30 May, 2011

World football's richest game ends with first Welsh club in English FA Premier League as players remember fallen team-mate:

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WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE: Swansea celebrate promotion
Brendan Rodgers points to sky at end of emotional year
 "This win was all thanks to the manager," - hat-trick hero Scott Sinclair

"It wasn't just about winning today; it was also about defending our principles," - Swansea boss Brendan Rodgers

Forget the World Cup Final; forget the Champions League Final.  The single richest game in world football is the Championship Play-Off Final which garners for the winner the untold riches of the FA Premier League. 

In an emotional tribute;  Swansea's players wore a t-shirt in rememberance of their fallen team-mate;  22 year old Besian Idrizaj (left) at the final whistle

Even if you get relegated in the season immediately following promotion to the Premier League (as of course so many clubs do); the parachute and TV payments you obtain simply having reached the Premier League, will keep most clubs in the black for years (or even the best part of a decade) to come.  Swansea's challenge for next season will now quite simply be to stay in the big league next season; but for today they'll savour the Wembley atmosphere at realising that next season they'll be running out at grounds like Old Trafford and Anfield.  In an emotional touch at the end of the game; every Swansea City player wore a t-shirt in memory of their former team-mate Besian Idrizaj who died last May.
This Irishman (Shane Long) must play in Premier League
Manager Brendan Rodgers was also seen pointing to the sky at the final whistle as a tribute to the man who died aged just 22 years old of a suspected heart attack.  Rodgers mother also died this year from cancer and he will climb Mount Kilamajaro in a week's time.
Will Noel Hunt & Long join the growing Irish list at Wolves?
Rodgers of course has considerable ties with Reading FC and was seen shaking hands with opposite number Brian McDermott at the final whistle.  Another classy touch on a day of classy touches.
Wembley will not be a nice place for Reading and their faithful today, but many of their players have a bright future in the game.  This Reading side will most likely split up now;  but for the considerable Irish contingent, there is plenty of hope for the future. Leading goalscorer; Shane Long from Tipperary, who netted 21 times this season will surely be playing Premier League football next season and Stephen Hunt's brother Noel also looks a most promising talent.  One wonders will these boys join the ever growing Irish list at Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Premier League?  One thing for sure is that Shane Long will not be plying his trade at the Madejski next season.   For today though; many congratulations to Swansea's Swans.  Wales at long last, have a club in the Premier League.Follow hoogenband0110 on Twitter

29 May, 2011

Sad day for football as FIFA President Sepp Blatter is cleared of corruption:

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"I want to protect FIFA's reputation which is why I am stepping down from this Presidential race,"
- Muhammed Bin Hammam (left)

Looks like Blatter will practice corruption for another 100 years

FIFA's Ethics Comittee has absurdly but not surprisingly cleared the bigotted Blatter of any wrongdoing and he is now clear to run on his own in Wednesday's Presidential "election" after his sole challenger was suspended by the governing body.  Mohamed Bin Hammam was the only man to run against Blatter; indeed the only man to challenge and question Blatter.  Trinidad's Jack Warner was also suspended from all footballing activities pending further investigation.  Hammam accused Blatter of knowing about corrupt payments and bribery within the organisation, but the Ethics Committee has found no wrongdoing on Blatter's part.  He is now free to be coronated as FIFA President once again this week having been President for 13 years already.   This is a development which will lead to anger and outrage throughout the world of association football.
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GAA Championship 2011 underway "for real" this weekend as London almost create shock of the decade in what is a real sign of the recessionary times:

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EVER INFLUENTIAL:   Tipp's All-Star captain Lar Corbett
TITANIC STRUGGLE:  Tipp v Cork at Thurles
While it's the fourth Championship weekend, it was only the phoney war until now.  When Cork & Tipp's hurlers meet, you know the Championship is really underway.  The All-Ireland Champs were hammered
 "Nobody'll fancy playing Cork in the qualifiers and if their next game is easy; I could see them going on a very goood run"

in the corresponding fixture last year, were out for revenge and lead by eight points, five minutes into the second half.  However, Cork had the scores levelled up on 55 minutes.  Tipp showed why they are Champions though, reeling off four unanswered points and when Benny Dunne 
scored Tipp's third goal four minutes from time, it was game over and Tipp ran out 3-22 to 0-23 winners; though that score flattered the Premier County.  "Nobody will fancy playing Cork in the qualifiers and if their next game is an easy one; I could see them going on a very good run, maybe to the (All-Ireland) Quarters or Semi-Finals.  I don't think they can reach an All-Ireland Final, but they can definitely go a long way and are a young, ever improving side," - said Cyril Farrell on the RTÉ television panel.  Ger Loughnane added:  "This was a very important game for Tipp.  Whilst it was only the first round, they couldn't afford to go the back door again this year.  They've had tough routes to the last two All-Ireland Finals and it would have been a step too far to go the back door again this time."
In what was probably the story of the day; Mayo needed extra-time to overcome London in what would have been a supposed "humiliating" Connacht Championship defeat.  However, one wonders is the it a sign of the times as places like London are attracting some of Ireland's top talent; including some top GAA talent in these recessionary times.  London led for most of the 70 minutes; but a late rally prevented England's capital from winning their first Championship fixture since 1977 as the full-time whistles saw the scores level at 1-9 to 0-12. 
Mayo get scare of their lives but empty bench to eventually pip London
The Exiles tired in extra-time and the visitors landed three points in a row to finally attain a sizeable gap with a 0-16 to 1-9 lead.  A late goal from the home side meant the closing minutes were exciting but Mayo held on to win 0-19 to 2-10 in front of a crowd of some 4,000 souls at Ruislip.

Late Peadar Carton goal finally saw Dublin home
Elsewhere; National Hurling League Champions Dublin were pushed all the way by Offaly, before eventually pulling through 2-21 to 1-20 with a last minute goal finally sealing victory.   The fact that The Faithful had a man sent off early in the second half also had to contribute to the Dub's win, though Paul Ryan's free-taking was vital to the men in blue who admitted afterwards that  "We were lucky to get the win today."

Hecht and Duffy stars of show in Cork's first Cagewarriors:

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Hecht always on top in punishing night of Mixed Martial Arts
The Cookie Monster recovers after failing to raid the jar
Cork city hosted Ireland's biggest ever Mixed Martial Arts event as seasoned pros and fresh faced amateurs squared up at Neptune Stadium on Saturday night.  American Middleweight Jake Hecht and Donegal's Joe Duffy were the star names on Cork's northside.  29 year old Hecht was always in charge against London's Craig White before a flurry of punches forced the referee to call a halt with two seconds left of the second round and White no longer defending himself whilst being held in a North South Choke.  Hecht has fought out of the MMA Clinic in Cork city for a few years now and plans to fight at Cagewarriors 43 in London in July.
Yet another KO for an unblemished Joseph Duffy
Hecht says, that while Cork is a big culture change from his hometown of Missouri, he tells us that he is most happy here.
Joe Duffy, complete with patriotic "Dún na nGall" insignia on his upper back; was also utterly dominant against Spanish veteran Oriol Gaset.  The lightweight tussle was the headline event of the evening and saw 23 year old Duffy open a cut over "The Cookie Monster's" left eye before knocking him flat on his back in the middle of Round One.  The fight was finished on a TKO decision that no-one would watching would argue with.  One felt that Duffy could have finished the fight any time he wished.  Dufffy says he is now "finished" with Ireland and wants to see what fights Britain and Europe has to offer.
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25 May, 2011

Here's to the Real Queen:

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The Real Queen:  Cork's own Sonia O'Sullivan is home from Australia again
While HRH Queen Elizabeth II was visiting Cork; the People's Republic of Cork's own queen Sonia O'Sullivan was in Melbourne helping a group of exiled Corkonians raise money for a good cause.  
The Emer Casey Foundation Fun Run took place in both Melbourne and Youghal and Sunday and helps to raise funds for research into ovarian cancer.
Sonia is now back by the Lee and will take place in the Cork City Marathon over the June Bank Holiday Weekend.
The Real Queen not only won the Melbourne race; but allegedly started from the back and tapped people on the rear with a hurley - that was sent to her from Cork - so that people would get their skates on.  Anyone looking to win the Cork City Marathon, will have the Cobh native to contend with first. Following Emer's death in June 2006 the Casey family promised they would do all they could to help this research in the hope of securing a future of early detection of uterine/ovarian cancer.   The Emer Casey Foundation is currently sponsoring three Phd Fellowship students, whose focus is in the areas of chemo-resistance, cancer stem cells, circulating tumour cells and the body's immune response to cancer.
If you want to help these amazing Corkonians and their noble cause; you can donate €22 by visiting  http://www.mycharity.ie/charity/emercaseyfoundation/  
For more information on the Youghal, London and Melbourne, visit:
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23 May, 2011

Refreshing rarity from the dog-eat-dog World of top flight football management: A footbal manager who is IN DEMAND by his club and others after his side is relegated:

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Ian Holloway celebrates 2010 Championship play-off victory
"Ian Holloway has achieved miracles at this football club,"
- Blackpool FC Chairman Karl Oyston

Now that the dust has settled on yesterday's dramatic conclusion to the Premier League;  plans are turning to the beach, but with next season at the forefront of every chairman's mind.  Chelsea Coach Carlo Ancellotti has already lost his job and more top flight managerial casualties can be expected to be announced in the near future.

"I hope that Ian (Holloway) doesn't have his head turned by other clubs,"
- Blackpool FC Chairman Karl Oyston

One man is guaranteed to keep his job though, despite his club (unluckily) gettting relegated from the F.A. Premier League is the larger than life Blackpool boss Ian Holloway.  Holloway, like his football club has been a breath of fresh air in the often staid world of Premier League football; where every word is monitored and scrutinized to a point where many involved in the game simply talk in banal platitudes to avoid controversy.  Not Holloway though.  Press rooms all over England are always packed to the rafters when this man speaks and his heart is never anywhere but right on his sleeve.  From stating that he would quit if the Premier League fined his club for him fielding a 'weakened' side back in December to stating on Saturday that  "We don't know how to shut up shop.  Our shop never closes,";  Ian Holloway, more often than not brings a smile to people's faces.  One other predominant feature of Holloway's tenureship at Blackpool has been his reference to his 'pride' in his boys.  
Everyone associated with Blackpool FC will be hoping their manager stays.  Not least amongst them this fella.

What is possibly most refreshing about this situation though is the backing Ian Holloway has so steadfastly and deservedly received from his Chairman;  Karl Oyston.  Usually; relegation equals the sack for a manager but Oyston has quite rightly acknowledged the 'miracles' Holloway has achieved at Blackpool Football Club; a club who should in financial terms never have gotten remotely near the Premier League, let alone coming within just one point of staying in that League.  Oyston has also acknowledged that he might find it very difficult to hold on to Ian Holloway for next season.  Blackpool are by some margin (financially) the smallest club ever to play in the Premier League but let's hope it's not the last season that they or their magnificent manager feature in the F.A. Premier League.
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22 May, 2011

England's most Irish club; WOLVES stage dramatic comeback to stay in Premier League: Birmingham and Blackpool (very unluckily) are relegated whilst Wigan save themselves at the death:

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"Mick always behaves with dignity and deserves to survive"
"I told you I was going to save my smiles for the 22nd May.  Well, here they are!"
- Wolves (and Ireland's) Mick McCarthy

In an amazing sporting weekend and in quite possibly the most dramatic final day the Premier League has ever seen:  Wolves come back from 0-3 down to save themselves whilst Wigan beat Stoke to pull themselves out of the mire in an amazing story; whilst Blackpool undeservedly go down and Birmingham lost a last minute goal meaning they were condemned to the Championship.
Ireland's Stephen Hunt (left) saves Wolves from relegation
Whatever doubts there ever might have been; there is now no doubt that Ireland's Mick McCarthy is a truly great manager after achieving promotion and consecutive Premier League survivals. 
Four years ago; Wolves' chairman Steve Morgan was looking for a new manager.  He approached Mick McCarthy about the job and Mick told him:  "If you expect me to get promotion, then I'm staying on the beach!"  Well Mick not only achieved promotion with Wolves;  he has now kept them in the Premier League for two consecutive seasons.  With the budget Mick McCarthy has had at Wolves; to achieve what he has is a truly remarkable footballing achievement.

Blackpool: desperately disappointed and desperately unlucky
PLENTY TO PONDER:  Brilliant Blackpool boss Ian Holloway
Elsewhere; it was sad to see Ian Holloway's Blackpool lose 4-2 at Manchester United.  It was a defeat which condemned them to relegation and the Premier League will be a poorer place without Holloway's effervescence and  
"There's a great group of lads here but that group will probably dissipate now," - Blackpool boss Holloway

never-say-die enthusiasm.  Blackpool scored 55 goals; which is more than any other relegated side in Premier League history.  That statistic is an indication of how Blackpool play.  They play the way that kids dream about; quite simply; attack, attack, attack.  However, it's at the back where they had their problems.  I still feel that the Tangerines are the unluckiest of the relegated sides.  They had hardly any money to spend and didn't even have a stadium to play in for the first few games of the season but were very, very unlucky to go down; considering what a breath of fresh air they've been to the Premier League.  "This is a great group of lads I've got here but that group will probably dissipate now," - said Blackpool boss Ian Holloway immediately after his side's defeat at Old Trafford.

Wigan stay up with dramatic late Rodallega winner
Roberto Martinez'  Wigan Athletic pulled off a great, late escape; taking seven points from their last three games to escape the drop with a point to spare.  This is now Wigan's seventh consecutive season in the Premier League; another fantastic achievement considering the club's resources and the fact that the ground only holds 25,000 fans.  Having spent most of the day inside the relegation zone; they performed what seemed like the impossible to achieve another truly Great Escape in a season where it's difficult to argue with Martinez' assertion that:  "No-one deserved to get relegated this season.  The clubs that went down can consider themselves very unlucky."

Birmingham City down after late loss of form and late loss of goal
Carling Cup winners Birmingham City join Blackpool (and the already relegated West Ham United) in dropping down to the Championship after losing 2-1 at Tottenham.   Today's games embodied the entire season as with three minutes remaining; Birmingham were safe as they were drawing 1-1 with Spurs and Wolves were losing 1-3 at home to Blackburn.  However;  Ireland international Stephen Hunt scored in the 88th minute for Wolves to save the Molineux men and condemn City to relegation.  Blackburn didn't conceded again which confirmed their survival.  It was a truly amazing final day as during the day; four sides occupied the two relegation places still to be decided; but two (Wolves and Wigan) pulled themselves out of it.  The tightness of the day summed the entire season.   A season as tight is unlikely to be seen again.
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21 May, 2011

All hyperbole aside; Leinster complete rugby's, no, sports' greatest EVER comeback to lift the Heineken European Cup:

Man of the Match Jonathan Sexton celebrates game clinching try
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"When you're down and you're out and you're kicked in the guts;  DO NOT GIVE UP.  Believe in yourself.  Believe in your team-mates. Believe in your friends. Believe in your family," - former Leinster Coach Matt Williams (above)

In what was quite probably the best Heineken European Cup Final ever; Leinster (almost literally) came back from the dead to defeat a previously unbeaten Northampton Saints at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff this evening.   
It's difficult to recall a comeback as incredible as this in any sport.  Leinster had trailed 6-22 at half-time and looked absolutely dead and buried.  Memories come back of Liverpool Football Club's 0-3 half-time deficit to A.C. Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final when Liverpool so famously came back to draw 3-3 and win the resulting penalty shoot-out.

In BOD We Trust
"The man's possessed.  His two tries - unbelieveable," - Ireland's now Greatest Ever Sportsperson Brian O'Driscoll speaking of Johnny Sexton's performance

However;  when you're being totally dominated physically, in a game as physical as rugby;  as Leinster had been in the first half; well, it makes the half-time dressing room talk very, very difficult indeed.  The question is;  "Where do we go from here?"   Well Leinster's answer was:  "Smash Northampton off the pitch.  When you're down and you're out and you're kicked in the guts;  DO NOT GIVE UP.  Believe in your team-mates, believe in your friends, believe in your family."  

"It was an honour and a privilege to be at this game today.  It takes a certain type of character to come back from 20 points behind in a game like this," - Denis Hickie (right)

Former Ireland international and Leinster star Denis Hickie stated:  "It was an honour and a privilige to be at this game today.  It takes a certain type of character to come back from 20 points behind in a game like this."

Bank of Ireland made awful decisions in recent years but won't regret deciding to be Leinster Rugby's sponsor

If you're ever wondering what the phrase  "A game of two halves" means; then look up the archives of this game.  This game can be put up there with anything in the history of Irish sport.  Quite probably the GREATEST club rugby match of all time.  Do yourself a favour;  if you can get a tape of this match:  Watch it.  Even if you've watched the game already, watch it again.
Bank of Ireland have made some terrible decisions in recent years;  but bet they don't regret the decision to be the lead sponsor of Leinster Rugby now.
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Former Cork City players plying their trade Down Under:

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Cork's Liam Kearney is now Down Under
The recession and the downturn at home has forced many young people to foreign shores.  In terms of soccer, Australia and places like Melbourne, Sydney and Perth have certainly benefited in these harsh economic times now that the Celtic Tiger is dead and buried.  
Former Cork City star;  Liam Kearney (left) was one of the first to head Down Under to continue his soccer career.  The former Republic of Ireland U-21 international is now playing in Melbourne with Dandenong Thunder - in a league outside the A-League, the Australian national league.
Other Cork men now playing Down Under are ex-Everton midfielder Alan Kearney, ex-Cork City defender Ray Lally and Waterford United midfield man John Kearney.
Liam Kearney's new club: Dandenong Thunder
The recession and the downturn in the domestic game has forced these lads to emigrate;  but the majority of them are now earning up to AUS$500 (approx. €380) per week.  They can also dovetail their part-time or semi-pro soccer income with a part-time job outside of football.  The one snag is that you can only hold down a temporary job for six months before you have to move on to new employment.
Most of the Cork/Irish lads in Australia have signed one-year, roll-over contracts with their soccer clubs.
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