Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Having a Festive flutter

This Christmas, tens of thousands of racegoers will flock to Greenmount Park for the annual four-day Guinness Christmas Racing festival.
It remains one of the real highlights of Limerick's social calendar during the festive period.
For many, a day at the races is a terrific social occasion, a chance to catach up with old friends and enjoy some lively banter, as well as fine food and drink.
For others, the lure of the races is all about the betting ring, the 'jungle' where bookie and punter go head-to-head, pitting their wits against each other over a competitive seven-race card.
Last Christmas, the betting turnover at Greenmount Park reached a whopping €3.3 million.
With some 33,000 racegoers passing through the turnstiles over the four days, the average amount wagered by each patron was €100.
Of course, this is a very crude figure. Many thousands of racegoers didn't gamble anywhere near that amount of money.
But a considerable number also gambled far sums of money which were a great deal greater than that.
Figures on total betting turnover give us a further indication of how much Irish people love to have a bet.
All the talk this Christmas has been about the credit crunch. Just how the downturn hits the betting turnover at Greenmount Park will become clear on Monday evening next.

Colm Kinsella

Monday, December 22, 2008

2009: What happens when you stare into a crystal ball for an inordinate amount of time?

In terms of drama and black comedy 2008 has raised the bar and it may prove difficult for 2009 to match the events of the last twelve months. But, as we look into the crystal ball, we can do so with the confidence that anything, in Limerick sport at least, is truly possible . . .

Munster crush the Sale Sharks to advance to the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup. The FAI throws €2 million at the Market’s Field and senior soccer returns to that famous old ground.

The hurlers and footballers begin their respective league campaigns in rare form and just for the crack win a couple of games.

Árdscoil Rís stun the entire province winning the Dr. Harty Cup for Limerick and in the process beat Thurles CBS (a bunch of cocky Tipperary lads) in the final. The Eircom League kicks off, the new single-division Eircom League mind, with Limerick thrashing Shamrock Rovers to within an inch of their lives (9-0) at the Market’s Field.

Darren Sutherland (who obviously thinks he smells sweeter than most) takes on Andy Lee at the UL Arena. Lee makes Sutherland suffer for a while before knocking the Olympic bronze medallist into the following week. Garryowen complete an emotional year when they win the AIL Division One title beating Cork Con in the final.

Before hammering Leinster in the Heineken Cup final Munster beat Leinster with a last minute try to also win the Magners League. On the last day of the English Premier League season Lee J Lynch scores a hat-trick against Liverpool which helps Albion avoid relegation and denies Liverpool the title. The Limerick hurlers, as they prepare to face Waterford in the league final, come up with a devious plan: they throw that game and then surprise the Déise in the Munster semi-final - obviously they go on to beat Tipperary in the provincial decider.

Although Regional United win the Premier League Fairview Rangers steal their thunder winning the FAI Junior Cup with a superb 2-0 win against the all-conquering Killester United at Tolka Park. Incidentally Pike Rovers win the Munster Junior Cup as well. And, just for extra fun, the Desmond League win the Oscar Traynor Trophy for the second consecutive season.

Limerick’s footballing men stun the entire province and streak to their first Munster title since 1896. Conor Niland shocks the tennis world by qualifying for the first round proper of Wimbledon and then beating the highly-annoying Andy Murray. Niland is then struck down by injury in the quarter-finals when the Limerick star has Andy Roddick on the ropes.

The hurlers, drawn against Kilkenny after the Cats incredibly lose the Leinster final to Anthony Daly’s Dublin, beat Brian Cody’s side in a bloodbath in Thurles and happily clear the way for a Tipperary side, stung by their defeat to Limerick in the Munster final, to go on and win the All-Ireland.

The Limerick footballers, who celebrated a tad too much after winning their first provincial title in 103 years, are beaten by Mayo in the All-Ireland final.

Although Limerick have won their first Munster title since 1996 the County Board incredibly sack Justin McCarthy and the interview process begins to select a new manager. Adare win the county hurling final, again.

Drom-Broadford, after successfully defending their county championship, face and beat Nemo Rangers (again) in the provincial final. Adare, making up for their defeat in the 2008 Munster final at the hands of De La Salle, thrash Toomevara in the Munster hurling final.

After a competent season in the Eircom League Limerick 37 see off Cork City in the FAI Cup final. Andy Lee and John Duddy clash for the world middleweight title in Las Vegas. Duddy tries hard, but Lee does enough to stop Duddy in the ninth round.

Brian McDonnell

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ten sports book that will change your life!

In no particular order:

Paper Lion by George Plimpton
In Paper Lion, journalist George Plimpton (pictured right) joins the training camp of the 1963 Detroit Lions on the premise of trying out to be the team’s third-string quarterback. Paper Lion was Plimpton’s first magnificent effort in his participatory sports writing series.

Friday Night Lights by HG Bissinger
The synopsis is unpromising, but the final product is brilliant. The book follows the story of the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team as they make a run towards the Texas state championship.

The Great American Novel by Philip Roth
A wonderful mock history of baseball, Roth’s comic masterpiece and an encyclopedic satire of mid-20th century American life - sections of the book, which recounts the story of a struggling baseball outfit, will have you falling out of your chair with laughter.

Brilliant Orange by David Winner
Brilliant Orange is a very personal and compelling study of the weird and wonderful history of Dutch soccer and society of the 20th century.

Over The Bar by Breandán Ó hEithir
Breandán Ó hEithir’s masterful stands head and shoulders above the rest: it’s the very best GAA reminiscence ever published and really shames several uninspired histories and curiously bloodless autobiographies which can be found on the bookshelves this Christmas.

The Game by Ken Dryden
The book is a non-fiction account of the 1979 Montreal Canadiens detailing what it is like to be a professional hockey player. Dryden writes with intelligence and insight about the life of an athlete coping with the demands of a professional sport and reconciling these pressures with life outside the arena.

Stolen Season by David Lamb
A foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, Lamb came back from several years of covering foreign hot spots and decided to get in touch with America by spending a summer following minor-league baseball.

The Fight by Norman Mailer
The Fight tells the story of 'The Rumble in the Jungle' in a magnificently blunt writing style. Mailer had the good fortune to be there and his writing on this magical experience is spellbinding.

The Book Of Fame by Lloyd Jones
This semi-fictional describes the 1905 All-Black tour of the British Isles when a group of New Zealanders landed in Europe like a rock thrown through a window and made rugby history. The Book of Fame belongs to the category of whimsical sporting chronicle pioneered by JL Carr’s How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup, but it’s cunningly written and deviously constructed.

Three Nights In August by Buzz Bissinger
Three 2003 Major League baseball games as seen through the eyes of the St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa - a seasoned veteran who defends the game’s traditions from selfish players and bloodless technocrats.

Brian McDonnell

The glory of a good punch-up!

So I was driving home the other day and a thought occurred to me: in my 21 months as sports editor of the Limerick Leader I have never seen a decent all-in punch-up in a GAA club game.
This strikes me as strange. I’m from Tipperary and melees regularly feature. In Tipp the idea is that if one of your playing colleagues starts fighting with his opposite number then it’s up to his teammates to get involved - that way the referee can’t be embarrassed into sending the original wrong doers off.
So why doesn’t that happen in Limerick? The clubs tear into one another alright, but I’ve never seen a game boil over.
Now the do-gooders, those insane people who po-go around the place with an annoying smile on their faces, will tut-tut this blog. For a lot of people GAA violence has all the appeal of a terrifically bad smell - every time a game gets out of hand high horses everywhere are straddled with wild abandon. But for the likes of myself the glory of a good punch-up is second only to the thrill of winning a match with a last-minute goal.
Some people need to realise that most of us can watch an on-pitch punch-up without feeling the need to go on a rampage - as Nick Hornby observed in Fever Pitch a good ruck can add spice to a dull game.
I’m not suggesting that club hurling in Limerick has gone soft, but something is definitely amiss.

Brian McDonnell

Could a single Eircom League division be the answer to so many problems?

You always start as you mean to go on, but it hardly ever works out that way.
We’ve all been there. On the first day in your new job you’re keen as mustard, you mean business. Like a signature, as the graphologists tell us, it’s a self-conscious statement of how you would like to be seen rather than a genuine revelation of who you really are.
Initially you set out to portray yourself in the very best light, but then, as time passes, you have to concentrate on things other than making a good impression. And, that’s when you start to do your very best.
You have to start at the start, that’s unavoidable, and the sooner you’ve got that out of your system the better - the start only reveals what kind of starter you are.
When the FAI took over the Eircom League they got plenty of media mileage out of it. They said all the right things and made all the right moves.
They made a good start, but that ‘start’ is over. Now it’s time to show reason, sense, intelligence and perspective.
Last week all 22 of the Eircom League clubs, including Jack McCarthy's (pictured right) Limerick 37, met with the FAI to discuss their problems. Most club representatives tabled questions related to how the Licensing Committee were going to approach their deliberations i.e. how harshly might they treat clubs who find themselves in financial strife.
The structure of the divisions was also discussed with the First Division clubs, who are eager to attract crowds, pleading for the introduction of a single division encompassing all 22 Eircom League clubs. You can see what they’re getting at: playing every one else twice, getting the likes of Shamrock Rovers at home and making a few cuid.
Thing is though the clubs may not need to force the FAI’s hand. With the likes of Drogheda, Sligo Rovers, Cork City, Galway United, Athlone Town, Cobh Ramblers, Waterford United facing some choppy waters the FAI may have to abandon the two-division league structure next season. You can’t really have two divisions if you don’t have enough clubs to fill them.
Watch this space.

Brian McDonnell