Category: Archive


February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

With Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Sean Og O hAilpin and Joe Deane – to name but a few – on the pitch, we probably should have had a feast of cultured hurling. Free flowing, scores at both ends every minute, a game for the purists.
Even if it wasn’t a classic contest that will necessarily live long in the memory, it’s hard to remember a final with such burning intensity. Cork fixed on that elusive three titles in a row, and Kilkenny grimly determined to get in their way.
In the end, it wasn’t that Cork failed to deliver, they simply weren’t allowed to hurl the way the wanted to. For a team which has had success, which has only recently reached the pinnacle, Kilkenny played like they had never got a hand on the Liam McCarthy Cup.
Almost every time a Cork player had possession, and almost every time they attempted to short-pass their way out of defense, Kilkenny somehow managed to surround the ball-carrier. There were moments when it seemed as if the winners had 20 players on the pitch.
Their work-rate was so relentless that Cork were forced into a series of uncharacteristic errors, and although they chased the game in the closing stages with typical belief, there was always a feeling that Kilkenny, who eventually ran out winners by 1-16 to 1-13, had the edge.
Manager Brian Cody insisted all year that his team was in transition, so much in transition that it won the Walsh Cup, the National League, the Leinster Championship and the All Ireland. Kilkenny won everything going, and Cody won the battle of spin.
At the elite level, hurling is too confined to too few counties, and maybe you would be lulled into believing that the likes of Kilkenny and Cork might be suffering from a jaded palate. There was no evidence of that last Sunday, only a desire for success that was positively frightening.

Stand to the stands?
Was it really that bad? An Ireland soccer team made up mostly of solid rather than spectacular players comes away from Germany, who finished third in last summer’s World Cup finals, with a 1-0 defeat. Was anyone expecting much more?
On the plus side, there was infinitely more energy and commitment than during the humiliation by Holland in a recent friendly international. In the first half, the Irish did a reasonable job of containing Germany and even looked like scoring once or twice themselves.
Equally, while the Germans hit the woodwork twice, there was plenty of good fortune about the decisive goal as Lukas Podolski’s free kick took a wicked deflection off Robbie Keane before it spun past a stranded Shay Given.
Given, for his part, was superb, making a couple of world-class saves, and there was also an impressive performance in defense by Stephen Carr whose selection had been the subject of much criticism at the outset.
Yet, if Ireland returned home with their dignity intact, there was still a strange dissatisfaction about the display. Not because this was a first setback in a demanding qualifying group for the 2008 European Championship finals, which also contains the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Wales, but more because the future looks desperately uncertain.
For all his versatility, John O’Shea has yet to fulfill his potential at international level, and he was once again pretty anonymous last Saturday in his midfield role. Ditto the honest, but prosaic Kevin Kilbane, while Steven Reid was also a big disappointment. If the emerging Kevin Doyle was full of endeavor in attack, there wasn’t too much to admire about the play of Ireland’s two key men, Damien Duff and Robbie Keane.
As the second half unfolded, it became more and more apparent that there is no player in the side composed and confident enough to pass intelligently, and to dictate the pace of play just as Roy Keane was once able to do. Admittedly, Ireland were under increasing pressure, but they specialized in giving the ball away.
While it remains too early to definitively judge new manager Steve Staunton, who was experiencing his first competitive game as a coach, his contribution hardly helped Ireland’s cause.
There was the bizarre sight of Duff being replaced by the untried Aiden McGeady with 15 minutes remaining. Now, it certainly wasn’t one of Duff most memorable nights in the green, but if there is one player capable of creating something against the odds, then he is that player, and even if he was somewhat off color, it made no sense whatsoever to substitute him.
Staunton also became so wound up on the sideline – presumably in response to some refereeing decisions that in truth weren’t the slightest bit controversial – that he got himself banished to the stands, which could mean a one- or two-match ban. If the latter, he would be unable to communicate with his players during the vital qualifying ties against Cyprus and the Czech Republic next month.
In the end, it was an Irish performance lacking in quality on the pitch, and lacking in discipline off it.

Ryder functions may
put strain on Clarke
It was probably the worst-kept secret in golf. Ever since last month’s PGA Championship at Medinah, the talk was that Darren Clarke would be one of the wild card picks for Europe’s Ryder Cup team, and so it came to pass last Sunday when the Irishman as well as Lee Westwood were announced by team captain Ian Woosnam as his two selections.
Clarke said he was both “honored and delighted” at his inclusion for the matches at the K Club in county Kildare, while America captain, Tom Lehman, said Woosnam’s choice was “more than appropriate.”
It goes without saying that Clarke’s case has been exceptional. As one of the world’s leading players and a vastly experienced Ryder Cup performer, in normal circumstances, Clarke would have qualified by right, but with his wife Heather losing her brave battle with cancer, golf took had understandably taken a back seat in his life over the past nine months or so.
When Heather Clarke died just three weeks ago, it seemed likely that Clarke would not be seen in a competitive environment until possibly next year. But even though he hasn’t played in a tournament since last July’s British Open, it also emerged that Woosnam wanted to consider him as a pick.
“I certainly would not have considered making myself available unless I felt I could contribute to the cause,” Clarke explained. “It’s going to be a magnificent week and I would not have wanted to miss it, and neither would my lovely wife Heather.”
He will now play in next week’s Madrid Open in Spain as preparation for the matches against America.
Colin Montgomerie has said that a Europe team without Clarke is a “weaker team,” and Woosnam has clearly made a gesture of loyalty to a player who has performed with distinction in the last four Ryder Cups, and who under normal circumstances would have qualified.
However, there have to doubts over whether his participation at the K Club, coming so soon after the tragic death of his wife, would in fact be good therapy.
Not alone is the Ryder Cup both highly emotional and highly pressurized, it is also an event in which the players’ wives and partners have unusually public roles. There are dinners and social functions during the week, never mind the memories of previous Ryder Cups he shared with Heather, which would surely be painful for Clarke to endure.
The actual competition might offer a release or a distraction from his grief, but the off-course activities would simply put him under too much strain.
Tiger Woods missed his first cut in a major as a professional at the U.S. Open on his return following his father’s death, and Padraig Harrington spoke of how he felt like locking his clubs away when his father died last year, so to think that Clarke would be mentally prepared for the cauldron of a Ryder Cup so soon after such a profound personal loss is dubious.
“I think it’s going to be a very emotional time for Darren and for all of the players and the families,” Woosnam admitted. “But it will be like one big family for him at the K Club and I’m sure Darren is going to cope fine. I think Heather would have loved him to play in the Ryder Cup and I think that’s why he put his name forward. He’s a great competitor and I think he won’t be thinking about anything at the Ryder Cup other than winning.”
Certainly, the news is good for Ireland with three home players – Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and now Clarke – in the team. The hope has to be that Clarke’s decision to allow his name to go forward for the most testing event of the golfing calendar won’t backfire.

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