Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Munster gear up for a battle with the Blues

FOLLOWING Friday night’s 6-20 loss at the hands of the Newport-Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade Tony McGahan’s Munster will be comforted with the thought of a return to Thomond Park for the visit of the Cardiff Blues (Saturday, 7.30pm).
The defeat to the Dragons may prove a blessing in disguise for Munster. Matters had been progressing nicely of late and although the province were without several of their leading lights Munster maintained their place at the summit of the Magners League table.
The victory over the Australian touring side capped a very successful November for McGahan, but, ironically, the defeat suffered at the hands of the Dragons could prove priceless should it concentrate the minds of the players ahead of vital few weeks.

Munster, once they get the Blues out of the way this weekend, return to Heineken Cup action on Sunday, December 12 when they host the Ospreys at Thomond Park.
Munster lead the pool by a single point from the Ospreys as things stand, but this clash with the Welsh side and the return fixture at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, December 18 could determine whether McGahan’s men will maintain their interest in the competition come January.
The Blues’ Magners League form has been patchy this season. Cardiff have won four of their six home games and only managed wins away to Treviso and Aironi.
Cardiff inflicted a 38-6 defeat on the Glasgow Warriors last Saturday and appear to have found some form.
The Welsh side will also have the Heineken Cup on their minds - Cardiff have already beaten Edinburgh in the European Cup this season and although they then lost away to Castres Olympique their consecutive clashes with the Northamption Saints will ultimately decide their fate in pool one of the prestigious competition.
Last season Munster shared the spoils with the Blues. In September 2009 at Thomond Park Munster saw off Cardiff on a 24-13 scoreline when tries from Marcus Horan and Denis Leamy helped the home side toward an 11-point win. The sides subsequently encountered one another on May 9 last when Cardiff won 13-12. The losing bonus point for Munster secured fourth spot and a place in last season’s Magners League semi-final against Leinster. No one in Munster needs reminding of how that turned out.
Munster will be expected to win this encounter and clear their throats nicely in time for the visit of the Ospreys on Sunday week.
Meanwhile it is not known at his point whether the next step in Paul O’Connell’s comeback from long-term injury is with his club side Young Munster or with Munster.
O’Connell played in his first competitive fixture for 250 days when featuring as a half-time replacement in Young Munster’s 17-18 All-Ireland League Division 1A defeat to Shannon before an estimated 3,000 supporters at Thomond Park on Friday night.
While the Munster skipper reported no ill effects after his 40-minute comeback, O’Connell, who had not played competitively since Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to Scotland last March, admitted his fitness levels needed to improve significantly.
Finally, John Hayes, who had been invited to play for the Barbarians against South Africa at Twickenham on Saturday, has not been named in the match day squad. That news suggests that John Hayes will turn out for Munster this weekend.

Brian McDonnell

Limerick FC hope to finalise playing squad by December

LIMERICK FC supporters will be heartened to learn that preparations are already well under way for the 2011 Airtricity League First Division campaign.
Hopes were very high in 2010 that the Super Blues could make the jump to the Premier Division and although Pat Scully’s men were more than competitive for the majority of the season their form dipped significantly late in the year and Limerick FC finished fifth.
Sadly, that final placing was in keeping with Limerick’s recent performances in the division - in 2009 the Super Blues finished seventh, in 2008 and 2006 Limerick finished fifth and in 2007 they finished fourth.
Limerick FC have happily, and thanks in no small part to Pat O’Sullivan, put their financial problems behind them and confidently face into the FAI licensing process which begins this week. Indeed, the club is more determined than ever to fight their way back into the Premier Division.
Manager Pat Scully, who will remain with the club until at least November 2011 as part of a contract signed in March 2009, and his management team intend to have the bulk of the playing squad signed by Tuesday, December 14 while pre-season training is scheduled to begin on Saturday, January 22.
The club were delighted last week to announce the significant signing of Kilcornan’s Garry Sheahan who plied his trade for the last two seasons with the Wexford Youths. The lightning-fast Sheahan is a proven goal scorer and a welcome addition to the squad.
“Garry is a player we have tried to get back to Limerick on three occasions,” admitted manager Pat Scully.
“I feel we have signed one of the best forwards in the First Division.
“He will bring real speed to our front line and he is a great finisher.
“He is the right age to be part of our success for years to come.”
Shane Tracy has proven a real leader on the field for the Super Blues in recent seasons, a player Pat Scully was also delighted to re-sign: “I’m delighted Shane has re-signed.
“He has been a big player for us since I came to the club.
“Shane is a top quality player who has a knack for scoring goals and will be a vital part of the club’s future ambitions”.
Club stalwart and captain Pat Purcell has also re-signed for the 2011 season while the presence of Stephen O’Flynn in the playing squad could also prove vital during next season’s push for promotion.
Brian McCarthy, who played 24 times for Athlone Town last season, is another worthwhile addition to the squad while young players like the immensely talented Garbhan Coughlan and Jeffrey Judge will hope to make a significant contribution.
Bryan Murphy and Padraic Quinn, both of Tralee Dynamos, have also signed along with Andrew Bhandarkar, Darren Coleman, Brian O’Callaghan, David O’Leary and Shane Cusack while the club has also indicated that it is in on-going negotiations with other players with a view to agreeing terms for next season.
“We’re in talks with a number of players at the moment and I can see that the players out there are positive about Limerick as a club in progression,” Pat Scully explained.
“We won’t be signing many players as everyone at the club has worked very hard on our underage system and we have some excellent young players who will be part of next season’s squad.
“But we have identified three or four players who we feel can improve us that extra bit we need and I can assure the supporters that myself and the board are working hard to assemble a team we can all be proud of.”
Despite all of those positive developments if John Tierney, a talented striker who has lit up the division with his searing pace for the past three seasons, decides to leave the Super Blues such a departure would be seen as a crippling blow to the club’s ambitions. Limerick FC granted John Tierney’s recent request to be transfer listed and although a number of clubs have shown significant interest in signing the centre-forward the Super Blues remain hopeful that Tierney will commit his future to the club.
Meanwhile it remains to be seen whether Limerick FC will be permitted to return to the club’s spiritual home in the Market’s Field.
The club submitted a bid for the venue, but with the tender process still on-going it is not known at this point whether the Super Blues will be playing Airtricity League football at Jackman Park for the foreseeable future.

Brian McDonnell

Monday, November 29, 2010

O’Connell well on the way to making a full recovery

A DECISION on whether the next step in Paul O’Connell’s comeback from long-term injury is with his club side Young Munster or with Magners League leaders Munster this Saturday is due to be made early this week.

O’Connell played in his first competitive fixture for 250 days when featuring as a half-time replacement in Young Munster’s 17-18 AIL Division 1A defeat to Shannon before an estimated 3,000 supporters at Thomond Park on Friday night.
While the Munster skipper reported no ill effects after his 40-minute comeback, O’Connell, who had not played competitively since sustaining a groin injury in Ireland’s Six Nations defeat to Scotland last March, admitted his fitness levels needed to improve significantly.
The 31-year-old said further game time in the coming weeks would help him achieve this.
The Lions captain could get his next taste of competitive action either for Young Munster in their crucial AIL tie with Dolphin at Clifford Park this Saturday at 2.30pm or for Munster in their crunch Magners League tie with the third-placed Cardiff Blues at Thomond Park later that same evening (7.30pm).
Paul O’Connell said: “My plan now is to play as many games as I can, be it with Young Munster, Munster A or Munster, whatever I can, in order to improve my match fitness.
“Tony McGahan will decide where I go from here. It will probably be during the week when any decision is taken.
“I would have struggled with 80 minutes (against Shannon), but I felt better than I thought I would.”
While Munster’s lead at the top of the Magners League has been cut to two points by a combination of the defeat to the Dragons on Friday night and the Scarlets’ bonus-point win over Glasgow the following day, Tony McGahan’s men recorded two victories from their three League fixtures during the autumn international window.
Munster were without the services of up to 20 senior players at different stages in late October and throughout November as a result of a combination of international commitments, injuries and suspensions.
The Irish international stars are set to return to the squad this week in the wake of the timely 29-9 victory over Argentina in the fourth and final autumn international at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Munster captain Paul O’Connell said the province’s younger players deserved great credit for the manner in which they had performed in the absence of so many seasoned internationals.
“We have a lot of young guys in that squad who have enjoyed a great run of performances in the past few weeks,” Paul O’Connell enthused.
“They have won three out of four when the internationals have been on, including a victory over Australia.
“It is a great run for us. These periods in the year are really what build your squad.
Munster coach Tony McGahan said the decision the management team would make in terms of the next step in Paul O’Connell’s comeback would be in the ‘best interests of the team and obviously in the best interests of Paul (O’Connell)’.
Meanwhile, on the club front, the three Limerick sides in Division 1A of the AIL are now separated by mere points’ difference at the foot of the table.
Shannon remain bottom, although the nine-time AIL winners now trail seventh-placed Young Munster and sixth-placed Garryowen by virtue of an inferior points difference.
Garryowen secured a dramatic late draw with the second-placed Cork Constitution at Dooradoyle on Saturday thanks to Declan Cusack’s late penalty goal.
All three Limerick sides now have ten league points each, but with just three points separating the bottom five sides in 1A the local sides will be hoping to jump up into the top half of the table following this Saturday’s final round of league fixtures before the Christmas and New Year’s break.
In Division 1B Bruff’s excellent run continued on Saturday when the Kilballyowen side recorded an impressive home victory over Dungannon to move third in the table.
UL-Bohs remain sixth after their disappointing run of results continued with a fourth defeat of the campaign, this time away to UCC.
In Division 2 Thomond jumped into 13th place in the table after the Fitzgerald Park side recorded a vital 32-21 bonus-point victory over basement side Clonakilty.
Thomond’s first win of the campaign saw the ‘royal blues’ leapfrog DLSP and Old Crescent in the table. Old Crescent’s scheduled clash with UCD was postponed as a result of an unplayable pitch at the Belfield Bowl.