30 September, 2011

GAA star faces fitness & financial battle after coma

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            Mark McGovern, the GAA player who was seriously injured in a match in the US earlier this summer, has regained consciousness after over a month in a coma.
The 22-year-old, from the Belcoo O'Rahilly's club in Fermanagh, was hurt while playing in his debut for Ulster GAA club San Francisco in July.
His family has maintained a vigil at his bedside in San Francisco General for the last five weeks.
Deirdre Donnelly from the Fermanagh County Board said the club was 'delighted' that Mark was making progress.
              She said there was still 'a long road ahead' and that Fermanagh GAA wanted to continue its support.  A spokesperson for the Belcoo O'Rahilly's club, which has been organising a series of fundraising events for the young player, said everyone at the club was 'extremely pleased' with the news.
Mark McGovern before his injuries
               Mr. McGovern took out travel insurance before leaving for the U.S.; however, his insurance did not cover injuries sustained during GAA matches and he now faces medical bills in excess of US$1million.  A  "Mr. Power"  is still being investigated by San Francisco Police in relation to the incident which led to Mr. McGovern's injuries and near death.
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Quest for Clarke increases as Tuohy & Cork's Setanta Ó hAilpín offered new Aussie Rules contract

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NEW CONTRACT OFFER: Cork's Setanta Ó hAilpín (left)
            Zach Tuohy is expected to re-sign for the Carlton Blues after his two-year international rookie contract expired recently.  The former Laois minor star returned home to Portlaoise last week after making 11 appearances for the Blues in the AFL this season and the Melbourne club have made it clear to him that they want him to remain with them in 2012. 
WANTED MAN: Down's Marty Clark
          "Zach went home to Ireland last week in the knowledge that we're keen to offer him a new contract and he will be at Carlton next year," the Blues' general manager Steven Icke said.
             Carlton are also set to offer Cork's Setanta O hAilpin a new contract, while they have made no secret of their desire to bring Down star Martin Clarke back to the AFL. For that to happen, however, they will have to sign the ex-Collingwood man through the AFL's draft or via a deal with new franchise Great Western Sydney as he is a former Aussie Rules player.
"We're really keen for Martin to come here. We're waiting to hear back from him and his management." Icke added.
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27 September, 2011

Basketball farce sums up funding flaws:

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Basketball Ireland is feeling the heat
            In the Dáil last week a question was tabled about the government's future plans for the Sports Capital Programme, which was shut down in 2008. It was not the first time in the last three years the question has been posed, and despite the ministerial comings and goings, the answer hasn't changed: no decision has been taken yet.
During the boom years, the programme paid out over €700m to somewhere in the region of 7,400 projects. And while it undoubtedly achieved much good, it was tainted by the whiff of political interference. Too many projects were financially supported chiefly because of which constituency they were in.
             The scheme arguably also served to widen the gap between the stronger and better resourced sporting bodies and their smaller rivals in that the former were always better equipped to tick all the boxes when it came to completing the layers of paperwork needed to successfully draw down funding. But while political interference, favouritism and elitism were rife in the programme, it had other failings too.
Questions surrounding acquisition of funds need to be answered
             As we have seen over the last two years, there were extraordinary levels of waste in public spending over the last decade. This, coupled with a lack of transparency and accountability in government departments, and, in many cases, dreadful inefficiencies, cost the country dear.
             And the administration of the Sports Capital Programme was no different, as highlighted by the question marks which hang over money given to Basketball Ireland between 1999 and 2006.    
             Over this period, the association received a total of €1.8m for an initiative called the Community Hoops Programme which, quite literally, did what it says on the tin, installing basketball hoops in community facilities around the country. Except, it now appears, it didn't do exactly what it says on the tin.
              Basketball Ireland was responsible for purchasing the equipment and making it available to community groups who were then responsible for putting the new gear in place. However, of the €1.8m Basketball Ireland received from the State for its hoops programme, only 20 per cent of the equipment for which the money was given was put in place. In other words, the government paid for 1,720 sets but it is estimated that only 345 have been accounted for, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General's annual report for 2010.
              So, if and when the Sports Capital Programme returns, in some form or other, the government must ensure it is administered to the highest possible standards, and that recipients are both deserving and scrupulous.
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26 September, 2011

Gebrselassie's legendary era appears to be over as Marathon baton is passed to Patrick Macau:

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             At the Berlin marathon in Germany over the weekend, Haile Gebrselassie's legendary long distance running era appeared to have ended as he failed to finish the race and his World Record was smashed by Kenyan Patrick Mackau.  The Ethipoian legend lost his race against time and an era of two decades dominated by one of the greatest distance runners of all time appeared to be over.   
            With his lungs seizing up and struggling for air after more than 27 kilometres (17 miles) of the Berlin Marathon, Gebrselassie finally quit shortly at the 35 kilometre mark, with just seven km to run. 

              By then, Makau was more than two minutes ahead on his own and on his way to the Brandenburg Gate and a staggering new world record of 2:03.38. 
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Olympic 'A' standard met by Cork's Heffernan and Brendan Boyce:

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World & OLYMPIC Class: Cork's Rob Heffernan
            Two Irish athletes qualified for the Olympic 50km Walk next summer in an international in Germany on Saturday, but there was heartbreak for another.
            World-class Corkman Robert Heffernan (Togher) came second in 3:49.30, well inside the 3:59 'A' qualifying time for the London Games. But it was not his experienced team-mate and 50km specialist Colin Griffin who joined him but Brendan Boyce (Letterkenny).
            Griffin (Ballinamore) was well on track to qualify but got disqualified just two kilometres from the finish and Boyce got the Olympic standard after finishing sixth in a personal best of 3:57.58.   The Donegal walker had achieved the 'B' standard for the World Championships but chose to compete in the 20km Walk at the World University Games instead, where he finishedin 15th place.

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21 September, 2011

Cork's Lally earns his stripes Down Under as Zebras earn promotion:

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Ray Lally (right) in his Cork City FC days
            Whilst the headlines were dominated by his counterparts using an oval ball, former Cork City star Ray Lally helped Aussie side, the Whittlesea Zebras to promotion to the top flight of the Victorian Soccer League on Saturday.
            Lally, who starred for Cork's youth and reserve teams as well as the Cork Colleges XI won promotion to the Victoria State League based in Melbourne.  Galway's Vinny Flaherty is a teammate of Lally's as they beat a Southern Stars runners-up team that included Cork's Alan Mulcahy and UCD defender Darragh Ryan.
            Both teams were promoted to to the Victoria State League Premier Division for the 2012 season after an amazing final day of Super League Football Down Under.   
Whittlesea Zebras season defining final game
               Leading going into the final day, Port Melbourne only needed a draw to secure promotion but were overcome 3-0 by Pascoe Vale with Lally's Zebra's taking advantage as they toppled Fawklner Blues 3-1 to narrowly book their place in next season's top flight.
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19 September, 2011

Best interview ever as "Pretty Boy Floyd" Mayweather enhances his claims of "World's Best Pound for Pound Fighter:"

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PBF lands contoversial KO punch with Ortiz' guard down
            Floyd Mayweather won the WBC World Welterweight Title with a controversial fourth round knockout of Victor Ortiz.  In what had been a tough and  even fight (Mayweather was leading by one point going into the fourth);  Ortiz had the champ on the ropes before butting the undefeated fighter.  The referee deducted the Mexican a point and Ortiz touched gloves with Mayweather before embracing the American as a "apology."  Floyd however saw his chance, landing a right jab and left hook, knocking the challenger onto the seat of his pants.
            Ortiz failed to beat the referee's count but the action was only just getting started.  The incident has created many headlines, with Floyd being labelled a "disgrace" and "unsporting" or variants of these terms.  What the Mayweather haters need to realise is that however dirty Floyd's antics were; they were not as dirty as Ortiz' headbutt, even if the challenger had his hands by his side whilst receiving the knockout blows.   

"If I was 50 years younger, I'd kick your ass," - Larry Merchant duting post-fight interview (right)           

            Mayweather's post-fight interview (pictured right) with HBO's Larry Merchant was where the real fireworks starting however, with Floyd stating: "You guys (Merchant and HBO) never give me a break.  You don't know sh*t about boxing, you don't know sh*t,"  before the tension went through the roof with Merchant stating  "If I was 50 years younger, I'd kick your ass you punk,"  -  with the two eventually having to be separated by handlers before a physical confrontation broke out.  The defeated fighter was more magnanimous post-fight, but this observer feels he got what he deserves.  
            Copyrighting issues mean that I can't post a clip of the post-fight interview here, but if you like an entertaining interview, see the post-fight interview from this fight! 
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18 September, 2011

Dublin record important All-Ireland Football win (eventhough we'll never hear the end of it) in epic Final against Oldest Enemy:

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DOWN BUT NOT OUT: 'Keeper conceded to Cooper but scored winner
Every dog has its day and Dublin deserve this day.  An important win for the GAA.

            I'm glad I'm not in the capital the next few weeks, because the hype surrounding this will be 90 and beyond.  The truth is that Dublin deserved this win, if not this year then given the number of years they've been knocking on the door (particularly last year when they were pipped in the semi-final by eventual champions Cork).
             At half-time today; Dublin looked to be well in control eventhough they only led by one point.  Minutes into the second half, The Dubs were three points ahead, but Kerry have won seven of the last 10 All-Ireland's for a reason and 10 minutes into the second half, they were level.  As the time remaining flew by; the Kingdom were four points ahead with seven minutes to play.  It looked like only a goal would get the Capital back into it and that's exactly what happened with five minutes to play as the Kerry defence tired and the younger Dubs finally turned the screw.  A minute later the sides were level and going into injury time, it looked like we were heading to a replay.  However, with almost the last kick of the game, Dublin won a free-kick.  The true indication that this is a 15 (indeed, 30 man) game was illustrated by the fact that it was goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton who stood up to take the 40 metre kick and Dublin had won their first All-Ireland Football Title since 1995.  The goalkeeper was in fact the third highest scorer in this year's Championship. 

Every ball tenaciously fought for in titanic All-Ireland Final
"The GAA needed Dublin to win the All-Ireland.  It's a totally different game now to when I retired in 2001,"
- Derry's Joe Brolly

             The fact is that either side could have won this game and Dublin just happened to be in front when the final whistle was blown.  This is an imprtant win for the GAA.  If Kerry had won the All-Ireland, I wouldn't have written this article, given that it's almost an annual occurance.   The hype surrounding the Dubs is something which can often be a burden on the side (and irritating for the rest of the country).  However, this victory and the hype surrounding it will prove an encouragement to those watching to maybe take up something productive instead of the often destructive headlines so often generated from the Capital.  Every dog has its day and this Dublin dog deserves its day.  Even if this (and most non-Dublin) observer(s) hopes it doesn't have another day any time soon!
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17 September, 2011

Time to consign 1991 to history as Ireland record greatest EVER Rugby World Cup win:

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Star Man Cian Healy (right) & fellow forwards led from front
            I try to avoid writing about "sexy" stories on this blog and this story definitely comes under the heading "sexy" if you are Irish.  However, I simply must write an article about this.  Having been written off by just about everyone (except my friend, Aaron Buckley who told me that I "know jack about rugby" last night);  this Irish side produced a performance for the ages for the Irish to overcome the Tri Nations champions.  
            It has to be said that the Wallabies were hit with late blows when their world class flanker David Pocock was ruled out, shortly preceded by monster hooker Moore; also withdrawn through injury.  However, Ireland were missing players too (most notably David Wallace) and should have scored at least one try today as well as missing a few kickable penalties, so the scoreline actually flattered the Antipodeans.
The ever honest O'Gara: emotional after famous victory
             In a preview of this game; former World Cup player Neil Francis stated:  "This Irish rugby team owes the Irish people nothing.  They do owe themselves a great World Cup though because it's the one stage that they have not, as yet, performed on."  Oh, how this Irish side performed today.
              Ireland were led from the front with Cian Healy Man of the Match in the front row and of course Brian O'Driscoll providing a captain's example.  Fly half Ronan O'Gara came on 10 minutes into the second half and it was ultimately his kicking which kept Ireland on the front foot in this game.
Party time in Auckland as Irish players and fans celebrate final whistle
Ireland's 1991 World Cup epic can now be consigned to history
"It's a great day to be Irish.  We're a very proud country.  Let tonight be the starting point, not the finish point," - an emotional O'Gara said after the game.  "This is a standard well above the Heineken Cup or Munster/Leinster games.  I got a text from Sonia O'Sullivan before the game.  Sometimes we don't realise how lucky we are," - said the Cork man with tears in his eyes.  There are plenty of challenges still ahead for this Irish side in the coming weeks but with performances like today's there will very likely be more tears shed in the weeks - or possibly - month to come.  A great day to be Irish indeed.
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15 September, 2011

History made by Ireland's Shamrock Rovers but comfortably beaten by classy Russian outfit:

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Merthins gave visitors early lead
            Shamrock Rovers became the first Irish side to play in the Group stages of a major European competition as they faced Rubin Kazan in the Europa League at Tallaght Stadium tonight.  Pre-match press conferences might have suggested that the Russians had under-researched their opponents - along with forgotting their geography - as star midfielder Rodoba stated:  "We don't know much about Shamrock but we will be wary of them because we know how Glasgow Celtic and Rangers are!!"  
            Commentators said before the game:  "If the Russians have no respect for Rovers, they'll start the game with a 4-2-4 formation,"  -  which is exactly what they did.   This bypassing midfield proved to be a wise choice as they went 0-1 in the second minute with a long diagonal ball setting the Irish defence on the backfoot and when the ball was squared back across goal, the unmarked Martins stuck the ball into the far corner.  The signs looked ominous for the home side but after initial nerves, they came very much into the game before the mid point of the first half.
'keeper Thompson keeps Rovers in it with penalty save
            Ten minutes before half-time, they conceded a penalty however which was well saved by Thompson and hopes were high going into the break.  Four minutes into the second half however, home hopes were extinguished when the aforementioned Rodoba crashed a spectaculor volley into the top corner of Rovers net from 20 yards out.
Rovers fans stuck behind their team
Rodoba (left) sealed game with a cracker
               On the hour; the Russians netted another cracker with Gokdeniz Karadeniz creating space just inside the Rovers' box before smacking one in to the net off the underside of the crossbar from 15 yards out.             
               Whilst they had been outplayed at times, I felt a 0-3 deficit was harsh on Rovers and they won a penalty shortly after the hour mark.  The hero of Belgrade; Stephen O'Donnell took it, but his effort was saved and Rovers scoresheet was to remain blank.  Manager Michael O'Neill spoke candidly and honestly afterwards acknowledging that  "This was another step up tonight."  The 2011 League of Ireland champions have some way to go to earn points in this European campaign but if they keep battling the way they did tonight - and their heads never droped tonight - then they have every chance of churning out a result or two on a stage that is a huge learning curve.
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08 September, 2011

"Walk On:" Ronnie Whelan's fascinating insight into top flight football pre Sky:

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Whelan found the casual cruelty so common in football; very difficult to stomach.  

               To football fans who view Phil Thompson as an overly excited pundit on Sky Sports and not as the Liverpool captain through their most successful era, who took the young man who would become Ireland's most decorated footballer (at the time);  this book is a must read for you.  In fact, for those who do remember Phil Thompson in his trophy laden Liverpool heyday, this book is for you too.
Whelan celebrates 1984 European Cup win
                The casual cruelty that is common in football is one of the things which comes across clearly in Ronnie Whelan's book.  It's visible at various stages in his story and, even though he says it's just the way things are, it's something he always found hard to stomach.  
            In August 1994, with Whelan aged 33 having been plagued by injury Liverpool manager Roy Evans offered him a one year.  Though he had been hoping for a two year old deal, Whelan accepted.  The next day however, Evans told him the board at withdrawn their offer.  He muttered something about training with the squad before walking off.  Whelan left the training ground and whilst driving home, burst into tears.  
Whelan scores his famous goal v Russia at Euro '88
           In the book he says the speed of his dismissal left him traumatised. "Fifteen years finished in 15 seconds. No handshakes, no goodbyes, no word of thanks. . . You just turn on your heel and walk away."  It's a telling example of how cruel the beautiful game can be when a player nears the end of his career.
            Whelan also writes at length about his diffcult relationship with Ireland manager Jack Charlton.   He had been a regular for the Irish team since 1981 (five years before Charlton took over) but found the gruff new boss hard to communicate with. His injury problems did not help. On one occasion when he failed to make the team even though he was fit again and wanted to talk to Charlton about it, Big Jack deliberately humiliated him. 
Whelan however had a strained relationship with Jack Charlton
            The big man does not come well out of Whelan's account of what went on. Big Jack did not like to be challenged. But it was injury more than Charlton's pig-headed manner which meant Whelan played only a minor role at the 1990 World Cup; Ireland's first ever.  
            The most interesting part of the book is Whelan's account of his Liverpool career, when he was a mainstay of the iconic 1980s team that won six League Championships, two FA Cups, three League Cups and the European Cup.  Under the management of Kenny Dalglish, Whelan was a part of one of the greatest club sides in English football history.  
...celebrating Liverpool's last (1990) English League Title
            His account of this great era for Liverpool  -  and its decline  -  is fascinating.   It was also the time of Heysel and Hillsborough and Whelan reveals how devastating these tragedies were for both players and supporters. 
            It's a very frank autobiography in comparison with the usual anodyne soccer book and Whelan is very open about the behind-the-scenes arguments. He was always quick to argue back and sometimes seems a bit too sensitive for the tough world of football. But it's that sensitivity that makes this book. 
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