At this stage of the year it looks like the footballers could be a better bet than the Slaneysiders’ hurlers to win out in Leinster. On Sunday, the Wexford footballers play in their first National League final since 1946 when they meet Armagh in the final at Croke Park.
The Yellow Bellies really began to blossom last year under Laois-born manager Pat Roe. And in corner forward Mattie Forde they have one of the most prolific scorers in Gaelic football. The last time Wexford got to this stage of the League their center half forward was the legendary hurler Nicky Rackard, but they still went down to Meath.
MAY MEET IN SEMI
It has been a disappointing end of season for all four provincial rugby teams. But the good news is that three — Munster, Leinster and Ulster — have qualified for the quarterfinals of the Celtic Cup. And if they win their respective ties, Leinster and Munster will meet at Lansdowne Road in the semifinal. If that happens, there is bound to be a bit of needle following the decision by Declan Kidney to walk out on Leinster last month and return to his native Munster following the two provinces’ Heineken Cup defeats. But first Leinster, still without a coach, must beat Glasgow at Lansdowne Road on Friday next. On Saturday, Munster have a home tie against Edinburgh. Ulster are away to the Neath Swansea Ospreys and if they win there, will have to travel to Wales again for the semifinal.
Meanwhile, in Italy, former French captain Pierre Berbizier has replaced All-Black John Kirwan as national coach. The 46-year-old, who coached France for three years, has agreed a deal with the Italians until after the 2007 World Cup.
FAI AGREES TO
The Republic of Ireland World Cup qualifier against Israel at Lansdowne Road on June 4 will have a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Normally Ireland’s Saturday home games have an afternoon start, but following a request from the Israeli FAI the game will have a night kickoff, to adhere to Israel’s observance of the Jewish Sabbath. “We received a request from the Israeli FA and were happy to meet it,” a FAI spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the Faroe FA have confirmed that Ireland’s first-ever game in Torshavn on June 8 will also have a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. There is no time difference between the Faroe Islands and Ireland.
HURLERS TO GET
Reality TV shows are very popular in this part of the world, with “Big Brother” and “Survivor” attracting huge audiences. Three years ago, Adare Productions came up idea of “The Underdogs” where players who had never played senior intercounty Gaelic football were given a opportunity to play against a top intercounty team. Adare sold the idea to TG4, the Irish-language station, and for the last two years viewers have witnessed emotional scenes where players were told they would not make the final squad. In 2002 the Underdogs put up a good show against Dublin and in December last year the Underdogs beat reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry under the floodlights at Austin Stack Park, Tralee. Intercounty selectors took note and a few of the Underdogs got call-ups to their own counties, but without any lasting success. This year TG4 will be turning attention to hurlers who never made the grade. When the team is selected they will play Kilkenny at Nowlan Park. Already the tie is being billed as the Cats versus the Dogs.
Tyrone defender Ciaran Gourley will be out of football for at least a year after he ruptured a cruciate ligament in his knee. The damage, sustained in a recent club game, is much worse than first appeared. Initially it was thought that Gourley had suffered a medial ligament injury, which would have ruled him out for a few weeks. But Tyrone manager Mickey Harte said: “It’s very serious. Ciaran has done his cruciate ligament and the medial and he is out for a year for sure.”
In Offaly, hurler Brian Whelahan has reluctantly decided to retire, but hinted that he may return at some stage. Manager John McIntrye said he was leaving the door open if the 33-year-old former All-Star defender decides to change his mind. But judging by McIntrye’s comments, it looks like it’s all over for Whelahan.
“We are undergoing a major transition period in Offaly and we are in the thick of a three-year program,” McIntyre said. “Brian said to me that if he did come back, he wouldn’t be around in three years time, so maybe we all have to move on now. There is no point in any stop-gap measure with Offaly. Brian’s decision was expected and he will be admired forever.”
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PLAGUE GAA STARS
Gregory McCartan, the last remaining link with Down’s All-Ireland winning team of 1994, looks like he is about to leave intercounty football. Like many GAA players, the 33-year-old has been troubled with a groin injury. McCartan has been resting in recent months but still hopes to come back and play for his club, Castelwellan.
Another player with groin problems is Sligo’s Dessie Sloyan. Sloyan is due to travel to London for an operation for his Gilmor’s groin problem and faces a race to be fit in time for Sligo’s opening game in the Connacht championship on May 22.
Last year, former Meath star Dr. Gerry McEntee, now a consultant in Dublin specializing in groin problems, spoke out about the increasing number of groin problems that GAA players suffer. Too much football and no rest is the big problem.
ADIDAS DOES DEAL
Adidas have signed up 11 of the top hurlers and footballers in Ireland for the rest of the year. They include Alan Brogan (Dublin), J.J. Delaney (Kilkenny), Mattie Forde (Wexford), Paul Galvin (Kerry), Eoin Kelly (Tipperary), Ciaran McDonald (Mayo), Steven McDonnell (Armagh), Ken McGrath (Waterford), Michael Meehan (Galway), Conor Mortimer (Mayo) and Sean Og O hAilpin (Cork). They will all wear Adidas personalized Predator boots for the remainder of 2005. Under the GAA’s Rule 14, players cannot be formally paid to wear a certain brand of playing gear and financial agreements can only be made at county board level. Rule 14 also states that all playing gear, with the exception of boots, must be manufactured in Ireland. Following the recent alteration to Rule 42, the Gaelic Players Association is now advocating changes to Rule 14 and they are due to meet GAA President Sean Kelly this week to discuss this and other pressing matters.
AS CHEF D’EQUIPE
These are confusing times for Irish showjumping, which is getting nearly as bad a name for management heaves as the FAI. In February, it was announced that Eddie Macken has been offered the post of chef d’equipe/trainer of the Irish team. However, two months on, it has been revealed that Macken, who is based in Canada, cannot take up the post due to other business commitments. Macken was at the center of a dispute last year when he was hired for the job, fired and reinstalled. Earlier this year the Longford-born rider was appointed as chef d’equipe, after applying along with former chef d’equipe Tommy Wade and Cork rider Robert Splaine. Now the chief selector, Taylor Vard, will be in charge of the Irish team for the first Super League Nations Cup event in France next month.
“Eddie is not coming on board and we are very disappointed for the riders,” Vard said. “In the short term we will have no official chef d’equipe. Robert could lead a team if he is not riding and it could be an introduction to the post for him.”
So a broad hint there that the job may eventually go to Splaine.
HOTEL TO OPEN
Getting tickets for the All-Ireland hurling and football finals at Croke Park can be difficult. But if you stay in the new Jurys Doyle Hotel on Jones Road, you could well pick up a ticket from a GAA supporter in the lobby. The new four-star hotel will be open in time for the finals next September and Jurys Doyle are now offering rooms for