By Mark Jones
Ulster are preparing for the biggest rugby game in the province’s history as the build-up intensifies for Saturday’s eagerly awaited European Cup semifinal against reigning French champions Stade Francais at Ravenhill, Belfast.
Followed their sensational victory over former champions Toulouse in the quarterfinal, Ulster could now become the first Irish province to qualify for a European final. Extra seating has been brought into Ravenhill to cater to a sell-out crowd of 20,000.
They are hoping that their captain, David Humphreys, will be fit after suffering dislocated shoulder. A major responsibility will also rest on goalkicker Simon Mason, who is currently the competition’s top scorer, with 106 points.
Meanwhile, Ballymena have moved to the top of Div. I of the All-Ireland League after a fourth successive victory. This time it was Clontarf who felt the brunt of the Ulster club’s newfound form as they were comprehensively defeated by 40-17.
Lansdowne suffered their first defeat of the season, losing to an Eric Miller-inspired Terenure by 14-7, while third place Garryowen were also defeated, 18-7, by St. Mary’s. Shannon’s game against Buccaneers was postponed due to a waterlogged Thomond Park.
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Cavan football row
Cavan’s football manager, Liam Austin, has hit back at reports that the county’s players want him sacked. In particular, Austin has singled out the County Board chairman, Brendan Keeney, and accused him of having a major role in the current controversy.
In a statement, Austin has criticized Keeney for “undermining his position” following a recent National League game against Fermanagh. He has also claimed that players were “used” when a scheduled meeting between the team and the management was canceled.
Austin was adamant that neither he nor his co-selectors would not be resigning despite player unrest.
“We have done nothing wrong and have made every effort and given every commitment to the Cavan team,” he said.
A former Down midfield star, Austin added that County Board chairman Keeney had refused to leave the dressing room when Austin requested a private meeting with the players following the League defeat by Fermanagh at the end of November.
The statement issued by Austin and the team management concluded: “We feel it is imperative that the County Board chairman calls a long overdue meeting of the executive in an effort to resolve this alarming situation.”
Meanwhile, there was only one competitive game last weekend, with Leitrim and Mayo playing out a 1-5 to 0-8 draw in the Connacht League at Garrymore.
Leitrim were denied a victory when Mayo were awarded a free in the second minute of injury time which Maurice Sheridan duly converted from close range.
Cork City increase lead
Cork City built on their recent League Cup final win over Shamrock Rovers when they moved three points clear at the top of National Soccer League. An own goal by Matthew Hare saw them through by 1-0 against Sligo Rovers at Turner’s Cross, while St. Patrick’s kept up their challenge in second place with a 2-1 win over Shelbourne.
The Republic of Ireland Under 17 team had to settle for second place in an invitational tournament in Isr’l. The Irish beat Yugoslavia, Belgium and the host nation and drew with Turkey. However, a 1-0 defeat by Hungary in the final game saw them drop into second place.
Barron takes tennis title
The Irish indoor men’s tennis championships came down to a dramatic finale when Scott Barron took the title from Owen Casey at the end of a tension-packed three sets.
Barron edged the first set after a tie-break, but Casey bounced back to take the second, 6-4. However, Barron hung on grimly to clinch victory following another tie-break after two hours of excellent tennis.
The women’s decider had the makings of another titanic struggle when Yvonne Doyle and Karen Nugent began their third set. However, Nugent had to retire because of injury with the score at 4-3, thus handing the title to Doyle.