line which appeared more vulnerable as the half progressed.

But midway through the half it was Galway who were dominating and even though Joe Canning was anonymous in general play the Tribesmen led 0-8-0-6 after 23 minutes.
Then came the first decisive break in the game which ironically began with a mis-hit from Seamus Callanan, which the Galway defence looked to have control of, but corner-back Adrian Tuohy fumbled the ball under pressure from John McGrath, who held his nerve admirably to score the game's opening and what turned out to be the game's only goal, which was a credit to Galway's defence all day.
Galway were level within a minute with a magnificent sideline cut from under the Hogan Stand by Joe Canning and it was nip and tuck from there until half time. Indeed, the sides were level on six occasions in the first half but Tipp edged it at the break (0-12; 1-10).
A feature of the first half was the performance of Canning. He scored 0-4  but missed a routine free; gave away two frees; was booked and had limited involvement in Galway's attacking play. The other feature of the first half was the failure of Galway captain David Burke to make a significant impact with Brendan Maher shading the duel.
Galway had two goal chances in the opening five minutes of the second half but neither Conor Cooney or Joseph Cooney were able to finish the moves, though the latter's effort did ultimately yield a point from a Canning free.

There was literally never more than a puck of a ball between the sides, though Galway kept their noses ahead thanks in the main to a monster free from Joseph Cooney and Joe Canning's first point from play in the 54th minute.

But Tipp stayed in touch and Galway – who had introduced New York based Jonathan Glynn in the 52nd minute – didn't help their cause when they hit three wides on the spin between the 60th and 63rd minute.

John McGrath tied up the game for the ninth time a second later before another long range point from under the Cusack Stand from the now on fire Canning edged Galway back in front.
But it was level again with four minutes of normal time remaining when John O'Dwyer hit his third point from play after Seamus Callanan had missed a 65.

Canning was now the dominant figure on the field and he converted another monster free in the 67th minute to put his side one clear again.
The game was still in the melting pot as Galway corner forward Conor Whelan got in a timely tackle on Michael Cahill, who was about to shoot for the equaliser, but Brendan Maher calmly slotted the equaliser from a free at midfield to level the tie again.

But inevitably there had a dramatic conclusion; Joe Canning had a free to win win from inside the Galway 45 after full back Daithi Burke made a crucial catch.
It dropped short, and was initially swooped clear by goalkeeper Darren Gleeson, but the subsequent clearance was snapped up by Johnny Coen, who drove forward before passing back to Joe Canning who was on the Cusack Stand sideline before curling over the winning point six seconds over the allotted four minutes of injury time.
A fitting climax to a wonderful game.

After a tough and thrilling semi-final, Galway's tag as favourites for this year's All Ireland title remain on course.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Galway went on a scoring spree to book an All-Ireland quarter-final showdown with Kerry next weekend after stunning Donegal by 4-17 to 0-14 in a surprisingly one-sided encounter at Markievicz Park.

It was a dismal night for Donegal football. They had three players black-carded, missed a penalty and played most of the second-half with 13 men when Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinney picked up black cards with all subs used.

But the game was over as a contest by then as Galway, hoping to bounce back from the shock Connacht final loss to Roscommon,
destroyed a shaky Donegal defence.

Johnny Heaney was the main tormentor for Galway as he fired home 2-2 with both goals coming in the opening half as the Tribesmen blitzed Donegal.
Rory Gallagher's men just had no answer to a powerful performance from Galway, who had the game wrapped up by half-time when they led by 3-9 to 0-7.

The Ulster side played most of the second-half with just 13 men when Michael Murphy and Martin McElhinney picked up black cards when they had all six subs used.

The big breakthrough came for Galway after 16 minutes when Heaney got in for the first of his goals after Sean Armstrong and
the impressive Ian Burke had set him up and he fisted to the net.
Armstrong then pointed a free before the disorganised Donegal defence was again punished when goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley tripped Flynn to concede a penalty.

It got worse for Donegal when referee Anthony Nolan dished out a black card to the goalkeeper while his replacement,
Peter Boyle, stood little chance against Liam Silke's penalty.
That made it 2-6 to 0-5 after 25 minutes and Conroy quickly added a point to turn the screw and by the interval they were out of sight when Heaney got his second goal.

The loss of Murphy and McElhinney meant no way back for Donegal who missed a penalty when Paddy McBreaty's effort was saved by Bernard Power.

And Galway finished in style with Danny Cummins getting their fourth goal in the dying moments of the game.
One of the biggest cheers of the evening though was when Michael Meehan made his long-awaited return to championship football after his lengthy battle with injury.
He looked sharp in a brief cameo role as he tasted this level of football for the first time since 2014.

Galway finished the game with 14 men when full-back Declan Kyne picked up a second yellow card but it mattered little as they eased to victory.
They face Kerry in the quarter-finals on Sunday at Croke Park.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Roscommon upset the odds to hammer Galway by nine points and win the Connacht Senior Football title at Pearse Stadium in Salthill.
It was a richly deserved victory for the underdogs who out-fought and out-played Galway all over the pitch.
A lot of the credit for this victory must go to manager Kevin McStay who refused to let the constant criticism aimed his way
from within the county hold back the team’s preparation and he got his tactics spot on on the day.
Backed by a strong breeze, Roscommon dominated the first half from start to finish.

Two points from captain Ciarán Murtagh and one from his brother Diarmuid had the Rossies three points in front
before Shane Walsh got Galway on the board with a free.
Galway conceded two unnecessary scores when goalkeeper Rory Lavelle’s short kick-out strategy backfired and
 Roscommon won turnovers and forced frees which the Murtagh brothers converted.
A nice point from wing back Conor Devaney helped Kevin McStay’s men into a 0-06 to 0-01 lead after 12 minutes.
Shane Walsh fired over a Galway point in the 14th minute but incredibly it would be their last score until the 35th minute and their only one from play in the whole half.

Roscommon responded to that score in the best possible fashion - they went straight down the other end and rattled the net with a well-worked goal.
Corner forward Cian Connolly collected a beautiful long pass from Diamuid Murtagh and cooly slotted the ball into the bottom corner.
Roscommon almost shot themselves in the foot in the following fifteen minutes when they hit six wides in a row and failed to extend their advantage in howling wind and rain.
Galway rued a missed goal chance when Michael Daly saw his effort come back off the post.
A Diarmuid Murtagh point put the Rossies seven in front at half time (1-07 to 0-03) and their fans must have been wondering if they had done enough with the wind at their backs.
Galway began the second half with intent and, finally, someone added to Shane Walsh’s only scores when Damien Comer kicked a point.
The key moment of the match came in the 41st minute when, with Galway’s tails up, Roscommon scored their second goal.
Brian Stack collected another wayward Galway kick-out and ran straight at the defence to bury the ball past Lavelle.
To their credit, Galway showed character to hit the next six points as Comer, midfielder Paul Conroy and captain Gary O’Donnell all showed some much-needed leadership.
Roscommon refused to panic however, and a Diarmuid Murtagh free eased their supporters nerves before Cian Connolly stretched their lead back out to five.
Galway failed to register a score in the last 20 minutes as their attacks became increasingly desperate.
Roscommon ran out comfortable winners with Conor Devaney adding to his first-half point with two fine late scores and substitute Donie Smith helped himself to a brace.
Michael Lundy and Damien Comer were sent off for Galway following a late brawl and Roscommon’s Cian Connolly was also dismissed for two yellow card offences.
Nothing could spoil the day for the Roscommon supporters, however,
who poured onto the pitch in their droves at the final whistle to celebrate a first provincial title in seven years.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Irish cricket has received a tremendous boost after receiving confirmation from ICC of their successful application to be awarded Full Membership and Test status.

The historic decision was taken at the ICC Conference at the Oval in London today where both Ireland and Afghanistan were confirmed as the 11th and 12th Full Member countries in the top echelons of world cricket.

The news was welcomed by Cricket Ireland CEO Warren Deutrom, who along with his team has worked tirelessly over the past decade for Ireland’s elevation.
“It’s fantastic news for all involved with Irish cricket and I’d like to thank ICC and the members for the positive outcome,” said a clearly delighted Deutrom. “It’s obviously a great fillip for the game in Ireland, where we are striving to make Ireland not only a major nation in cricket, but also to make cricket a major mainstream sport in the country.
“Test cricket is the pinnacle of the sport and it’s what we’ve all been aiming for. The players have been very clear in their stated objective of wanting to play at the very highest level of the game and it’s clearly a momentous day that we will be able to do that in the very near future,” added Deutrom.
“The sport has grown substantially since 2007, with participation levels quadrupling in that time. With the increased profile and revenue streams that will come with achieving Full Membership, this can only get even better as we invest in the sport throughout the country.
“I’d like to thank all those involved with Irish cricket for their drive, enthusiasm and energy over the years which has made this journey an ultimately successful one. We are all justifiably very proud today, but we see this not as the end of the road, but just the first step in taking our wonderful sport further and higher in the years ahead.”

Ireland captain William Porterfield is relishing the opportunity to lead Ireland in a Test match, which he admits would be ‘a bit special’. “It’s wonderful news for all of Irish cricket, with all the players already talking about playing in a Test match for the first time,” said Porterfield.
“We’ve all played in World Cups and achieved some memorable results along the way, but to play in a Test would be a bit special. You dream as a youngster growing up of playing at the highest level and for me the opportunity to lead Ireland in their first Test match would be an incredible experience.”

Cricket Ireland Chairman Ross McCollum outlined the next steps and the immediate future for Irish cricket.
“We are sincerely grateful to the ICC and its members for giving us this honour. It is a recognition of the quality of our teams over the years, male and female, of our talented administration, and of the strength of our domestic and club structures"

Sunday, June 11, 2017


The aftermath of Conservative leader Teresa May's foolhardy decision to call an election back-fired spectacularly with the loss of nearly 30 seats.

Instead of resigning this Thatcheresque PM has turned to the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland with its 10 seats for help in forming a new government in the UK.

Desperation politics many will call it and that is true as relying on Arlene Foster's DUP will demand the strengthening of the Union between Britain and Northern Ireland in return for sharing power with May in the UK.

Sinn Fein will rant and rave at this grave development, but without using their 7 elected MP's at Westminster, there is very little that can be done without their input, apart from bleating at the Government in Dail Eireann.

The Power-Sharing Agreement in Stormont is effectively at an end as the DUP can now tell Teresa May and the Conservatives that they do not wish to remain in Government with Sinn Fein.

So a period of inertia will remain in Ulster without the calming influence of the deceased Martin McGuinness to keep the Provo's quiet. Worrying times ahead.

Monday, June 5, 2017


The Republic of Ireland were deserved winners of this friendly contest in Dublin on Sunday evening against a top team from the America's in Uruguay.

Goals from Jonathan Walters, Cyrus Christie and James McClean gave Republic of Ireland a 3-1 win over the Uruguayans
after Paris Saint-Germain star Edinson Cavani limped off in Dublin.
Uruguay were already operating without Luis Suarez and Diego Godin, and Oscar Tabarez's experimental line-up was unsettled by the early withdrawal of Cavani who decided he was unable to continue shortly after a collision with Kevin Long.

Ireland were good value for taking the lead before the half-hour mark, when Walters finished superbly from 20 yards, but the Stoke forward went from hero to villain in first-half stoppage time when, after Atletico Madrid defender Jose Gimenez headed an equaliser,
Walters hit the crossbar from close range with the goal gaping.

There was an element of fortune about the hosts' second goal when a cross-cum-shot from Derby County full-back Christie skidded low into the corner.

But victory was sealed emphatically on the break by substitute McClean 13 minutes from time.

It meant Martin O'Neill's men bounced back impressively from losing by the same scoreline against Mexico two days ago (with an inexperienced line-up that night) and they enjoyed a timely confidence boost ahead of their final World Cup qualifier of the season against Austria next Sunday at 5:00pm.

Visiting goalkeeper Esteban Conde was making his international debut at 34 and saved well as Uruguay waited to introduce Middlesbrough's Cristhian Stuani as Cavani's replacement, palming behind from Robbie Brady. But Conde was in no man's land as he flapped at the resulting corner, with Shane Duffy just unable to find the decisive touch.

Uruguay were struggling for fluency without their attacking focal point and fell behind in the 27th minute.

Walters collected a pass from Stoke team-mate Glenn Whelan and, with the help of some hesitant defending on the edge of the Uruguay box, Ireland's captain lashed a brilliant shot into the top corner.

Martin Caceres headed a 34th-minute corner against the bar for the South Americans and Ireland did not heed that set-piece warning,
with goalkeeper Darren Randolph venturing errantly from his line before Gimenez's effort looped in.

Walters should have restored the hosts' lead in first-half stoppage time but fired against the bar from two yards after Brady's cross left him with the goal at his mercy, the ball bouncing up as he hit it. 

Thankfully for the experienced forward, he would not have to dwell on the miss for too long as right-back Christie cut inside Caceres and clipped a left-footed effort into the far corner.

Stuani fell foul of the Ireland offside trap when he netted midway through the half, while Gimenez was denied a second when he again towered above the home defence but saw Randolph's half-time replacement Keiren Westwood save brilliantly to his left.

Uruguay must hope to muster more enthusiasm for their midweek trip to Italy than they showed here and Gimenez endured a more forgettable involvement in the 77th minute, diving in desperately
but he was unable to halt McClean on the end of Daryl Murphy's thoughball, with the West Brom winger streaming clear to lash home across Conde to seal a very good victory for Ireland.

Friday, May 12, 2017


Neil Francis writes:

We learn from World Cups that we actually learn nothing from World Cups. The ninth edition of rugby's great coming-together starts in September 2019 and when Ireland arrive there we are usually no wiser or closer to getting where we need to go.

We the Irish just do not know how to win big tournaments, nor do we know how to win Test series. It's not in our DNA. It's not in our psyche. Population dynamics, we say, decree that we are unable to win seven matches in a row in a big tournament like a World Cup.
New Zealand, with roughly the same population, know exactly how to do it.

And so of all the established rugby nations scheduled to play in RWC2019 in Japan we are in the 'coulda, woulda, shoulda … didn't' category. Even our only realistic rivals to winning Pool A, Scotland, have reached a semi-final.

There were 20 contrite and humble men waiting for the draw in Kyoto yesterday morning. My God they couldn't say a positive word about themselves two-and-a-half years away from the off. In the post-draw mangle it seemed there was a sea of unexpressed thought from all the coaches.

Joe Schmidt, a man of calm disposition, looked pretty sanguine as the camera panned to him in the middle of the draw.
Inside he probably felt as comfortable as a lame turkey sat on a pile of Paxo listening to Christmas carols. The draw finishes and you could not have wished for a better pool. What a draw!

The Scots ambushed us in Murrayfield this year based largely on a dollop of righteous indignation. Ireland would be just turning up to Murrayfield to collect the points on the first step to a Championship.

If Ireland are any way prepared they will take the Scots in Japan.
Some people take the view that if you have a tough group in the initial stages of a competition it forces you to perform and if you clear the first hurdle you have the added benefit of form and momentum.

Ireland's problem in their previous eight World Cups is one of attrition and player fatigue. None of the teams in Pool A are going to batter Ireland to death.

Scotland of course can beat us but you won't see Ireland coming off the pitch after their pool game against France in 2015 with a pyrrhic victory in the bag but four of their key players gone for the quarter-finals.

The hosts will present us with a different type of problem to solve. Technically, the Japanese are very good as we will all find out in June. Ireland have struggled against quick, skillful sides. The narrowness of our defence is easily outflanked by sides that can pass quickly and despite being inferior physically the Japanese can hang on to the ball for long periods of time until opportunity presents itself.

Bottom line here is that it would be a major calamity if we did not progress as pool winners. There you go, I've said it. I've mentioned the unmentionable, we are expected to win that group and we will be favourites to do so and I don't see any point in mumbling platitudes about the Scots and the Japanese or any other team in the group until a day or two before the pool matches start.

The Japanese project is a medium-term goal and it is practically impossible to plan for. The key issue here is that most of Ireland's experienced core will be in their mid-30s and Schmidt will have to make a decision as to whether their World Cup and Six Nations experience is worth having around.

The World Cup begins in September 2019. Of our current squad, the following players may all be over the hill by then - Rory Best will be 37, Jamie Heaslip will be approaching 36, Rob Kearney will be 33, Jared Payne will be 34, Andrew Trimble will be 35 and Devin Toner will be 33. Donnacha Ryan (36) and Tommy Bowe (35) will most likely be out of the squad at that stage.

Johnny Sexton if he is fit will be in his prime at 33 and will be Ireland's key player at that tournament.

The age profile of Ireland's squad and its shadow squad is good but there is without doubt a leadership deficit which is hard to bridge even in the two-and-a-half years that they have to prepare. If they can overcome that they have a very good chance of progressing to a semi-final.

It is imperative that Ireland win their group because over in Pool B the prize from coming second is to play New Zealand and in 2019 we will all fondly reflect on what happened in Chicago in 2016 but you do not want to meet the All Blacks at the quarter-final stage.

South Africa are the likely Pool B runners up and they will always be capable of beating anyone, particularly given their rich heritage and proud history. South Africa though are in real trouble and their situation is only going to get worse.

Last week Faf de Klerk, the Patrick Swayze of South African rugby and their starting Test scrum-half signed a three-year deal with Sale Sharks.
It is not known how much the contract is worth but you would have to imagine it would have been significant. At 25 and with his career ahead of him as an 80/90-cap Springbok, this is a truly incredible move. What would possess a Test player of his quality to forgo playing for his country and join a team as sh*te as the Sale Sharks to play in a competition as mundane as the Aviva Premiership. The answer is obvious!
As part of the South African government's policy of transformation, they have decreed that prior to 2019 all Springbok sides must have a 50pc quota of black players in their Test 23. This despite the fact that there might be better white players left on the sidelines.

I cannot quite understand how World Rugby sits idly by and lets a situation like this happen. The bottom line is that after the 2016 season under Alistair Coetzee where they won only four of their 12 matches - a win ratio of 33pc - that it would only get worse and the introduction of racial quotas where the introduction of players who are patently not good enough will do serious damage to South African rugby internally and externally in the short, medium and long term.

Coetzee incredibly held on to his job but his backroom has been buttressed with the arrival of Franco Smith. It is inconceivable that Coetzee could last until 2019 but if he does and the quotas are enforced then the Springboks will be a basket case by the time the World Cup comes around.

If Ireland can do what they are supposed to do in Pool A and win it then they have the best chance that they have ever had of getting to a semi-final. Have we heard that one before?

Whatever financial incentives were put in place to entice Schmidt to stay with Ireland until the World Cup in 2019 were only the half of it. This is unfinished business. This coming World Cup will define Joe Schmidt. I don't think he will get caught short again this time.

The draw, no matter what he says, has given them a great opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Republic of Ireland manager Martin O'Neill has confirmed the surgery on Seamus Coleman's broken leg has been a success.
The Everton defender suffered a double break of his right leg following a tackle by Wales' Neil Taylor in Friday's 0-0 draw in Dublin.

Image result for seamus coleman

O'Neill said: "He had the operation yesterday (Saturday) morning at 8:30am, that was successful. He has realised everything that has happened and is obviously very disappointed.
"It will take some time to heal, it's a double break but it has been pinned up now and screwed in. I know the doctors and surgeons are all very, very pleased with the way the operation has gone and now it's time for recuperation.

"I saw him the evening of the injury, he was fairly groggy. It's a devastating blow for the lad, he was having a phenomenal season at his club and a phenomenal season for us as captain."

No timescale has been put on Coleman's recovery but O'Neill has backed his mental strength to aid his comeback.

"I'm not sure, I would only be guessing," said O'Neill, when asked how long Coleman could be out for on BBC Radio Five Live.

"Even the doctors and surgeons wouldn't be terribly sure. Sometimes there are complications afterwards and injuries can be more prolonged, other times it can be clean and clear sailing.

"It will take some time but Seamus has great determination and sometimes those things work very much in your favour, in terms of recovery."

Aston Villa defender Taylor was sent off for the tackle in the World Cup qualifier but, while clearly upset, O'Neill stopped short of completely rounding on the 28-year-old.

He added: "I've seen the challenge, I've seen the challenge (Gareth Bale's) on John O'Shea and they are very poor challenges."

The draw in Dublin meant Ireland missed the chance to return to the top of Group D, albeit, on goal difference only, after Serbia beat Georgia on Friday, with Wales four points behind in third.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


 It came too late for Ireland’s title ambitions, but the nature of this win might just have saved their season.Joe Schmidt’s men overcame adversity to produce a performance of huge quality and intensity to deny the Six Nations champions England a Grand Slam and a world record 19th win in a row.

They lost Jamie Heaslip in the warm-up, but gained an inspired Peter O’Mahony. Kieran Marmion looked to the manor born, while Johnny Sexton took all the punishment the men in white threw his way on an ill-disciplined outing for Eddie Jones’ men.

In the cold light of day they will rue their deficiencies, but that can wait. Sometimes a one-off win cures what ails you.

Despite a hugely inexperienced bench that lacked the English fire-power, they resisted a huge effort from the world’s second best team to get over the line in front of a raucous home crowd.

Earlier defeats denied them a trophy, but this was a reminder that when they are good this team can live with the very best and it is something they can build on in the summer in the United States and Japan and beyond.

Ireland suffered a blow before the game had even settled, with vice-captain Heaslip forced to cry off after rolling his ankle in the warm-up which saw Schmidt re-jig his back-row and put O’Mahony on the blindside and CJ Stander at No 8 with Dan Leavy promoted to the bench.

It didn’t faze them as they took control of the game early on and barely relinquished it for the rest of the half.
England started with intent and a Mike Brown knock-on spared Irish blushes after a rusty Jared Payne knocked Ben Youngs’ box-kick on and the visiting side looked to have space on the edge.
Ireland’s Iain Henderson and Devin Toner celebrate at the end of the match as England’s dejected players look on.
Instead, Ireland opened the scoring through Johnny Sexton’s penalty and it might have been more had Keith Earls not knocked on Jared Payne’s off-load after an outrageous piece of skill from Rory Best who left the field needing a Head Injury Assessment afterwards as his out-half assumed the captaincy for a short period.

England hit back as the excellent Donnacha Ryan was harshly penalised for not rolling away allowing Owen Farrell to score but as Best returned the home team punished England’s poor discipline allowed Sexton kick to the corner twice and they bullied their way over from a perfectly set maul and Iain Henderson touched down.

Sexton converted and a Courtney Lawes’ knock-on handed the initiative back to the home side who sent Payne up the middle before working the ball wide brilliantly for Earls who got within metres of the line.

The good work was spoiled as Marmion knocked on and England attacked, with Elliot Daly collecting a Farrell high ball and the forwards taking over until O’Mahony intervened and made a crucial turnover.

Joe Launchbury’s penalty concession brought a breathless phase of play to an end and allowed Sexton apply more pressure by kicking to touch but they couldn’t take advantage as the white wall repelled Ireland’s advance.

England turned over an Irish  maul, but the old chop tackle came out as Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw forced a turnover but another good attacking opportunity passed by as O’Mahony was penalised for taking Maro Itoje without the ball.

Having been starved of possession and territory for most of the half, England finished in the Irish half but the clock beat them and Ireland led 10-7 at the break.

Both sides made changes at the interval, with Andrew Conway coming in for his debut for the injured Earls and Mako Vunipola introduced for Joe Marler who had been struggling.

Garry Ringrose almost broke free of the suffocating English defence during a cagey opening to the second-half.
Farrell reduced the deficit from distance when Jack McGrath played Youngs illegally.
The game was slowly turning into the champions’ favour as they mauled their way into it, forcing successive penalties to allow Farrell kick them into Irish territory but another Sexton-engineered choke tackle – with help from Henshaw – turned James Haskell over in midfield.

Instead, Ireland hit back and somehow Payne made huge yardage counter-attacking from a nothing ball and was felled by a high-looking Billy Vunipola challenge that referee Jerome Garces saw nothing wrong with and the TMO also allowed pass him by without comment.

A Farrell body slam was followed by Itoje straying offside in midfield and despite being on the end of another cheap English shot, Sexton dusted himself down and nailed a brilliant penalty to restore the seven point lead.

Eddie Jones continued to send on his big bench and Conway was unlucky when he mis-timed his hit on Ben Te’o who was in the air and England kicked into the ’22.

Again, Ireland were guilty of a maul offence and rather than go to the corner Farrell narrowed the deficit to four points off the tee.

Conway disrupted the English kick-off reception, but Ringrose knocked on and Cian Healy collapsed the scrum to allow England edge into the Ireland half but a monstrous Henshaw hit on Te’o saw the former Leinster man need to leave the field for a HIA.

England turned down three points when Henshaw was done for not rolling away and they paid the price when O’Mahony pilfered the ball at the front and Danny Care carelessly slapped the ball out of Luke McGrath’s hand to allow Sexton lift the siege.
Ireland went to their maul, before a clever Luke McGrath kick made England play it from their own 5m line.

They kicked it out and O’Mahony was rock-solid off Niall Scannell’s throw, but the English got to the hooker at the back of the maul and forced a crucial turnover by winning the scrum.
Ireland got the nudge on, but Garces ordered a re-set. England attacked and Scannell handed them a penalty by playing Youngs.
England attacked and there were echoes of 2013 and the All Blacks, but Mike Brown knocked on.

They’re not at that level yet. Deserved champions, but the record and the Slam were a step too far.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


A hat-trick of tries for CJ Stander and Craig Gilroy, and nine conversions from fly-half Paddy Jackson, relaunched Ireland's Six Nations title hopes Saturday with a record 63-10 win over Italy in Rome.

Ireland, the 2015 champions, arrived in the Eternal City looking to make amends for a 27-22 defeat at Murrayfield when Scotland scored three tries in the opening half hour.

And Joe Schmidt's men left the "Colosseum" of the Stadio Olimpico with no doubts as to their tournament credentials.

Despite their loss to Scotland, New Zealander Schmidt was buoyed by a win that sets the Irish up well for France next week: "We didn't release the pressure valve."

Ireland's previous highest score against Italy was a 60-13 win at Lansdowne Road in 2000. This was their highest against Italy away from home. 

"I thought we were a lot more clinical than usual," said Ireland No 8 Jamie Heaslip, standing in as captain after hooker Rory Best was sidelined by a stomach bug, "We definitely held on to the ball better through the phases."

Although Italy made amends for a 33-7 defeat to Wales with far better discipline, Conor O'Shea's men were dominated for long periods and, worryingly, saw their defence collapse in a completely one-sided second half.

O'Shea, who played 35 times for Ireland as a full-back, had asked for discipline to improve after shipping 15 penalties to Wales.
But in doing so, Italy's game elsewhere suffered.

"In the first 20 minutes we took a battering," said O'Shea. "We talked about Ireland's ability to hold the ball through the phases, and the first 20 minutes took a physical and mental toll on us.
"We played against a team that, in every department, is better than us. It was a tough day.
"But we will never hang our heads. We have to get ready in one week's time and be focused for England at Twickenham."

After seeing winger Angelo Esposito's timely intervention knock the ball from Simon Zebo's hands as he was about to touch down on 11 minutes, Ireland had their opener a minute later when Keith Earls was given acres of space on the right flank.
The first of Jackson's conversions gave Ireland a 7-0 lead on 14 minutes.

Italy reduced arrears quickly thanks to Carlo Canna's penalty but Italy's defence caved in when Stander collected Zebo's skip pass to touch down past the left corner flag.
Jackson's conversion bobbled over for a 14-3 lead, "one of the ugliest I've ever seen", said Schmidt, who said it resembled "a wounded duck".

Handling errors and a tight Irish defence intent on making amends for their poor start to Scotland ended Italian hopes of a quick fightback, and their defence suffered, too. 

Fast Irish hands moved the ball out to the right channel, where Earls was allowed to run over unhindered, Jackson converting for a 21-3 lead.

Italy bounced back thanks to a penalty try, awarded after Ireland collapsed the line-out drive, losing Donnacha Ryan to a yellow card in the process.

But minutes later Stander touched over for his second try to secure a fourth try bonus point. Jackson converted for a 28-10 first-half lead that left Italy in disarray.
Despite collecting a bonus point, Schmidt was dismissive.
"For us it's about trying to get the right performance and the right results over the tournament," he said.

Ryan returned on 44 minutes and two minutes later Stander collected Conor Murray's offload from a ruck outside the 22 to skip round a series of tackles and seal his hat-trick, Jackson kicking his fifth conversion for a 35-10 lead. 

Schmidt made a series of changes for the final quarter and the fresh legs were too much for Italy, Gilroy touching over the first of his hat-trick on 68 minutes after skipping inside his marker outside the 22 and running home.

Inspired, Garry Ringrose pulled off a similar move four minutes later, with Gilroy completing his hat-trick with a brace of tries in the final minutes.