18 January, 2012

Former Cork City captain Dan Murray to return to his spiritual home:

Cork City manager Dunne: happy to re-sign former captain
           Cork City FC manager Tommy Dunne confirmed this evening that (2005) League winning captain Dan Murray is returning to the club on a one-year contract.  Murray is the most successful captain in League of Ireland history having won three League Titles (two with Rovers) and helping Rovers to become the first Irish club to reach the Group Stages of a major European competition.  Murray was a pivotal part of Cork City's 2005 Title winning side, when the club had arguably the best squad in its history.  He was also a major part of the club's six game run in the Inter-Toto Cup the previous season and the 2006 Champions League campaign when City were eventually knocked out by previous European Cup winners Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade).  Tommy Dunne said he has not decided whether Murray will be captain or not for the 2012 season.  Dan Murray re-joins City on a free transfer having been released by Shamrock Rovers last week.

COMING HOME: Former City captain Dan Murray

                 Tommy Dunne said that player numbers are tight for the 2012 season; with a squad of 18/19 (maximum); including three goalkeepers.  He said that having only 16 outfield players wasn't ideal but that that was what he had to deal with for this season.   The manager also confirmed that some players would be coming through from the Under-19's.  I mentioned to him a few potential signings, including two former City players Joe Gamble and Denis Behan.  I imagined that the two might be interested in returning to Leeside (particularly Cork native Joe Gamble) now that City have returned to the top flight, but the boss confirmed that the two are under contract at First Division Limerick, so have not been spoken to.   The manager also mentioned former City star (and Ireland international) Colin Healy, but that after talks with the player, the Ballincollig native is going to try to get a club in England having been released by Ipswich Town before Christmas.  The manager confirmed also that Title winning star Graham Cummins is under contract for the new season.

Dunne wishes all LoI managers good luck for new season 
Asked for his expectations for the 2012 season;  Tommy Dunne said that the Premier Division would be a big step up from the First Division and that a top six finish would represent a  "fantastic season"  for the club.  "We are hoping to conduct ourselves properly in the top flight but we know that it's going to be really tough because all clubs will start the season hoping to be in the division for the following season."  Dunne also said that the club would do everything they can to win a trophy in the new season but that the league would remain the priority.  When asked if he'd like to wish former foe Roddy Collins  "Good luck"  for the new season (!)  Dunne chuckled before adding:  "I'd like to wish all managers 'good luck' for the new season but hope that they finish behind Cork City."   A wise answer from a wise football man.
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15 January, 2012

Behan head over heels with Olympic feat:


Kieran Behan: delighted to be Ireland's first gymnastics Olympian 

             Irish gymnast, Kieran Behan, capped a famous week in his career by finishing fourth in the floor final at the London Prepares Series Test Event in Greenwich Arena yesterday.  Having suffered a debilitating illness as a 10 year-old, he spent many months in a wheelchair and it was doubtful that he would ever walk again.  Rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in 2010, combined with a number of other career threatening injuries; makes this 2012 Olympic qualification all the more remarkable.
             The 22 year-old was suitably ecstatic to have met the Olympic qualification criteria.  He finished fourth overall, having been in third place until the very last competitor; narrowly missing out on a medal.  He scored 14.900;  missing out on a medal by 0.500
            Kieran spoke of his excitement and joy at having made London 2012; proclaiming that it'll be the closest thing ever to a home Olympics and that he would make the most of his opportunity:  ""I'll definitely maximise my floor and get a good high start value.  I can't wait for the summer.  Would I like to win a medal?  Of course I would, but whatever happens, happens!"
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"I've cried every day since finishing playing professional football," - Dean Windass



"There are hundreds like me. After finishing football, there is nothing to get up for in the morning," - Dean Windass


           In an open and frank interview;  former FA Premier League striker and famed hardman;  Dean Windass has revealed his battles with alcohol and depression.  The Hull native, who played in the Premier League for his local club, stated:  "I have cried every day since I've finishing playing professional."  He also called for more help from inside the game for players struggling to cope with life after football.  


GLORY DAYS: Windass puts Hull into top flight for first time
"I've cried every day since finishing playing professional football,"
- Dean Windass             




             Last year, the father-of-two split from his police officer wife of 18 years after he was caught having an affair with a girl he met in a pub.  Then, just a few days ago, after the sudden of his father, Dean attempted to take an overdose of pills.  However, a former girlfriend turned up at his door, realised what he had done and forced him to drink pints of water until he threw up.
             But the following day after slipping back into the grips of depression and drinking half a bottle of strong amaretto liqueur, he tried to commit suicide again.  For a second time, he was saved by a miraculous stroke of  "luck,"  when a friend of his knocked on the front door.


..and celebrates the feat: Championship Play-Off, Wembley 2008
As a local football legend, punters were only too happy to buy Dean drinks 






            At the height of his fame Windass was earning more than half a million pounds a year.
             In 2008 he scored the goal that took his home town club, Hull City into the top flight of English football for the first time in their 104-year history.  He also appeared in the Premier League for Bradford City and Middlesbrough and played in the Scottish Premier League with Aberdeen before ending his professional career, which spanned 19 seasons, in 2010.
             But after squandering most of his fortune on clothes and top-of-the-range cars Windass has been left almost bankrupt, unable even to pay for his son's car insurance.  After retiring from playing Dean had hoped to move into management. But things didn't work out and he found it impossible to get work.

HARD MAN: but Windass had similar problems to Gary Speed
"After the suicide attempts, I need to get myself sorted.  Speaking out is part of the healing process," - Dean Windass   


          Without the day-to-day routine that life as a professional footballer brought, things soon spiralled out of control as Dean filled most of his days with trips to the pub.  As a local footballing legend, punters were only too happy to buy him drinks.  
             "After two failed suicide attempts, I need to get myself sorted out, which is why I'm speaking out now.  It's part of me getting better - part of the healing process.  People see me as a strong man, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I tried to end it all after a string of setbacks.  I just couldn't shake off the depression at feeling what a failure I'd become."
             At 42 years-old;  Windass is the same age as Gary Speed, who recently committed suicide and the troubled man finished by stating:  "We (footballers) are not the brightest but you play football all your life.  There are hundreds of us in the same situation.  After finishing football, there is nothing to get up for in the morning."
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14 January, 2012

O'Neill wins top sports writer's prize whilst Eoin Hand gains deserved Special Merit Award:

TOP AWARD:  New Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill (left)
            Former Shamrock Rovers' manager Michael O'Neill has been named the Airtricity/Soccer Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI) Manager of 2011 in recognition of his achievements with the Dublin club in retaining the league title and leading the club to become the first Irish club to reach the Group stages of a major European competition.
            The new Northern Ireland manager saw off competition from Sligo boss Paul Cook and midfielder Joseph Ndo, Cork boss Tommy Dunne and Eamon Zayed, who has just moved from Derry City to an Iranian club.
            Derry's Gerard Doherty won the goalkeeper of the year award ahead of Brendan Clarke and Gary Rogers.  His former manager Stephen Kenny wanted to take him to Shamrock Rovers but the custodian is staying in his native city, where pre-season training has already started.
SPECIAL MERIT AWARD: Former Ireland manager Eoin Hand
           Eoin Hand received a Special Merit  "lifetime achievement"  type award.  As one of the unluckiest managers ever in world football (being denied World Cup qualification - 1982 - on goal difference from a wrongly allowed goal in the last minute of qualification from a group containing Holland, Belgium and France); Hand had a number of rough years but is now involved in a number of football related projects.  Foremost amongst those projects is helping Irish youngsters who have not gotten contracts renewed with clubs abroad and are in danger of being left on the "scrapheap."  He also liaises with young players who have gone over to England along with work in football media.
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13 January, 2012

Fairytale Ravenhill night as Ulster all but seal place in Heineken knock-out phase:

Ulster's Trimble running riot at Ravenhill
With Ulster flying; Leinster on a roll and Munster also looking likely to emerge from their Pool;  what odds an all-Irish Heineken Cup Final (in England) in 2012?!         


             Ulster have enjoyed many famous nights at their ground of Ravenhill.  However, beating possibly the biggest British franchise in professional rugby;  the Leicester Tigers, must really top everything else.  Spearheaded by a forward pack led by Chris Henry and masterminded by fly-half Ruan Pienarr; Ulster played second (third and fourth) best for just about the entire game.
           Whilst Ulster's foreign stars were monumental; it was apt that it was homegrown talent which was the key difference and broke Leicester's back when all was said and done.  David Trimble's second try early in the second-half put Ulster over the 14 point lead, which was really the game defining score and a deficit the visitors were never going to recover from.
           Yes, Ulster won the Heineken Cup in 1999; but that was without any English clubs so there is an argument that should Ulster win their Pool (and it looks very likely that they will) then the 2011-'12 season will become Ulster's greatest.  To knock Leicester out of the competition and beat the two time Heineken Cup winners by 34 points tonight (with a bonus point) was a truly sensational achievement and should Ulster win their Pool; there won't be many sides who will relish visiting Belfast for the Quarter Finals.
What odds an all-Irish Heineken Cup Final in 2012?
           Having under achieved over the last 12 years; Ulster now must perform in Clermont next weekend.  The fact is that the northern province look much more than a top eight European side.  With Leinster on a roll and Munster also looking likely to emerge from their Pool;  what odds an all-Irish Heineken Cup Final (in England) in 2012?!
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12 January, 2012

Viva la Mexico: two Cork teenagers return after six month soccer trial:

Alan O'Flynn (right) in action for Cobh
            Two Cork teenagers; Peter Nolan and Alan O'Flynn (cousin of former Cork City player John O'Flynn) have just returned to Cork following a six month trial with professional Mexican club;  Leones Negroes.
            The 18 year olds first completed their Leaving Cert last summer before heading over for a five-and-a-month trial.  Alan had an uncle in Mexico and told his friend Peter that they were looking for players.  
            The two lads crossed the Atlantic and said they found it difficult to get used to training over the first few weeks, as the altitude and heat were a big factor.  A typical day would have involved rising at 5:30a.m. for a training session, then sleeping most of the day and possibly another training session in the evening.  Training was six days a week with a one week break in October.
Peter Nolan (foreground) in the same game
             Due to the three foreigner rule; there was no room for the two lads at the club and they were not offered a contract when their trial finished at the end of December.  The lads played golf in their spare time and were held in high regard by the other players.  They also visited charities and an orphanage in the city, who were highly impressed.
            The boys' future plans hit a big glitch when their coach was sacked in early December.  This was the final nail in the coffin for the boys who were given letters of reference thereafter.  
            The new manager had three games and had to win all three with the boys being told that they would have to be let go as they could be a distraction.  The boys said going to Mexico was hugely beneficial to them, to their game and that they have had some interest from clubs in the U.K.
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Banks pressurising GAA club officers:

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GAA DIRECTOR of FINANCE: Tom Ryan
            GAA's Director of Finance Tom Ryan, has assured club officers that they will not come under personal pressure from banks regarding arrears on club loans and debts.
             Some clubs have claimed that their officers were warned by banks that they could be personally liable for debts.
             However, Ryan said that while club trustees might have signed a loan agreement, they were only doing so on behalf of the club and could not be held personally responsible.  
           "As long as everything has been done, club officials are indemnified," said Ryan.  Ryan was at pains to stress the latter point as individuals being liable for club loans would undoubtedly reduce the number of officers who would make themselves available for work within clubs.
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11 January, 2012

Captain quits Cork City after being offered "unacceptable" terms whilst former 'keeper gets top UEFA job:

O'Halloran with boss Dunne in happier, league winning times
            Last season's captain;  Greg O'Halloran has announced that he is not going to accept a new contract offer from Airtricity League Division One champions Cork City.  
            Speaking last night, the Crosshaven native said:  "The terms were laughable.  As a player whose played over 60 games for the club, it's a big disappointment.  I was offered a near 80% reduction in terms from last season and having captained the club to promotion, I just wasn't prepared to accept that.  I'm going to concentrate on the family hauliage business now and get into coaching."
           O'Halloran wished the club all the best for the season but said that he will not be part of City's plans.  It comes as bad news for the club who are about to start pre-season training for their returning to the highest level of Irish football after a two year absence. 
Davin O'Neill has signed a new deal with Cork City FC
           In better news;  Cork City FC manager Tommy Dunne has this week competed the signing of experienced English midfielder Clark Keltie from Icelandic club Þór Akureyri.  One of last season's star men;  Davin O'Neill has also signed a one-year contract extension with the Rebel Army.  O'Neill said he is looking forward to the new season, stating that City are  "well capable of holding our own."  Gaffer Dunne said he was delighted with the two additions, having followed Keltie for some time and having watched him complete a trial with the club in summer 2011.
LEAVING IRELAND:  Former Cork City star Noel Mooney
           Off the pitch;  former CCFC goalkeeper Noel Mooney has taken up a role a role as Marketing Manager with UEFA in Nyon near Geneva.  
           Mooney spent the last five years with the FAI at their Abbotstown headquarters and has just finished his marketing post-graduate degree at DIT.
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09 January, 2012

Avondale close in on Munster Senior League Title:


Mayfield celebrate equaliser which moves Avondale near Title


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            The first post Christmas series of Munster Senior League games; look to be the games which finally put the debate as to who will lift the Title to bed.  Leaders Avondale enjoyed a comfortable 3-0 home win over Midleton at Avondale Park on Saturday to extend their lead.
            Game of the weekend took place at Rockmount Park where the hosts played out a thrilling 2-2 draw against Mayfield United.  Rockmount took the lead against the run of play on 25 minutes through a cracking free-kick from Gareth Cambridge.  The hosts extended their lead on the stroke of half-time with a close range finish from Alan O'Connor.
O'Connell: amateur international should have saved game changing goal
            The Mayfield management earned their  "money"  at half-time because they came out a different side, putting the hosts to the pin of their collar.  The visitors got back into the game through a well struck tight angled free-kick;  though Irish (amateaur) international goalkeeper Brendan O'Connell; should have done better at his near post.
            Mayfield were now piling on the pressure though they could have gotten done on the counter attack and very nearly did on two occasions as the game entered its final 10 minutes.  Mayfield weren't put off however, continuing to push bodies forward and were eventually rewarded when a fine ball was whipped across for McBride to head into an empty net with six minutes to play.
Avondale comfortably topple Midleton over weekend
            Both teams exchanged chances from there, but there was to be no more goals and a cracking, almost cup tie, was to benefit the league leaders, Avondale more than anyone else.  The southsiders are now six points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand.


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Irish 200/1 shot wins 1:40 at Taunton to become second longest priced winner in British racing history:

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200/1 "Lights of Broadway" wins Taunton National Hunt
            Regular readers of this website will be aware that horse racing is rarely featured here.  However, exceptional stories demand to be reported.  The events of today's 1:40 race at Taunton were certainly exceptional.
            Pre-race favourite "Night Rose" was, as expected; leading the way in the 2M 3F "National Hunt" Novice's Hurdle and was well on course to prove the bookies right until it fell at the second last.
            Here is where the outsider (of the 12 horse field) took its chance.  At the final flight;  the six year-old 200/1 shot "Lights of Broadway"  (described by the Racing Post pre-race as:  "Decidely ordinary")  took the lead.  It managed to hold on to the finish line; becoming the longest odds winner a race anywhere in Britain or Ireland for over 18 months.  "Night Rose"  was trained by Joe Hughes out of the Lambourn yard.
Mark Grant saw his long shot home as winner
            The forecast paid an enormous £3,484stg for a £1 stake with ""Wishes and Stars" coming in second at 50/1 and "Fortuna Rose" at 33's completing the placers.  William Hill reported that one online punter backed this, though the stake was just 3p!  £10 each/way or £5 the win were the highest stakes with one punter winning £2,500 off a £10 stake on the winning horse.
            Only 109 punters across all William Hill outlets (including online) backed the winning nag, though William Hill spokesperson Kate Miller said:  "We are very pleased to have only paid out £30,000 because the stakes were so small."
           It's the (joint) second longest shot ever to win a race in Britain.  "Equinoctal" was the longest priced horse to win since records began; coming home at odds of 250/1 at Kelso back in 1990.
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06 January, 2012

"Engage: The Rise and Fall of Matt Hampson:"

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The frequent references to  "The Shawshank Redemption" are utterly appropriate.  Both stories tell of a man unjustly imprisoned having committed no crime.  Both stories tell of a man seemingly without hope of release.                                                                
           The world we live in is one filled with self-pity.  Everywhere we turn there are people feeling sorry themselves;  "Oh, I want a job" or "Oh I don't want to go to work" or etc etc.  Or maybe my sight is clearer of something I am so consumed with!
           If ever there was a man entitled to feel sympathy it is one Matthew Hampson.  As an aspiring 20 year-old tighthead prop with Leicester Tigers and the England U-21 side;  Hampson was scrumming down for a training session with England on a cold March morning in 2005 at Northampton's Franklin Gardens.  The scrum had been re-set a number of times by world class (and crucially; paramedic) referee; Tony Spreadbury. 
          Upon appoximately the eighth scrum collapse; everyone stood up as per usual.  That is everyone except Matthew Hampson.  When his body was seen in a crumpled mess, everyone winced in horror.  Everyone apart from  "Spreaders"  that is, who came into his own and managed to save the young man's life by performing CPR. 

Matt Hampson today (right) and in his England  U-21 heyday
          When Hampson was eventually taken to hospital, it was revealed that he had broken the C1 and C5 vertebrae.  The only thing he could do indepenendently was blink and it appeared as if his chances of ever walking again were somewhere between slim and none though much closer to the latter than the former.  Here is a man who could very undersandably feel sorry for himself and ask the question:  "Why me?"  Whilst he certainly did ask that question; Matt's pervasive attitude throughout the book is the very opposite of self pitying.
           Like all autobiographies (if such a tome is possible for someone aged 26);  the book details the subject's life from early childhood onwards.  Where the book takes an intriguing turn is that it is split into two distinct parts which alternate throughout the book.  One part details Matt's daily struggles, trials and tribulations.  The other part of the book is an ingenius idea from ghostwriter;  Paul Kimmage.  He acts a  "Barrister"  in a court case and interviews all parties involved in the story.  Characters ranging from Matt's Mum, Dad
and sister to Matt's girlfriend  "Jennie" are all quizzed in depth about Matt.  Also spoken to are Leicester manager Richard Cockerill; Martin Johnson; Matt's friends, colleagues and the players who featured on that fateful March day that forever changed Matt's life. 
"Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'. That's God dam right."

           This book is a most interesting read (as one would expect of a William Hill Sports Book of the Year Winner); with the frequent references to the author and ghostwriter's favourite film;  "The Shawshank Redemption"  utterly appropriate.   Both stories tell of a man unjustly imprisoned having committed no crime.  Both stories tell of a man with seemingly no hope of release.
"Get busy living or get busy dying," - That's God dam right.
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05 January, 2012

The future of Irish amateur & lower league UK pro football:

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Markets Field, Limerick: 3G pitch hosting big inter-varsity cup
           A question for British and Irish footballers:  How many times have you suffered lower leg injuries caused by dodgy pitches ruined by winter weather?  My guess would be:  MANY?  In fact it's not a guess, it's a statement of fact.  It is just about impossible to avoid ankle injuries on football pitches churned up in winter.
           the most prestigious competition in Irish university football (the Collingwood Cup) will break new ground this year when the event will be played on a 3G artificial surface for the first time in its history.   The competition takes place in Markets Field Limerick from 21st - 24th February.
           Professional football in the UK tried dealing with this problem by introducing  "plastic pitches"  in the 1980's on lower league grounds who couldn't afford the constant care needed to maintain grass pitches.  Within 10 years, those pitches had been made illegal due to the problems (unpredictable bounce; impossible sliding tackles; balls careering all over the place) and injuries (on concrete like surfaces) often worse than those sustained on the pitches they were trying to combat!
          That was the 1980's (and early 90's) though.  This is 2012.  I have viewed an (artificial) all weather fourth generation pitch here in Mayfield in Cork city today.  If I had not been told the grass was fake, I would have thought it was real - aside from the fact that the surface was in perfect condition of course!  The simple fact is that amateur and lower league clubs simply don't have the money to maintain grass pitches ruined by bad weather and constant use.
Groundsmen won't be smiling when new surfaces introduced
          The English FA have taken a survey of League One and League Two (third and fourth tier professional) and they are split almost 50/50 as to whether they are in favour of reverting to these artificial surfaces.
         Attitudes have changed drastically to artificial pitches over recent years.  The reasons for this are twofold.  One is obvious; the fact that the quality of artificial surfaces has improved dramatically in the 21st century.  Secondly is economics.  Teams can train on these artificial pitches.  Youth teams also; meaning considerable sums can be saved on renting training pitches.  Instead of just being capable of hosting 20-30 games a season on a grass pitch; these new pitches can be used seven days a week, 365 days a year.  There is also the concern of cancelling games in mid-winter.  When a game is cancelled at the last minute it cost up to £100,000 for lower league clubs in terms of the costs of policing/stewarding/licencing/match officials etc and the fact that tickets must be valid for the game when it is eventually re-scheduled.

Stuart Pearce:  happy with new surface
 "Unlike the Astro Turf pitches I played on when I was younger, this gives a true roll of how a football pitch should be," - Stuart Pearce
(as seen on Sky Sports News)
          During November last; Football League clubs were given a presentation about the pros and cons of artificial pitches.  There will be another discussion in February, followed by a possible vote in June.
          Geoff Webb, Chief Executive of the Institiute of Groundsmanship says that permitting artificial surfaces would be a mistake.   "Why fix something that is not broken?" he said. "I think pitches throughout the Football League and the Premier League are seen pretty much as the world's best and they are an asset for football.  Some people think the artificial surfaces are maintenance free but they are not.  The artificial pitches are not all weather.  If it gets really cold and icy, you might have to cancel a game."   
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04 January, 2012

Big names pushing for Munster promotion:

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Ex Cork City player; UCC manager Caulfield
            Cork City FC's all-time leading goalscorer;  John Caulfield looks well poised to lead University College Cork (UCC) back to the Premier Division of the Munster Senior League as play resumes this weekend after the Christmas break.
           The students; on 20 points, are one point clear at the top of the First Division at the half-way stage of the season.  Caulfield has helped change round the fortunes of the side who had been relegated just before his appointment, two seasons ago.
           College have had a good season so far, with only two clubs taking points off them this season.  Those were second placed Carrigaline (19 points) and third placed Fermoy (18), who held them to a 0-0 draw in a hard fought tussle just before Christmas.  Fermoy goalkeeper is fromer Cork City star (and Ireland underage player) Mick Devine, who has played his part in keeping his side near the promotion places with four clean sheets in nine starts. 
             
Fermoy 'keeper Michael Devine
           College have a big game this weekend when they travel to take on Castleview at 5:45p.m. on Saturday.  Another former Cork City star; Patsy Freyne is the man in charge there and his side will definitely be there or thereabouts at the end of the season having lost just once so far and standing on 17 points.  At the other end of the table; Ballinhassig look doomed having garnered a mere one point from eight games though Tramore and Ballincollig (both played seven) are just two points above them with Ringmahon on the same number of points having played nine.
Patsy Freyne; 'View boss
           UCC for my money look the real deal here and could end the season with two trophies. 
           Meanwhile in the Premier Division; a special ceremony and presentation was held for Rockmount manager (and fomer player) Billy Cronin who is stepping down after 13 years in charge and having won every trophy that amateur football in Ireland has to offer.
Rockmount's most successful manager, Billy Cronin (right)

           The battle for the title in the top flight is a three-horse race; with little separating the  "Big Four":  Avondale, Rockmount, Everton and Douglas Hall.  The top four at the start of 2012 is the same as the top four at the end of last season, though in a different order.  Last year's champions, Rockmount lie in third place alongside Everton, with Douglas Hall in second place trailing leaders Avondale by five at the mid point of the season.  With Avondale looking odds on to win the Premier Title;  one feels this season that the main excitement will come from the first division and the battle for promotion there.
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