31 October, 2011

Novice Dublin marathon runner qualifies for London Olympics on first running over the distance:

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Linda Byrne celebrates qualification for London 2012 Olympics
            Linda Byrne, from Dundrum, south Dublin, crossed the finish line in today's Dublin Marathon in 2.36.21 – 39 seconds inside the cut-off time for qualification for next year’s Olympics.  The 25-year-old was sixth overall, six minutes behind the winner of the women’s race Helalia Johannes, from Namibia.  Byrne said she was absolutely shocked and delighted after getting the time confirmed.
            The men’s race was won by Kenyan Geoffrey Ndungu who set a new record for the route of 2.08.32, smashing last year’s time by 24 seconds.  The fastest Irish man was Sean Connolly, a commendable 12th in 2.18.52, but too slow for qualification for London.
             The fastest Irish man was Sean Connolly, a commendable 12th in 2.18.52, but too slow for qualification for London.  A record 14,000 competitors took to the streets with light but persistent rain making conditions for the race difficult.
Special Garda tribute at 2011 Dublin Marathon today
              More than 200 gardaí and PSNI officers running the marathon wore black ribbons in memory of a colleague who died in flash floods last week.  Garda Ciaran Jones, 24, was swept away while trying to warn motorists over dangerous conditions at a bridge in the Wicklow mountains on Monday night.
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29 October, 2011

Is Cork City FC the new Shamrock Rovers? WE ARE CITY. WE ARE PREMIER LEAGUE!

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Cork City FC players and fans celebrate getting back where they belong
"Can all fans please stay off the pitch at the end of the game" - Yeah; good luck with that stewards!      

     Whilst it was not a surprise to see Cork City promoted to the Airtricity League Premier Division tonight;  it was certainly surprising to see the Title claimed in the most dramatic of circumstances.              
              Tonight's game appeared to be petering out to a 1-1 stalemate until the fourth minute of injury-time when Graham Cummins stooped to conquer and head home the goal that brings City back where they belong and silverware that their season deserved.
Title decider bore some similarity to famous 1999 European Cup Final
PICTURE:  Getty Images
                 One of the two sides tonight was going to lift the Division One Trophy tonight.  The lateness and consequence of the goal reminded one of the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.  UEFA President Lennart Johansonn had witnessed Bayern Munich FC take a sixth minute lead over Manchester United and were still 1-0 ahead in injury-time at the end of the game.  The President decided to go into the bowels of the stadium and take the elevator from the upper echelons of the multi-tiered Catalan cavern.  Of course everyone knows now that in the 80 or so seconds it took Johansonn to descend to pitch-side;  United scored two and were seen joyously celebrating the final whistle.  UEFA's most senior citizen proceeded to ask his aides:  "Why are the losers celebrating and the winners on the floor in despair?!"  There were similar scenes - if in less opulent surroundings witnessed tonight - as Graham Cummins last gasp winner sent all from the  "Real Capital"  into raptures when the Title had appeared lost.  In the end; one goal was effectively the difference between the clubs over the entire season.
City's keeper Mark McNulty (grounded) kept his side in it in the first half
              There can be little doubt that City deserved to win the First Division Title based on the way they have finished the second half of the season.  The fact that they lost just one game all season - compared to the six defeats of their nearest rival (Shels) - is also a telling statistic.
              Whilst City were the Team of the Division over the season; the Rebel Army played second fiddle to their hosts for the majority of the first half.  Though taking the lead through the always consistent Daryl Horgan on four minutes;   the visitors didn't capitalise from there and Shelbourne were deservedly level on 27 minutes.  In fact;  had the final whistle been blown on 45 minutes;  City's goalkeeper Mark McNulty would have been man of the match having pulled off three top drawer saves and showing composure under a number of balls pumped into his box.  Little wonder that he has been the Leesider's number one Number One for the last five years.
Shels thought this goal had won them the League Title
             In truth, the second half was much less open than the free flowing opening 45 minutes.  Both managers changed tactics to a tighter formation and emptied their bench well before the end.  City were offering little in the way of an attacking threat and entering the closing quarter, Shels seemed comfortable and looked to be coasting to the draw they needed to win protion as First Division Champions.

Shels boss Alan Matthews
             Shels manager (and former Cork City FC boss) Alan Matthews was asked beforehand if the fact that his side only required a point to lift the Title would negatively impact his side psychologically replied by saying that his side would  "bust a gut"  to win the game and that his players would do everything they could to play a part in the Cup Final at the AVIVA on Sunday week. 
Combatative captain Greg O'Halloran kept Cork City ticking in second half
                However, Matthew's words appeared not to be heeded by his players towards the end of the 90 minutes as they withdrew deeper and deeper into into their own half as the clock wound down.  It looked as if they had done enough however, until Graham Cummins late, decisive strike.
           These are indeed exciting times for Cork City FC.  The comparisons between City and Shamrock Rovers are many and stark.  Both clubs almost went out of existence just a few years ago.  Both clubs were relegated for entirely off the field reasons.
CHAMPIONS:    Graham Cummins nets latest of late Title winners
Both clubs were saved by their fans - and now entirely run and financed - by their fans.  
     Both clubs have now won promotion (and the First Division Title) just a few short seasons after near extinction.  Both clubs have tremendously proud histories and terrific fan bases with the potential for major expansion.  Both clubs have the potential to go places that they - or any League of Ireland club - has never been.
WE ARE CITY. WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Airtricity League First Division 2011
        Whilst Rovers have already achieved just that by reaching the Group Stages of the Europa League, I suspect that some day - City could become the first Irish side to reach the Group Stages of the Champions League.  Now that would be something to get all Irish football people excited about.  In the short term at least;  the greatest rivalry in Irish soccer (City/Rovers) has once again been resurrected after a four year hiatus.
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28 October, 2011

"My team will bust a gut," - says Shelbourne (and former Cork City FC) boss Alan Matthews:

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"My players will do everything they can to be in my team for next week's Cup Final," - former City manager Matthews shows that Cork face a major challenge tomorrow night 

             On one of the most important days in Cork City FC's recent history;  tomorrow we will come face-to-face with a familiar name.   Alan Matthews managed the club in 2008 and the current Shels boss has promised that his side will give their all against the Rebel Army, eventhough his current employers have already secured promotion.    
            The Dublin native is in the horns of a dilemma as he says he wants his side to go up, but he'd also like to see the Rebel Army back in the top flight.  The mathematics are quite simple.  If City win;  City are champions and Shels are promoted in second place.  If it's a draw;  Shels are promoted as champions;  City promoted in second place.  If Shels win;  Shels are champions and City will enter a play-off next week IF Monaghan beat Athlone Town.

Alan Matthews during his Cork City FC tenureship
"We will have bigger crowds, better quality opposition coming to Tolka Park every second week and we will get far more exposure from the media," - Shelbourne boss Alan Matthews on being promoted to the Airtricity League Premier Division

             Having secured promotion following the Tolka Reds 4-0 win over Finn Harps on Tuesday night;  Matthews knows that a draw will secure the First Division Title and silverware at Tolka Park after five years in the doldrums.  The fact that Shels face an FAI Cup Final against the holders Sligo Rovers at the AVIVA Stadium next weekend mean all the portents are there for a cracking game of football tomorrow night. 
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26 October, 2011

Rovers win League and I never thought I'd say this but I hope they do again next season:

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PARTIZAN 1-2 ROVERS: could prove to be Irish football's biggest ever result
         Sham - rock Rovers last night won the Airtricity League of Ireland Premier Division in aptly dramatic fashion to climax a quite incredible, unprecedented season for Irish football.  This win - and the money stream which will come from it will allow Rovers to build on the phenomenal European breakthrough they made this season.  In a way, it's fitting that the Hoops should seal their title success in Belfield, a place packed with young sports fans who mostly have an insouciant attitude to the League of Ireland.
            As thousands of Rovers fans made their presence felt in the vast campus last night, heads were turned  -  just like this Shamrock Rovers side have managed to capture the imagination of the Irish public this year.  
            The achievements of the last 12 months deserve to be ranked up there with the greatest days in this club's storied history. For the fans who fought to save the club from extinction six years ago, arguments over how this team compares with the legends of the past are a welcome endeavour.  The fact is that no Irish club has ever gone where this Rovers side have gone.  For the fans who fought to save the club from extinction six years ago, arguments over how this team compares with the legends of the past are a welcome endeavour.

Rovers celebrate winning a 17th League Title last night
In this era of short contracts, it's like a great big version of a US college draft, except that one club basically has the pick of the crop. 

            The decisive factor may well be how the powers-that-be invest the riches from the unprecedented European breakthrough. In other words, it is about leaving a legacy that is more than postcard moments. And, in the throes of celebration, manager Michael O'Neill gave the strongest indication yet that he intends to be a part of it.  
"That's my intention," he said. "You can never look too far ahead in football, but people are assuming that I'm leaving just because I haven't signed a contract. But I said to the board that once the league was dealt with, we'd sit down and discuss the situation."
             Pragmatically, all those involved with the club will accept that the attention will shift away once their final Europa League game with Spurs ends in December. They realise that progress will have to be gradual and that, from next March, their week-to-week activities will slip under the radar again.
             The significant advantage they have is that pretty much every other player in the country would find it hard to say no if the offer of a switch to Tallaght was presented. In this era of short contracts, it's like a great big version of a US college draft, except that one club basically has the pick of the crop.
HAPPY DAYS: Manager Michael O'Neill set to stay and stabilise
             Ironically enough, the recession has made it easier to build a quality squad on a modest budget, with players no longer holding the balance of power.  Refreshingly, though, in the wake of events in Serbia, directors were immediately thinking about what the funds could do for the development of their training facility in Kiltipper.  Already, the land they own is the base for the schoolboy team and with investment they can install pitches and ancillary facilities to bring it up to speed for first-team use  -  thus saving money on rent at the AUL.  It's that kind of talk which other clubs should be really worried about.
            Whilst nationwide respect is welcome;  developing the fan base in Tallaght is the principal aim. Season ticket sales crept up to 2,500 for this year, and if they can add another 500 to that number for 2012 and build steadily, then the platform will grow. 
Big plans ahead in and around Rovers' Tallaght Stadium
            The champions are also likely to be seeded in the second round of the Champions League qualifiers next July, which means they will be one game away from another €500,000 - and two more ties where one victory will ensure a repeat of this year's group stage heroics. The players that remain should have the confidence of being around on a dozen big European nights to draw upon.
            In the dark days, songs about the all-conquering team of the 1980s were a reminder of what the club used to be.  This morning, Rovers fans, both old and new, can dare to dream that the best is yet to come.
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25 October, 2011

O'Neill (literally) freezes for Cork City:

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KEY MAN:   Cork City's Davin O'Neill fights for fitness
            The evenings might be getting colder, but that's nothing compared to what Davin O'Neill is facing this week.  The Cork City striker is currently undergoing cryotherapy in Clare in a bid to be fit for Saturday's league title shoot out with Shelbourne.
           O'Neill picked up a hamstring injury in the 3-1 win over Longford Town at Turner's Cross last Friday night, and it was assumed that the 27 year old would be forced to sit out the trip to Tolka Park.  However City boss Tommy Dunne refused to rule the Cobh native out of Saturday's game, confirming his cryotherapy treatments.

Dunne: hoping for full squad and big travelling support
"We'll do everything we can to get Davin fit for Saturday," - Cork City FC manager Tommy Dunne      

              Cryotherapy involves being subjected to temperatures of -110°C, which is thought to improve blood flow to the injured area, resulting in a quicker recuperation period.  "It's such a massive game for the club and we want to have our players on the pitch on the night.  We hope to bring 2,000 City fans to Tolka with us and it'd be a real boost for Davin to play some part for us," - said Dunne today.
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24 October, 2011

Legendary commentator Cathal O'Shannon dies:

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Cathal O'Shannon's most famous moment: interviewing Ali
            Legendary Irish sports commentator, journlist and T.V. presenter Cathal O'Shannon has died over the at the age of 83.  He was a journalist with the  "Irish Times"  and a presenter with Radio Teilifís Éireann.
            O'Shannon was probably best known for his documentaries on Irish history, produced mainly for Irish television and broadcast on RTÉ.  In January 2007 after producing his most recent documentary, he stated that he had officially retired.  He was awarded lifetime membership of the Irish Film Institute in 2010 when he said it was  "particularly gratifying to receive before popping my clogs."  He died less than a year later.
            As a 16 year-old;  he joined the RAF in Belfast shortly before the end of World War Two and was stationed in Burma.  He did not see much action though.
Cathal O'Shannon:   1928 - 21st October 2011
            A native of Dublin; O' Shannon was recruited by the  "The Irish Times"  in 1947 before moving on to RTÉ in 1965.  In 1972 he recorded probably his greatest and certainly his most famous journalistic coup - interviewing world famous boxer Muhamad Ali (born Cassius Clay), for Irish television.   "What I found most nerve wracking about interviewing Ali was the fact that he was in control the whole time.  He was in total control of everyone he encountered."
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23 October, 2011

GAA helping Government to tackle unemployment:

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GAA Director of Games Development & Research: Pat Daly (front row, second right)
            The GAA will tomorrow launch a new initiative to help at least 200 of its unemployed members attain work.
            Under the Government's JobBridge scheme, a flagship project to create 5,000 intern places over five years, Croke Park is looking to get unemployed players, coaches and administrators into appropriate positions in the new year.  Director of Games Development and Research Pat Daly and the provincial councils have created structures that will culminate in out-of-work members being placed in a variety of roles.
            Currently, there are in the region of 300 inter-county players unemployed and this scheme will see some of these - and other members - continue to receive unemployment benefit as well as a €50 additional payment from the Government.  Successful applicants can earn at least an extra €200 per month and depending on what position they secure they could also gain additional income in vouched expenses and remuneration, with their prospects of full-time employment also enhanced.
            The GAA reflect the rest of Irish society in micro.  Thousands of Irish people have emigrated every day of this and last year.  In the first nine months; Cork have lost 86 club GAA players, Tyrone 57, Tipperary 55, Limerick 54 and All-Ireland Football Champions Dublin have seen 49 players depart these shores.  The GAA will hope that schemes such as the JobBridge scheme will help arrest this situation.
            "Some of the positions on offer include a sports therapist internship with the Monaghan County Board, the chance to work as a team administrative assistant with the Tipperary board and there's also a games development administrative position available with the Ulster Council," - said Caoimhe Ni Neill of Croke Park's Games Development department on Friday last. 
            The GAA has ensured that only constructive positions are on offer and predetermined that county boards would compile lengthy job specifications of the duties interns will attend to. Each candidate will have a supervisor and mentor advising them.   A new website, www.jobbridgegaa.ie, which has been established to provide details of the scheme, goes live tomorrow.
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End of era and end of aura perhaps for World's biggest football brand whilst World's biggest rugby brand finally delivers on the biggest stage:

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All Black Head Coach Graham Henry after World Cup win
"Inner peace for the rest of my life," - All Blacks Head Coach when asked what winning the Rugby World Cup means to him 

                   On an amazing day for the two biggest brand names in the World's two biggest sports (football and rugby); their fortunes could not have been more contrasting.
THE FINGERS SAY IT ALL: Man. United 1-6 (Yes, SIX) City
           23rd October 2011 could well be looked back on as the day that the Manchester United aura ended as only a converted try separated them from Manchester City(!); whilst it will be one of the happiest days in the life of a generation of New Zealanders as their beloved All Blacks lifted the Rugby World Cup Webb Ellis trophy for the first time in 24 years.              On the flip side of the coin; 23rd October 2011 could well be looked on as the day of the passing of the torch across Manchester as the Blue Moon rose over Old Trafford with City's multi, multi-millionaires absoluting battering the home side.  The league champions (and with 19 Titles; holding the record number of League crowns); had started the season well, most notably with an 8-2 thumping of Arsenal.  However, in recent weeks they had gone off the boil somewhat.  Eventhough United had a player (Johnny Evans) sent off at the start of the second-half and three of City's goals were scored in injury-time; Man. City were good value for their win, even if a goal difference swing of 10 goals was harsh on the home side.                
               Whilst Liverpool have been traditionally United's greatest rivals and the biggest  "derby"  in England; Man. City's Etihad Stadium is after all just four miles across the river from Old Trafford and it looks like United will have to overcome their nearest rivals if they are to hope to retain their Premier League crown.  This viewer doesn't see that happening over the next few seasons and a seismic change appears to sweeping across Manchester.
             Mention deserves to be made here of David Silva who was simply sensational today and looks well on his way to becoming the Premier League (and possibly Europe's) Player of the Season.  He could in fact dominate the game at the highest level for years to come and will have a big say in Spain's defence of their European Championship crown next summer.
               On the other side of the world; there won't be many who will begrudge the world's greatest rugby brand; the New Zealand All Blacks a second World Cup crown.  Whilst this observer feels that France deserved to win the Final today, the Blacks held on to win 8-7 and after a turbulent year for the Kiwi nation, today will be a chance for some celebration after so much misery in the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.
BRILLIANT BLACKS: A nation celebrates at end of traumatic year
               When asked what this victory means to him; New Zealand Head Coach Graham Henry stated:  "Inner peace for the rest of my life."  It's a feeling which will be replicated by many Kiwis - though four years time the nation that has provided most to the game of rugby will be looking to add another World Cup crown to their trophy cabinet.  Whilst there are those who will state that the All Blacks can only win rugby's greatest prize when they play at home - one imagines that the majority of those would be Australian. 
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22 October, 2011

We should be proud of Irish Rugby World Cup refs:

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CONTROVERSY: Allain Rolland sends off Wales' Warburton
             It should have been a weekend to celebrate all that's great in rugby but, good as New Zealand were -- and they were awesome -- the penultimate phase of the competition will be remembered for one game-changing, history-shaping decision by a referee.
             However much Wales have already replaced David Burnett with Allain Rolland as the definitive 'blind Irish referee' (Burnett had the audacity to send off Paul Ringer against England back in 1980), the issue is not whether Rolland called it right when he sent off Sam Warburton, but whether the game he interprets as well as any other match official served him well.  Let's be clear from the off -- it is not Rolland who is on trial here but the game itself.
              Despite the litany of abuse coming his way, the brilliant Irish referee applied the law to the letter, according to the instructions laid down by the IRB and reinforced in advance of this tournament by referees chief Paddy O'Brien.
              At an IRB high performance seminar ahead of the World Cup, referees were advised to start at a red card and work back for these types of dangerous tackles (involving a player being lifted off the ground).
              I guess it's called zero tolerance, but the rationale of starting with the death penalty and working back to mitigating circumstances escapes me. Surely the logic of yellow card, to be followed if deemed necessary by action from the citing officer, seems a much more logical and sensible way to go?
              The instruction, as I understand it, is that referees "should not make their decision based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player but on the objective assessment (as per Law 10.4) of the circumstances governing the tackle".  Rolland acted in the utmost good faith, in what he believed to be the best interest of the game -- immediate and longer term -- and with great conviction and authority.  I'm not too sure every other top official would have made the same call given the context, irrespective of the mandate.
              But what I would question is the speed with which the decision was made. The immediate reaction of the French players hardly helped the offending player's plight and perhaps influenced the call then made.  Zero tolerance can still be applied after both touch judges are consulted. They might have had little to contribute in this case given the close proximity of the referee to the action, but they might just have had a different take or modified perspective on the foul.
Irish referees McDowell, Rolland and Clancy before RWC2011
              Being assertive is one thing but when the lingering doubt is of justice unfairly applied (or am I in the minority on that count?) then there are serious issues still to be addressed.  And before the moralists mount their high horses, as someone involved in underage coaching, I appreciate the challenge to win the hearts and minds of parents new to the game.
               My paramount concern is with safety and, while I appreciate the message from Wellington to the rest of the watching world, there is still a feeling that more needs to be done.
               Why should technology be applied only to goal-area decisions? Who decided that and why?  Tell me that what transpired less than a quarter of the way into Saturday's World Cup semi-final was any less critical than any other try/no try goal-line decision throughout this World Cup.
              I've heard it suggested that extending the brief of the TMO further into the field would detract from the role of the main match official. On the contrary, it would enhance it to the benefit of the game.
             The feeling on Saturday was that of judge, jury and sentence all being handed down within seconds through -- and again I emphasise this point strongly -- little fault on the part of the match official, who was acting according to IRB guidelines and strict adherence to pre-tournament instructions.
IRB want to outlaw flip tackles like this on Brian O'Driscoll
             I accept the issue is the crime and not the perpetrator and yet there lingers that uncomfortable feeling that somehow the guilty party (Warburton) became more of a victim than the player sinned against (Vincent Clerc).
             I understand the motive for the strength of the message the IRB wants to send out.  Warburton's tackle was dangerous and unquestionably merited a yellow card but even the length of the suspension (three weeks), allied to the tone of the judicial statement, suggests a disciplinary committee uncomfortable with its findings and self-enforced sanctions.  There are two real issues to come out of this and both (though Wales coach Warren Gatland will hardly view it likewise) have potentially positive ramifications for the future well-being of the game.
               Firstly, the spotlight on this costly tackle will make rugby players everywhere think a little more than before, and that is no bad thing.
But allied to that will, I hope, be a willingness on the part of the game's administrators to re-examine the role of technology in the dual pursuit of safety and fair play.
               If the technology is available then why not use it, particularly if it means the ultimate outcome of whatever time it takes is the administration of justice?
That way, justice is seen to be done.
World Cup Final ref: Craig Joubert
               I don't know about you, but somehow the feeling that something uncomfortable transpired in Wellington still lingers.  No doubt the appointment of Craig Joubert to referee the World Cup final will be interpreted by some as a snub to Alain Rolland on the back of last Saturday's controversy.
It is not -- and should not be seen as anything like that.  Like Rolland, the South African official oozes calm and coolness under pressure.  During the early stages of the competition, former referee Alan Lewis -- who should still have been centre stage himself -- suggested to me that the referee's shirt for the final was Joubert's to lose once South Africa were not involved.
               Rolland will run the line as replacement referee.  It speaks volumes for Ireland's match officials that we are the only country with two referees among the last six -- Bruff's George Clancy was an assistant referee in Friday's bronze medal play-off between Wales and Australia.
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