30 November, 2011

Ireland's first para-cycling World Champion looks forward to London 2012:

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Ireland's Mark Rohan in World para-cycling action
           Former Westmeath Gaelic footballer Mark Rohan is looking forward to the challenge of the London 2012 Paralympics.   Acutely aware of the financial problems in Ireland, he believes it is up to Irish athletes to represent the country as best they can given the horrendous antics of the nation's politicians.
            Rohan, 30, has already qualified for next year's Paralympics and is targeting a medal in the handcycling road race and a personal best in the time trial.  The 30-year-old has just taken delivery of a new €9,500 bike which he hopes will help him add to his impressive achievements in the sport.

Rohan celebrates World gold
             "This one is built specifically for my dimensions," said Rohan, who is the first athlete to win six World Cup medals in a row.  He was able-bodied and a keen multi-disciplinary athlete until an accident in 2001 resulted in him suffering severe spinal injuries. 

             Mark continues to discuss his bike: "It's a really lightweight bike and hopefully this will bring me to London.  It uses mountain bike gears and all the components from a road bike; it's just a kind of an upside down bike in the shape of a bobsleigh.  I'll hit maximum speeds of 80km/hour but my average speed will be 30-35km/h.  The fact that I'll be just one inch off the ground will make it feel a lot faster though."
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Fascinating final one-on-one Gary Speed interview:

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           Shortly before his suicide; Wales national team manager Gary Speed gave his final interview.  It was conducted with  "Four Four Two"  magazine's Andy Mitton at a Legends event in Barbados.  Mitton had never met Speed before but was suitably pleased with the 42 year-old's affability and lack of airs and graces.

           I have always thought there was something special about footballers who hold a special place in their heart for representing their national team.  The great Zinedine Zidane always maintained that his proudest achievement in football was  "The first time I played for France."  Speed similarly said his proudest moment in football was  "Captaining Wales was always the greatest honour."
           Gary Speed was the ultimate professional - as his record 535 Premier League appearances testifies.  He was also the ultimate family man as he testified when asked what his most treasured item was:  "Certainly nothing material.  I don't even know where my League Title medal from 1992 is.  My most treasured item would have to be my family.  We are an item and they mean everything to me."   Gary's death will continue to remain a mystery to all except those who knew him best - and maybe even them will be left in the dark as to why he took his life in such shocking circumstances.

Andy Mitten is the editor and founder of  "United We Stand"  magazine.  His other credits include the  "Independent" and the  "London Times".   He has interviewed footballers from Ronaldinho to Messi in more than 80 countries on every continent.
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29 November, 2011

Giovanni Trapattoni signs lucrative new Ireland deal; but does he deserve it?

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HAPPY TRAPPY:  new (€1.7m p/a) two year contract with the FAI
            Football Assocation of Ireland Chief Executive John Delaney confirmed today that Giovanni Trapattoni has signed a two year extension to his contract as Republic of Ireland national team manager.  The deal will last until the 2014 World Cup and will see the Italian managing Ireland past his 75th birthday.  The deal is on slightly reduced terms of €1.5million per annum (reduced from €1.7million) and will be 50% subsidised by businessman Denis O'Brien.
Trap's Ireland squad is vastly inferior to Jack Charlton's
Photo:    INPHO
            The big question for me though is;  does Il Gaffer deserve this contract extension?  Yes, Trap brought better organisation and structure (both on and off the pitch) than the shambolic Steve Staunton era - eventhough Stan took far more abuse than the playing legend he was deserved.  Yes, Ireland exceeded their seeding in the qualification campaigns for both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.  Having been third seeds for both campaigns;  Ireland ended up finishing second in each group.  Yes, Ireland were very unlucky in the World Cup play-off against France and everyone felt sorry for us, no-one more so than ourselves.  Yes,  Ireland beat what turned out to be a very weak Estonian side to qualify for Euro 2012 and the fact that it's Ireland's first qualification for a major tournament in 10 years (with a squad nowhere near the quality of Jack Charlton's) is certainly an achievement.
Ireland have struggled against major nations under Trap
             However, these bare facts need further assessment.  In the two qualification campaigns Trapattoni has overseen;  Ireland have (competitively) faced sides ranked above them in the FIFA World rankings on six ocassions.  That was in the 2010 qualification campaign against Italy (twice) and France (twice) and then in Euro 2012 qualification against Russia (twice).  Ireland won none of those ties.  Further analysis shows that Ireland drew twice with an Italian side who were clearly past it - as their eventual World Cup campaign illustrated.  Italy were in fact the first defending champions not to claim a single victory at the next World Cup they played in.  Whilst Ireland were unlucky in the World Cup play-off tie against France, that France side showed six months later at the World Cup what a shambolic bunch of mercenary prima donnas they were.  Then in the Euro 2012 campaign;  Ireland were simply hammered home and away by a vastly superior Russian outfit.  Having gone 0-3 ahead at the AVIVA;  Russia decided to go to sleep and let Ireland in for two late goals.   The tie in Moscow will then quite probably be remembered as one of the most one sided games ever not to finish with a double digit victory!  Russia had 26 shots on target in that game compared to the 22 shots of a Netherlands side who beat San Marino 11-0 on the same day!  Only a miraculous performance at the back from Richard Dunne and Shay Given kept the Russians out that day.  The fact that Paul McGrath stated  "Richard Dunne's performance in Moscow was the best I have ever seen by an Irish centre half, including myself"  illustrates a telling point and a (0-0) result which had very little to do with Trapattoni's management abilities.
BIG AT THE BACK: Centre half inspiration Richard Dunne
PHOTO:   Getty Images
           The above paragraph goes some way to illustrating that whilst Ireland under Trapattoni have been better organised (than under Steve Staunton);  Trapattoni has not done anything remotely groundbreaking or world beating.  Also; the Milanese native has been lacking in numerous areas.  The fact that he refuses to attend club games and only assesses oppositions via dvd from his Milan home is a disgrace which should not be allowed by his superiors.  Numerous petty arguments with players and revealing private information along with public criticism of loyal Irish servants (most notably Kevin Doyle) is something which should not have happened.  Showing little motivation to contact his players is also rather disappointing.  Trap's revelation earlier this year that he didn't have star forward James McCarthy's mobile number (and therefore couldn't contact him to assess his injury) was a stunning, if unsurprising revelation.  Then there is Trap's almost total lack of effort at learning the English language and his complete reliance on his translator to communicate with media (and thereby also of course his players). 
Ireland are more organised than under Trap's predecessor
           Whilst I am sure there are other ways Trapattoni's Ireland management has fallen down, I think I have illustrated enough here.  Eventhough many have been overcome with the excitement of Ireland qualifying for next year's European Championship;  I still view Trapattoni as a once great manager who is now a geriatric chancer content to cash in on an easy pension from the FAI and Denis O'Brien.  Overseeing Ireland's successful qualification for Brasil 2014 might help to change my mind though!
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27 November, 2011

Speed dies too fast:

Gary Speed: 8th September 1969 - 27 thNovember 2011 Rest in Peace


Close friend Shay Given in tears before playing today
Prince Charles gave Gary Speed his M.B.E. one year ago.  For football fans; Gary was also a Prince of Wales

            Wales national football team manager Gary Speed M.B.E. commited suicide this morning.  The Welsh Football Association confirmed today that Speed had hung himself at his home in Cheshire.  Cheshire Constabulary confirmed that they were not treating his death as suspicious and confirmed that his death was an apparent suicide.                        

Minute silence before Swansea v Aston Villa today
"Gary was the ultimate professional, so we will be professional now and go ahead with today's game," - Speed's local club Swansea City after news of his hanging spread           

                His boyhood club, Swansea played Aston Villa this lunch time at the Welsh city's Liberty Stadium.  A minute's silence was observed beforehand with both sides clearly affected by the news of the death of a man who was a friend of many and well known by all present.  Aston Villa and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper (and former Newcastle United team-mate) Shay Given was seen wiping tears from his eyes during the game as news of his close friend's death sank in.  Villa manager Alex McLeish confirmed that efforts had been made to postpone the game as a mark of respect to Speed.  With policing, fan and travel considerations (Swansea is a 400 mile plus round trip from Villa Park);  it was felt necessary that the game go ahead however.

"There's no way football is more important than grieving.  Craig was in awe of Gary," - Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish upon removing Craig Bellamy (left) from Liverpool's game with Man. City today      

               Liverpool play Manchester City at Anfield today with Kenny Dalglish confirming what a fantastic professional Gary Speed was;  having signed him for Newcastle United.  Dalglish also confirmed that Craig Bellamy would not feature in today's game as news of his mentor's passing (and national team manager) had hit the Cariff native hard.   "He was like family," - was all Bellamy would say publicly today.  Having retired from international football;  Speed convinced Bellamy to change his mind and return to the Welsh national team earlier this year.
Gary Speed receiving his M.B.E. in December 2010

           Speed won the First Division (now Premier League) League Title with Leeds United in the 1991-'92 season and 85 caps for the Welsh national team; 51 as captain - more than any other Welsh international.  He made 535 Premier League appearances, which was a record when he retired from playing in 2010 and has only been surpassed by Ryan Giggs and goalkeeper David James since.  Speed was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) on the Queen's 2010 New Year's Honours List.  He was appointed Wales manager in December 2010;  winning four of their last five matches and seeing them to an all-time high FIFA World ranking.  He is survived by his wife and two young sons.

25 November, 2011

Cork happy to welcome ladies pro soccer to Ireland's sporting capital:

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Cork Ladies' soccer boss Dave Bell (pictured right)
            It's been a special few weeks for Cork soccer.  With Cork City FC having dramatically secured promotion to the Airtricity League;  their female counterparts have become Ireland's newest football club.
            The Cork Women's Football Club is Ireland's newest football club and they took to the pitch in CIT on Sunday 13th November to play in their first ever National League game. FAI Development Officer for Women's Soccer in Cork and team manager, Dave Bell, says that they have had a huge response so far from both players and the public.
             "The response to the team has been fantastic. We actually had great difficulty in cutting the panel because there was so many players involved, but that is hardly a bad complaint and the standard in the team is very high because we have some great players involved," - says Bell.
Cork's new dual fotball code star: Valerie Mulcahy
             Great players is something of an understatement. When the Cork side play Dublin based Peamount United this Sunday, they will be looking to draw on the experience of Irish Senior international's Marie Curtin, Sylvia Gee, Jenny Critchley and Susan Donovan as well as Valerie Mulcahy, who has previously played with the senior Irish team and has also won six All Ireland titles with the Cork Ladies Gaelic Football team.   Exciting times indeed for soccer in Cork.
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Healy homeward bound?

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Colin Healy in his Ireland heyday....
            Cork City FC are ramping up preparation for their upcoming return to the highest level of Irish football by today meeting with former star and Ireland international Colin Healy.  The Ballincollig native spoke to City boss Tommy Dunne after having his contract with English Championship club Ipswich Town terminated by mutual consent this week.
           The Cork man has had little luck with injuries.  He played for Celtic and latterly Sunderland, before breaking his leg twice in the space of six months.  He never reached football's highest level after the second break.  His second leg break came in early 2004;  having earned 13 caps for the Republic of Ireland.  Ironically enough it was a training ground tackle from the Ireland manager who gave him his international break -Mick McCarthy - that caused his second career threatening rupture.
...and starring for Cork City
            The then 23 year old was out of the game for six months and bounced from club to club before signing for Cork City FC in summer 2007.  Healy immediately impressed and won the FAI Cup and Setanta Sports Cup in his two seasons with the club.  Ipswich Town picked him up in pre-season 2009 but Healy struggled to break into the first team.  Whilst some lower league English clubs have looked at Healy, Rebel Army boss Tommy Dunne is optimistic of securing the services of the well travelled 31 year old.  Experience like his would prove invaluable for a club returning to the highest level of football in Ireland.
            In further transfer news;  Cork City have re-signed defender Ian Turner whilst former Bohemians boss Pat Fenlon (pictured left) has become the new manager of Scottish Premier League (SPL) side Hibernian.  Fenlon moves to Easter Road on a two-and-a-half year contract with the target for the season being a Scottish Cup win and a top five league finish.  The Edinburgh club currently lie ninth in the SPL- just two points above the relegation zone midway through the season.
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23 November, 2011

Adidas launching world's cheapest $1 runner to cash in on India's soaring population:

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Herbert Hainer:  High hopes for Adidas in India
             Adidas is to sell its trainers for $1 (€0.75) a pair throughout rural India to capitalise on the country's soaring population.  Inspired by Mohammad Yunus, the company's Nobel-Prize winning founder of the Grameen micro-finance bank in Bangladesh, the company believes the plan to sell the world's cheapest trainer will open up a massive market.
            The $1 trainers will be the latest in a growing trend which increasingly sees the world's poor as a potentially lucrative market rather than a begging bowl for aid.  In the past few years mobile phone companies like Vodafone and India's Reliance have had great success selling cheap mobile phones to rickshaw-pullers and roadside hawkers throughout India, while Tata, which owns Jaguar, launched the world's cheapest car at 'One Lakh' rupees or around €1,395, and aimed to persuade families travelling five to a motorbike to trade up.
             Company boss Herbert Hainer believes the foothold that Adidas' subsidiary Reebok has in the sub-continent to keep production and distribution costs low. He believes in India, the firm can sell its trainers for $1 and still make money:
"The shoe will be sold in villages through a distribution network. We want the product to be self-funding," he said.
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22 November, 2011

Corkman becomes first Irish ref to take charge of UEFA Champions League (Group Stage) tie:

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            Cork's Alan Kelly has become the first Irishman to take charge of a UEFA Champions League Group Stage tie.  He was the whistler at the clash of Real Madrid v Dinamo Zagreb at Santiago Bernabeau tonight.  The game finished in a 6-2 victory for the home side.  Whilst the win was expected (if not by such a large margin);  there were no red cards or penalties; meaning it was a quiet night for the Ballincollig native, taking charge of his first game at Spain's premier stadium.
            Alan Kelly, now has a decent chance of being selected for UEFA Euro 2012's match official delegation.  Kelly, who is the manager of Rochestown Park Hotel Gym & Spa, has refereed numerous international matches;  including European Championship and FIFA World Cup qualification ties;  dating back to 2004 appropriately enough (considering Ireland's play-off opponent for Euro 2012) in Talinn, where the home side (Estonia) defeated Kazachstan after a controversial (but correct) red card decision from the Cork man.
SANTIAGO BERNABÉU:  Home of Real Madrid Club De Futbal
             Kelly has consistently proven himself to be Ireland's top FIFA referee and will hope to head east next summer for what would be (for now) the highlight of his career.  After that, who knows, maybe 2014 and a jaunt to the true home of football (Brasil) and the FIFA World Cup will await?
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21 November, 2011

GAA: referee violence raises ugly head once again:

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CONTROVERSIAL FINISH: Corofin v Saint Brigid's
            In one of the biggest Connacht club games in five years;  St. Bridgits (Roscommon) beat Corofin (Galway) by 11points to 10 yesterday (Sunday).  That is not the reason I am writing this story however.  Referee Liam Devaney was jostled by supporters after the final whistle and had to be escorted off the field. 
             Whilst he had made a number of questionable decisions (including awarding 19 frees to the winning side compared to just seven for the losers and the disallowing of a goal for a 'sqare' ball);  what happened at the final whistle was unacceptable.
            Had stewards (and eventually Gardaí) not intervened, there can be little doubt that Mr. Devaney would be struck at least once and could have been sincerely injured.  Whatever decision he did or didn't make, did not merit that. 
             Whilst what happened to Mr. Devaney was beyond reproach;  the Connacht GAA Council needs to be questionned also for awarding such an inexperienced referee, such a high profile mixture.  Mr. Devaney had previously refereed an intermediate Connacht final but had no experience whatsoever of this (senior) more vaunted level.      That is no excuse for the thuggery witnessed at the end of yesterday's game though.
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17 November, 2011

Battered and bruised Cork based fighter set for UFC debut:

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Hecht had to learn to use his fists early
“If you are getting into this sport (UFC) to make money, then go somewhere else.  You’ve got to be out of your mind to do it for the money!” - Jake Hecht

           Jake Hecht is a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter specialising in wrestling and boxing.  He has had stitches in his head, had his front tooth smashed up into his nose and suffered a broken collar bone.  These injuries are not the result of his fighting career though.  They are the reason he learned to fight, wrestle and lift weights.
            The Cork based fighter suffered all those injuries at the hands of his older brother, Dustin. That became the inspiration for a teenage Hecht to learn how to defend himself, and ultimately pursue a career in coaching and participating in martial arts.  He suffered stitches in his head at the age of four, suffered the horrific tooth injury when his brother shoved him into bike handlebars and broke his collarbone when he threw him into a billiards table.
            Jake knew he had to learn how to defend himself or face further serious injury.  That process has led him to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).  The UFC is the highest level of mixed martial arts and the fastest growing sport in America.  The Cork based Missouri native has signed up to a four fight contract with them.  
Hecht will fight in the Jo Jones vs Lyoto Machida card
               Fighting in the UFC has been a childhood dream for 27 year old Hecht, who is head coach at the MMA Boxing Clinic Cork in Frankfield. He is enjoying coaching full time and living in Cork, which grants him a much more stable lifestyle. “Before (in America), I was bouncing between jobs in bars and it was hard to keep a constant job and income.”
             He says that he loves coaching and it also means he doesn’t have to subject his body to extremes that a jockey would balk at.  He reveals that he once had to go from 90kg to 77 kg over two days for a fight!  He had started fighting at a higher weight and had to go down to a different weight class.  When you need the money, you have to do whatever it takes.  Hecht's fighting weight is 87kg but he will have to lose three kilos for his upcoming bouts.

Jake Hecht is Head Coach Coach at Cork city's Boxing Clinic
             He believes that this is an exciting time to be involved in MMA in Ireland. “It’s obviously not as big as the States but it’s growing fast, growing all the time.  Every weekend there are new events,” he says. “It’s great to be here at the start of it, at the origin.”
              He finds Cork very refreshing, coming from Missouri.  “It’s so clean here and the food is so nice. It’s so green and the people are so welcoming, so I find it refreshing. Where I come from, it’s not a nice place."
              The Yank remains a boxing fan, calling it a  "beautiful sport,"  and boxed for money as a  "broke college kid"  for a time.  He feels that UFC is a better fit for him though:  “Boxing is much harder on your brain than MMA,” he says. “It’s a constant jostling of the brain, over a sustained period." 
Ultimate Fighting can be bloody, brutal and brief

"MMA is one of the most extreme experiences you can have in your life.   Everyone should experience it once before they die," - Jake Hecht

              UFC may be ferocious and often bloody, but it’s not for the money that the American does it.  “You have to love the sport,” he says.  “It’s not big enough for most people to make money at it."  He says that it’s only the top five per cent in UFC that make enough money to really survive.  “Everyone else is fighting for every dollar that they can get."
              “The absolute worst time in a fight,” according to the Hecht, who has a 10-2 professional record, “is the moments before the start, when you are looking across the ring, knowing that the guy there will hit you in the face.  It’s not so bad when it actually happens, because it’s something you train for. It’s one of the most extreme experiences you can have in your life.” Everyone should experience it once before they die, he suggests with a straight face.   Any takers?

                Jake Hecht will make his UFC debut on December 10th in Toronto on the Jones/Machida card and will continue coaching at the BoxingClinic in Frankfield, Cork for the forseeable future thereafter.
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16 November, 2011

Nostalgia combined with thoughts of the future as Ireland secure Euro spot for second time in history:

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The Ireland side that secured first qualification in 10 years
    Ireland manager Giovanni Trapatonni has promised to keep his promise and climb Croagh Patrick as Ireland secured passage to Poland and Ukraine with a tepid 1-1 draw against Estonia at a rocking Lansdowne Road.           
               Memories of Ireland's only other appearance at a European Championship (1988) were everywhere to be seen as "the man who put the ball in the English net";  Ray Houghton and John Aldridge were commentating on the game and highlights of Euro '88 replyed on the big screen at AVIVA Stadium.  Captain of that famous side; Mick McCarthy along with Packie Bonner and Kevin Moran were also seen reminiscing on old times.
Legends of '88: Bonner, McCarthy and Moran reminisce
            Truth is that Tuesday night's game was no more than a formality as Ireland never got out of second gear.  Stephen Ward gave Ireland the lead just after the half hour and the Boys in Green had made most of the early running with Robbie Keane in particular spurning two gilt-edged opportunities to add to his 53 goal international haul. The second half was a different story however and Estonia deservedly equalised early doors with a speculative effort from 30 yards from captain Vasilijev squirming past goalkeeper Shay Given.

Stephen Ward (left) gets the party started....
               If either side was going to win the game, it looked likely to be Estonia at this stage as Given was kept busy in the closing 20 minutes, making three solid saves.  Estonia were never going to come close to overturning Ireland's 4-0 lead from the first leg though and the final whistle was greeted with understated celebration as a party which had ben expected for four days got underway.
             The next date to mark in the calender is December 2nd which is when the draw for the Euro Group stages will be made.  For Ireland now the possibilities are, if not endless, then plentiful.  Results elsewhere have left the Boys in Green as fourth seeds which means no possibility of avenging the World Cup heartbreak suffered at the hands of France (because Les Bleus are in the same pot).  Ireland could end up in a Group as difficult as Spain, Germany and Portugal or as "easy" as Ukraine, England and Croatia. 

...while current stars Richard Dunne & Robbie Keane celebrate qualifying
              In the meantime; piggybanks and credit unions will be emptied, though Ukraine (and in particular) Poland won't be as difficult to get to - or as financially challenging as recent major championship locations.  Tickets will start at just €30; rising to some €600 for the Final.
...with legends of '88 Houghton (left) & Aldridge ecstatic
               Whilst Ireland's manager has been much (and often rightly) maligned during his tenure as Head Coach; after achieving the result which secured Ireland's qualification for a first major tournament in a decade; a thronged press room was united in applause for the Milanese native. 

HAPPY CAMP: Manager in thronged press room post match
                The final word was to be left to Il Gaffer who stated:  "Greece won the European Championships in 2004, so why can't we?"  One wonders would the rest of Europe look on such an occurance with similar disdain to what happened at the 2004 staging of international football's second greatest competition?  "Probably"  is the answer.
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