Are ‘over-hyped’ Joe Schmidt and Ireland, set for set for the usual World Cup fall? Ireland now firmly the dinosaurs of international football, Cuala confirm greatness, the Allianz Leagues the gift that keeps on giving, Waterford FC continue to impress, and Declan Rice delivers on the hype, and more woe for the Arsenal of Irish rugby.
It is time to answer the hard questions with The Seven Biggest Stories in Irish sport right now..
The Irish rugby team a good team – not a great team.
Ireland are Grand Slam champions, and deservedly so. The rush to crown them as the greatest Irish team ever, however, is accelerating at an embarrassing rate. Yes, we were the best team in the Six Nations, but we were also the luckiest. If not for Johnny Sexton’s heroics, and a misplaced Welsh pass, we may not have even won the title, never mind a Grand Slam.
Ireland have always tended to deliver in the Six nations for Joe Schmidt, but promptly fall flat on their faces at the World Cup. We are ranked second in the world on merit, but until an Irish team actually delivers on a world stage, they simply cannot be termed truly great.
Ireland’s current status as second-best team on the planet owes as much to the current standard of international rugby, with the likes of Australia, South Africa and even mega bucks England, really struggling.
For all the trumpeting of Joe Schmidt as the greatest ever Irish sporting coach, he still has not managed to make it to the last four in the World, in what is, in essence, an eight-team competition. The Six Nations is, in reality, a five-team competition at best – as Italy are truly woeful – so quite what all the hoopla is about is hard to discern.
Until Ireland and their coach deliver on the biggest stage, the jury should remain firmly out.
Long ball O’Neill’s Ireland are the dinosaurs of the international game.
Confidence on the ball, plenty of slick passing and incisive attack, were on show here. Sadly the fare that preceded the Waterford V Shamrock Rovers SSE Airtricity League tie, was of the ‘Puke Football’ variety, as Martin O’Neill’s long ball Ireland succumbed to an underwhelming 1-0 defeat, away to Turkey.
An Irish side containing plenty of new faces, struggled to string four passes together, and invariably lumped the ball long as their default action. Has it ever been any other way?
Trapattoni and even Jack Charlton resorted to the long ball option, as Ireland’s main plan of attack. The Turks as most decent international sides tend to do, simply gobbled it up and played with a composure, and a precision, that the visitors simply do not possess.
Ireland were toothless in attack, and in fairness to Sean Maguire and Scott Hogan. the service up to the forwards, was truly abysmal. Unless there is a real culture change, the Boys in Green are simply not going to create enough scoring chances, to win international soccer matches.
There are very few sides playing anti-football today, with even the likes of Macedonia able to pass The Boys in Green off the field. O’Neill, however, seems content to play caveman football, insisting we simply do not have the quality of player to compete with the top sides.
Iceland could comfortably fit into the city of Dublin half a dozen times, and do not have a raft of quality international players, yet they have a culture of passing football, and are well as having the typical O’Neill traits, of being well-organised, and totally committed to boot. They are qualifying for major tournaments, and are not taking the easy option of long ball Ireland.
It’s time for the manager and the players to show some courage. They are all well-paid professionals; there is simply no excuse for not be able to pass the ball at international level.
If you went to the Phoenix Park any Sunday, a junior soccer team would string more passes together, than the current international crop.
Stephen Kenny and Dundalk have proved you can mix it at European level by playing the passing game, and O’Neill and his assistant Roy Keane are culpable, for the lack of invention and ideas on the international stage.
Rice delivers on the hype.
Declan Rice is one of the few shining lights in Irish international football terms at present. The West Ham defender has garnered rave reviews across the pond, and it was hoped he would deliver on the hype, when he donned a green jersey for the first time against Turkey.
While fellow debutants like Seanie Maguire and Scott Hogan struggled to have any impact, Rice was imperious in both defence, and a more advanced midfield role.
Calm and poised in possession, he looks to the manor born at international level. Irish fans will be hoping he plays a serious competitive game to remove an uncertainty, about his long-term international future. He certainly would be a welcome addition.
Are Cuala the greatest hurling club side of all time?
Are Cuala the greatest hurling club side of all time? Probably!
In a championship that is becoming harder and harder to win, they somehow found a way to defeat a valiant Na Piarsaigh side, in an epic replay in Portlaoise last Saturday.
This Cuala outfit are no one trick pony, as even with their talisman Con O’Callaghan being well shackled again, they conjured up a two-goal salvo after half-time, which seemed to be the telling blow in what was one of the greatest club All-Ireland’s ever.
Na Piarsaigh refused to buckle, however, and with O’Callaghan to the fore in those final heart-stopping moments, they sealed a triumph, that confirms Cuala as one of the greatest club hurling sides the game has ever seen.
Very few teams can put All-Ireland club titles back-to-back. With the likes of Thurles Sarsfields, Ballygunner, Portumna, Ballyhale, and Na Piarsaigh boasting nearly All-Star selections, it is a feat of epic proportions.
League Quarter-finals deliver entertainment in a league of its own.
The much-maligned hurling League quarter final’s, have long been held up as a study in triviality. Managers and fans have derided their value, as an exercise in GAA political correctness.
If the evidence of the first three quarter-final’s this year are anything to go by, the perception is a long way short of reality. Kilkenny and Offaly went all the way, and only for a mighty catch from TJ Reid, could have delivered the mother of all shocks.
Limerick and Clare produced as good a game, as you will see all year, after over 100 pulsating minutes of pure drama. Ditto Galway and Wexford, who slugged it out in Innovate Wexford Park, with the current All-ireland champions being dumped out of the competition.
Three gripping ties fuelled by blood and thunder and magnificent hurling, have finally put the tired old mantra of, ‘It’s only the League’ very firmly to bed.
It is entirely possible we will not see better fare for the rest of the season, as for all the build up, the championship tends to deliver a lot of lame ducks. The football league has already thrown up superb entertainment, and under the current guise is a perfect working model, with all teams playing at their own standard.
Hopefully, the Super 8’s will deliver a better championship, than we have had for the last ten years, with the only meaningful matches coming in Late August.
One thing is for certain. The Allianz National Leagues continue to deliver top quality GAA action, year in and year out.
Waterford FC return to the big time with a bang
Waterford’s resurgence in football terms has been one of the good news stories of the SSE Airtricity League, in the last few seasons. They added another significant scalp to their growing collection on Friday night, as they defeated a star-studded Shamrock Rovers, at a rocking RSC.
On the pitch they are playing an attractive brand of football, to complement the sterling work off it. The Waterford public are beginning to take this team to their hearts, with over three thousand fans passing through the turnstiles on a night when the weather would have made it easier to stay at home and watch the RTE coverage.
If you consider they were very unlucky to lose at Dundalk, to an unfortunate own goal, the Blues could be sitting at the top of the league. Waterford have a great footballing tradition, and with this exciting young team on a roll, anything is possible.
The ‘Arsenal of Irish rugby’ living up to their reputation.
Another heavy defeat for Ulster as their freefall shows no sign of abating. It is hard to believe the province that provided the Nat West Six Nations Player of The Tournament, are such a shambolic mess at present.
The comment by former Ulster legend Stephen Ferrism, likening the province to, ‘The Arsenal of Irish rugby,’ appears to be right on the money. They can play some lovely attacking rugby, but the work in the trenches leaves a lot to be desired.
It was hoped they could salvage some pride by delivering a Pro 14 title, that hope is now in tatters. It’s time for some serious change of personnel, on and off the pitch.