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Sports Desk: Croker may see seven Euro games in ’06-’07

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Following a recent decision by UEFA to have six seven-team groups and one eight-team group for the Euro 2008 qualifiers, Brian Kerr’s team could have 12 or possibly 14 qualifying games over a 15-month period, with half of them at home. The good news is that the two top teams in each group will qualify for the finals, which will be co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. So there will no play-offs.
Last week Minister for Sport John O’Donoghue said that everything is going according to plan for the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road and that a planning application will be submitted to Dublin City Council by December this year. The minister knows that there will be objections from some of the residents of Dublin 4, but also made this interesting observation.
“We will try to accommodate any concerns the residents may have. But they may feel that a world-class stadium is preferable to the concrete jungle that is there right now. At present Lansdowne Road is decrepit, Victorian and an embarrassment to be holding international games there, whether they be rugby or soccer,” he said.

With New York’s Connacht football championship game against Galway put back for two weeks, the honor of playing the first game in the 2005 All-Ireland championship goes to Offaly and Louth, who meet at Pairc Tailteann, Navan, in the Leinster Championship on Sunday next. In the past Navan has often hosted opening games in the Leinster championship, but in recent years most of the big games in Leinster have gone to Croke Park. Former Offaly star Kevin Kilmurray will be making his championship debut in charge of the Faithful County and they will be favorites to beat Louth, who have failed to show much form in recent years. Dubliner Val Andrews is a good young manager now in his second year with the Wee County, but of course a manager can only work with the talent he has at his disposal. And Louth have not produced much talent at under age level in recent years. Also they may be without star forward Shane Lennon, who was injured in a recent club game.
Meanwhile Mickey Whelan, the former Dublin footballer, who managed both Louth and Dublin is back in the news. Whelan, who quit the Dublin job after a torrent of abuse in 1997, replaces John O’Leary as a selector with the Irish International Rules team. O’Leary is unable to join Peter McGrath’s backroom team this year due to personal commitments. Whelan worked on fitness testing with the Irish team last year.

Bernard Dunne, who made a successful homecoming when he stopped Jim Betts in the fifth round at Dublin’s National Stadium in February, will be back in action at the Stadium on May 14. This time, the unbeaten Dubliner will box Ukrainian champion Yuri Voroin, who has lost only one of his last 14 fights. The show will be promoted by Brian Peters and the undercard will include a number of promising Irish boxers.

France, our World Cup opponents, will play Hungary in a friendly on May 31 as they try and get their stuttering qualifying campaign back on target after four draws. The game replaces a proposed trip to China, which the French FA decided they could not afford. The French will also play Argentina in a friendly in Paris on Aug. 17, the same night as the Republic play Italy in a friendly in Dublin.

Irish international goalkeeper Shay Given has committed his future to Newcastle United, despite some recent setbacks. The Geordies went out of the UEFA Cup and FA Cup in the space of four days and have no hope of European football next season as they are nearer to the bottom than to top of the FA Premiership table.
“I have two years left on my contract and I am very happy to stay unless someone tells me different. I will ignore the speculation and I think I will still be at St. James’s Park next season. The manager, Graeme Souness, has said he will strengthen the squad in the summer and that there will be good times ahead.’ Despite Given’s comments there is bound to be increased speculation about a move to a bigger club like Manchester United or Arsenal for the Donegal-born ‘keeper, who joined Newcastle from Blackburn Rovers in 1997.
Richard Dunne has signed a new contract with Manchester City and Kevin Kilbane said he wants to stay with Everton, who have had a great season.
But Clinton Morrison is fed up sitting on the bench at Birmingham City and is prepared to leave the club to get first-team football elsewhere. The striker, who has regularly found the net for Irish coach Brian Kerr said: ‘I have a year left of my contract, but I will be sitting down with my agent and the manager in the coming weeks to try and sort out my future. I am not the type of player who sits around and draws his wages every week.’

The row over the All-Ireland senior hurling semifinal between Clare and Offaly in 1998 when Galway referee Jimmy Cooney blew up three minutes early, has raised its ugly head again. Clare were winning by three points when Cooney mistakenly ended the game prematurely. The Offaly supporters ran on to the pitch and staged a sit-down protest until the GAA agreed to replay the game. The game was replayed in Thurles, and Offaly won. This incident is included in RTE’s recently compiled Top 20 televised GAA moments and Clare manager Ger Loughnane came up with some controversial comments when asked to comment on the incident of seven years ago. Loughnane said that he never accepted the official reason given and claimed that the referee was trying to compensate for an earlier mistake when he should have sent off Offaly’s Michael Duignan.
“You must remember that Clare weren’t exactly flavor of the month in official circles in 1998. Let’s just say that some very important people in the GAA had what you might call an unsympathetic view of Clare,” said Loughnane. “Frankly a lot of people wanted us out of the championship. Why wasn’t the match restarted when the error was spotted? Why was the referee ushered off the pitch? Why did the two teams for the last game on the program at Croke Park come out on the field so quickly?”
Referee Cooney took a long time to get over the incident and he is shocked that the matter is now being discussed again. “I made a genuine time-keeping error, it’s as simple as that and to imply anything else is very wrong,” Cooney said.

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The decision on opening Croke Park to soccer and rugby while Lansdowne Road is being re-developed dominated the GAA’s Annual Congress last month. However, a few other rule changes were also passed. One significant change refers to the age that young players can play various grades. In the past, we often saw 16-year-olds play senior inter-county football. Now a player must be over 15 years on Jan. 1 to play minor. And a player must be over 17 years on Jan. 1 before he can play for under-21 or senior teams at club or county level. Already there has been some criticism, but GAA President Sean Kelly is clear on the matter. ‘The management committee will examine the situation. There may be some technical problems if counties have already started competitions under one rule and now face a change. But we want to protect players who are being asked to play for teams well above their age group. It’s a player welfare matter.’

With the amount of Irish emigration to the U.S. over the generations, there must be several sports stars who could declare for Ireland through their parents or grandparents. In the past the Football Association of Ireland have made full use of the “granny rule,” so much so that the popular joke a few years back was that the letters FAI stood for “Find Another Irishman.” Nearly all of the soccer players recruited under the ‘granny’ rule have come from Britain, but surely there must be some good U.S. soccer players around of Irish heritage who would consider declaring for the Republic?
Meanwhile Irish Tennis has recently benefited from the “granny” rule after American Anne Mall was cleared to play for Ireland on the grounds that her grandmother was Irish. The 28-year-old, who lived in Dublin when a child, made her Irish debut in the Fed Cup win over Norway in Turkey last week.

Being manager of Manchester United is a high-profile job, certainly the most media-watched job in England. Every move and every word uttered by Alex Ferguson is analyzed by the media. And when the manager, who is on a rolling contract at Old Trafford, mentions Roy Keane, everybody’s ears pop up. Recently it appeared that Ferguson was recommending that the Cork-born midfielder would take over from him when he finally decides to end his managerial career with United. But basically what Ferguson said was nothing new. ‘ I would never presume to have the authority to make that kind of decision,’ said Ferguson. ‘What I have said about Roy Keane and what I have always said about him, is that he has the potential to become a manager if that is what he wants to do. I made those comments eight weeks ago, but they appear to have been spun out of all proportion.’

Former FAI chief executives are seldom out of the news. Recently Bernard O’Byrne joined St. Patrick’s Athletic as CEO, following in the footsteps of Sean Connolly, who holds a similar post in Dundalk. Fran Rooney, the most recent CEO is reported to be interested in investing in cash-strapped Shamrock Rovers, while Brendan Menton, who was in charge of affairs in Merrion Square during the Saipan row between McCarthy and Keane, is to stay on with the Asian Football Confederation as national associations director for a further two years.

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