The Cats were very disappointed when they failed to make it three All-Ireland wins in a row last September and during the league campaign manager Brian Cody has successfully introduced some new players.
D.J. Carey is also fit again after suffering a black-out at the end of a recent club game. Kilkenny won the league and they should be too strong for Offaly, where former Tipperary hurler John McIntyre is now in charge. Brian Whelahan has changed his mind about retirement and is back training with Offaly.
There is also a new manager in Wexford where Seamus Murphy has taken over from John Conran. The Yellow Bellies are reigning Leinster champions and should qualify for yet another final with a win over Laois in the second semifinal on Sunday.
Following their shock win over Sligo in the first round of the Connacht championship, Leitrim now face Galway, who had an easy win over New York. Dessie Dolan senior, who is now in charge of Leitrim, is a seasoned campaigner, but I think Galway possess too much fire power for Dessie’s men.
Last year Billy Morgan returned to the Cork management set up, but the Rebels were surprised by Fermanagh in the qualifiers. On Sunday, Cork travel to Ennis to play Clare in the Munster semifinal and should be strong enough to qualify for yet another final, probably against old rivals Kerry.
Donegal, who play Armagh in Ballybofey, have worries corner back Niall McCready. But there is good news on corner forward Adrian Sweeney, who played in a challenge game against Galway last week. Armagh seem to be hungry this year, but with Donegal at home we could have an upset here. But in Ulster football what constitutes an upset?
Meanwhile the draw for the first round of the All-Ireland football qualifiers and the newly structured hurling qualifiers will be made this weekend. Both ‘back-door’ competitions start on June 18.
A FAROE FIRST
The Republic of Ireland soccer team will break new ground this evening when they play their first-ever game in the Faroe Islands. The Faroes, who are governed by Denmark, played their first international game back in 1930, but didn’t really hit the headlines until 1990 when they beat Austria in their debut game in the European Championship. That game was played in Sweden, but the Faroes now have their own pitch in Torshavn which is up to UEFA standards.
If Brian Kerr can get the Republic to the World Cup Finals in Germany, no doubt he will be offered a new improved contract by the FAI. But Kerr admitted recently that there have been no moves yet by his employers, the FAI.
FAI President Milo Corcoran said earlier this year that the association was keen to tie Kerr down for the 2008 European Championship campaign. But there has been no word of contract talks from newly appointed CEO John Delaney, who reportedly was not in favor of Kerr when the FAI was looking for a replacement for Mick McCarthy.
Kerr says he would consider going back into club management at a future date. He was previously in charge of St Patrick’s Athletic for ten years, but the money on offer in the Eircom League is relatively poor. Brian would probably need to showcase his managerial talents at a World Cup final tournament to get one of the lucrative jobs in the English Premiership.
Meanwhile, Kerr’s team will have to line out without central defender Andy O’Brien in Torshavn. O’Brien was harshly sent off against Israel on Saturday night at Lansdowne Road.
Israeli goalkeeper Awat, who annoyed the Irish supporters with his time-wasting tactics, threw a punch at O’Brien as they both lay on the ground. O’Brien retaliated although he didn’t really catch the goalkeeper. However, the blow was seen by Greek referee Kyros Vassaras and O’Brien became the first Irish player to be sent off since Kerr was appointed manager.
Kerr will have to play without Robbie Keane, who picked up a shoulder injury shortly after stretching his Irish goal scoring record to 25 in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Israelis. But the good news is that Roy Keane and Stephen Carr, both of whom missed Saturday’s game through suspension, are back.
TAKE A BOW GAA FANS
Soccer is a great international game, but sometimes the violence associated with the game in England and other European countries is aped by the handful of supporters who go to Eircom League games.
On Friday night last, riot police were needed at Dalymount Park to keep a few thousands Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers supporters apart. The attendance at Dalymount was probably around 3,000. On Sunday, at Croke Park, approximately a mile away, I saw Dublin and Meath supporters mix freely in a crowd of over 65,000.
The only frustration came after the game when the crowds spilled out on to Jones Road which was jammed with people trying to move in opposite directions. Those wanting to make their way back into the city center couldn’t move. But there was no violence, just good humored banter and the jam cleared in a few minutes. A feather in the cap indeed for the good natured behavior of GAA supporters.
GAL PAL TACKLES BEST
Poor old George Best, he is rarely out of the news. Years ago it was for his football talent, but recently it’s been all for all the wrong reasons.
Best, who was 59 last month, needed hospital treatment on Saturday night after he was beaten up by his girlfriend, 37 year-old Ros Hollidge. Apparently Best had gone on yet another drinking spree on Saturday, this time at the Epsom Derby race meeting in England.
Later that night police were called to Ms. Hollidge’s home in South West London. Initially Best, ever the gentleman, tried to cover for his girlfriend, saying he was mugged. However, the police later arrested Hollidge.
No charges were pressed, but looking at Best’s battered face on page one of the Sun newspaper on Monday it was obvious that he had been assaulted.
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RUGBY LEAGUE COLLAPSES
Rugby’s Celtic League, the competition they couldn’t find a sponsor for, is dead. Last week the Welsh Rugby Union told their Scottish and Irish counterparts that their four professional clubs had signed an agreement to participate in a new Anglo-Welsh Cup.
So that leaves the Irish and Scottish Unions to their own devices to try and organize a competition which they hope will commence in September. Even though the Celtic League didn’t have a sponsor it meant a lot of games for the provinces.
Leinster’s chief executive Mick Dawson said: “We have sold a stack of tickets for next season already and it makes life very difficult as sponsors are on board for a full season. The ramifications are huge.” Ulster have also sold over 2,000 tickets for next the new season and they say they will refund customers if they wish.
Meanwhile, the Lions touring team, captained by Ireland’s Brian O’Driscoll, opened their account in New Zealand last weekend by beating Bay of Plenty 34-20. Paddy Wallace is out of the Irish squad for the trip to Japan this month. Ireland play the first test against Japan in Osaka on Sunday, June 12.
LADIES GO INTERNATIONAL
The Ladies Gaelic Football Association are organizing a new international competition in Dublin at the end of September. Teams from New York, North America, Canada, Australasia, Asia, Scotland, London, the rest of Britain and Europe will take part.
Obviously an Irish team would be too strong for the competition so there will not be a home team. The games, which will be staged at the Naomh Mearnog club in Portmarnock in North Dublin will be played on a round-robin basis Sept. 26-30 and all the participants will be guests at the Ladies All-Ireland Final at Croke Park on Oct. 2. The idea came from the Welcome Home tournament the GAA hosted for both men and women for the past four years, but the GAA then decided to discontinue that event.
TROUBLE AT MAYO
Trouble in the Mayo camp in the run-up to their Connacht football semifinal against Roscommon. Star forward Ciaran McDonald refused to line out for his club Crossmolina in a recent fixture as he was not happy being selected in the full forward line.
McDonald is no doubt a talented player, but he is also a man who likes to court attention. A few years back his club were fined when he refused to wear the same color socks as the rest of his colleagues in the All-Ireland club final at Croke Park. A section of the Mayo supporters then got on his back and McDonald quit the county panel for a while. But last year manager John Maughan brought him back into the squad.
Meanwhile in Galway hurlers Diarmuid Cloonan and Adrian Cullinane have withdrawn from the senior panel. And Cloonan’s brother Eugene is doubtful for Galway’s opening game in the hurling championship on June 18 having suffered a recurrence of a back injury in a recent club game.
Westmeath, who are due to meet Roscommon in the new Christy Ring Cup on Saturday, now find themselves without a manager following Tom Ryan’s decision to quit. The Limerick man had previously quit last November because of repeatedly poor attendances at training. But Tom agreed to return following a commitment from the players. However, last week Ryan got more excuses via text on his mobile phone than players for training at Mullingar and he decided to quit for definite this time.
“I knew it was a challenge coming to Westmeath, but I saw it as a sort of crusade, that I might be able to lift another team from the shadows. I was aware of all the politics that were going on between the clubs in the country, but I was determined it wouldn’t get to me. However, the bottom line is you can’t go to war without soldiers.” Galwayman Seamus Qualter, who was a selector with Ryan, now takes temporary charge.
HOME IN ONE
Dr. Michael Smurfit has bought back what was once his famous golf club in County Kildare. Together with developer Gerry Gannon, Smurfit has bought the K Club golf resort and a defunct paper mill in Clonskeagh Dublin from the Jefferson Smurfit Group for 115 million euro. Last week, Dr. Smurfit, who is chairman of the Jefferson Smurfit Group, ended three years of speculation when he and Gannon agreed to buy the Kildare Hotel and Country Club, better known as the K Club. The venue is to host the 2006 Ryder Cup.