Category: Archive

Irresistible force

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Outside of European opposition, captain Brian O’Driscoll and his players followed up on their win over South Africa, with an even more impressive 21-6 victory against Australia at Lansdowne Road last Sunday. On current form, New Zealand might be the only better team in world rugby.
Since the advent of professionalism, we have grown used to Irish sides being fitter, stronger and better organized, but there was a rare confidence about Sunday’s performance. Okay, Australia are not as potent as the New Zealanders, and the atrocious weather conditions in Dublin wouldn’t have been to their liking, however, they were outclassed for much of the game.
In fact, the home team’s first-half display was a master class in how to use the ball into the teeth of a gale-force wind and torrential rain. With Ronan O’Gara expertly directing operations, Ireland were irresistible at times and it was something of a surprise that they only scored two tries through Denis Hickie and Geordan Murphy.
The traditional gap in raw power between Ireland and the Southern Hemisphere’s top teams has also been bridged, and where once we might have played second fiddle in the physical stakes, this time the big hits were coming in front Neil Best, who is fast making a name for himself as an abrasive wing forward, Denis Leamy, Gordon D’Arcy and Shane Horgan.
The respected Australian coach, John Connolly, reckoned Ireland showed composure in the difficult conditions. “They were incredibly patient, they played brilliantly especially in the first half. They’re a great team,” he saidl
Even though there was a touch of over-reaction, with some observers suggesting that the Irish were now second favorites behind New Zealand for next year’s World Cup – a suggestion that O’Driscoll called “ridiculous” – coach Eddie O’Sullivan and his players are certainly in rude health as their prepare for the last game of the year against the Pacific Islands on Sunday.
While current optimism is clearly justified, Ireland are still an injury aware from trouble. O’Gara, who in the pivotal role of out half is as important as a quarterback, has no viable understudy at present, and if he happened to be injured, the team would splutter.
Equally, the loss of players like O’Driscoll or the inspirational Paul O’Connell would also be immensely damaging. With a lack of resources, the Irish can’t afford the luxury like New Zealand of having two top-quality players in every position.
But they can afford to luxuriate in the position of unofficially being the number one team in Europe. If next year’s Six Nations championship will obviously tell a more expansive story, the good times do not appear to coming to a halt any day now.

Stan wins more time Steven Staunton hasn’t quite reached the end of his first year in charge, but with a break in competitive games until early February, it’s an appropriate enough time to assess the trials and tribulations of the Ireland soccer manager.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, Staunton was appointed last January when his only coaching experience was as an assistant at Walsall, a tiny club in what is effectively England’s fourth division. The announcement came after the FAI’s chief executive, John Delaney, had assured everyone that he was on the hunt for a “world-class manager.”
Now, in a career which took in spells at Liverpool and Aston Villa, and which encompassed over 100 games for his country, there was never any doubting Staunton’s pedigree as a player, but a world-class manager he was must certainly not.
In fact, he wasn’t a manager at all, simply someone with potential. The former Ireland captain, Liam Brady, got it right when he said it was more a world-class gamble than anything else.
Delaney’s get-out-of-jail card came in the form of Bobby Robson, an eminence grise of English soccer, who would act as Staunton’s advisor. The old hand and the newcomer would make sweet music after Brian Kerr’s failure to smooth a path to the World Cup finals.
Unfortunately, Robson has suffered from ill-health for much of this year, and Staunton has had to go it alone. He has stumbled, and if it looked as if he was about to fall after Ireland’s humiliating 5-2 defeat in Cyprus, he is back on his feet again. Just about.
The problem for Kerr towards the end of his stewardship was that the team were playing with little or no conviction, and that key figures such as Damien Duff and Robbie Keane were struggling to produce the sparkling form they are capable of.
With the exception of a 1-1 draw with the Czech Republic at Lansdowne Road, when grit more than guile probably saved Staunton from an early termination of his contract, Ireland have been ordinary in 2006. When we have become accustomed to the team punching above its weight, qualification for European Championship finals is already a forlorn hope.
A 1-0 loss against Germany at the outset wasn’t all that bad, but in truth if goalkeeper Shay Given hadn’t performed his customary heroics, the margin could easily have been three or four goals. Still, after getting himself sent off for dissent – great example that – Staunton then insisted that his players had been “magnificent.” Clearly, he had been watching a different game.
The Cyprus fiasco began with a botched selection, which had the lightweight Stephen Ireland in midfield ahead of the reliable and experienced Lee Carsley who, according to the manager, was surplus to requirements. It ended with the team in the sort of disarray no one could remember for the more than 20 years.
Carsley was drafted into the side for the games against the Czech Republic and last week’s facile 5-0 over a pub team from San Marino, yet there was no admission from Staunton that he had been wrong.
Instead, he offered a few incoherent messages regarding his reserve goalkeeper, Paddy Kenny, who was left out of the squad following the break-up of his marriage, regarding Andy O’Brien, and regarding the highly promising Arsenal striker, Anthony Stokes.
Currently on loan at Falkirk in Scotland, 18 year Stokes is the Scottish Premier League’s top scorer with 12 goals in 10 games, and while Staunton might have given him an opportunity off the bench in the nothing match against San Marino, he mentioned that he reckoned the youngster had gone “backwards” at Arsenal before moving to Falkirk.
Now that didn’t please both Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and Liam Brady who is the club’s head of youth development. It seemed that nearly every time Staunton opened his mouth, he was going to get up somone’s nose.
At least after the San Marino victory, he refrained from any gushing appraisal of the result. And now, he has a couple of months to reflect before the qualifying group resumes with the return match against San Marino, and with home games against Wales and Slovakia.
There is support for Staunton in his efforts to get to grips with a difficult job. But as of now, Given’s are the only safe pair of hands in Irish international soccer.

Joyce gets Ashes call-up
Cricket, that traditional game of the old British Empire, is alive and reasonably well in Ireland, but it’s just not a sport that gets us in a lather. Even if cricket has been played down the years by more than a few uncompromising types, it still has a slightly genteel feel about it.
However, at the highest level, it is a serious business. And the rivalry doesn’t get much more intense when England take on Australia in what is known as the Ashes series. With Ireland so readily exposed both to England’s print and electronic media, the five tests between the two countries between this month and early January will have blanket coverage.
This time though, interest here could reach a new high as one of the England squad is Irish born and bred. Ed Joyce from County Wicklow was called up for the series last week when Marcus Trescothick, one of England’s leading batsman, withdrew due to illness.
However, it’s not as if English cricket has been forced to ransack the Irish game for one or two players. Realizing that playing at international level for Ireland would make him the proverbial big fish, Joyce moved to London to play for Middlesex with the goal of qualifying for England under the residency rules.
And now the 28-year-old left-hander is set to become the first Irishman, born and bred, for over a century to play in a test match. “It’s the Ashes, the biggest tour you can go on,” said Joyce, “and there’s nothing like it in terms of cricket. I’m an Irishman trying to play cricket for England because Ireland doesn’t play test cricket. I’ve no problem adding allegiances.”

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