Category: Archive

‘Home’ disadvantage

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Because the wrecking ball is about to swing into action at rugby’s traditional Lansdowne Road home, the GAA has at last demonstrated some sporting largesse by opening the Croke Park doors for the international games against France and England.
If a few old stagers might lament the temporary loss of Lansdowne Road’s shabby intimacy, not to mention the proliferation of comfortable watering holes around the old Dublin 4 venue, they won’t have to wait too long – planning permission notwithstanding – before a gleaming new stadium is built.
While Croke Park has about as strong a link with rugby as New York’s Gaelic Park, the sheer novelty of the occasion when France come to town on Feb. 11 is likely to generate a special atmosphere. So, on the international front anyway, the GAA has got rugby off the hook for the moment, but the short-term future is much less certain for both Munster and Leinster.
When you approach the knockout phase of the European Cup, all the talk is about the importance of securing a home game. Put Munster on the pitch at fortress Thomond Park, and they’ve proved that they’re nigh on unbeatable. Less so for Leinster at Lansdowne Road where precious little blood has ever been spilled for the cause, but they are still at a significant advantage.
Going into the last series of pool matches, the situation is that if Munster and Leinster win their games this weekend, both will be guaranteed a precious home quarterfinal. Trouble is, neither team actually has a home right now.
Thomond Park in Limerick is about to be redeveloped in order to increase its capacity, so Munster are out on the street, while Leinster have known for a while that Lansdowne Road would also be out of commission. Leinster might have had the fall-back of the RDS, better known for staging equestrian events, which is in their bailiwick, however, that too is undergoing a facelift.
Croke Park? An emphatic no, says the GAA. Haven’t we already been accommodating enough? But then, what about Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney with its 44,000 capacity for Munster? Again no, with former GAA president Sean Kelly giving the suggestion the heave-ho.
If these were English rugby clubs in search of a venue, they would lean on their soccer colleagues, but in Ireland it would be euphemistic in the extreme to call our soccer grounds stadiums. Without another gesture from the GAA, both Munster and Leinster will be contemplating a “home” European Cup quarter-final somewhere in either England or Wales.
Depending on their opponents in the last eight of the competition, Ravenhill in Belfast might be an option for Leinster, if not for Munster, but with space for only 13,000 spectators, it will most probably be rejected on commercial grounds.
The conundrum wasn’t on Munster’s minds as they edged out the French side Bourgoin by 30-27 last Sunday. Interestingly, Bourgoin, who for reasons best-known to themselves have been perennial non-triers in Europe, moved the game over the French border to Geneva in Switzerland presumably to generate a bigger attendance.
The sight of snow-capped mountains in the distance prompted a few commentators to wax lyrical about the venue, and one Irish newspaper even referred to the match being played in the “shadow of Mont Blanc,” lyricism which owed more to the moment than to any great knowledge of geography.
If not as much license was taken, it was a little similar to a piece in an English tabloid paper about Joe Kinnear who at the time was managing the Nepal soccer team. The article opened: “Joe Kinnear sits in his office overlooking Mount Everest …”
Anyway, after dragging the customary large army of Munster supporters to Geneva to relieve them of a few of their hard-earned euro, Bourgoin did make a serious effort and almost pulled off a surprise victory against the reigning champions. While Munster were less sure of themselves than usual, it was still another result on the road, and it marked the first time they had won all three away games in their European Cup pool.
This Saturday, in what will be the most high-profile clash of the weekend, they take on Leicester of England at Thomond Park. We know that Munster have never lost a European Cup game in Limerick since the competition’s inception in 1995, but then teams such as two-time champions Leicester, as well as the French giants Toulouse, have never yet experienced a traditional Thomond Park welcome.
Every record is there to be beaten, and Leicester are eminently capable of dethroning Munster who are as good as through to the last eight anyway, but don’t expect the home team to roll over even if they’ve nowhere to play that home quarter-final. This is a going to be a contest to savor.
As for Leinster, they are also guaranteed a place in the knockout stages following their facile 49-10 victory over Edinburgh at Donnybrook. If they beat Gloucester in England on Friday, they will be able to pick their own venue for the quarter-final even if that venue won’t be in Ireland.
At times, Leinster were breathtakingly good against Edinburgh, but a suspicion remains over their champagne and high-heels style of rugby. Against modest opponents like the Scots, who had nothing to play for in the first place, it wasn’t that difficult to pull off the occasional spectacular play, and it wasn’t that difficult to pile on the points.
But Guinness and metal-studs rugby tends to win the European Cup, and although Leinster clearly possess the rapier through the world-class talents of Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Shane Horgan and Felipe Contepomi, they are still doubts over whether they possess the bludgeon.
Against that, both Munster and Leinster are in the sort of form which makes them favorites to lift the trophy for Ireland. Just a pity that they have nowhere to play those home quarter-finals. Good rugby, bad timing.

Galaxy’s new star’s
good, but not great
As you’ve no doubt heard, he’s coming to a galaxy near you. David Beckham that is, whose much trumpeted transfer from Real Madrid in Spain to the LA Galaxy hogged the headlines last week in this neck of the woods.
What, you might ask, have the former England soccer captain’s fortunes got to do with Irish sports? Well, we’ve been almost as guilty as our neighbors across the Irish Sea of providing the long-running Beckham saga with the oxygen of publicity.
Just as we continue to be fascinated by the dreary, outmoded lifestyles of Britain’s royal family, so too do we continue to be fascinated by British celebrity. And Beckham, who in fairness has always had more talent if maybe less savvy than his wife Victoria, has been an ever present on the front, back and middle pages of many our newspapers for years now.
If you are to believe the reports here, the LA Galaxy are paying him something preposterous like $250 million for a five-year deal. Now, more discerning observers have cottoned on to the fact that these are potential earnings for the fading star, but as has always been the case with Beckham, why let the truth get in the way of hype?
At times, he was a superbly skilful player for Manchester United. A sublime striker of the ball, he could caress a free kick, or pass, or cross a ball as well as anyone in the world, but to be ranked among the greats – as so many of the tabloid papers and a few commentators who should now better would have us believe – he needed much more to his game.
Beckham was never fast enough, and never talented enough when it came to beating defenders to be even mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Maradona, Zidane or Ronaldinho. He was limited at best, and at worst, totally overrated.
True greats like Pele, Maradona and Zidane inspired their national teams to World Cup triumphs, and although Beckham might have been surrounded by prosaic players, he never had the leadership qualities to drag England to the success they have craved for so long.
With Beckham as captain, England performed in his image. They flattered to deceive, promising much, but routinely failing to deliver. It could be that relocating to Los Angeles, Beckham now has one eye on Hollywood and the other on soccer. Others would claim that’s way he has been for the past few years. Ireland won’t become a Beckham-free zone overnight, but with any luck, we’ll be reading and hearing a lot less about his on and off-the-pitch antics. America, you’re welcome to him and his missus.

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