Category: Archive

Bragging rights

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

So, if the main prize has shifted emphatically towards France, the Triple Crown represents much more than a consolation prize for the Irish. There might be no storied trophy for this award, and no medals for the players, but the bragging rights between Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales have always been an important thread in European rugby’s tapestry.
On the back of a disappointing series of games last autumn, and on what has been a curate’s egg of a championship, coach Eddie O’Sullivan and his team have come through their difficulties. To have a shot at the Triple Crown – remember Ireland have only won it seven times – and to still be in theoretical contention for the championship is no mean achievement.
On the day after St. Patrick’s Day, and at the end of a week’s horse racing at the famous Cheltenham racing festival, thousands of Irish, and a few thousand more who actually have tickets for the game, will descend on London.
They will travel with genuine hope of a third successive win over England who are now under immense pressure following their pathetic performance against the French. The scoreline of 31-6 was a fair reflection of the gulf between the teams, as England conceded a try in the first minute and never recovered. “We were awful,” conceded coach Andy Robinson who will surely lose his job if his side are unhinged this weekend by the Irish.
The danger of course is the possibility of a backlash, because while England are no great shakes on the evidence of this championship, they are not as incompetent as they looked against France. Several players, in addition to the beleagured Robinson himself, will be fighting for survival, and Ireland will have to be at their very best.
In fact, as home advantage plays such a key part in the championship, the Irish will have to perform better than in any of their previous four games this year. If the 15-9 win over Scotland was more emphatic than it appears on the surface, no self-respecting team, with so much possession, can be happy to be leading by just six points going into the closing stages.
For all Ireland’s dominance, a late converted try could have stolen the game for the Scots. In mitigation, it was a classic soft day with continuous rain making handling difficult, but the strategy of trying to run the ball in the opening half made little sense. Passes were dropped in the slippery conditions, Scotland were able to hang on, and for all their pressure, the Irish never looked like scoring a try before the interval.
While Ronan O’Gara was only able to add one more penalty to the four he kicked during the first half, Ireland were tactically more astute after the changeover. O’Gara pinned the Scots in their own 22 with a series of telling kicks, however, the try that would have broken the visitors’ morale only threatened once when Geordan Murphy’s poorly delivered pass meant that Andrew Trimble had to adjust his stride before he was bundled into touch at the corner flag.
O’Sullivan described the win as “inching forward in terms of our performances” and while there appears to be a lack of cohesion behind the scrum where O’Gara has failed to get the best out of both Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, among the forwards there were highly impressive performances from Paul O’Connell, Jerry Flannery and Denis Leamy.
As the powerful and hard-working Leamy continues to make progress, O’Sullivan has clearly unearthed two players for the future in Flannery and Trimble. Flannery, who wasn’t even the first-choice hooker for Munster at the start of the season, has quickly developed into a key player for Ireland with his industry in the loose and his accurate line-out throwing.
If Ireland manage to put it all together on Saturday, there is no reason why they can’t finish the championship in style. “We could still win a Triple Crown next weekend and I wouldn’t shed any tears over that,” said O’Sullivan. And if the impossible happens, and France slip up in Cardiff, there could be tears of joy at Twickenham.

Justice – GAA style
There was no need to make an example out of the players who were implicated in the disgraceful scenes of violence during last month’s National Football League game between Tyrone and Dublin. The evidence was as clear as the light of the day, no examples were necessary, just heavy suspensions. Four Dublin players were banned, as were three from Tyrone. The disciplinary action wouldn’t mean the sudden replacement of rivalry with sweetness and light at every GAA venue, but it was a start.
Then last week, what do we learn? All seven players, who controversially were allowed to appeal their bans by their respective county boards, were off the hook. They were reprieved on a technicality as one GAA committee outflanked another.
So, after four mass brawls on that day in Omagh, 12 yellow cards and four red cards, no one was truly guilty. As the appeals were being processed, the Dublin players missed just one league fixture, while Tyrone’s contingent was absent only for the McKenna Cup final.
The reason for the u-turn? Apparently, procedure regarding the use of video evidence in arriving at the initial decision to suspend Ciaran Whelan, Kevin Bonner, Alan Brogan and Bryan Cullen of Dublin, as well as Tyrone’s Owen Mulligan, Kevin Hughes and Michael McGee, wasn’t followed perfectly.
Therefore the seven players who were initially sanctioned by the GAA’s Central Disciplinary Committee, were later cleared by the Central Appeals Committee – sounds like something from the old Kremlin – and Tyrone manager, Mickey Harte, expressed himself “delighted” for the players who had been subject to a lot of “adverse press and innuendo”.
Now, Harte is a fine manager, and a good GAA man, but he has lost the plot here. This reprieve on a technicality is not just an embarrassment for the GAA, but it should also be an embarrassment for both the Tyrone and Dublin camps. But then by appealing, they didn’t seem to agree that their players behaved disgracefully, nor did they seem to agree that they should take their medicine.
The GAA said it had noted the decision, and that’s all, but at least the chairman of the disciplinary committee which made the initial ruling, Con Horgan, was more forthcoming. “We’re disappointed, we felt we had used due process,” he said. “We were very careful to protect the players’ rights, and we feel we reached a fair and balanced decision.”
On St. Patrick’s Day, Salthill Knocknacarra of Galway will take on St Gall’s of Antrim in the All Ireland club football final at Croke Park, while Cork’s Newtownshandrum will meet Portumna of Galway in the hurling decider. It will be a memorable, vibrant day for the clubs, their supporters, and for the GAA.
For a few hours, people who love Ireland’s national games will be able to forget that there is an elephant in the association’s room. The message from last week appeals is that you might as well throw punches to beat the band, because you’ll probably get away with it.

Golden star is
born in Moscow
Neither Derval O’Rourke nor Alistair Cragg could have performed any better at last weekend’s World Indoor championships in Moscow, but one left with a gold medal and the other left with nothing.
There was something particularly refreshing about O’Rourke’s win in the 60 meters hurdles. Not alone did she become the first Irish woman to take gold at the World Indoors – Sonia O’Sullivan won silver in 1997 – and not alone did she set a new national record of 7.84 seconds, but at a time when almost every track and field winner is suspected of doping, there wasn’t the slightest whiff of suspicion surrounding her triumph.
No matter that O’Rourke had never reached a major final before, no matter than until a month ago she had never broken eight seconds, and no matter that she arrived in Moscow under the radar, her unexpected victory was the product of five years of hard slog, and just a touch of good fortune.
Indoor form doesn’t always translate into outdoor success, however, the 24-year-old from Cork is entitled to savor her historic moment as she dipped at the finish for the gold with just .03 of a second separating the medallists. And her first prize of $40,000 means that she is likely to get even better.
No joy for Cragg, but Europe’s leading distance runner was up against it this time in the final of the 3,000 meters as he ran bravely to finish fourth behind Kenenisa Bekele, Saif Shaheen and Eliud Kipchoge who are universally recognized as three best in the world.
“If you had to finish behind three guys, I suppose they’re the three you’d want,” said the former University of Arkansas student.

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