By Sean Creedon
A great weekend is in store for sports followers in Ireland, with some major events at home and two live TV attractions. Top of the pile is the Budweiser Irish Derby at The Curragh, where we will see the leading thoroughbreds and the cream of Irish fashion.
This year, Budweiser are offering a $1 million Millennium bonus if the winner of the Irish Derby has already won either the English, French or Kentucky Derby. There’s a good chance that the money will be won as the English winner Sinndar and French winner Holding Court are both due to run.
Heading the list of celebrities heading for The Curragh is the U.S. ambassador, Mike O’Sullivan, and his wife, Jane, plus some of the leading politicians and celebrities in Irish life.
Meanwhile, in Kerry most attention will be on Ballybunion golf course, where the Murphy’s Irish Open will reach a climax on Sunday evening. Scotland’s Colm Montgomerie, who has won the Irish Open in 1996 and ’97 and lost a playoff in 1998, will not be traveling to the North Kerry course following an exhausting trip to the U.S. Open.
However, five players who finished in the top 15 at Pebble Beach are coming: Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Michael Campbell, Retief Goosen and Jose Maria Olazabal.
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But if it’s tradition you are after on Sunday, then Semple Stadium in Thurles is the place to be. For hurling purists the Munster final is the one and this year we also have a traditional pairing with holders Cork against great rivals Tipperary. Sadly, this year we will miss the thoughts of that great Tipperary reporter and author Raymond Smith, who really appreciated a Munster hurling final in Thurles. Smith died recently. Tipp are taking the game very seriously and didn’t allow their dual players, John Carroll and Brendan Cummins, to line out for the county’s footballers in the Munster semifinal against Clare.
There are also important football games on Sunday with the replay of the Ulster semifinal between Antrim and Derry at Casement Park, Leitrim take on Roscommon in Connacht and Westmeath meet the Dubs at Croke Park. It’s early days yet, but some people are already predicting a Dublin-Kerry All-Ireland final.
And if that’s not enough, we also have the French Motor Racing Grand Prix from Magny-Cours and final of Euro 2000 from Rotterdam on our Television screens.
Ger Loughnane has resigned as manager of the Clare senior hurlers and will be replaced by Colm Lyons. Loughnane said he felt that he could no longer motivate himself after six years in charge. He took over from Len Gaynor in 1994 and led The Banner to All-Ireland success in 1995 and ’97. Overall Clare won 13 of the 23 championship games he was in charge for.
Also, Dublin hurling manager Michael O’Grady has also quit following The Dubs’ heavy loss to Kilkenny in the Leinster semifinal. O’Grady has been campaigning for the round-robin system, but after four games in the round-robin Dublin were hammered by Kilkenny. Wexford also went down heavily to Offaly and it now looks like Leinster is being an annual battle between Offaly and Kilkenny.
Finally, Tom Cribben has quit as manager of the Laois senior footballers, just 18 months after taking up the position. Cribben quit following Laois’ loss to Westmeath in the Leinster championship.
Injury sidelines Fallon
Galway star Jarlath Fallon is out of the Galway side for the July 9 Connacht semifinal against Sligo and is unlikely to play again this year. The Tuam star injured his knee in a recent club game and will need surgery. The 27-year-old Fallon was one of Galway’s heroes when they won the Sam Maguire two years ago and he will be a major loss.
"It’s a huge blow for us, but we’ll just have to pick up the pieces and get on with it,” Galway manager John O’Mahony said.
Man. U. to defend title
Manchester United will begin the defense of their FA Premiership title against Newcastle United on Aug. 19. United will have their first Manchester Derby in over four years against Manchester City on Nov. 18th at Maine Road. Other big games on the opening day of the Premiership include Liverpool vs. Bradford, Leeds United vs. Everton, Sunderland vs. Arsenal and West Ham vs. Chelsea.
Meanwhile, the Scottish premier League have scrapped the traditional New Year’s Day Old Firm Derby. It will now be played in February as part of a new-look league, which will consist of 12 teams and be split into two sections for the last five games of the season.
Bohs draw Aberdeen
Bohemians have done best of the Eircom League clubs in the European club draw made last week. Bohs have been paired with Aberdeen. And while the Scottish club will be fancied to get through, it should prove a money spinner for the North Dublin club. Cork City face a trip to Switzerland to play Lausanne Sports, while Eircom League champions Shelbourne have the toughest task, a trip to Macedonia to play Sloga Jugomagnat. The first legs will be played on July 12.
Meanwhile, UCD are out of the Inter Toto Cup. The Students drew 0-0 with Velbazhd last Sunday, but the Bulgarian side, who drew 3-3 in Dublin in the first leg, go through on the away goals rule.
Eircom team reduction
The Eircom League have decided that from the 2002-03 season the number of clubs in the premier division will be reduced from 12 to 10.
However, Shelbourne chairman Gary Browne says they cannot wait until then and want the changes implemented now. Shels, who say they will not play in the League Cup, will meet UCD in the pre-season Super Cup semifinal this weekend. The other semifinal will feature League runners-up Cork and third placed Bohemians.
Stafford, Lyne deaths
Two former great Gaelic Footballers died recently. Tom Stafford, who played at corner forward for Cavan in the 1947 All-Ireland final against Kerry in the Polo Grounds in New York, has passed away. And the brilliant Kerry half-forward Tadhgie Lyne died in Castleisland.
For years we have had the Poc Fada over the Cooley Mountains in County Louth. This year the Bray Emmetts club in Wicklow are organizing a "Kick Fada" on Sept. 2. Among the favorites are Meath star Trevor Giles and Dublin pair Keith Barr and Paul Curran.