By Stephen McKinley
The new grass in Croke Park came through its first real test on June 23 when Dublin played Meath in the Leinster football championship. Some of the players said the ground was a bit hard, despite the summer’s heavy rain. Next Sunday, much attention will be paid to see how the new pitch fares for a hurling game. Hurling needs grass that is tightly cut and the few hurlers who have tested the surface said there wasn’t a great bounce off the sliothar on the new surface. Croke Park officials say that the grass will be shorter on Sunday than it was for the football semifinal.
Kilkenny will be hot favorites to beat old rivals Wexford, but they will have to plan without D.J. Carey. The Gowran-man last week ruled himself out of intercounty action for this year’s championship. Carey, who has not played intercounty hurling since injuring his neck in a car accident at the end of last year, played a few recent club games but he said he still didn’t feel right.
“I am not fit enough to play at intercounty level and I’m not hungry enough either,” he said.
Croke Park is now on par with any stadium in Europe and the media in particular are well looked after. Now you can ramble into the press room, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee before the game and maybe watch a game from another venue on the television screens. Then when you take your own dedicated seat in the Press Box as well as surveying the action on the pitch, the height also provides a spectacular view of Howth. The only teething problem is that the television gantry is a very high and, consequently, the television pictures are a bit distant.
Eircom set to start
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The World Cup is over but for fans of Irish soccer, the new Eircom League summer season is begins this weekend. It will be interesting to see what the reaction of the fans will be to the switch to summer soccer after the World Cup.
Sadly, I must admit, fans in Ireland
are much more interest in the happenings of the English Premiership.
Regardless, in order to avoid a clash with all the big GAA games, the majority of games in the new Eircom League, which will run until January, will be played on Friday and Saturday nights.
Then, in 2003, there will be a proper summer season, running from March through October. St. Patrick’s Athletic accumulated most points last season, but Shelbourne were deemed champions when The Saints were found to have used a player who was not properly registered. So far this season Pat’s have signed only one player, Brian Byrne from Shelbourne. Maybe they are afraid of making an error again.
Meanwhile, last Sunday was a historic day for the Dublin Saints as they recorded their first-ever win in Europe when they beat HNK Rijeka 1-0 to progress to the second round of the Inter-Toto Cup on the away-goals rule. Pat’s had lost the first leg in Croatia 3-2. It was The Saints first success in Europe since they first competed 41 years ago.
O’Leary shops himself
David O’Leary, the only Irishman in charge of a team in the English Premiership club last season, was sacked last week as Leeds United manager. And what was the first thing O’Leary did after getting the bad news from his former chairman, Peter Risdale? Go on a shopping trip in downtown Leeds. I thought it was mainly women who enjoyed a bit of “retail therapy.”
Eamon Cregan quit as manager of Limerick hurling manager following Saturday evening’s one point defeat by Cork in Thurles. Also quitting with Cregan is trainer Derry O’Donovan. “Derry and I are stepping down,” Cregan said. “After five years we have nothing left to offer. It’s time to let somebody new come in.”
Donegal’s Devenney OK
Donegal’s dual star Brendan Devenney is hoping to line out for Donegal in Sunday’s Ulster football final against Armagh in Clones. Devenney, who plays soccer for Finn Harps and Gaelic for Donegal, had a lucky escape last week when the van he was traveling in overturned in Donegal. The van was totaled, but Devenney escaped with minor cuts and bruises.
Magee out 6 weeks
Dublin centerhalf back Jonathan Magee will miss the Leinster football final against Kildare on July 14. McGee damaged ligaments in his knee in the semifinal win over Meath but didn’t realize the seriousness of the injury until after the game. He and will be out of action for up to six weeks.
Magee is a big loss and will be out for up to six weeks, but Dublin manager Tommy Lyons is philosophical. “Three’s no point talking about having a big panel unless you are prepared to use it,” he said. “We have a lot of young players there and have lads good enough to come in for Jonathan. However, having said that, Magee is a big loss. He worked really hard this year and has lost two stone. I think the Meath game was his best in a Dublin jersey and now we know he did it through the pain barrier.”
Fitz to lead cagers
Gerry Fitzpatrick will guide Ireland’s men’s basketball team through the remaining European Championship semifinal games following the departure of coach Bill Dooley. Dooley revealed last week that he will be returning to the U.S. when his current deal as the Irish Basketball Association’s director of coaching expires in August. The Basketball Association had hoped that Dooley would be able to travel back to Europe for the remaining international fixtures. But he couldn’t agree to that as he will be starting a coaching job at Delaware Valley College in Pennsylvania. “It will be tough moving on because I have had a terrific time in Ireland since I arrived in 2000,” Dooley said.
Holland for Boro?
Following their great World Cup campaign there is plenty of interest in Irish players. Midfielder Matt Holland may be about to return to the Premiership. Holland, who failed to save Ipswich Town from relegation last season, is now reported to be wanted by Middlesbrough. Boro boss Steve McLaren, assistant to England boss Sven Goren-Ericksson, was obviously impressed with Holland during the World Cup.
Meanwhile, there has also been speculation that Wimbledon defender Kenny Cunningham could on the move to Newcastle Unite or maybe Sunderland where Niall Quinn has been appointed player-coach. Cunningham was impressive in his two appearances as sub against Germany and Spain in the World Cup. And newly promoted Birmingham City are reported to be interested in Crystal Palace striker Clinton Morrison, one of the four Irish outfield players who didn’t get a run in the World Cup finals.
Kenna eyes return
Birmingham captain Jeff Kenna is hoping that a return to the Premiership may earn him an Irish recall. Kenna, who captained Birmingham City at the end of last season, is not ruling out an international comeback.
“Even though I will be 32 in August, I still feel I have plenty to offer at international level,” Kenna said. “It’s a big achievement for any player to represent
their country and I am no different.”
Kenna, who won the last of his 27 caps against Turkey in November 1999, is normally a right back, but can also play at left-full. Even at 32 he couldn’t be much worse than Ian Harte.