Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mawhinney steps down as Limerick FC CEO

LIMERICK FC have been dealt a considerable blow following the resignation of CEO Andrew Mawhinney.
Mawhinney announced his intention so step down from his role with the club this morning. Mawhinney, joined the club a year ago on a voluntary basis, but has now decided to devote his time ‘to other business opportunities’.
Mawhinney will however remain on the board of the club and will serve as its commercial advisor.

Appointed a year ago to take over the struggling club Andrew Mawhinney took Limerick FC to a new level of professionalism.
He acquired permanent offices and a potential training center in Knockalisheen in Meelick, County Clare.
His other notable achievements include the successful Trapattoni fund-raising dinner last autumn, the hiring of former Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Scully and the securing of a major sponsorship package with local and national organisations.
“I have immensely enjoyed my time with Limerick FC,” Andrew Mawhinney told Leader Sport this morning, “and will continue to work with the club on special projects. I am especially looking forward to dealing with organisations like the FAI, the Limerick Regeneration Agency, Limerick City Council and Shannon Development on commercial ventures that include summer exhibition matches and a return to the Markets Field.”
Limerick FC chairman Jack McCarthy stated that “he accepted with deep regret Andrew’s decision to move on. I fully understand his decision and wish him the best. He brought credibility to the club and achieved unparalleled success.
“We are lucky he will stay involved to push forward several important tasks.”
General Manager Kieran Judge and Jack McCarthy will share the CEO duties for the club.
Limerick FC will host a fund-raising greyhound race night in the Market’s Field on Saturday night. The night will comprise of a 10-race programme. Admission price is €8. For more information contact: 061 324 563.

Brian McDonnell

Essex added to Munster squad

HOLDERS Munster have registered former Ireland under-21 hooker Michael Essex in their squad for the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup - the 24-year-old Shannon hooker Essex has been on the replacements’ bench for Munster in the three of the most recent Magners League games.
Clubs involved in the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup may nominate up to three additional players allowing a maximum squad of 41 players. Munster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final opponents on Easter Sunday, the Ospreys, have added two forwards and a back to their squad.
Jonathan Spratt, who spent the early part of the season playing at centre or full-back for Taranaki, provides new options behind the scrum and Samoan international lock Filipo Levi and Bridgend Ravens hooker Scott Baldwin will do the same up front.
Meanwhile Munster are due to confirm the make-up of their squad for Saturday’s crunch top-of-the-table Magners League clash with Leinster at Thomond Park later today.
Munster report no fresh injury worries in the wake of Friday night’s bonus-point win over the Glasgow Warriors at Firhill.
Long-term injury victims Rua Tipoki and Ian Dowling could feature in Tony McGahan’s squad to face great rivals Leinster.
Saturday night’s tie which will attract a capacity attendance will get underway at 7.30pm - the game is being televised live on Setanta.
Munster currently enjoy a three-point lead over Michael Cheika’s Leinster side with five series of matches to play.
While Munster will enjoy home advantage for four of their final five league games Leinster face three away fixtures during the same period.
Speaking in the wake of his side’s impressive 26-13 victory over the Warriors in Firhill, Munster coach McGahan agreed the win was a timely one ahead of this Saturday night’s all-Irish showdown.

“We have had a very good Six Nations preparation while the international players have been away,” Tony McGahan said.
“We have had two very good results against Edinburgh and the Dragons, so it was important that we continued the momentum against Glasgow.
“There are still plenty of games remaining, but it is certainly a wonderful way to go into the match next week (with Leinster).”
“I wouldn’t say it was easy at all against Glasgow.
“They are a very difficult side to play against away from home.
“Our record here hasn’t been great, so we are delighted with the result.
“It’s some time since an Irish team has won at Firhill.”

Colm Kinsella

Monday, March 30, 2009

Munster must pull out all the stops

HOOKER Jerry Flannery says Munster must ‘pull out all the stops’ if they are to maintain their hopes of completing a big Magners League and Heineken Cup double this season - Munster currently enjoy a three-point lead over great rivals Leinster at the top of the Magners League with five series of games remaining.
The Irish provinces meet in a crucial League tie at Thomond Park on this Saturday night (7.30pm).
Eight days later Munster are due to host the Ospreys in a mouth-watering Heineken Cup quarter-final tie in Limerick as the season reaches a critical point.
Hooker Flannery said Saturday night’s big Magners League tie at Thomond Park has been in the back of Munster players’ minds throughout the RBS six Nations Championship.

“The Leinster game has been in the back of everyone’s mind through the Six Nations.
“It has been on the minds of the Munster boys and I am sure the Leinster guys have been thinking about it as well,” Flannery said.
“It is going to be a big test.
“We had a review meeting in Cork recently and we have almost 80 per cent of our season complete.
“Things are within our control. That means we have to crank things up a bit more.
“We are in contention for the Magners League and for the Heineken Cup.
“It is important that we pull out all the stops.
“The good thing is that we have snapped straight back into work mode coming away from the Grand Slam victory.”
Munster maintained top spot in the Magners League thanks to an impressive 26-13 bonus-point away victory over the Glasgow Warriors at Firhill on Friday night.
Holders Leinster remained within three points of the Heineken Cup champions when four second half tries saw Michael Cheika’s side secure a bonus-point victory over Ulster at the RDS on Sunday evening.
Meanwhile a leading bookmaker has closed the betting on who will become Lions captain for this summer’s tour to South Africa after strong support was reported for Munster skipper Paul O’Connell.
Paddy Power has shut up shop on betting for the role after a sustained splurge on the Munster lock.
Last week Irish skipper Brian O’Driscoll had been an odds-on shot at 1/2 to be named as Lions captain by head coach Ian McGeechan
Paul O’Connell was next best in the market at 13/8 with Paddy Power while Wales skipper Ryan Jones had been available at 6/1.
Ian McGeechan is set to announce his 35 or 36-man squad and confirm his choice of captain at a Heathrow Hotel, London on April 21.
Meanwhile in the AIL, Garryowen moved to top of the pile with a six-try bonus-point victory over Ballymena at Dooradoyle.
It was the ‘light blues’ 10th successive league victory.
Fifth-placed Shannon maintained their top four play-off hopes with a narrow victory over Old Belvedere while UL-Bohemian are closing in on a spot in next season’s new Top 8 section of the league after registering a bonus-point win over UCD. Young Munster’s prospects of retaining their Division One status for next season were severly dented following a last-gasp defeat to Dolphin at Clifford Park.
In Division Two Thomond have given themselves a fighting chance of avoiding relegation after recording a 19-9 win over Wanderers.
Fourth-placed Old Crescent lost 13-20 to DLSP while Bruff went down 20-22 against Ballynahinch.

Colm Kinsella

Pat Scully: ‘I think the next two or three years could be very exciting’

DESPITE losing one-nil away to Shelbourne on Friday night Pat Scully, installed as successor to Mike Kerley just last week, was heartened by the Limerick display at Tolka Park in Dublin.
Speaking to Leader Sport in the wake of the Super Blues’ second defeat of the season Pat Scully was eager to highlight the positive: “It was disappointing to get beaten.
“It will take a bit of time for the players to get know me and for me to get to know the players.

“The way I like to do things might be completely different to what the players are used to so it will take a bit of time to get things sorted out, but in saying that I don’t like losing and I didn’t like losing on Friday night.
“It was disappointing to give away a poor goal early in the game, but the players’ response in the second half was fantastic. We pinned Shelbourne back and it was obvious late in the game how worried Shels were.
“I think we deserved at least a draw out of the game. We can take plenty of positives from the game; we’ve loads that we can improve on and now we’re looking forward to the Monaghan game on Saturday.”
Limerick’s preparations for the clash with Shelbourne were hampered by injuries to the first-choice strike partnership of John Tierney (hamstring) and Paul Cummins.
Tierney is not expected to be ready in time for the game against Monaghan while the news concerning Cummins is much more encouraging. Cummins was forced off against Mervue United with a suspected broken bone in his foot, but the diagnosis now is that the former Aisling Annacotty man has a bruised bone in his foot and is expected to make his return to the starting eleven reasonably soon.
Nevertheless Pat Scully is looking forward to working with his squad of players: “We’ve some good young players and some experienced players. In terms of preparation the lads’ pre-season was disturbed so it will take a while to get them fully fit.
“We’ve already seen players pick up injuries because they didn’t get through a proper pre-season, but we’ve got to move on now. We have to forget about what went on before and as the weeks go by we will get better and better. They’re a good set of lads with a good spirit and their attitude to the game is top class.”
For a man regarded as one of the best up-and-coming managers in the league Pat Scully’s decision to join Limerick FC was always going to occupy the minds of League of Ireland supporters.
“I’d had two or three offers before speaking to Limerick,” Pat Scully explained to Leader Sport.
“I wanted to take a bit of time out after leaving Shamrock Rovers in October and I was enjoying my time with my family. Then I spoke to the chairman (Jack McCarthy) and I must say I like the challenge of it.
“I like the idea of a club in a big city like Limerick that’s a bit of a sleeping giant. People don’t associate the club with trying to achieve things and that’s something I would like to change. And, it’s not just about getting promoted; it’s about getting promoted and then staying up there. It’s about being ready for the Premier Division. I like to think I’m good at developing young players and developing a team. I think the next two or three years could be very exciting for Limerick. I believe you can achieve great things if you work hard and that’s what I intend to do here in Limerick.”
The Super Blues host Monaghan United at Jackman Park on Saturday afternoon (kick-off 5pm).
Pat Scully is looking forward to the game and who could blame him.
Monaghan have only managed a single point thus far (a draw with Longford) while they have lost to Mervue United, UCD and Shelbourne - Limerick clashed with Monaghan on four occasions last season winning two, drawing one and also losing one of those encounters.
“Monaghan is a big game for us,” admits Pat Scully.
“Without being disrespectful to Monaghan that’s a home game and it’s a game we should be winning.
“It will take time to get the players fit and to get my ideas across, but at the same time we have to keep getting results. We need to get a result against Monaghan and it would be great to win at home.”
Following Saturday’s crucial game Limerick FC will host a fund-raising greyhound race night in the Market’s Field. The night will comprise of a 10-race programme with race eight a ‘Buster’ race: the ticket with the correct finishing order in this race will receive a prize of €1,000 plus two tickets to see the Republic of Ireland take on Italy at Croke Park. ‘Buster’ tickets cost €20 each and are available from Limerick FC. Admission price is €8. For more information contact Limerick FC: 061 324 563.

Brian McDonnell

Friday, March 27, 2009

Mike Tyson, Andy Lee & that nasty cut

The cinematic release this week of James Toback’s documentary Tyson, showing in the Irish Film Institute in Dublin, reminds me of 1985. That year made me a boxing fan - a year when Barry McGuigan won a unanimous fifteen-round decision against Panama’s Eusebio Pedroza to claim the WBA world featherweight title at Loftus Road, but it was also the year when Mike Tyson made his professional debut beating Hector Mercedes to within an inch of his life in the very first round.
Pay-per-view wasn’t an issue back then. Dad would wake me and my brother up in the middle of the night to take in the travails of Iron Mike. Tyson, a mere 19 at the time, was ferocious winning 26 of his first 28 encounters by knock-out. Tyson earned his shot at the WBC title in November 1986 when he destroyed Trevor Berbick and it wasn’t long before Iron Mike became the first heavyweight to hold all three major belts (WBA, WBC, & IBF).
It took me a long time to realise how dangerous a man Mike Tyson really was.
In 1954 Joe Williams published a book, the TV Boxing Book, and in it he addressed a fascinating question: does television give the fan a complete picture of the fight? Are there things the fan at the ringside will see that the home viewers don’t?
Williams contended that a ringside seat was the only way to truly comprehend what the combatants really go through.
For years I was po-going around the place concocting opinions on fighters based on knowledge borrowed from the TV screen and it wasn’t until February last year, when I sat ringside for Andy Lee’s clash with Alejandro Gustavo Falliga in UL, that it finally dawned on me that boxing truly is the hardest game.
It’s nothing like a fight on the side of the street where fists meet crossed arms, elbows and shoulders, but never jaw or head until someone finally gains the upper hand and sensing his chance, steps forward, teeth clenched, his fists hammering away with all the speed and precision of a heavy-rock drummer until his opponent falters and falls to the ground.
Professional boxing is far more intense and all the more devastating - I could not find more respect for men like Andy Lee if I tried. Here he was in his home town of Limerick walking the tightrope of possible defeat - it was a test of the kind of man he was. Gay Talese once wrote a brilliant article, entitled The Loser, about Floyd Patterson and the potential humiliation a boxer faces every time he steps into the ring. Indeed, after losing to Sonny Liston in 1962 Patterson left his dressing room in disguise; flew to Spain and booked himself into a Madrid hotel under the name of Aaron Watson.
Andy Lee passed the test against Falliga, but failed it against Brian Vera seven weeks later. Vera knew what he was doing that night. He asked a question of Andy’s manhood as opposed to his skills as a professional boxer and the Limerick middleweight fell for it. Andy was drawn into a brawl and suffered the consequences (TKO round seven) - by the way Vera was knocked out after seven rounds by James Kirkland last November.
The wonderful Sugar Ray Leonard also fell for it against Roberto Duran in 1980 and lost.
“He had that bully’s mentality and he always tried to intimidate opponents,” explained Ray Leonard after that fight, “but he did challenge my manhood and I wasn’t mature enough to know how to respond.”
Within months of that defeat Sugar Ray comprehensively won a re-match against Duran. And, in many ways Andy Lee has already won his re-match with Brian Vera. Last week at The O2 Alex Sipos tried to draw Andy Lee into a brawl, but Lee just boxed his way out of trouble and made the German look ordinary. Andy would probably like to set the record straight by having another go at Vera, but there’s no need. Andy is better than Vera and he should know it.
Since Andy Lee is ranked 47th by the International Boxing Organization right now he will have to notch a handful of decisions before getting a shot at Kelly Pavlik (WBO & WBC champion), Felix Sturm (WBA) or Arthur Abraham (IBF). But the real concern is whether he will be able to move his boxing career forward at all.
Following a clash of heads Andy Lee shipped a nasty gash against Willie Gibbs in the UL Arena last summer. The cut required surgery and kept Lee out of the ring for eight months. Against Alex Sibos that cut opened once more and it must be a big concern. How horrible it would be if a fighter as pedestrian as Willie Gibbs brought an end to the promising career of this gifted 24-year-old?

Brian McDonnell

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

‘We want to get a settled team’

THE biggest attendance of the 2009 National Hurling League is expected in Pairc Ui Chaoimh this Sunday (2.30pm) for the ‘homecoming of Cork’s 2008 hurlers’.
Setanta Sports are to televise the round five game live as Justin McCarthy takes his Limerick hurlers to his native city. As is now the norm the Limerick team won’t be released until later this week. However there have been some changes to the extended squad which McCarthy, Brian Ryan and Liam Garvey have in training at present in Martinstown.
Leader Sport understands that Murroe-Boher’s Kevin Tobin and Kilmallock pair Paudi O’Brien and Eoin Ryan are no longer part of the plans while Garryspillane’s James Ryan is now officially part of the squad. Ollie Moran and Mike Fitzgerald are due to join up with the squad next week.
Tobin and O’Brien both saw action in league games to date with Tobin surprisingly tried in defence.
“The door remains open to everyone until the end of the league and then we will look at things in terms of the championship,” Justin McCarthy told Limerick Sport this Wednesday.

“We want to get a settled team and a settled squad and I think we are close to establishing that. Every player is given a chance and we keep about 30 at training with players coming in and out and we are casting the net a bit further all the time.”
McCarthy said that Sunday’s game will bring a new challenge.
“Cork will have a big home following because of recent events and that is something that we have to face - there could be 10,000 in Cork and the players need that; it will give them big game experience and some added pressure,” McCarthy added.
A win for Limerick on Sunday could propel them into contention for a league final place while defeat could have supporters looking over their shoulder at the league table in terms of relegation.
“The league is competitive for everyone and we have two wins and two losses and we could have had four wins - last weekend things just went away from us in Galway in the end. Naturally we would have liked to have won all four games, but we have to give players a chance while also trying to win games.
“It is a two-way thing.”
McCarthy added: “A lot of these players would not have tasted inter-county or league action before”.
After this weekend Limerick face a championship dress rehearsal on April 5 against Waterford in the Gaelic Grounds.
Before that McCarthy is looking forward to the change in time.
“I always think that there is a difference when the clocks change.
“We will be able to up our outdoor sessions. That said, I must say how pleased we have been with the facilities in Martinstown, with the pitch and the lights.”
Bryan O’Sullivan and Tom Condon were absent for the Galway game last weekend and could be back in contention for Limerick, who had Donncha Sheehan and Denis Moloney among the subs last Sunday for the first time.
Cork managed by interim boss John Considine will be without Niall McCarthy who was red carded in their win over Clare. The only ‘regulars’ absent from their line-up in Ennis were Diarmuid O’Sullivan, Brian Murphy, Sean Og O hAilpin, Jerry O’Connor and Joe Deane.

Jerome O’Connell

Successive wins could ease relegation worries

BACK-to-back wins for the first time in the National Football league since 2006 could ease Limerick’s relegation worries this Saturday.
On foot of last Sunday’s impressive win over promotion-seeking Down Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s Limerick travel to Pearse Park to play fellow strugglers Longford this Saturday (2.30pm).

Saturday’s round six game is a meeting of the bottom two sides in the league - two teams are to be relegated to Division Four.
Limerick enter Saturday’s game with two wins from five starts while with new manager Glen Ryan at the helm Longford opened their NFL campaign with a win and a draw, but have lost their last three outings to slump to the bottom of the league table.
Ryan, Kildare’s former inspirational captain, is boosted by the return of ace-attacker Brian Kavanagh, who was centre-forward on Kilmacud Crokes All-Ireland club winning side on St. Patrick’s Day.
For the vital clash, Limerick could have to plan without speedy wing-forward Stephen Kelly as Shannon have an AIL rugby tie on Saturday afternoon.
Kelly kicked the winning point last weekend and the Newcastle West man was one of four players (Pa Ranahan, Jim O’Donovan, Kieran O’Callaghan) who made their first starts of the league in the win over Down.
That game also marked the first appearance of Bruff’s Bobby O’Brien at senior inter-county level.
Absent last weekend were Seanie Buckley (hamstring), Diarmuid Carroll (groin) and Maurice Carrig (knee) and all three are making steady progress. Midfielder Thomas Cahill misses out due to a suspension for picking up two yellow cards.
Dual players Stephen Lucey and Mark O’Riordan were on hurling duty last weekend, but could asked to make themselves available to both squads in the space of 24 hours this Saturday and Sunday.
After the trip to Longford just a visit to Tullamore to play Offaly on April 12 remains in Limerick’s efforts to avoid relegation.
With Longford also needing a result, nothing will be easy this Saturday.
The Limerick footballers will look for improvement in all sectors of the field - to date, Limerick have the poorest attacking and defensive record in the league.
Last year, Longford were 3-5 to 2-7 winners in the Gaelic Grounds while back in 2006 the teams finished all-square.
The bookies make Limerick slight favourites on Saturday to make it third time lucky against the midlanders - hopefully they are proved correct.

Jerome O’Connell

Injury Time . . . with Jerome O'Connell

LIFTING the Treaty will take another big step forward in the coming weeks with the appointment of a full-time County Games Development Manger.
Indeed the Munster Council have advertised to fill the position in each of the six counties of the province.
According to the job advert, ‘The successful candidate will be responsible for the implementation of GAA Games Development Policy within a County, by developing and delivering a comprehensive County Games Development Plan on an annual basis with the assistance of the steering groups’ active in the County.’
The successful candidate will be asked to ‘lead the Games Development executive within the County and serve as secretary of the County Games Development Committee.’ Among the duties and responsibilities will be to produce of an Annual Games Development Plan for the County and to manage all County Games Development personnel responsible for the implementation of the Games Development plan. Candidates interested should apply by sending a CV to Pádraig O Sé, Runaí, Forbartha na gChluicí, Árus Mumhan, Cnoc na Grúdan, An Réabóg, Luímneach by this Friday March 27 at 5.00pm.

Camogie coaching
LIMERICK Camogie County Board in conjunction with Munster Camogie Development Coordinator Deirdre Murphy will host the inaugural Limerick Camogie Coaching Academy on April 4 in Mick Neville Park Rathkeale.
All clubs are invited to send three coaches and two members of their under 12 panel, to participate on the day.
The course will take place between 10am-2pm and the fee is €30 per club, which includes refreshments and a coaching pack. According to Munster Camogie Development Coordinator Deirdre Murphy, the aim of this academy is to give club coaches an opportunity to learn from top class coaches. Paudie Butler National Hurling Director, Eamonn Cregan All Ireland winning coach and player, Seoirse Bulfin Head of Sport Limerick Institute of Technology, Mary O’Connor National Director of Camogie and holder of six All Ireland Senior Camogie medals and Phelim Macken, Limerick Senior Camogie Manager are the guest speakers/tutors on the day. The closing date for registration is Friday March 27. Further information from: Deirdre Murphy, Munster Camogie Development Coordinator, The Sports Office, Limerick Institute of Technology, Moylish, Limerick, 087 6415485 or deirdre@camogie.ie

Third level GPA scholarships
FIVE Limerick players are among 77 that have been awarded third level scholarships by the Gaelic Players Association (GPA) under its new Energise Sport Student Ambassador Programme. Hurlers and footballers from Limerick’s three Third Level Colleges (UL, LIT and Mary Immaculate) all received scholarships.
Inter-county hurlers Seamus Hickey (Murroe-Boher and UL) and Gavin O’Mahony (Kilmallock and LIT) lead the list of Limerick recipients. Also included are footballers; Ian Ryan (St Senans and Mary Immaculate) and LIT students Eoin Hogan (Na Piarsaigh) and Lyold Fitzgerald (Claughaun). Other LIT students honoured were Laois hurlers Willie Hyland, Tipperary hurlers Seamus Callanan and Noel McGrath. In Mary Immaculate, among those selected were Tipperary pair Shane McGrath and Darragh Egan. Kerry footballer David Moran, Tipperary hurler Thomas Stapleton and Cork hurler Patrick Cronin were among the UL recipients.

Limerick Institute of Technology
LIMERICK Institute of Technology may have missed out on Fitzgibbon Cup success this season, but the Moylish side’s intermediate hurling team have captured the All Ireland Third level Colleges Intermediate title with a 3-14 to 0-10 victory over CIT.
The LIT side were coached by former Limerick star, Clem Smith (Ahane). Locals involved with LIT were David Grimes and Ian McLoughlin (both Ballybricken-Bohermore), Gary Fitzgerald (Blackrock), Eddie Kiely (Doon) and Derek Grimes (South Liberties).
The final was played in Charleville.

Jerome O'Connell

Munster travel to Glasgow for a critical clash

MAGNERS League table toppers Munster begin a critical phase in their season when they travel to Firhill this Friday night for a round 13 tie with the Glasgow Warriors.
Munster, who have lost only one of their last four meetings with the Warriors, currently enjoy a three point lead over great rivals Leinster at the summit of the League table. Just six series of games remain to be played in the competition this season.
Tony McGahan’s men are due to host Leinster in a crunch Magners League tie at Thomond Park on Saturday week, April 4.
Munster’s clash with the Warriors on Friday night is due to begin at 7.45pm and the game will be televised live on Setanta Sports.
Munster welcomed their Irish Grand Slam winning players into their set-up this week.
However, several front-line Irish players are not expected to be involved in Friday night’s tie.
The Munster squad to face the Warriors was set to be unveiled this Wednesday afternoon and the panel was expected to include Denis Leamy, Mick O’Driscoll and Peter Stringer who began Saturday’s crunch RBS Six Nations Championship tie with Wales on the replacements’ bench.
Munster will approach Friday night’s game at Firhill in confident mood. The province have won their last five games in all competitions. The Magners League side remain unbeaten since their shock 11-37 defeat at the hands of Ulster at Thomond Park on January 3.
Munster’s only loss to a Scottish side in their last ten meetings since October 2006 was a 18-21 defeat to Glasgow at Musgrave Park in May of last year. Glasgow Warriors, for their part, have lost their last three matches in the Magners League since their 25-20 victory over Scottish rivals Edinburgh at Firhill Arena on January 2. However, Glasgow are unbeaten at Firhill against all Irish opponents since Leinster won there 21-18 in May 2006.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys will bring their biggest ever travelling support to Limerick for their Heineken Cup quarter-final tie with Munster on Easter Sunday.
However, the Welsh club has announced that will not be taking up their entire allocation of 6,400 tickets for their quarter-final clash.
The Ospreys have confirmed that their tickets have now been withdrawn from public sale.
A statement on the Ospreys official website said: “We’re thrilled with the enormous demand we’ve had for tickets, and look forward to seeing our biggest-yet travelling contingent of Ospreylians.
“While we couldn’t hope to outnumber what will prove a vast sea of Munster fans, we have no doubt our travelling support will make a noise to reckon with. . . Having now given ample opportunity for our OWN supporters to secure their tickets, we have decided to herewith return all unsold tickets to Munster Rugby to distribute according to their own ticket policies.”
Munster Rugby indicated that returned tickets would be ‘distributed based on Munster Branch ticket guidelines’ and further details would be confirmed this week. Further ticket updates will be available from the Munster Rugby website.

Colm Kinsella

Across The Gain Line . . . with Colm Kinsella

THE deafening noise which greeted the arrival of Irish lock Paul O’Connell back to his old school Ardscoil Ris on Monday was only surpassed by the incredible din which followed when the Munster skipper asked whether the pupils should get a half day from school this Friday!
Less than 24 hours after helping Ireland secure their first Grand Slam success in 61 years, O’Connell honoured a promise he had made to his old school some months ago to drop in for a visit.
The school’s Director of Rugby Des Harty said many other players would have opted out of the visit given the exceptional circumstances, but the Munster skipper had lived up to his word by turning up. Paul O’Connell told the captivated students that the two reasons he had gone so far in his rugby career were Ardscoi l Ris and Young Munster RFC.
The captains of Ardsoil’s Ris various school’s rugby teams then got an opportunity to ask the Irish lock some questions about the sport.
O’Connell was asked whether he felt the British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa this summer would prove to be a success?

Taking nothing for granted
Although he is taking anything for granted himself, 29-year-old O’Connell looks a certainty to be named in Ian McGeechan’s squad for the tour when it is unveiled next month.
Indeed, the second row is second favourite- behind his Irish team mate Brian O’Driscolll- with most bookies’ to be named as the Lions skipper.
O’Connell told his enthralled audience that he firmly believed the Lions tour could prove successful because of the expertise head coach Ian McGeechan would bring with him from his time managing a successful Lions Tour in the past.
O’Connell said he felt it had been easier for Lions squads in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s to bond as a team. This was in the pre-professional era and more of an emphasis was placed on bonding and the social aspect of things. There had not been much of an emphasis on team bonding during the tour to New Zealand in 2005.
O’Connell felt Ian McGeechan would place a bigger emphasis on the importance of team bonding during the course of this Tour.
In relation to Ireland’s win in the Six Nations championship O’Connell said the side had not played the most glamorous rugby at times, but it was winning rugby.
The Young Munster clubman said the greatest memories he would take from his time playing school’s rugby was of the friends he had made there.
“Most of the guys I played with then are still good friends of mine. I have made friends for life from those days,” Paul O’Connell said.
O’Connell’s schoolmates at Ardscoil Ris at time included former Munster and current London Wasps star Mossie Lawler, Garryowen captain Paul Neville and Young Munster centre Clem Casey.
Paul O’Connell played for the Irish school’s team in the 1997-98 season.
Asked what advice he would give to any schoolboy playing rugby today, O’Connell said physical fitness was a massive part. The 6’ 6” second row said an average player could become a good player by getting fitter and faster than the guy beside him.
O’Connell also advised the budding young rugby players to work on their ball skills and to bring a rugby ball with them wherever they went.

Lions selection
Since the final whistle sounded at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday night, newspapers, radio, TV shows and websites have been inundated with possible Lions selections for the First Test against South Africa in June. Guessing the make-up of the team to face the Springbok is an interesting past time, but the reality is that several players who are seen as ‘certain’ starters right now, will not be in the XV for the Durban clash.
Some players will lose form or get injured and several more who are seen as most likely to be involved in the mid-week games (dirt-trackers as they are referred to in some quarters) will succeed in forcing their way into the Test side.
One respected rugby man with a proven track record, who offered his views on the possible make-up of the Lions Test team, was Gareth Edwards.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Edwards’ team consisted of six Irishmen, six Welshmen, two Englishmen and a Scot.
He opted for Paul O’Connell as team captain, adding: “It just feels right. Willie John McBride in ‘74, Martin Johnson in ‘97. The successful template is there. (Brian) O’Driscoll would then be freed up to concentrate on his game and getting the best out of the Lions back division, which he will effectively run.”
Gareth Edwards’ Lions XV: Lee Byrne (Wales), Tommy Bowe (Ireland), Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland), Riki Flutey (England), Shane Williams (Wales), Stephen Jones (Wales), Dwayne Peel (Wales), Gethin Jenkins (Wales), Jerry Flannery (Ireland), Euan Murray (Scotland), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Paul O’Connell (Ireland, capt.), Tom Croft (England), David Wallace (Ireland), Jamie Heaslip (Ireland).

Munster jerseys
One question which occupied the minds of many Irish rugby fans in Cardiff last weekend was why Munster fans persist with wearing their Munster jerseys at international games? Sure they are proud of where they come from, sure they are proud of their team’s achievements.
But on Saturday, at the Millennium Stadium in TV shots, decked out in their red jerseys, several Munster supporters were mistakes for Welsh fans.
Is the current recession a contributing factor? Are fans who have a Munster jersey in their wardrobe unable to find the disposable income necessary to buy an Irish shirt? But then again if they can afford to travel to Cardiff to watch Ireland play surely they can find the money to buy a jersey. The intrigue continues.

Colm Kinsella

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Pat Scully may succeed Mike Kerley

LIMERICK FC could be on the verge of landing a notable coup if they succeed in tempting Pat Scully to replace Mike Kerley as first team manager.
Scully, who guided Shamrock Rovers back into the Premier Division in 2006, attended Limerick FC’s clash with Athlone Town on Friday night in Jackman Park and it has been rumoured that the club are mere days away from confirming the Dubliner as the club’s new manager.
Club CEO Andrew Mawhinney however has been quick to dispel that rumour. Mawhinney told Chronicle Sport this morning: “No definite decision has been made as of yet. The chairman of the club, Jack McCarthy, has been in Limerick for the past few days and he has taken the opportunity on this visit to interview possible candidates for the job.”
Even though Andrew Mawhinney would not be drawn on the identity of the candidates in question the indications are that Scully remains the favourite to succeed Mike Kerley who departed the club several weeks ago.
An accomplished central defender during his playing career Pat Scully won the 1988 FA Youth Cup with Arsenal and after loan spells at Preston North End and Northampton Town he moved to Southend United in January 1991 before moving to Huddersfield Town in March 1994. In 1996 Scully joined Shelbourne who he captained to a league title before signing for Shamrock Rovers in 2001.
After a glittering playing career Scully was eager to stay in the game and when offered a chance by Kilkenny City in 2005 to begin his managerial career he took it.
Pat Scully then earned himself a reputation as the best up-and-coming manager in the League of Ireland when he took over at Shamrock Rovers and led them to the First Division title in his very first season (2006). Scully followed that achievement up with fifth place finish in the Premier Division (2007) - Pat Scully departed Shamrock Rovers last October by mutual consent.
Considering what Pat Scully achieved at Shamrock Rovers Super Blues supporters are sure to welcome such an appointment especially since the Dubliner proved capable of developing a side on a limited budget.
Meanwhile, under caretaker managers Paul O’Donnell and Mike Shiels, the Super Blues are preparing to face Dermot Keely’s Shelbourne at Tolka Park on Friday night (kick-off 8pm).
Shelbourne are joint-top of the First Division having opened their 2009 campaign with three consecutive wins. And, Shels will be further motivated by memories of November 16 last when a Colin Scanlon strike earned the Super Blues a one-all draw at Tolka Park and effectively cost Shelbourne promotion to the Premier Division. On the night Shelbourne needed to beat the Super Blues, but despite taking the lead through Anto Flood Limerick fought back to score a late equaliser and deny Shels the league title.
Shelbourne opened their 2009 league campaign with a 2-1 home win against Wexford Youths before winning twice on the road against Monaghan United and most recently Waterford United at the RSC.
Shelbourne are many observers’ favourites for automatic promotion this season. Dermot Keely can call on plenty of talent especially strikers Anto Flood and Paddy Madden while Richie Baker and David McAllister feature in midfield for the Dublin club.
Limerick’s caretaker managers Paul O’Donnell and Mick Shiels will have to plan without Paul Cummins for the next fours weeks after the centre-forward suffered a broken bone in his foot against Mervue United while they will also be concerned about the fitness of John Tierney who limped off after shipping a heavy challenge against Athlone Town on Friday night last. However this Limerick side are as good a footballing outfit as there is in the division and they are well capable of getting a result.
In other news Limerick FC have been drawn at home against the Wexford Youths in the first round of the League of Ireland Cup - the first round will take place on April 13-14 with the winner of that clash facing either the Kerry League or Cork City on May 4-5 in the next round.

Brian McDonnell

International stars make a welcome return to Munster

MUNSTER’S victorious Irish stars return to Tony McGahan’s squad this week to commence a critical period in the province’s season.
Magners League leaders Munster face a trip to Firhill this Friday night for a crunch tie with the eighth-placed Glasgow Warriors (7.45pm).
Most, if not all, of reland’s front line stars are likely to the rested for the tie with the Scottish side.
Six of the eight Glasgow Warriors who tasted front-line action for Scotland’s during the RBS Six Nations campaign return for Friday night’s game.
Two of Scotland’s most potent attackers, Tom and Max Evans, are straight back into the mix alongside hooker Dougie Hall, prop Moray Low, flanker Kelly Brown and lock Alastair Kellock.
Munster’s hectic programme of games continues on Saturday, April 4 when Leinster visit Thomond Park for an intriguing Magners League tie (7.30pm).
The clash of the Irish provinces could well go a long way towards determining the outcome of the league as table-toppers Munster currently enjoy a three-point lead over Leinster.
The big games continue for Munster throughout April with the Heineken Cup putting their title on the line against the Ospreys in an eagerly-anticipated quarter-final clash on Easter Sunday, April 12 (1pm).
And Connacht, surprise winners over Munster at the Sportsgrounds at Christmas, visit Limerick for another big Magners League tie on Saturday, April 18.
Meanwhile Munster lock Paul O’Connell is second favourite to be selected as Lions captain for this summer’s tour to South Africa.
Current Irish skipper Brian O’Driscoll is an odds-on shot at 1/2 to be named as Lions captain by head coach Ian McGeechan. Paul O’Connell is next best in the market at 13/8 with Paddy Power while Wales skipper Ryan Jones is available at 6/1.
Ian McGeechan was expected to travel to Cork today to meet with Irish head coach Declan Kidney and the issue of captaincy was set to be discussed. The Lions squad to travel to South Africa, expected to include between 34 and 36 players, is due to be named on April 21.

Colm Kinsella

Limerick CBS focus on the semi-finals

LIMERICK CBS’ quest for an historic hat-trick of All-Ireland Senior Schools Soccer Cup titles continues tomorrow at Leah Victoria Park in Tullamore.
The five-in-a-row Munster champions face Tallaght Community School in the semi-finals of the National Cup.
Earlier this month Mike Molyneaux’s all-conquering side claimed provincial honours with an Eoin Hanrahan goal helping the Sexton Street secondary school to a one-nil win over Cobh Community School.
Along with the Pike Rovers star, who is Limerick CBS captain, another central figure is Jason Hughes of Limerick FC.
Last weekend the duo were members of the Irish under-18 FAI Schoolboys squad that faced Northern Ireland in Ballymoney.
One international game remains in the Carnegie Centenary Shield for the CBS pair and fellow Limerick man Ian Storan when Ireland will play England at the RSC, Waterford on April 24 in a game which will be live on Sky Sports.
Hughes, Hanrahan and defender Craig McMarlow were all members of Limerick CBS’ Munster and All-Ireland winning side in 2008.

Jerome O’Connell

O’Connor appointed to U21 job

CLAUGHAUN’S Leo O’Connor has been appointed Limerick’s new county under-21 hurling manager - the former inter-county hurler was given the vote of confidence at an executive meeting of Limerick GAA officers last night.
The Claughaun man is the holder of All-Ireland under-21 and minor medals with Limerick and was involved with the Tom Ryan-managed Limerick senior hurling teams of the mid-90’s.
O’Connor was appointed to the role of county under-21 hurling manager ahead of Limerick Leader columnist and RTE radio’s Martin Kiely.
Kilmallock’s Mick Heelan was also nominated for the management position, but he withdrew before the interview stage.
Heelan is now to be a selector with O’Connor who will also by joined by Newcastle West’s Peter Curtin as a selector.
In the 2009 Munster under-21 hurling championship Limerick will face Clare on July 15.

Jerome O'Connell

Monday, March 23, 2009

‘Ireland can kick on from here’

INSPIRATIONAL international lock Paul O’Connell believes Saturday’s dramatic Grand Slam success can prove the launch pad for further Irish rugby glory. Twenty nine-year-old O’Connell turned in an awesome display as Ireland claimed a first Grand Slam success in 61 years with a nail-biting 17-15 victory over Wales at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
O’Connell said: “I absolutely believe Ireland can kick on from here.
“In the last three games we have not played fabulously well.
“We have just been clever in what we have done. We went about winning games. That is the most important thing.
“It was something we had lost track of before. We can develop here now. I think if you try to play expansive sometimes you can hit a wall.
“In this Six Nations we have relied a lot on our pack.
“I think it is easier to build from there.”
O’Connell paid tribute to the part coach Declan kidney had played in the success of the side.
“Deccie (Declan Kidney) has the Midas touch,” O’Connell enthused.
“We had a lot of meetings. He was trying to get players to say things, to try and get them to come out with different things.
“In fairness, there was a lot of good things said.
“We had a good meeting in Enfield over Christmas. We had Padraig Harrington in that week. He was highly inspirational.
“A good atmosphere was built out of that.
“It was a very important time for that team.”
O’Connell said honesty and humility were two of the defining traits of the current Irish side.
“I think, being Irish, this is a humble team,” O’Connell said.
“A lot of the stuff which went on in the media in the lead up to the game with Warren Gatland, you wouldn’t see an Irish coach doing that.
“You wouldn’t see an Irish person doing that. We are very honest in everything we did.
“That is a big part of our trait.
“That is a big thing with Munster and with Ireland too.”
After a string of outstanding displays O’Connell is a certainty to be included in Ian McGeechan’s 35-man Lions squad for this summer’s tour to South Africa - that squad is set to be named next month.
The Irish squad members rejoin the Munster set-up this week as Tony McGahan’s men step up preparations for Friday night’s away Magners League tie with the Glasgow Warriors (kick-off 7.45pm).
It seems likely that the vast majority of Munster’s contingent in the Grand Slam-winning side will be rested this weekend ahead of Saturday week’s crunch Magners League clash with Leinster at Thomond Park.
Meanwhile there was disappointment for the two remaining Limerick sides in this season’s AIB Cup when Garryowen and Young Munster exited the competition at the semi-final stage.
Garryowen suffered a shock defeat away from home to Second Division Ballynahinch while Young Munster came out second best in their semi-final clash with Cork Constitution at Tom Clifford Park.

Colm Kinsella

‘I have loved Munster all my career and now I really love this team’

“I HAVE loved Munster all my career and now I really love this team. It is a special dressing room at the minute." Frank, compelling and ecstatic, Ronan O’Gara is wearing a smile as broad as Cardiff’s River Taff.
Fly half O’Gara has known some wonderful days at the Millennium Stadium with Munster. Now he has scaled the dizzy heights in the green of Ireland. The 32-year-old has a Grand Slam, RBS Six Nations Championship and another Triple Crown to go with his two Heineken Cup medals. Having come close to securing a ‘Slam’ on several occasions in recent years, O’Gara could now savour the magnitude of the team’s achievements.
“It was fantastic. It was bloody difficult. We made it difficult at times and we also played great rugby,” Ronan O’Gara stressed.
“We could have ripped them apart. We had them on the rack. They came back and I think the penalty count was something like 17-4 which was unbelievable.
“To win a game with a penalty count like that against us proves the bottle in the team. That is what counted. We stuck at it away from home. We had fantastic support. I think half of Ireland must be here.
“There is great belief in this team now and it is a happy team.”
So what did O’Gara remember of the drop goal which ultimately secured Ireland’s first Grand Slam title in 61 years?
“That drop goal came about 90 seconds too early!,” O’Gara insisted.
“I remember Clive Woodward saying that it took 30 seconds to win a World Cup and it is the same with winning a Test match.
“That is all you need. The forwards did fantastic and then Rory Best got lost a little bit. I was hoping he would get out of the way. They (Wales) definitely cheated on the charge, so I had to get the ball up as opposed to kick through it. That meant I had to break my technique. I spiralled it through which shouldn’t happen for a drop goal, but it went straight.
“But as you saw there was a lot more drama left after that. I think when you score two tries you deserve to win two finals. They never looked like scoring a try and that was the key point. There is massive support for this team.
“This morning I had three fellows, David Humphries, Nicky English and Barry McGuigan from three different sports, sending me powerful texts. And that gets through to you.
“It shows what you represent when you see the President on the pitch.
“I thought Brian (O’Driscoll) was exceptional. I thought we came good in the second half. We probably had a quiet first half, made a few errors, but then we came good when the pressure came on. That is all we need. We had key men in the key positions. There is real belief in this team. We were not going to lose this game. Mistakes happen when you are put under pressure. People forget sometimes that your heart rate is up around 200. It is easy looking at it from a seat and commenting on it.
“We don’t intend making mistakes. I don’t intend making a mistake, but they happen. You just keep at it and keep going, giving the forwards direction. I think we scored two fantastic tries. We were the side which put them under pressure more. But the whole thing today was about belief and this team has belief now.”
O’Gara’s Munster colleague Donncha O’Callaghan had the inkling that Wales were going to ‘target’ the Irish out-half from the moment their captain Ryan Jones stuck out a leg to trip him in the opening minutes.
So O’Callaghan let Jones and the Welsh know that Ireland would not be intimidated, even if his chastising of the Welsh captain resulted in the visitors conceding the first of a whopping 15 penalties.
“They definitely targeted Rog. When you see a buddy being treated like that, you want to look out for him,” Donncha O’Callaghan said.
“Granted, it is probably not ideal to get into the game like I did. I always pride myself on my discipline. Sometimes you cannot be bullied either. If you look at the video I am sure you will see plenty of incidents where Rog (Ronan O’Gara) got cheap shots. When you have a player of his quality and you go out to play against other teams, they are going to target him. When it is your friend, you are going to row in behind him.
“Rog showed what an incredible pro he is with that drop goal late on. Another fellow would have kept his head down and ran out the gate.
“But Ronan thrives on pressure like that. I know that when our front five or front eight saw that ball coming back to him in the dying minutes of the game, it could not be coming into safer hands.
O’Callaghan found the hours leading up to Saturday’s 5.30pm kick-off long.
“The time before kick-off was hell. The day crawled,” Donncha O’Callaghan revealed.
“A 5.30pm kick-off for an international is a disaster, to be honest.
“The only comfort you can take is that David Wallace is worse that everyone. He comes down ash-faced, looking like a Goth. That’s it. Once you know there is one person worse than you, you know you will survive.
“People say you should enjoy that, but I don’t personally enjoy it. It’s the aftermath of a game you win that you enjoy. It is not just about this team. There are the fellows who have gone before. You like at the effort the likes of Earlsie (Keith Earls) and Quinny (Alan Quinlan) made. You feel sorry for these guys who didn’t make it into the 22. There is a great togetherness in the squad.”
O’Callaghan said it was great that a bunch of players who had endured a hugely frustrating World Cup less than two years ago had bounced back in such style.
“We had some really tough days at the World Cup. To have a special day like that with the group of lads is great,” O’Callaghan said.
“There is a different feeling around the team as well. Everyone has rowed in behind us as well. The support we have received has been incredible.”

Colm Kinsella

Andy Lee sees off Alex Sipos to register seventeenth win

THERE were no howling epithets at The O2 on Saturday night for Andy Lee, just solemn contentment at business smartly done after the Limerick southpaw saw off the challenge of Germany’s Alex Sipos in front of a 9,000-strong crowd in Dublin.
Referee Emile Tiedt scored the contest 99-91 in favour of the Castleconnell middleweight and although Andy Lee always looked comfortable Sipos did present the Limerick man with a tricky obstacle to surmount.
In the immediate aftermath of his 17th professional win Andy Lee was relieved to earn the referee’s decision: “That was as tough as I expected. Alex is tough and has a lot of pride. He’s a hard fighter and he forced me back.
“The ten rounds will stand to me and I will move on from here. I was very rusty because of the long lay off, but there are no excuses. Thankfully I won the fight so it’s onwards and upwards from here.”
Andy Lee had not stepped into the ring since defeating Willie Gibbs in the UL Arena on July 19 last and had spent the intervening months nursing a troublesome cut over his right eye which required surgery. And, the Lee corner, led by Emanuel Steward, were concerned when Andy sustained another cut over that right eye as early as the opening round on Saturday night.
“I thought he (Alex Sipos) fought a good fight,” explained Emanuel Steward.
“We knew it was going to be tough. Sipos is a strong fighter, who keeps his hands up high and makes it very difficult.
“We were concerned about the cut over Andy’s eye so considering everything we’re very happy to get away with this victory.”
Saturday’s bout marked the one-year anniversary of Andy Lee’s only defeat in the professional ranks - on March 21, 2008 Lee suffered his first defeat (TKO) at the hands of Brian Vera. So defeat against Sipos was unthinkable for Lee who weighed in at a sturdy 11 stone eight pounds.
Lee had planned to take on Antwun Echols in Madison Square Garden on March 16, but that bout was cancelled at the last minute. Ironically Alex Sipos proved a much more able opponent than Echols - Sipos won a World Military gold medal and also challenged for the European middleweight title as a pro.
After an eight-month lay-off Andy Lee looked rusty in the opening round and although he caught Sipos with a good left hand the German recovered to connect with a barrage late in the round which left the Limerick man nursing a cut over his right eye.
Lee steadied himself in the second round however and proceeded to take control of the fight keeping the physically powerful Sipos at bay with a stinging right jab.
The third and fourth rounds followed a predictable pattern with Lee in complete control.
Sipos looked a one-dimensional fighter, but he did catch Lee with a dangerous left in the fifth round.
Andy Lee regained control in the sixth and dropped Sipos with a stunning right hook late in the round - Sipos survived referee Emile Tiedt’s standing eight count.
Sipos struggled through round seven and eight, but rallied significantly in the last two rounds of this ten-round contest.
The German charged forward in search of a knockout and although he caught Lee with several dangerous right hands the Limerick man never looked in any real danger.

Brian McDonnell

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Irish rugby fans seek their own Archie Gemmill moment!

Came across an absolutely fascinating story recently - in 2008 John Low, a Scot, traveled 7,350 miles from his home in Castle Douglas to Mendoza, Argentina. Mr. Low’s reason for doing so was to re-create one of Scotland’s most famous football moments 30 years on to the day. John recruited Argentinian office workers to act as the Dutch defenders while he played out the role of Archie Gemmill, who scored a remarkable goal against Holland during the 1978 World Cup at the Estadio Malvinas.

I’ve long known, well since Trainspotting at least, how much Archie Gemmill’s goal meant to the Scottish, Ray Houghton’s header against England in 1988 or Pakie Bonner’s save against the Romanians in 1990 probably stands as a similar touchstone for Irish soccer fans. But what do the Irish rugby fans have to get obsessive about?
Winning the 1985 Five Nations was definitely a highlight, as were the recent triple crowns and, of course, beating the English within an inch of their lives in Croke Park a couple of years ago will stand out for many, but Irish rugby is in desperate need of something more substantial. Some huge moment needs to be burned into the collective memory. And, the Irish players have their opportunity to make their mark on the Irish consciousness this weekend when they visit Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
2007 probably should have been the year that Irish rugby registered its first Grand Slam in 61 years, but they slipped up on the opening day against France - another dream was crushed that day in Croke Park with another hopeful journey ending in tears.
Now is the time for the ‘golden generation’ to do it. The RBS Six Nations championship won’t do it, only the Grand Slam will. There are no more tomorrows. Irish rugby fans want their Archie Gemmill moment and they want it now!

Brian McDonnell

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

‘I need to get back into the ring and get busy’

ON March 21 last year Andy Lee’s pro-boxing career was knocked off course when Brian Vera stunned the Castleconnell man in a fight that was supposed to launch the Limerick middleweight’s bid for a world title fight. Exactly one year later the 24-year-old former St. Francis Boxing Club Olympian relaunches his career this Saturday night as the chief support bout for Bernard Dunne’s world title fight in The O2 in Dublin.

Lee will face former European title challenger, Alex Sipos, on the undercard of the Hunky Dorys World Title Fight Night - Andy Lee was a late addition to an already packed O2 line-up after a scheduled headline appearance at Madison Square Garden fell through; coverage of the historic night of boxing, before a 9,000 capacity crowd, will be carried live on RTE Two.
TV coverage starts at 9.00pm with Women’s World and European amateur champ Katie Taylor and Andy Lee fighting live before the main event - the Limerick boxer is expected in the ring at around 9.40pm.
“It’s a long time since I fought and I need to get back into the ring and get busy,” Andy Lee told Leader Sport this Monday after a workout at the National Boxing Stadium.
“Every fight is big, but this is a big one because I have not fought in while. This is going to be one of the hardest fights of my career,” said Andy Lee, who is well aware of his opponent.
Since losing to Vera last March, Lee has fought just once - a July stoppage of Willie Gibbs in UL.
In advance of that fight Lee and Sipos sparred at a Wladimir Klitschko training camp in Austria. The German has 19 wins and two draws from his 26 pro outings and his only stoppage defeat came courtesy of an elbow injury.
“We sparred maybe three or four times and he is very tough.
“He has a very awkward style and has a very tight defence,” said Lee of his Munich opponent.
Despite not entering the ring in eight months Lee dispels any thought that he may be rusty.
“I have been out for so long, but I have done a lot of sparring.”
Lee’s long absence from the ring was to allow for surgery to a persistent eye injury.
“I have sparred plenty and everything has held up ok,” the southpaw says of that injury.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader on Monday Lee sighed at the thoughts that he should be preparing to box in Madison Square Garden on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day.
“After the cancellation of the New York fight, there was great disappointment,” he said.
“After waiting so long for a fight and then when it was cancelled I was left not knowing what was happening for a few days until everything was agreed with Brian Peters.”
Saturday is Ireland’s first world title fight in 13 years - a fact not lost on Lee: “It is good to be part of it. I am looking forward to it - it will be a historic night for Irish boxing and it will be a night that people will remember.”
Brian Peters Promotions are expecting a 9,000 sell-out.
“I have fought in The Garden in front of big crowds, but I was early on the cards and I fought in Vegas, but this will certainly be the most enthusiastic support - it will be 9,000 Irish fans screaming and roaring,” said Andy Lee of Ireland’s biggest pro-boxing night since the Collins v Eubank rematch in Millstreet.
“To be fighting on the undercard to Bernard Dunne in his quest to win a world title in Dublin is a great honour for me.
“The Irish are the best sport supporters in the world, the atmosphere will be electrifying and it will be a memorable occasion with it being the first world title fight in Ireland in 13 years.”
Saturday will be Lee’s 17th pro fight and after kick-starting his career he hopes to spend some time in Limerick before returning back to Detroit’s Kronk Gym.
“There are a few things in the pipeline, but I will just take Saturday night first,” said Lee of the remainder of 2009.
“My plans for the rest of 2009 is to advance my career with developmental fights taking me to the next level of being in the top 10 of the world ratings.
“Although my career is based in America, I relish the opportunity of fighting at home. But it’s fight one fight at a time and my focus is now firmly on March 21.”

Jerome O'Connell

Limerick fully fit for Galway clash

AFTER a three-week break Justin McCarthy’s Limerick senior hurlers resume National Hurling League action when they visit Galway’s Pearse Park this Sunday (2.30pm).
Captain Mark Foley has returned to training, but is not expected to start on Sunday. All squad members are reported fit, except Ollie Moran and Mike Fitzgerald, who are training on their own at present and are to join the squad at a later date.
With Tipperary remaining the only undefeated side in Division One all remains very congested.
The next two rounds of fixtures should apply some shape to the league table and determine who could be in the shake up for the top two places and a spot in the league final.
Sunday will offer another opportunity for McCarthy and selectors, Liam Garvey and Brian Ryan, to run the rule over their new-look side which is likely to see a number of new players get match-time in the coming weeks.
Twenty six players have seen league action to date - Doon duo Denis Moloney and Mike Fitzgerald, Adare duo Mark Foley and Donncha Sheehan, Kilmallock duo Eoin Ryan and Philip O’Loughlin, Monaleen’s Damien Cosgrave, Ahane’s Ollie Moran are yet to see competitive action.
While Limerick have had no competitive action since the win over Dublin, the Galway players have had plenty hurling. Two weeks ago they lost to Kilkenny in a game which saw manager John McIntyre come out strongly against his players in post-match interviews. Last weekend the Galway players travelled to Dubai where Connacht lost to Leinster in the Martin Donnelly sponsored interprovincial hurling final.
While the Tribesmen have only a win over a depleted Cork to their credit, the county was boosted on St. Patrick’s day when Portumna (with Limerick native Garrett Heagney at wing-back) won their third All-Ireland club title in four years. Limerick hurling followers will be more than happy if Portumna’s Joe and Ollie Canning and Damien Hayes were to postpone their return to maroon of Galway until after this weekend.
All in Limerick will still remember last year’s league clash in the Gaelic Grounds when Galway eased to a 2-24 to 1-16 win - that was also a game played within a week of Portumna winning an All-Ireland club title and they didn’t feature with the then Ger Loughnane managed side.
Sunday’s trip to Salthill is the first of three week’s of successive NHL action for Limerick.
On March 29, Limerick travel to Pairc Ui Chaoimh to face a rejuvenated Cork in their first home game since the resignation of Gerald McCarthy and then on April 5, Waterford will visit the Gaelic Grounds in a championship dress rehearsal.

Jerome O'Connell

Lucey and O’Riordan miss crucial game against Down

DUAL players Stephen Lucey and Mark O’Riordan will be absent as the Limerick senior footballers attempt to climb off the bottom of Division Three of the National Football League this Sunday (2.30).
The Croom duo will be on hurling duty in Galway, as Down visit the Gaelic Grounds for Limerick final home game in the NFL.
Mickey Ned O’Sullivan’s side will continue their quest to avoid relegation with away games, to Longford on Saturday, March 28 and to Offaly on Sunday, April 12.
Influential midfielder John Galvin will return for the visit of Ross Carr’s Down - Galvin missed last weekend’s loss to Cavan due to basketball commitments.
Also back in contention will be Lorcan O’Dwyer and Ger Collins who both missed the game in Breffni Park with slight knocks.
Joining the dual players as an absentee will be captain Seanie Buckley who sustained a hamstring injury last Saturday night.
Full-forward Maurice Carrig is back in light training after a knee injury, but may not be ready to start.
While the Limerick team will not be named until closer to the weekend, Buckley, O’Riordan and Lucey could be easily replaced by with direct replacements in Collins, O’Dwyer and Galvin.
Others that could be in line for their first starts of the campaign are St. Senan’s duo Conor Mullane and Diarmuid Carroll and Ballysteen’s Pa Ranahan, who is back in full training after spending some months travelling in Australia.
Panellists John O’Connell and John Mullane could be others that Mickey Ned O’Sullivan, Joe Redington and Paddy Ivess may look to as Limerick continue to find scores hard to come by.
There is also a doubt about the availability of midfielder Thomas Cahill.
The Fr. Casey’s man received his second yellow card of the NFL in Cavan and Limerick are seeking clarification from Croke Park whether he serves an automatic two-week ban as a result.
While Limerick enter the game with just one win from four starts Down have three wins to their credit - losing only to Cavan at home.
When the sides met in last year’s league Down were 4-13 to 1-15 winners in Newry in a fixture that needed to be re-fixed after the first attempt was postponed due to fog.
On Sunday Limerick badly need to reverse that result to maintain their NFL status.
Two teams are to be relegated to Division Four - a scenario that Limerick cannot contemplate. While the previous system whereby Division Four teams did not part take in the All-Ireland Qualifiers has been changed Limerick are ‘too good’ to face the drop.

Jerome O'Connell

Republic of Ireland to face South Africa at Thomond Park

THOMOND Park Stadium have announced details of a second soccer international to be held at the Limerick venue this year.
While Thomond Park will host an international friendly between the Republic of Ireland and Australia on August 12 Giovanni Trapattoni’s men will also face South Africa in a friendly on Tuesday, September 8.

The Bafana-Bafana will provide another useful test for the Republic of Ireland while South Africa could feature well-known stars like Blackburn Rovers’ Benni McCarthy and Everton’s Steven Pienaar. The friendly will be used as a warm-up for Ireland’s crucial World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Montenegro in October.
Thomond Park Stadium Director John Cantwell said: “We are delighted to announce the second fixture with the FAI and particularly pleased that they would consider Thomond Park to host two senior international games over such a short space of time. The South Africa international will take place at a time when the rugby season will be back in full flow demonstrating the flexibility of the stadium and how versatile we have to be in catering for such a broad range of events.”
Ticket, kick off time and event information will be made available closer to the match date on both www.fai.ie and www.thomondpark.ie. Ticket prices will start from €25 for adults and an allocation of tickets will be made available to schoolboy clubs at the normal friendly match price of €7 per ticket.

Brian McDonnell

Monday, March 16, 2009

Declan Kidney: ‘Our job is to stay professional’

IRISH rugby coach Declan Kidney believes his Grand Slam-chasing players should enjoy the build up to Saturday’s mammoth clash with Wales at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. Rejuvenated Ireland will bid to win a first Grand Slam since 1948 when they lock horns with Warren Gatland’s Welsh side (kick-off 5.30pm).

Ireland are guaranteed to win the RBS Six Nations Championship if they avoid defeat by less than 13 points against the Welsh. But a first Grand Slam title in 41 years is the main aim this Saturday after Ireland extended their winning run in this season’s championship to four games with a 22-15 success over Scotland at Murrayfield.
Coach Kidney believes his players should embrace the attention they receive in advance of this weekend’s clash: “I won’t be shielding the players from the pressure. This is a week to be enjoyed. If you don’t enjoy times like this you won’t enjoy anything.
“Our job is to stay professional. We’ll prepare the same way for this one as we did with every other match, but admittedly this is new territory for everybody. Wales will be tough. I’ll be accused of mind games, but they are defending Grand Slam champions and are playing at home.
“They’re playing for the championship, for the Triple Crown and have rested most of their players this week.”
Ireland and Munster supporters will await news on Denis Leamy’s shoulder injury which forced the number eight off during the course of Saturday evening’s game with great interest.
Meanwhile the Irish women’s team, captained by Limerick woman Joy Neville, scored a 23-0, three-try, victory over Scotland in the Women’s Six Nations Championship - the win automatically qualifies Ireland for next year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup
Ireland face Wales at Taffs Wells in Cardiff next Saturday (kick-off 1pm) in their final match of the campaign.
The Irish clubs side suffered an 18-31 defeat to their Scottish counterparts in an international match at Myreside, Watsonians FC on Friday night.
UL Bohemian clubman Ed Torrie lined out at full-back for the game while Young Munster’s Derek Corcoran played on the wing.
Limerick man Barry O’Mahony, now playing with Dolphin, scored one of the Irish side’s two tries.
Ireland’s hopes of achieving an RBS Under-20 Six Nations Grand Slam were blown out of the water in Perth when they suffered a 35-20 defeat to Scotland. Garryowen’s Ronan O’Mahony lined out on the wing for Ireland while his clubmates Andrew Burke and Conor Murray were included on the substitutes’ bench.

Colm Kinsella

Fairview face an injury crisis

FAIRVIEW Rangers face an injury crisis with their FAI Junior Cup quarter-final clash against Mayo’s Erris United mere days away.
Fairview will host Erris United at the Fairgreen on Sunday (kick-off 2pm), but in the meantime manager Jason Purcell faces a potential nightmare scenario with both first-choice centre-halves, Brian Buckley and Martin Neary, struggling with injury.
But if anyone can guide Fairview through this difficult period it’s Purcell. Purcell won four FAI Junior Cups (1997, 1999, 2003 & 2004) with the ‘View and with another multiple medal winner Jimmy Sheehan helping out the management team have a wealth of experience to draw from - should Fairview Rangers beat Erris United this weekend they will then face the winner of the Bohemians-Ballymun United clash at home in the semi-finals.
Purcell, thanks to a prolonged playing career, has been taught plenty of salutary lessons on the subject of counting chickens and he won’t let his players take Erris United for granted - in the seventh round Erris United, who are based in Carne Nash near Belmullet, beat Kinsale FC away from home while they saw off the challenge of Limerick’s Pike Rovers (3-2) in the sixth.
“I’m hoping to talk to Declan Considine (Pike Rovers manager) during the week and to make contact with the Kinsale manager as well,” Jason Purcell told Leader Sport.
“I’d really like to know more about them. Usually I’d go to have a look at a team, but in Mayo they play summer soccer so I haven’t had a chance to do so. They’re only playing in the FAI and to be honest, with no competitive football, they’ve done exceptionally well to get this far.”
Although Fairview warmed up for this weekend with a 2-1 Lawson Cup win over Granville Rangers on Sunday their form in the Limerick District League has been disappointing. Rangers are well off the pace in the Kilmurry Lodge Premier League, but, in stark contrast, they have excelled in the FAI Junior Cup beating Evergreen (Kilkenny - 4-1), Redcastle (Donegal - 2-0) and Tipperary’s Rock Rovers (3-2) since they entered the open round (last 64).
“We’re playing well in the big games, but locally we’re not and I would be disappointed about that,” admitted Jason Purcell.
“We should be doing much better in the league, but we’re not. The club in general gets excited when the FAI games come along and I think that has a lot to do with the players’ performances. We’ve a good team, but it’s getting them to perform on a regular basis that’s the problem.”
The current Fairview side, featuring the brilliant Colm Heffernan in midfield, the tenacious Christy Doyle up front and a plethora of FAI Junior Cup medal winners in Paul Harmon, Trevor Cosgrove, Ross Cosgrove, Brian Buckley and Robbie Kelleher are already inspiring comparisons with Dermot Finnan’s all-conquering side. But, explains Jason Purcell, this current side is still a long way off scaling those heights and should not be burdened with too much expectation: “I think we were 4/6 favourites before the game against Evergreen (in the last 16) which was just ridiculous. We did win four-one, but we could have been two-nil down at half time. There are no favourites at this stage of a competition like this and there won’t be much between the teams on Sunday.
“Still though I’m really looking forward to the game - this is why I got involved with the team. I wanted to get the club back to this level because I felt it deserved to be there.”
Fairview Rangers became the first Limerick club to win the FAI Junior Cup when they beat Douglas at the Market’s Field in 1965.
The club then won six FAI Cups in eight extraordinary years - 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003 and 2004.
No Limerick club has won the FAI Junior Cup since Fairview’s three-nil triumph over Carrick United in the 2004 decider.

Brian McDonnell

Limerick trio feature in schoolboy international

WHILE Limerick FC swept to an impressive four-one win over Mervue United at Jackman Park on Friday night one of the club’s rising stars, Jason Hughes, captained the Republic of Ireland schoolboys (under-18) to a one-all draw against Scotland in the Carnegie Centenary Shield.
Hughes (Limerick CBS) was joined in the Irish side by Ian Storan (Crescent College) while Limerick CBS’ Eoin Hanrahan also played his part as a second half substitute at Tynecastle.
Jason Hughes survived a late fitness test to take his place at the centre of midfield for the Republic, but the Irish schoolboys were disappointed not to come away with all three points against the Scots.
The Republic of Ireland spurned several scoring chances and failed to add to the 3-1 victory they registered over Wales.
Ireland took the lead after 35 minutes when Carl Forsyth coolly slotted home the opening goal, but Scotland equalized through Jamie Burstow two minutes later.
Jason Hughes almost reclaimed the lead for the Republic of Ireland in the 43rd minute, but he was denied by a superb save.
Eoin Hanrahan also came close to grabbing all three points for the Republic in the 81st minute, but his shot flew narrowly wide of a post.
The point leaves the Republic of Ireland level with Scotland on four points with two games played.
Northern Ireland and England are tied on three points apiece, but both enjoy a game in hand on their rivals.
The Republic now face Northern Ireland away next Friday (March 20) in the Riada Stadium, Ballymoney in what is now a must-win game (kick-off 7pm) since England are now best-placed to wrestle the Carnegie Centenary Shield away from Ireland, the defending champions.
England face Northern Ireland on March 27 and Scotland on April 17.
The final game of the campaign sees the Republic of Ireland host England in the RSC (Waterford) on April 14 - that game will be televised live on Sky Sports (7.35pm).

Republic of Ireland: Aaron McCarey (St. Macartan’s College), Garvan Broughall (Athlone Community College), Tomas Boyle (Salesian College), Ian Storan (Crescent College Comprehensive), Neil Harney (St. Aloysius College), Jason Hughes (Limerick CBS), Paul Corry (Belvedere College), James Keohane (Kilkenny CBS), Gary Burke (Larkin Community College), Carl Forsyth (Cabinteely Community School), Shane Howard (Colaiste Eoin, Carlow). Subs: Eoghan Osborne (Colaiste Ris, Dundalk) for Ian Storan, Jason Dwane (St. Peter’s College, Dunboyne) for Neil Harney, Eoin Hanrahan (Limerick CBS) for James Keohane, Robert Benson (Marist College, Athlone) for Carl Forsyth.

Brian McDonnell

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oscar Madison was my hero

Once upon a time Oscar Madison was my hero.
He was the character played brilliantly by Walter Matthau in The Odd Couple. The irascible middle-aged bachelor in Neil Simon’s play represented, to me at least, the quintessential sports writer, feckless, playful and somehow competent and successful at his profession.

There’s a famous scene in the movie version during which Felix Ungar calls Oscar in the press box at Shea Stadium and is prattling on about various mundane dinner options for that evening. Oscar can’t shake him off the phone, and while his back is turned, he misses Bill Mazeroski hitting into a triple play!
Neil Simon got it wrong however. Oscar Madison made sports writing look easy, but it’s not. Oscar Madison spends his time smoking cigars and drinking beer, but I spend mine grinding out the hours. Since Monday, for instance, I've spent 45 hours in the office, did a few hours on the laptop on Friday morning, headed off to watch Limerick FC take on Mervue United on Friday night, I’ll do a few more hours on Sunday night and on Saturday I was in Kilmallock to see the local lads take on Cork City in the quarter-finals of the FAI Youths Cup.
I was waiting all week for the Kilmallock game - it’s games like it that keep me doing what I do. If I had to give one reason for my love of sports it would be this: I love tests of the human spirit. I love to see defeated teams refuse to die and I love seeing impossible odds confronted - I have never known such a thoroughly penetrating joy as playing with or watching an inspired team against an opposition recognized from the beginning as having every reason to win.
The Kilmallock youths found themselves in that position today. They faced overwhelming favourites Cork City and they could have won, but a referee intervened. The game was poised at one-all when Cork City’s Robert Waters, who was already booked, threw a punch at Paul Doona. Waters should have received his second yellow card if not a straight red. He got neither and six minutes later Waters struck for Cork City’s second goal. To make matters worse, and to drive everyone present right round the twist, the referee in question then sent off Kilmallock’s Ciaran Todd for his second bookable offence with Cork City eventually winning 3-1.
Now I was desperately hoping that Kilmallock could perform a bit of giant-killing this afternoon, but on the way home, with the elbow out the window, I hit upon a theory that this defeat might stand to the Kilmallock lads.
What would we do for the moral education of young lads like these if we didn’t have sport? Where else would they learn so much about enduring pain and defeat? Where else would they be driven to strive for perfection? They work hard in school, of course, but most just coast through it. Sport is where it’s at, isn’t it?

Brian McDonnell

Thursday, March 12, 2009

O'connell enjoys dream debut

BOHER’S Brian O’Connell, in his first outing at Prestbury Park, expertly guided Dunguib to a brilliant victory in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday afternoon. O’Connell, one of Ireland’s leading amateur jockeys, partnered Dunguib, a well-backed 9/2 chance trained by Philip Fenton, in the two-mile contest.

Although his mount was pulling hard Brian O’Connell brilliantly paced Dunguib through the bumper before allowing the gelding his head on the turn for home - Dunguib won with a stunning ten lengths to spare from second-placed Some Present.
Willie Mullins had no less than eight runners in his search for a seventh Champion Bumper win, but none of them could get near the runaway winner. Indeed, Rite Of Passage was sent off the 5-2 favourite, but he had to settle for a creditable third.
Philip Fenton was quick to praise the efforts of his Limerick jockey: “He jumped absolutely brilliantly and had plenty of cover. Hopefully we might bring him back here again next year for the two-mile race. He’s something to look forward to. Brian rode him with plenty of confidence. I’m sure we’ll be doing plenty of celebrating.”
A delighted Brian O’Connell added: “He was always good at home and his last two runs have been very good. I came here thinking he had every chance and to be honest I would have been disappointed if he had been beaten.”
Brian O’Connell, the son of Gobnait and Val, will now saddle Royal Blood for Philip Dempsey in the Christies Foxhunter Steeplechase on Friday afternoon.
On the opening day of the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival Enda Bolger stole the show when he trained the first three home in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase for owner JP McManus.
The Bruree-based Enda Bolger saw Garde Champetre lead home stable mates L’Ami and Drombeag - with Nina Carberry on board Garde Champetre had also won the same race 12 months previously.
L’Ami, who had gone to post as a 7/4 favourite, led into the straight under JT McNamara, but despite concedeing 4lb to the favourite Ninan Carberry partnered Garde Champetre to the front at the last and never relented; Drombeag ran on to finish third - Heads On The Ground was the only one from the stable not to be placed.
A delighted Enda Bolger said: “It was great, we had a bit of luck with everything finishing. I’ve been saying it all along, but I think she (Nina Carberry) is probably the best rider I’ve ever seen, she’s tremendous. Without a doubt she has been the making of that horse. He’s not the biggest, we used to have old Spot The Difference here and this one would be able to walk under him. L’Ami got into a great rhythm, and got the run of the race, but the best horse on the day won. Let’s hope they are all here next year.”
JP McManus, who owns all three placed horses, was thrilled by their respective performances: “That was nice. I didn’t know which one to fancy, but thankfully for me the right one won as I had a few quid each-way - but the problem is I didn’t have enough on!
“Enda lives where I used to live and he has made these races his life.
“He gives horses like L’Ami and Garde Champetre a new lease of life, they have found another vocation.”
There was further joy for JP McManus, who celebrated his 58th birthday on Tuesday, in the William Hill Trophy when Tony McCoy delivered one of the rides of the season to boot home Wichita Lineman who won from Maljimar by a neck.
In the winner’s enclosure JP McManus was full of praise for trainer Jonjo O’Neill: “Jonjo’s trained this horse with the festival in mind, like you do with ever horse until you find out it’s not good enough. Jonjo’s done a great job with him. I thought he looked marvellous in the paddock and full marks to Jonjo and the team at Jackdaws Castle to get him back in full flow. He didn’t look to be going great. I watched the race with Jonjo and we said we may have given up - but AP didn’t. Words can’t describe AP’s dedication to the game, his will to win and the other side of him - his sympathetic nature.”
Limerick connections claimed another thriller in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy when The Goat Racing Syndicate, led by Charlie Chawke, celebrated Forpadydeplaster winning at 8/1 under Barry Geraghty.
There were joyous scenes in the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham after the Arkle with Tom Cooper, the horse’s trainer and part-time dental technician, hoisted shoulder-high to the crowd’s delight. Charlie Chawke pieced together the 20-strong Goat Racing Syndicate in which electricians and plumbers complement more affluent members of Irish society.
Charlie explained how the Forpadydeplasterer experience unfolded: “I’m very friendly with my customers. They asked me some years ago if there were any chance of owning a racehorse. Paddy the plasterer is a great friend of our former premier Bertie Ahern.
“I went to Tom Cooper and asked him if he would have a horse good enough to call by that name.
“He said he had two, but did not know how good they were. I said that was no good. We needed a horse that was going to win at Cheltenham.
“Two or three weeks later after scouring the country he phoned me up and said I have found you a horse.”

Brian McDonnell

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

John Hayes is an example to us all

ALL eyes will be on John Hayes this week. Normally you might expect an international prop to embody the brooding demeanour of an off-duty assassin, but in person Cappamore’s favourite son is quiet, friendly and all the talk of Ireland’s most capped player will probably bring the hint of an embarrassed blush to the face of the 35-year-old.

Fuss isn’t John Hayes’ thing; he takes the art of self-effacement to new levels - when Munster won the Heineken Cup in 2006 he dodged the celebrations and watched Declan Kidney’s players tour around Limerick from the comfort of his sitting room.
But Hayes will find fuss hard to avoid this week. Against England he equaled Malcolm O’Kelly’s Irish caps record (92) and he will surpass it against Scotland to become Ireland’s most-capped player in international rugby history.
Hayes has only missed 11 of Ireland’s last 103 international tests, if he plays against Wales in Cardiff he will surpass Fabien Pelous’ all-time record of 48 appearances in the Six Nations and he will draw level with Anthony Foley as the joint-record holder for most appearances in the Heineken Cup if he plays a part in the quarter-final clash with the Ospreys.
Then there’s the career highlights: helping Munster to Heineken Cup glory (twice), the Triple Crowns and Shannon’s string of All-Ireland League titles.

Only tells half the story
Such highlights however only tell half of the John Hayes story.
John was intrigued by rugby after watching the 1991 World Cup and a year later, at the age of 19 in September 1992, he played his first game in the back-row for Bruff against Newcastle West - a 0-0 draw.
Hayes had gingerly stepped onto a rugby field like a man easing himself into a canoe, but found he liked it.
Hayes played a handful of games for Bruff in ’92 before moving to the Shannon under-20s and under the nose of Niall O’Donovan who played a critical part in his development.
His next move was to play for Marist in Invercargill, New Zealand. The Kiwis transformed Hayes from a welder who played rugby into a rugby player who welded. Marist also moved him from the second row to prop forward - when the RFU decided to permit lifting in the line-out everything changed for the Cappamore man.
When he returned to Ireland Hayes slotted into the Shannon front-row and was soon packing down in the colours of Munster.
He helped the Parish to the 1998 AIL title and next thing he knew he was called into the Irish squad for the summer tour to South Africa, he was too green for the ’99 World Cup, but he made his debut for Ireland against Scotland the following year.

Unfair criticism
Like a gopher in the garden, the notion that John Hayes isn’t good at what he does, keeps popping its nose up out of the dirt. It’s a pesky rodent which requires a whack in the skull.
His critics suggest he is too tall to be a prop and that he can’t scrummage. To ask a player of John Hayes’ size to play at number three is asking for trouble and he has had his off days in rugby’s most demanding and most technical position - indeed the true horror of the scrum cannot be grasped by those who have never faced one. But a bulldozer wouldn’t budge John Hayes in a scrum now; you could take a lump hammer onto the field and not get anything off him. If, in May 2006, Hayes had not held his ground in a vital scrum against Biarritz in the Heineken Cup final Peter Stringer could not have stolen in to score his crucial try.
John Hayes can also run forever, he’s an awesome rucker, one of the best defensive props in the game and the best lineout lifter in the world - remember the 2008 Six Nations: against Italy at Lansdowne Road Paul O’Connell stole an Italian throw which led to Jerry Flannery’s try. The remarkable thing about that score is that John Hayes lifted O’Connell all by his lonesome.

Looking everyone in the eye
Questions used to follow John Hayes around, but now he can look everyone in the eye. He has been through the mill and come out with a high polish. If there’s one man Ireland can’t do without it’s John Hayes, he’s indispensable - God help Ireland if John Hayes twists a ankle out herding his 150 acres some evening.
A question is often asked about sporting prowess: how much is success down to perseverance as opposed to natural talent?
Since the same question can be asked of life in general, the answers might provide some clues as to how much of our destinies are in our own hands. More profound is the whole issue of whether we could have achieved more, if only we had tried harder. When you watch someone like Brian O’Driscoll perform brilliantly it’s actually reassuring to think that we could never have competed with them, but the argument doesn’t follow that we could not have competed at a high level.
Natural talent is just one ingredient of success and not always the most important one. In fact most sports feature notable examples of people like John Hayes whose hard work has enabled them to overachieve.
If effort and determination can separate the very good and exceptional, can it also make the difference between being mediocre and being able to compete at a high level?
It’s peculiar that some people often seem to rejoice (at least a little) when an average player fails to make the grade. It’s as if it confirms what perhaps many secretly fear: that our own failures are not down to what life has presented us with in terms of talent, but instead our inability to make the most of it.
At the launch of his rugby career John Hayes was known as the calf, then the bullock and now the bull.
That progression is a sporting example to us all.

Brian McDonnell

Injury Time . . . with Jerome O'Connell

FUNNILY enough UCC’s defeat of University of Limerick in last weekend’s Fitzgibbon Cup final was actually the best result for Limerick hurling.
The Cork side had five Limerick hurlers in their squad, while UL had just one.
An impressive 2-17 to 0-14 final win helped UCC claim their 40th Ulster Bank Fitzgibbon Cup title and a first since 1998.
The proud holders of new Fitzgibbon Cup medals are Kilmallock trio; Bryan O’Sullivan, Graeme Mulcahy and Philip O’Loughlin, Don Hanley of Knockaderry and Michael Wilkinson of Ballybricken-Bohermore.
O’Sullivan and Hanley started the final, with O’Sullivan contributing two points and Hanley registering one point.
The sole Limerick representative in the UL team was Seamus Hickey of Murroe-Boher.
Also over the weekend, Mary Immaculate College claimed the Third Level Colleges second tier championship title - Ryan Cup.
Eamon Cregan’s side defeated a Limerick backboned IT Tralee in the semi final and then overcame UUJ 1-12 to 1-5 in the final.
The south circular road side were captained by South Liberties’ Shane O’Neill with Kilmallock’s Bobby O’Connor as vice-captain. Also in their panel was Blackrock’s David Moloney.

Controversial under-21 final
MUNSTER Council secretary Pat Fizgerald spoke of the incidents of the 2008 provincial under-21 hurling final in his address to the council’s annual convention last Friday night in the Woodlands House Hotel in Adare.
Last July Limerick referee Jason O’Mahony from Kildimo and his team of match officials found themselves in the midst of controversy.
All officials on duty at the decider in Cusack Park, Ennis for the final between Clare and Tipperary were from Limerick - the linesmen were Declan O’Driscoll from Ballinacurra Gaels and Derek Mackessy from Patrickswell, while Na Piarsaigh’s Michael O’Connor was the fourth official. The four umpires were provided by the referee.
At the full time whistle, all match officials required escorts from the field from gardai.
The final was level in the fourth minute of injury time and Clare had been awarded a ‘scorable’ free when the referee’s attention was drawn to a raised hand by an umpire at the opposite end of the field.
After consultation with the umpire, O’Mahony cancelled the free and awarded a ‘65 to Tipperary for an infringement by the Clare goalkeeper during his puckout.
Pa Bourke pointed the ‘65 and Tipperary won by a single point.
“In commenting on this decision I must take cognisance of the fact that we have in our rule book a rule which states that the penalty for stepping outside the square for a puck out in hurling is a ‘65 metre free to the opposition and that despite warnings to the Clare goalkeeper he was clearly shown to have put one foot outside the square on this occasion,” said the Munster Council secretary last Friday.
“However, the problem arises in the application or should I say the non application of this rule on occasions by some senior experienced referees,” said Fitzgerald, a former Limerick GAA chairman.
“Maybe a different punishment for this infringement should be considered,” suggested the full-time provincial secretary.
“In the aftermath of this game a sub-committee of our CCC was set up to investigate incidents which occurred after the final whistle.
“Notwithstanding any grievance felt, justified or perceived, by genuine Clare supporters the disgraceful and dangerous incidents which took place following the game by a tiny minority of young and unruly spectators must be condemned and deplored,” said Fitzgerald.
“I also thank those reporters who following this incident gave a balanced and honest report of the situation, however one commentator who gave his version on a radio show the following morning did not reflect the true nature of the incident as seen by the other reporters, Council and County Officials, the Gardai, or stewards, who were present from early that evening.”