By Sean Creedon
Football championship on tap
The National Football League final will be played on Sunday. But that day also sees the start of the 1999 All-Ireland football championship, the last championship of the millennium.
First into action are four Leinster counties: Carlow, Longford, Westmeath and Wexford. Despite some great performances from county champions Eire Og, Carlow are still not a force in Leinster and, after overcoming their internal wrangling, now face Westmeath at Dr. Cullen Park. The Midlanders, who have an excellent under 21 team, are doing well under former Offaly star Brendan Lowry and should progress to the next round. Wexford, who had a good League run under former Kerry star J.J. Barrett, now have to plan without the Dublin-based journalist who was banned for punching Galway referee Michael Curley. Last year the counties were also paired together in the first round when Longford scraped through after a replay. But this time Wexford will be anxious to win this one for their former manager and should be able to do so on home territory in New Ross.
FAI Cup pairing
Sunday’s FAI Harp Lager Cup final has thrown up a novel pairing in Bray Wanderers and Finn Harps. It’s a most unusual lineup in that both clubs have won the Cup in their only previous final appearance.
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Five years after joining the League of Ireland in 1969, Finn Harps beat St. Patrick’s Athletic, 3-1, in the 1974 final. So the Donegal club will be hoping that the 25th anniversary is a lucky one for them. Nine years ago, when the final was played at Lansdowne Road for the first time, Bray Wanderers brought a huge crowd to the Ballsbridge venue.
And the Wicklow club made it a memorable day when beating non-League St. Francis, 3-0. John Ryan, then a waiter in the nearby Berkeley Court Hotel, scored a hat trick to equal the record set by Cork Hibernians Miah Dennehy in 1972. Ryan is now back with the Wanderers and should be on the team for Sunday’s final, which will be played at Tolka Park.
This will be the first final at the all-seater Drumcondra venue since the 1984 replay.
Northern Final canceled
The Cup Final in Northern Ireland, due to have been played Saturday, was canceled. Cliftonville, who won the Irish League last season, were due to play Portadown for the Cup and the right to represent the North in next season’s UEFA Cup. But following Cliftonville’s semifinal victory over Linfield, the Blues objected to Cliftonville’s Simon Gribben. The former Down under 21 Gaelic footballer had played for junior club Kilmore in a preliminary round of the Cup. It’s the first time since 1920 that the Cup Final was not played and that final was called off for the same reason.
Cup sponsors Bass are not happy that their big day was canceled. In most Associations, the team that lost to the club with the illegal player would then go through to the final, but under IFA rules that’s not allowed. So Linfield could not take Cliftonville’s place and Portadown got a walk-over.
McKiernan for Chicago race
Catherina McKiernan’s final marathon race before the Sydney Olympics will be in Chicago on Oct. 24. The Cavan runner, who had to miss the recent London marathon because she was injured, signed the contract for Chicago recently
"We feel that it’s a fantastic coup for us to get a runner of McKiernan’s class to run Chicago," Carey Pinkowski, director of the Chicago Classic, said. "The fact that she is Irish is a bonus because she will have a massive following from the Irish here."
Clare’s O’Connell quits
Clare will have to plan without swashbuckling forward P.J. O’Connell for this year’s championship campaign. The O’Callaghan Mills clubman has retired from intercounty hurling, saying that he has lost his appetite for the game. O’Connell didn’t play in the League camping for Clare and had only recently joined the squad for training.
"It got to the stage that he hated training and even going to play match matches, which was totally in contrast to the P.J. I knew," said disappointed manager Ger Loughnane.
Another man quitting is Joe Kernan, who has stepped down as manager of Crossmaglen Rangers. The Armagh club won the All-Ireland club final for the second time in three years on St. Patrick’s Day.
Also, Carlow, who last year lost football team manager Bobby Millar following a row with the supporters club, have now lost the services of hurling team manager Frank Keenan. Keenan’s resignation came in the week that Carlow players caused damage to a hotel in Dundalk on the way to a League game against Derry.
Bookie hours extended
Irish punters will have more time to try to win money off the bookies this summer. Until the end of August bookmakers can stay open until 10 p.m. and from September to March they will be allowed stay open until 6:30 p.m.
Leitrim park renamed
The Allen Gaels club in Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, are to rename their local pitch. The pitch will be named Shane McGettigan Park in memory of the former Leitrim footballer who died in a construction accident in Boston earlier this year.
Youth playoff Tuesday
The house-full signs will be up at Tolka Park on May 11 for the second leg of the UEFA Youths Championship playoff between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Brian Kerr’s team have a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Belfast and they should qualify for the finals which will be held in Sweden in July.
Whither Yugoslavia, Macedonia
The FAI should know by May 11 if the European Championship games against Yugoslavia and Macedonia will go ahead in June. UEFA have appointed a Task Force to look at all aspects of the Euro 200 qualifying campaign affected by the continuing crisis in the Balkans.
The Republic are due to play Yugoslavia in Dublin on June 5 and Macedonia are due at Lansdowne Road four days later.
London still in
London’s hurlers have denied suggestions that they may be pulling out of this year’s All-Ireland senior championship. After a bad run of defeats in League games, it was suggested that London may opt out of the championship. But they have decided to compete and will meet Antrim in the Ulster Championship on June 19. Last year, London almost pulled off a shock win over Antrim in the Ulster championship.
It ended in a draw, but the emigrants were well beaten in the replay.
The Limerick GAA Board is heading toward Cork to raise funds for their £500,000 development in Rathkeale. They have planned a race day at Cork Racecourse (Mallow) on June 5 with some fantastic prizes. To help relieve pressure on the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick City, the County Board have invested in a 12-acre site in Rathkeale that will be officially opened next month. It will provide three playing fields, dressing and meetings room and other facilities.