Saturday, January 24, 2009

Should I be calling myself a cheesehead?

Whisper it, but I have a problem. And no, it’s not a problem which requires the attention of a GP. Actually it’s far more serious: I can’t decide on what NFL team I should support!
I got into the NFL, at first, for gambling reasons, but now I regard myself as a ‘fan’. Thing is when an online acquaintance, or even one of the lads asks me, which franchise I ‘support’ I find myself looking down and shuffling my feet awkwardly.
Now I did spend some time working in Boston, but there’s no way I’m going to just jump on the bandwagon and start supporting the New England Patriots - that strikes me as pure opportunism. It’s always nice to find yourself supporting a winning team, but it feels a little too much like cheating to me.
Personally I’m a bit of a masochist, so if I’m going to follow an NFL team I want to feel the pain of defeat, before the triumph of victory. I don’t want to win an imaginary Super Bowl ring immediately, but, you understand, I want to win one some time.
Now, I’ve done some ‘scouting’ (hope you like the Americanism) and the Green Bay Packers could be the team for me.
The Pack do enjoy a storied history in the game (Super Bowl champions in 1967, 1968 & 1997 - won nine NFL championships prior to the Super Bowl era), but there’s also something intriguing about them.
The Packers, according to Wikipedia at any rate, represent the last vestige of the small town team (now we’re talking) that were once common in the NFL during the 1920s - they are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States - I’m an ardent fan of FC Barcelona (also owned by supporters) so Green Bay sound like the team for me.
The Brett Favre factor - Favre, my favourite NFL player, played for the Packers in 271 consecutive games before announcing his retirement last season only to then file for re-instatement and end up playing with the bloody New York Jets. I like the element of pathos there.
Ah, now I think I have the clincher. Working in the states in 1996 I went to a pre-season game in Boston involving the Packers and the Patriots. Now I’ve already stated that the Patriots are not for me, but 13 seasons ago Brett Favre led Green Bay to a 35-21 defeat of the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
That’s it I have it, and unless you can convince me otherwise, I’m going to be calling myself a cheesehead, often used to refer to people from the state of Wisconsin in general, from now on - well on Sunday evenings at any rate.

Brian McDonnell

Monday, January 19, 2009

Competition for hurling places

JUSTIN McCarthy will put his extended Limerick hurling squad through one more week of training and two challenge games before selecting his squad for the National Hurling League.
Limerick are to play CIT this Wednesday night and a final chance to impress will be afforded to players with another challenge on Friday night.
Then the chosen 30 will be selected by Justin McCarthy, Liam Garvey and Brian Ryan.
So what are the options available to Justin and Co.
Over 50 players will have been looked at when the management trio sit down next weekend.
Much of the team which started against Offaly in the ill-fated Qualifier last Summer, will be retained.
To many supporters it would be a shock if any of that starting 15 didn’t make it into the new squad - however two or three could be under pressure, if wholesale changes materialise.
Limerick v Offaly: Brian Murray; Damien Reale, Stephen Lucey, Seamus Hickey; Mark O’Riordan, Brian Geary, Mark Foley; Donal O’Grady, Wayne McNamara; Mike O’Brien, Ollie Moran, Niall Moran; Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Sean O’Connor, Donie Ryan.
Another starting 15 can easily be selected from those that were mainly listed among the substitutes last season.
David Bulfin; Kieran O’Rourke, Damien Cosgrave, Denis Moloney; Gavin O’Mahony, Paudie O’Dwyer, Peter Lawlor; Kevin Tobin, James O’Brien, Donie Ryan, Michael Fitzgerald, Pat Tobin, Donncha Sheehan, David Breen, Eoin Ryan.
Another starting 15 can be assembled from those that are currently there or thereabouts in the extended panel.
Nicky Quaid; Stephen Walsh, Richie McCarthy, Paul Browne; Paudie O’Brien, Tom Condon, Don Hanley; James Ryan, Graeme Mulcahy; David Moloney, Paul O’Grady, Bryan O’Sullivan; Patrick Mullins, Paudie McNamara, Kevin Ryan.
Indeed it is possible to select a fourth starting 15 from those that were involved in squads during the Richie Bennis era.
Ger Flynn; Maurice O’Brien, Kieran Breen, Mickey Cahill; David Clancy, Andrew Brennan, Eoin Foley; Hugh Flavin, Shane Mulally; Stephen Lavin, Michael Noonan, Alan O’Connor; Padraig Browne, Brian Begley, Barry Foley.
In total 60 players have been listed above and not particularly in an order that I would personally select. Indeed there are players not listed that may very well be in the thoughts of the new management.
I am inviting all to submit their personal selections of a 30-man squad to
If anyone selects the exact squad that is eventually named for the NHL, I will personally provide a relevant prize.
Jerome O'Connell

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Are Munster getting boring?

All the superlatives seem shallow and superficial when you try to describe the magnificent manner in which Munster dispatched a pathetic Sale at Thomond Park on Friday night.
Before Tony McGahan arrived on the scene Munster didn’t do aesthetics. They were good, primarily, at compressing a pitch and referencing every contest with bodily contact - by hunting, shunting and squeezing a team they ultimately examined an opponent’s appetite for a good old fight.
Now though they can play a bit and for that reason they have moved beyond reproach. And, after Friday night, not even the most finicky critic in a television studio could shout “hold it there”, flourish a biro and hold a player to ransom for what he had or rather he hadn’t done.
Better still the demolition of the Sharks has well and truly placed Munster on a pedestal: the greatest club team on this continent - only Toulouse are registered in the same postcode.
Despite a recent blip in form the 37-14 win over Sale secured Munster’s place in the quarter-finals for the 11th successive season - for 11 successive seasons, thanks to an awkward group system, Munster have found themselves in winner-takes-all scenarios and come out the right side of the result.
Some say there’s nothing more boring than perfection. Who wants, they ask, a team to win all the time? There’s a reason, they explain, why sports movies are about disorganised groups of incompetent rejects who find a way to scrape past a vastly superior force at the last possible second - that’s, somehow, more inspiring.
I beg to differ. When David emerges from his corner to face Goliath we all know where we are meant to stand on the issue - roaring the plucky lightweight on as he faces down a 14-stoner across the ring.
But, I ask you, how noble is it to want to see the successful humiliated? Shouldn’t this approach to sport and to life in general be re-thought?
There was a time when Munster rugby was cast in the role of David. There were times when they were as tragic as the Native Americans. Now though they are Goliath and every time they run into David we should be hoping that the little fella’s sling gets shoved where the sun don’t shine!

Brian McDonnell

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What do Macclesfield Town and the Eircom League have in common?

It's hard to imagine a more perfect analogy for how Premier League soccer, or rather the determination of Irish fans to support English clubs, is crushing our domestic Eircom League game than the example set by Macclesfield Town.
Macclesfield is located in east Cheshire and only 20 miles from Manchester.
They’re an active bunch these Maxonians - in 2006 Sport England published a survey which revealed that residents of Macclesfield were the third most active in sport in the entire country.
So why do Macclesfield Town, 15th in League Two, struggle to attract an average home crowd of 2,000 in a town of 51,000? Well, the reason why Macclesfield Town are 91st in the attendance chart of the 92 football league clubs (only Accrington Stanley attract less), is because every Tom, Dick and Harry in the borough either supports Manchester United or Manchester City.
Indeed Macclesfield Town’s hand-to-mouth existence contrasts wildly with the wealth displayed by some of the leafy borough’s residents i.e. Wayne Rooney, Mark Hughes, Alex Ferguson and Robinho (said footballer pictured below).

The situation is just as ridiculous here in the good old Republic. Every week thousands of ‘Irish soccer fans’ (ha!) travel across the Irish sea to take in Premier League games - if only a fraction of that number stayed at home and attended Eircom League games domestic soccer in Ireland would be completely transformed.
In 1956 West Germany, the world champions at the time, paid a visit to Dalymount Park and were handed a 3-0 thrashing by a Republic of Ireland side dominated by seven individuals who were plying their trade in the domestic league.
God be with the days when Irish domestic football was on top of the world.

Brian McDonnell

Monday, January 12, 2009

Whats Another Year?

I AM certainly no fan of the Eurovision - aside from Maria Menounos, who presented the event last year from Greece, but I am going to borrow from Johnny Logan and say '"Whats Another Year'.
As 2008 becomes 2009, the wait for the return of the Liam McCarthy Cup to Limerick stretches to 36 years.
So what are the chances that Justin McCarthy can be the one who transforms the men in Green and White?
The chances aren't great according to the bookies.
Paddy Power make Limerick the seventh favourites for the national title.
Not surprisingly, Kilkenny are the hottest of 4-6 favourites to make it four-in-a-row.
Tipperary follow at 11-2, then Leinster bound Galway at 13-2 and turmoil stricken Cork at 8-1.
All-Ireland finalists; Waterford are 12-1, while All-Ireland semi finalists; Clare are 14-1.
Finally Limerick arrive on the chalkboard at 18-1.
Generous odds, but you really would need to be an optimist - an All-Ireland would the stuff of dreams in Justin's first year.
A Munster title however, is possible.
Of course, there is little value in the betting for the provincial crown.
Tipp are favourites at 15-8, then Waterford at 10-3, Cork at 4-1 and both Clare and Limerick at 9-2.
I think that Limerick's Munster draw is not too bad at all.
Without any known form for '09, I would fancy Limerick to turnover Waterford in the semi final and then anything goes in the final.
So maybe Limerick at 9-2 for a Munster title would not be that bad for a New Year's bet.
Jerome O'Connell

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Four Limerick men feature on ‘125 Most Influential People In GAA History’

On Sunday sports editor PJ Cunningham (pictured right - aided and abetted by Enda McEvoy, Kieran Shannon, Dave Hannigan, Malachy Clerkin & Pat Nugent) published a special souvenir supplement on the individuals the Sunday Tribune deemed the ‘125 Most Influential People In GAA History’.
Four fine Limerick men featured on the list with Ballylanders’ Frank Dineen ranking at an impressive third behind Michael Cusack and Michael O’Hehir (!).

Here’s what those nice people in the Sunday Tribune had to say about four of Limerick’s most famous sons:

@ 86: Michael Deering - They've always been at it in Cork. Though born and reared in Limerick, Deering helped form the Cork county board and was soon its chairman. The hurling tournament he held in 1886 between clubs from Cork and Tipp triggered the introduction of intercounty competition but within 10 years he had resigned from Central Council and Cork had withdrawn from the GAA after it had refused to play a game against Dublin (sound familiar?). Indeed there was a fear Cork would set up an alternative association. For a year it awarded its own All Ireland medals, accepted affiliations from Waterford and Limerick and was also supported by Kerry. Soon though, Cork were back with Deering on Central Council, and after his adversary Richard Blake was removed as general secretary, he assumed the position of president. He would die shortly afterwards though, becoming the only president to die in office.

@ 35: Michael Crowe - It was this Limerick IRB man who proposed that the GAA buy and establish Croke Park as its headquarters instead of Elm Park in Ballsbridge but his real legacy was as a referee. Football was a crude, lawless game at the turn of the century but Crowe would travel tirelessly around the country for 20 years refereeing games to standardise the rules. He was successful, with his officiating of the 1903 Kerry-Kildare games prompting writers to dub him the uncrowned king of referees.

@ 22: Mick Mackey - Limerick's finest, king of the solo run, the man who hit five goals in the 1936 Munster final. Give him a ball and 50 yards of grass and away he went, men and ash plants bouncing off him. While his reputation as the greatest hurler after Ring is overdue a reappraisal, he showed generations of Munster hurlers the province didn't have to be just a Cork-Tipp thing.

@ 3: Frank Dineen - Once the fastest sprinter in Ireland, Limerick-born Dineen might just be the most under-acknowledged figure in association history. The only man to serve as President and General Secretary (1895-1901), this ambitious visionary paid £3,250 out of his own pocket for the existing sports grounds on Jones's Road in 1908, years after he had ceased to be either president or secretary. As the writer Pádraig O'Toole observed, "his motivation was not to make profit but to hold the place for the GAA. By purchasing the site himself, the GAA could afford the luxury of planning future games for the stadium happy in the knowledge it would always be available to them when required".
He went into debt to do so after failing to persuade the GAA authorities it was a sound investment. Five years later, having had to sell parts of the land to the Jesuits in the meantime in order to stave off his debtors, Dineen handed the title to what would become Croke Park to the GAA for no charge. Repeat. No charge. He also had the pitch rolled and levelled, and had new facilities and stands installed for spectators.
He could sometimes be a contentious, confrontational figure. He was the main instigator in the removal of Blake as secretary, to the point Blake's book How the GAA was grabbed was initially entitled How Frank Dineen grabbed the GAA.
A journalist by occupation, Dineen edited and published the first GAA Annual and County Directory on the request of Luke O'Toole to promote the sports at a time when they received scant media coverage. In fact, when Dineen died on Good Friday, 1916, he was working at his desk as Gaelic games' editor of Sport. Right to the end, he was giving to the GAA, the man who gave the GAA Croke Park.

Brian McDonnell

Misbehaving Eircom League clubs should be shown the red card!

Last weekend Spanish referee Jose Manuel Barro Escandon, while he officiated at a game between Recreativo Linense and Saladillo Algesiras, decided to issue 19 red cards after a particularly distasteful brawl erupted in Cadiz.
Senõr Escandon’s reaction to a misbehaving bunch of players got me thinking about the Eircom League: if that Spanish official was asked to interpret the performance, according to the stringent financial rules imposed by the FAI, of all 22 clubs how many would be then left on the playing field?

Playing the game on its merits: Bohemians, St. Patrick’s Athletic, Derry City, Bray Wanderers, Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk, UCD, Shelbourne, Wexford Youths, Monaghan United and, of course, Limerick (led by CEO Andrew Mawhinney - pictured above).

Those who deserve a stern talking to: Sligo Rovers (discussed downgrading themselves to intermediate last season, but now, thanks to European qualification, such a suggestion has been shelved!), Sporting Fingal (signing players like a good thing and perhaps heading down the road to financial ruin), Waterford United (the manager resigning so the players could still be paid says it all) and Mervue United (just a warning lads: don’t make the same financial mistakes so many clubs before you have).

Booked: Galway United (get yourselves sorted out or else), Cobh Ramblers (ditto) and Longford Town (same as).

And those to get the line: Cork City (they’ve found a new investor, but do those guys know what they’re doing?), Drogheda United (the 2007 league champions have until next week to service debts of around €500,000), Athlone Town (hopes abound that a supporter-based patron scheme will clear debts believed to be in the region of €300,000 - they need another 200 subscriptions to keep their head above water) and, of course, Finn Harps (the Donegal club need to come with €150,000 within the next three weeks and then turn their attention to an overall debt of €290,000).

Brian McDonnell

Friday, January 02, 2009

Give me hurling every time

1954 was an enjoyable year for a leading British sportswriter by the name of David Jack. He was there when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, there at the inauguration of UEFA when it was formed in Basel and there too to watch West Germany beat Hungary in the World Cup final.
But, when asked to select his personal sporting highlight of the year, Jack raised an eyebrow or two with his Empire News headline: ‘Give me hurling every time’.
The Englishman had been holidaying in Dublin that August with his wife and happened upon the All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Cork and Galway. Jack, there and then, fell in love with the game and longed for the following summer when he returned to Ireland to take in the Munster championship.
After an excruciatingly dull few sporting months inter-county hurling returns this weekend when Justin McCarthy’s Limerick hurlers entertain UL at Claughaun - that game is sure to draw a crowd. But while no expense will be spared this season on the Passage man as he prepares to guide Limerick to silverware for the first time since 1997 please spare a thought for club hurlers on Shannonside.
Ten years ago this month the report of the GAA’s Club Fixtures Work Group recommended a modest target of 20 matches a season for club players. At the time the work group found that just one county had reached this figure (Cork) while half of the counties were providing 12 matches or fewer and 27 per cent of club players were getting fewer than 10 matches. The GAA Director General Liam Mulvihill at the time even found himself moved to describe the provision of fixtures for clubs as “shameful”.
Trouble was very little was done about it, especially in Limerick.
Last year, between league and championship, Limerick’s senior hurling clubs took the field a minimum of ten times and a maximum of 13 times. It’s worth noting that seven of that figure related to games in the All County Hurling League which few if any clubs take seriously - indeed Adare, who would eventually to go on win the county title, never won a game in the division and the experience proved worthless to Ger O’Loughlin as he endeavoured to prepare his team for the championship - in 2008 Adare played seven league games and five in the championship.
By comparison look at Tipperary. Toomevara, who Adare beat in the Munster semi-final, also played seven league games before embarking on a run to the county championship which involved 11 games.
Surely some tweaking of the club hurling schedule needs to be done. Surely players training for months on end deserve more than a maximum of five competitive outings?

Brian McDonnell