Tuesday, 10 February 2015

UL blitz Maynooth to reach freshers semi-final

UL: 3-28 NUI Maynooth: 1-10

A dominant performance saw the UL fresher 1 hurlers breeze past NUI Maynooth and into the semi-final of the freshers championship on a cold afternoon on pitch 1. The UL forwards ran rampant in the first half and led by 23 points at the half-time break. The home side never panicked as NUIM entered a purple patch in the second half, instead UL’s top scorer, Alan Murphy led by example with brilliantly taken points.

The league finalists were quick off the mark, closing off all chances for the visitors to settle into the game. Four unanswered points eased them into the lead and while NUIM were able to manage some good build up play, UL quickly shifted to deal with their advances. Cian Moloney and Alan Murphy led the UL attack in the first half, taking fine scores from all angles. Murphy intercepted a wayward Maynooth pass and gave the goalkeeper no chance with a blistering shot.  He added another moments later, the UL forwards cutting through the opposition’s poor defence.

Credit to NUIM who fought bravely in the second half, scattering the UL defence at times and stringing together a run of three unanswered points in what was a brilliant response to UL’s third goal, well taken by Colin Crehan.  Maynooth added a goal due to a mistake in the UL defence but despite a valiant effort, they were unable to make a serious dent in UL’s extensive lead. Further points from Crehan and Murphy rounded off a 24 point win for the home side and sent them roaring into the semi-final.

Scorers for UL: Alan Murphy 2-08, Colin Crehan 1-01,Tom Morrisey 0-4, Leigh Bergin, Ian Galvin 0-3 each, Donnacha Quinn, Josh Keane, Mark Shanahan, Cian Moloney 0-2 each, Jason Stanley 0-1.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The return of the Six Nations!

So I've been very quiet lately. In fact, I've been none existent as regards my blog in the last few months. But if there is one topic to draw me out from under that rock, it's the Six Nations! Rugby's best tournament in my opinion. The six best rugby nations in the Northern Hemisphere battling out for the prestigious Grand Slam title (or Championship but lets face it, we all want to win the Grand Slam). Ireland, England, Italy, France, Scotland and Wales. The tackles, the blows, the kicks, the catches, the tries, the knock on's, the injuries, the excitement, the disappointment.. the drama!! Can't be beaten!

And what makes it even more dramatic this year is the addition of the World Cup in the autumn. Coaches can view this year's tournament as a warm up for their quest for the Webb Ellis Cup. A chance to add depth to the squad, to face major challenges in the form of the opposition and gain a firm grasp on where their team stands in regards to quality. If you can head to the World Cup as Six Nations champions, you are serious contenders.

It's only been one weekend but already we've seen battles, bashes and near upsets. Now I'm not going to say that last weekend's encounters were thrilling, edge of your seat clashes but there was glimpses of what is to come and if it taught us anything, it's that this is anyone's game.

Most people have tipped Ireland to win, understandably so. Reigning champions who beat two of the major Southern Hemisphere sides in November. But take a look at England, Wales, France, even Scotland have improved massively and will be a force to be reckoned with! England beat Wales in a seriously tough encounter and their injury list is phenomenal. Wales will be massively disappointed to have lost that match. They have one of the best kickers in the world, their back line grows stronger and pacier every championship and in Warren Gatland, they have one of the shrewdest coaches.

It's the same story with France every year. Which team will turn up? The France that can blow a team out of the water or the team that bows their heads and walks away when the going gets tough. If the former is the case, then the rest of the teams better be prepared. Especially Ireland who have the misfortune of having France in their World Cup group. And as for Ireland, last Saturday's display against Italy was far from convincing. But much of that has to come down to the sheer power of the opposition. With the return of Johnny Sexton will come the return of one of the best (if not THE best) half-back partnerships in the world with Sexton linking up with Conor Murray. It is hard to look past the boys in green for the title.

I'm going to put it out there. There will be no outright Grand Slam winner for 2015 and, like last year, the winner will be decided on points difference but Ireland will win the Championship. There, that's my prediction (Not biased at all!). The only thing that's guaranteed is the fact that every single aspect we love about rugby, be it the physicality, the skill, the speed, whatever, will all be on display this year. With every nerve heightened with the World Cup looming, this year's tournament promises to be one of the best yet. Only question is who will be lifting the new and improved Six Nations trophy in 2015?

Comment below with your predictions!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Keane's Controversial Kick - Have Your Say

After Sunday’s lacklustre All Ireland Final encounter between Kerry and Donegal, there was one rather controversial moment to be discussed.

Barry John Keane didn’t win many fans with his antics in the dying moments. As Donegal keeper, Paul Durcan was about to take a kick out, the Kerry sub ran up and knocked the ball off the tee. Naturally enough, Donegal fans were infuriated. It was hardly the type of sportsmanship you’d expect from a GAA player.

But was Keane right to do it for the sake of winning an All-Ireland? The majority of the time, any sign of time-wasting antics never bodes well with the losing side or indeed neutrals, for that matter. But can any of us say we would have done any different had we been in Keane’s position, with such a prestigious title on the line?

At the time, Donegal were gradually building momentum and looked sharper than they had all the match. One kick of a ball would decide the winner. Donegal were after scoring three points in succession and a revival was certainly in progress.

Paul Durcan never grumbled, simply retrieved the ball and began again. Nevertheless, it was obvious that Donegal’s momentum was somewhat thwarted.

It is unfortunate that, apart from in Kerry, Keane will be remembered for that contribution to Kerry’s win not the two points he scored after coming on with just over ten minutes to go.

Was it purely cynical? Or was it a clever ploy? You decide.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Question: International Friendlies - Worthwhile Or A Waste Of Time?

Its a matter of opinion really, isn't it? Many people may argue that international friendlies provide a guide to management and squads about fitness levels, team formations, tactics, etc. Others will state that they are worthless. A waste of resources and a risk, a risk that players might pick up an injury before a vital game.

Personally, I believe it depends on the fixture. Take for example, Ireland's match against Oman last Wednesday night. In my opinion, a complete and utter waste of time. A lacklustre encounter. A meaningless fixture which was highlighted by a dismal turnout of barely 14,000 people in the Aviva Stadium.
 With an important Euro 2016 qualifying match on Sunday against Georgia, it seems rather trivial as to why such a game is even organised. Worryingly enough, Ireland were hardly impressive against the team lying 67th in the FIFA world rankings. A header from Kevin Doyle in the first-half and a close range shot from Alex Pearce providing the only entertainment for the night. Hardly rip-roaring stuff. Not exactly the return from retirement that Shay Given would have dreamed of. What with him practically remaining stationary while he was between the posts.

Friendlies are, of course, opportunities to give the new kids on the block a run out for their country. And I don't want to take anything away from how special a night it must be for any young lad who makes their debut for their country on such an occasion. It must be a dream come true to put on the jersey and run out onto the pitch to join their teammates. But apart from that, I can't see any logic in organising a friendly against a lower ranked team.

On the other end of the scale however, if a friendly were to be played against a much higher ranked, well respected team, I doubt many Irish fans would be complaining. Lets face it, even if we get beaten we still extract such joy out of fixtures such as 'Ireland v Spain' or 'Ireland v Portugal'. Not to mention the delight and anticipation before a clash against 'the old enemy' England! We love to witness how our boys fare against the worlds greatest stars. Not to mention how beneficial it would be to a player to play against the likes of Ronaldo, Iniesta, etc. And you could bet your house on a sellout crowd. 

These are the type of friendly fixtures the FAI should be trying to capture. Every match should have the aim of improving the squad in any way possible. Can we really say that games such as that against Oman accomplish this? Of course we can't. It was of no benefit to Ireland, ahead of the Georgia game, whatsoever. Its quite likely that only three of the players that started on Wednesday will retain their places for Sunday. So realistically, it cannot have taught Martin O' Neill anything about team line-outs or formations that he hadn't already identified.  

Keep presenting fixtures such as that against Oman and pitiful performances will continue to be the result. However, a mouthwatering friendly, such as the upcoming fixture against England in 2015, will signal the return of the passionate Ireland team we love and adore. Not to mention the sea of green jerseys, not green seats, that will occupy the Aviva Stadium.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

All Ireland Hurling Final - An Occasion Like No Other!

In the eyes and hearts of the Irish nation there is no sporting occasion quite like the All Ireland final. We may reach the Grand Slam decider in the Six Nations, we may qualify for the Euro Championship or we may have an athlete competing in the Olympics. All major events in the Irish sporting calendar that fill us with an overwhelming sense of pride and national identity. But nothing gets the heart racing, the butterflies stirring quite like the All Ireland final.

Why is this? I think its due to the fact that the GAA is woven into out history, our culture. It is part of who we are as an Irish people. This is our national game. A game many of us have played and loved since we could walk. And when it comes to the final we know we will be treated to the best this country has to offer. The greatest skill, the quickest pace, the fiercest intensity.

Lets face it, even if you're not that interested in sport you'll still be fully aware of the magnitude of this weekends clash. It has dominated the sports headlines over the past week. Be honest, you might even take a sneaky glimpse at Up For The Match this Saturday night! We can't help it, its in our blood!

For those 83,000 patrons lucky enough to have a golden ticket to Croke Park this weekend, I bet the pulse is already racing. I've been lucky enough to attend one All Ireland and nothing can compare to it. From the train journey into Drumcondra to that epic first clash of hurls, the atmosphere is mind-blowing! The usual exchange of insults between opposing fans (purely banter of course!) outside Quinns, the walk down Jones Road in a mass of colour and sound. Those dedicated fans who have made the trip to Dublin who thrall the streets in search of any sniff of a ticket. The sellers on the street with an array of overpriced merchandise! And that's all before you even get to the stadium! Its all so familiar yet the feeling it ignites, never gets old.

Croke Park. In my opinion, one of the greatest stadiums in the world. And a icon of all that is great about Irish traditions, the Irish culture and the Irish people. And on All Ireland final day, this breathtaking structure is nothing less than sensational. The crowd, the noise, the buzz, its overwhelming. From the hair-raising roars as the teams emerge from the tunnel to that split-second of deafening silence before the band strike up 'Amhrán Na bhFiann'. And following on from that.. the nerves. And eventually the ball is thrown in and thus begins a legendary battle.

  On Sunday we will we treated to another chapter in what must be one of the greatest sporting rivalries of the modern era. Kilkenny versus Tipperary. It will, no doubt, be a titanic encounter. I think its fair to say that the physicality, the intensity and the hunger will be of the highest standard achievable. These are two of the biggest contributors to our beloved game. They will give this game nothing but the utmost respect. Not to mention the fact that these counties are neighbours! Don't underestimate the importance of bragging rights! 

Despite which teams are actually vying it out for the Liam McCarthy,
the majority of the country will be tuning into The Sunday Game (or Sky Sports to avoid conflict) to here what the lads have to say about these two incredible teams, their fierce rivalry and the occasion as a whole. 

We may play a variety of sports in Ireland. The pool is widening every year. But as regards a sense of national identity and pride, nothing can beat this age-old, wonderful game that we love and cherish so dearly. So ignore Mary or Joe down the road who say they haven't the slightest bit of interest in the match on Sunday because you can bet they'll be the one's on the edge of their seat, in front of the telly, roaring on one team or another, because lets face it, we can't stay neutral even if we say we don't care who wins!

Its the All Ireland Final. And nothing, nothing can compare to it.