Friday, January 30, 2009

The phony war begins - national league preview

Q How is the national league like a prostitute?
A Because it can be anything you want it to be baby.

The national football league rolls into town this weekend amid the usual fanfare (little) even with a marquee game – Dublin/ Tyrone under lights, the uniqueness! - to announce its arrival. See, there are differing notions out there about its importance, its relevance and its standing in the grander scheme of things. Plenty decent footballing folk would have to strain a little to remember who even won the damn thing last year, or the year before, never mind explain what role it played in the 2008 footballing year as a whole. As reminder, it was Derry who lifted the trophy, but it mattered not a whit when they tumbled out of the championship later in the summer. Ditto for Donegal the previous year.

Truth is, it depends largely on your placing and how far along the path your county finds itself as to how beneficial the league can be. Will the league really open Mickey Harte’s eyes to anything new or help Tyrone cure their second-season sickness? Not likely. Will Cork learn how to kill Kerry off in Croke Park? Nope. Do Derry or Donegal (or even Fermanagh, Armagh or Monaghan) really need another successful league campaign to have a crack at Ulster? Not really. For many of the more developed sides, unearthing a new talent, filling a problem position, and avoiding any disastrous run of results would suffice. New managers could do with the confidence of a decent league but then it didn’t do Kieran McGeeney any harm at Kildare to take a few beatings in Division 1A last campaign.

That’s not to say there won’t be teams targetting the league as pretty important. For all that some would like to play down the fact, Pat Gilroy steps into a pressurised position with no experience of managing a team and with that group nearing last chance saloon territory. Gilroy could do with a few wins to get the players onside quickly, though he still won’t know till August if the breakthrough against the top sides is likely. John O’Mahony probably needs to build a structure and repair the heads of a downcast Mayo side. Jack O’Connor will surely blood some newbies down in Kerry, find positions and form for vital members of the team, as well as rebuilding any relations that might have been damaged by that book.
For this weekend, Dublin-Tyrone looks the most interesting by far, with Gilroy surely hoping to avoid being taught a lesson in football by Tyrone.

A few words on Cork (we’ll have a more detailed look after Meath on Monday). Meet the new team, same as the old team. It seems scouring the county with trials/ McGrath Cup didn’t turn up much to get excited about, with only Noel O’Donovan at full-back - an aggressive, strong, decent footballing sort - anything like new blood to run the rule over. Worries include a lack of strength in depth at midfield, and a half-forward line which mixes the unproven and the disproven. Still, the defence looks mightily strong and you’ll struggle to match that half-back line. This year’s a big one for Cork and Conor Counihan.

World title fight to Ireland - Dunne

So we're getting a world title match-up in Ireland (something we predicted earlier this month folks!) and not before time. It seems an age since we had the Steve Collins fights with the likes of Eubank/ Benn or even Wayne McCullough's brawls with various tough cookies to look forward to. Now we've got Bernard Dunne bringing some hope, after lining up a frankly mouth-watering match-up with the very highly-rated Panamanian Ricardo Cordoba, the current WBA champ.

Jumpthefence has been calling Bernard Dunne to be more ambitious with his choice of fights for a time but can have no complaints here. Cordoba is the real deal (34-1-2) at just 24 years old, a guy who's beaten someone like Celestino Cabellero can't be sniffed at. Cordoba is a southpaw, technically excellent, won't be throwing barrages of punches but tends to make his punches count. He ain't a Kiko Martinez for punchiing power so Dunne ought have no worries about being knocked out cold.

We'd expect a 12-rounder here, a belter of a technical fight for the boxing connoisseur rather than a scrap. Dunne will need to be at his best to get anything from this, but then again, isn't that the way it ought to be?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oz backpacker returns - Kennelly to Kerry

An interesting experiment is about to get under way in gaelic football. No, not the new rules. We're about to gauge whether it's possible to play another sport for close to a decade and come back to the top level here in Ireland, with Tadhg Kennelly's announcement of a retirement from Sydney Swans AFL side and a comeback to Kerry for good. It's a slight surprise that it's come this winter and not next, but it's not unwelcome and it's certainly not without its interesting elements.

Make no mistake, Kennelly will take a call from Jack O'Connor enquiring as to his interest sooner rather than later; being from Kerry and having a family steeped in the tradition, we can only imagine Kennelly will jump at the chance. Jumpthefence can only speculate that O'Connor would want such a fine athlete and intelligent, graceful footballer in his squad. We've been a fan since we first saw young Kennelly as a 16-year old - we shared a pitch with him that day in fact, and he tore Jumpthefence's side to pieces - and though he was coltish and raw, there was talent in everything he did. He's been probably as successful an export as we've had in sporting terms recently, winning an AFL title over there and impressing with an all-action style, energy and the way he took to the game's skills so easily. Then again, a Kerryman has that rhythm with a football of any shape.

That's not to say there won't be questions hanging over him. Kennelly's been pretty injury prone this past couple of years, said to be a factor in him returning. He's not played gaelic football at a decent level in quite some time, and no matter his eagerness or adaptability, there'll be a settling-in period where he'll need to acclimatise to the difference in tackling, the non-mark, the differing spaces and movements of the pitch and players in the Irish code. Where Jack O'Connor might earmark a spot for him will also play a part. We'd hazard a guess it'll be somewhere in the middle third - Kennelly was a roving, scoring half-forward in a previous life, though he may be more suited to a facing onto ball in an attacking wing-back role these days. Another reason to watch this summer with interest. Another reason to back the Kingdom? We'll see.

What you don't do when you need a goal...

Sub Steven Gerrard it seems. It may have been the most controversial substitution since RTE threw Eamonn Dunphy on the bench for being "tired and emotional" during the last World Cup. Last night, with his team just after conceding an entirely predictable equaliser away at Wigan and on the way to another demoralising draw in the title run-in, Rafa Benitez somehow decided that logic dictated taking off the one guy on the field you'd put your house on creating something in the final ten minutes. The fact he replaced him with Robbie Keane, a man Rafa has as much faith in as Richard Dawkins does in creationism, screamed even louder the craziness of such a theory. As Liverpool seem to be falling further and further into the abyss of also-rans, Gerrard has been the one guy popping up with the goals, the one player you'd trust to run sixty yards in the final minute and smash one into the top corner from the edge of the box. Babel, Kuyt, Riera, Keane, Lucas? Not on your nelly. Pool are edging closer to being written off, Rafa's losing it slowly but surely. We'll get back to Rafa and Liverpool, maybe next week. For now, read Rob Smyth's view on last night.

Oh and an extra treat - cop a load of the trailer of the Damned United, if it's half as entertaining as the book, we're in for a ride.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Newspapers v bloggers - the unnecessary war

Keith Duggan and Tom Humphries have both tackled, though from different perspectives, the old traditional newspaper v internet/ bloggers debate in the last couple of weeks in the Irish Times. Both did so half-satirically / half-serious though the two pieces came across a little too negatively for me, with the ah-sure-what-was-wrong-with-the-old-fashioned-way argument put across. There was a sports blog in Salon recently about ignorance not being a sportswriting skill – basically on some American sportswriters putting the latest stats and techniques down as fads or gimmicks – and it’s an argument that could equally be applied here.

First, let me declare myself fully. Jumpthefence may be a blogging warrior – shouldn’t we bloggers have our own flag/ army/ land even? - these days but was very much a print journo in a different life. So we’ve two perspectives on this. Secondly, I love newspapers. When I lived abroad for a spell – and for that early period where the language gap was too great to extract any enjoyment from browsing a paper – it was possibly, genuinely, the greatest form of homesickness we encountered. Not picking up the paper every day with our morning coffee. Not getting to read about the matches every Monday morning. Not lounging around of a Sunday with two or three papers and buckets of coffee.

But there’s a wind blowing now that’s slowly and surely making them less relevant. Ten years ago I’d have lapped up every word on the Examiner’s soccer pages; now it’s nothing I haven’t seen on Sky Sports or the Guardian website maybe half a day earlier. I used to buy two newspapers every day; now I read them online. If they’re not willing to evolve here, they’re going to die. I don’t think that’s putting things too strongly.

Yep, there’s nothing like kicking back with a killer 6,000-word profile from Sports Illustrated or obscure story from the Observer Sports Mag but there’s a time and a place for the snappy, reactionary 500-word blog piece appearing thirty minutes after the game ending on a random Wednesday evening. Hankering after the old ways isn’t going to change reality. Newspapers will need to find a niche, something they’re bloody good at delivering and they’ll need to tailor it to the internet market rather sharpish.

The leaders in the sporting press are the Guardian, who’ve embraced their website and the blog so wholeheartedly that you can expect to read constantly updating news and anywhere from 10-20 quality sportsblogs every day, whether it be Jonathan Wilson pontificating on football tactics or Paul Doyle pissing off Liverpool fans. Their writing staff are expected to provide web-only work, as now are the London Times’ sportswriters. Yet Irish newspapers remain blissfully unaware or dangerously uncaring about the possibilities (yeah, yeah, we know the Guardian access a global market but there’s no reason Irish newspapers couldn’t make some effort) of getting their staff (or specially employed staff) to provide web-only work.

The Irish Times make a token effort sportswise, updating their website sporadically for news stories, but surely there’s something to be gained from a bit of initiative. Get Tom Humphries to contribute an analytical piece every week on something GAA or Keith Duggan to take on some issue of the day/ past with some serious analysis. Have some colour pieces on their website by Sunday evening of a big GAA weekend – why were Dublin so crap today?; Is that the end for Cork hurlers?; is Kieran Donaghy wasted at full-forward? The Irish Examiner could barely make less effort with their website so fresh blogs daily would spice things up. Sunday papers like the Times and Tribune can surely wring a few decent blogs or podcasts a week from all the quality writers they possess.

The plain fact is that they’ll have to embrace this new medium with full enthusiasm rather than the rather sneering tone papers are showing towards blogging and change in general. Adam Maguire has already predicted the end for the Tribune this year. The Irish Times are laying off staff again. There’s little to be lost and everything to be gained by showing some spark in the limitless potential of the website/ blogging world and sports is the obvious frontier to do battle on initially. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone makes that leap.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Captains - important or a side issue?

Well, it seems everyone's got a different thing to say about captaincy in sport and there's a bit of a kerfuffle going on right now with some teams. We've had William Gallas removed as captain from Arsenal. Waterford hurlers seem to be going with two captains for next season. Dublin footballers are going to rotate theirs. Kerry footballers look set to be laden with another problematic situation of a captain who's just not automatic first choice. Is it all a tad forced, this captaincy lark? Does it really make a difference who leads the side out, who collects a trophy if successful?

Declan Kidney's going to have to make a choice sooner rather than later on the captain of the Irish rubgy team with the Six Nations looming. Brian O'Driscoll's been there for a good while now and done grand, been reasonably successful but there's got to be a train of thought that goes it's time for a change. O'Driscoll would benefit from the lack of media spotlight that goes with the role and it might open up that extra 10-15% he's perhaps been lacking in an Irish jersey. Paul O'Connell is the obvious choice - a leader of men, an inspirational sort who'll throw himself into tackles and carry ball with the sort of ferocity that lifts a team. Jumpthefence is of the opinion we may have overrated O'Connell in this country - the Paul O'Connell cult is just embarrassing;on the biggest occasions of Lions Tours / World Cups he's been in poor form and he's been outplayed too many times by French, Argentinian, New Zealand second rows - but he's in huge form for Munster right now. A rugby captain makes choices on the field, so it's genuinely an important call for Kidney. Politics of the upcoming Lions tour may, though we hope not, come into it.

GAA's a different matter. Captaincy here is only an issue really when it's handled badly, as it can be in counties. Kerry are one of the counties that have this crazy rule of giving the role to the county championship winners, a rule that can lead to problems. Darren O'Sullivan's been mooted as the 09 captain and while the lad from Glenbeigh is a flyer on his day, he's never nailed a permanent starting spot on the first fifteen. Never mind that the thought of O'Sullivan standing up in front of guys like the O'Ses, Donaghy and the big personalities in the Kerry dressing-room is madness. I'm sure O'Sullivan could do without the hassle, without all the questions and the speculation and jibes as the summer goes on and if things turn sour.

I've never really understood the hype that goes with the captaincy in GAA or the seriousness placed on it by clubs or communities. Jumpthefence was gobsmacked at the trouble caused between John Egan/ Jack O'Shea when reading Michael Foley's Kings of September, all due to the captaincy issue in 1982. Isn't an All-Ireland medal to the club enough?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The strange case of Stephen Ireland

It doesn’t quite make us Arsene Wenger but Jumpthefence liked the look of Stephen Ireland from the beginning. We remember a wonderful assist at Fulham way back in his early days that suggested a higher path to follow and there were glimpses of brilliance, if not quite sustained excellence, over the last few seasons. The turn on Nemanja Vidic at Old Trafford and the goal assist that followed in December 06. Cracking goals against Wigan and Sunderland. Most of all it was that technique and composure on the ball. Ireland, ironically enough, didn’t play like an Irish player at all; his skill set spoke more of a European style, someone who’d grown up with a ball at his feet and who mastered the basics pretty early on in his career. In fact, over a year ago we called him the most technically gifted Irish footballer of a generation – that we’ve seen even - and we’re more convinced of it now.

Watch Ireland play and he’ll very rarely lose a ball with a poor first touch, or give a silly hopeful pass when a simple one is on – he’s learnt that every ball doesn’t have to be a killer one as well this season. He’s damn cool in goal situations, as he’s shown for Ireland with those extremely calm finishes against Wales and Slovakia especially. Weaknesses have been worked on. This time last season there would have been question marks over fitness, staying power and physical presence in a midfield position. Ireland slaved all summer to get his conditioning right and came back a stronger, fresher footballer. John Giles’s valid criticism in the past was a reticence (or inability) to impose himself on a game, to demand the ball and make things happen. Anyone who’s seen Ireland play for Man City this season – against Arsenal especially – knows that’s been knocked on the head now too. 20 league games with 7 goals and 6 assists are the bare stats but Ireland’s been even better than that would suggest.

All of which makes the Ireland story run and makes it so depressing. The deal was that he’d call when he’s ready to come back and it’s plain stirring to say Trapattoni should have named him in a squad in the hope he might show up. The management have done all they can. Ireland, for his part, has made it reasonably clear that he’s happy enough away from it all right now. That’s his decision, for better or worse. I’d be with Vincent Hogan in that it’s probably best to draw a line underneath it all now and move on without him. The hype and whisperings and loaded questions that accompany every squad announcement don’t help anyone.

Why’s Ireland not for turning? Well I’d guess at a few different reasons. I’m imagining he sees the press interest when he isn’t even here and baulks at the thought of running that gauntlet and all the probing that’d accompany a comeback. I’d suggest Ireland’s a sensitive enough sort that doesn’t really fancy stepping back into a dressing-room to be met by a mixture of bitterness, slagging, bitching and lack of friendliness.

About a year back Jumpthefence spoke to a guy who covers Man City for Manchester Evening News who described Ireland as a quiet lad who loved to just train and play football and a guy who was hugely popular with teammates and liked within the club itself. Ireland feels comfortable in his environment at Eastlands, is playing superbly and the thought of stepping out of that comfort zone by coming to Dublin doesn’t seem worth the risk. I’m not arguing it’s the right choice, and I’d think he’ll either regret it or change his mind sometime in the future, but I can see the reasoning.

From an Irish point of view, it’s terribly disappointing not to have our most in-form player available but heaping abuse and derision on Stevie Ireland isn’t the way to go here. Time to move on without him if that indeed is his wish.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Things we learnt...

So another weekend where much knowledge was imparted. Mainly that...
1 Nobody does it better
This win from an imperious, entirely eminent Munster team might just have been their most impressive of all. Sure there've been miracle matches and Heineken Cup finals win even, but in hammering Sale on Friday night, they put together one of the more complete performances possible at a high level of rugby. Sale weren't mugged or taken by surprise; they simply weren't good enough and were blown away by the ferocity of Munster at the breakdown and the variety and cleverness of their rugby with possession. The first try was wonderfully worked. The second try was rugby at its most intelligent, probing for weakness and keeping the ball until eventually making that incision. One of the great nights at Thomond, and that's saying something.
Read the always readable Gerry Thornley's report here
Watch highlights here

2 There's no way back for Stevie Ireland
Not that Jumpthefence was getting carried away by alleged exclusives in the Daily Star (or pictures of his gran with her thumbs up saying he's coming back!) but I think we can put to bed talk of Ireland's most talented footballer of the moment making any return for now. We'll get back to the Man City star soon (tomorrow hopefully) and talk much more of the Ireland squad as Georgia approach, but today's squad announcement makes a few things clear. Ireland ain't for turning, or he'd be here for this. Andy Reid's possibly in permanent isolation now. We're desperately short in midfield if Liam Miller/ Andy Keogh are involved. We've a lot of guys either not playing or not playing well. Ah, pessismism returns, but we'll see.

3 United made their statement
It wasn't pretty or convincing but it was made. Tevez and Berbatov had been damn poor but pulled a goal from the bag between them when it was needed - don't underplay Giggs' influence either - and that may be the difference. Man Utd had three games to win in a week to go top and they did so. When Liverpool had three home games to pull away before Christmas they drew them all. I've heard the argument that when United scrape a last-minute winner it's called being resilient while when Liverpool do it, it's called lucky, but there's a reason for this. United do it far too often for it to be luck. And they've worked up enough goodwill and championships over the years to earn that kind of respect. When Liverpool win a championship title, they'll be entitled to put late, unconvincing wins down to bravery and strong mentality as well. Until then, there'll be questions. Everton tonight will be interesting, though recent history suggests a Pool win.

Friday, January 16, 2009

People overreaching on Friday?

Some random musings from this morning's headlines...

a It seems Kaka to Man City could in fact be a goer - see previous blog to know just why that possibility pains me - with Milan pondering the riches (wouldn't you?) and the boy himself surely at least a little curious and apparently also somewhat frustrated with his role at Milan in these Ronaldinho days. It all reeks of Fantasy football, where you'd discover some cheat that'd get you 100m to spend and then bid for all the best players in Europe. The pity is that the market was just nearly getting back to realistic levels after Chelsea's splurging of 2003-06, and now we've got possibly the first 100m footballer, earning something like £500k a week. It's disgusting money, it really really is vulgar in the extreme.

b Rafa's turned down the latest contract offer from the lads across the pond. Much as I'd like to be going against the Americans here, is there not a case for them to worry about Benitez having full control over signings? Particularly when you look at Robbie Keane (£20m in summer, now doesn't trust him to score goals and clearly not first choice) and Andrea Dossena (£9m in summer, can't defend to save his life, also untrusted now) from last summer's transfers.

c Amir Khan v Marco Antonio Barrera looks an odd choice from the Khan camp. Okay, Barrera won't have the explosive power of Breidis Prescott but the Mexican will bring the sort of street smarts, experience and strength that's seen off a whole pile of young upstarts over the years; just ask a certain Prince Naseem Hamed. In ways it's a brave move to throw the 22-year-old into the ring with such a polished performer as Barrera - they're clearly hoping the Mexican (35 now and after serious losses to Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez in recent times) will be too slow, old and light to trouble the hyped-up Englishman. This could come back to bite them on the ass.

Other things we've liked this week:
Times fall for player prank in 50 to watch list
Guardian on Fergie's mind games myths
Irish times on munster's latest do or die encounter

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reason to be depressed no 724

Jumpthefence isn't ashamed to admit he's a little bit in love with Kaka. You know the way everyone had favourite players when they were younger, players they'd pretend to be out in the schoolyard or when smashing a ball around with friends down the pitch, well if I was still a nine-year old kid, I'd be Kaka. (As an aside, Jumpthefence recalls wanting to be Franco Baresi for a long spell, a rather bizarrely unglamourous choice that must say something about mentality.)

I remember crushing into Italian pubs and cafes throughout 2003 and 2004 to watch the wonderful Brazilian perform from his box of tricks and he rarely disappointed. Perhaps I romanticise Kaka as some sort of symbol of a couple of years spent in Italy, but he's always struck me as the most poetic of footballers, so graceful and balanced, always capable of picking out the right pass or shot for the right occasion, possessing all the skills - surprising turn of pace, two great feet, awareness, selflessness. He never showed off unnecessarily; he just conjured goals and assists from everywhere.

Sure he appeared a little wasted in Milan this past couple of seasons but if was going to move, I wanted somewhere fitting, somewhere with a tradition of loving great attacking footballers - Barcelona, Real Madrid, Man Utd. So imagine the disappointment of the news Man City are in talks to bring him to Eastlands in a £91m bid. Imagine the potential waste of a talent like Kaka, a real shining star being extinguished by the shoddy cash-waving of a club who stand for everything horrid about football today. Imagine him wasting a few years in mediocrity as they attempt to paste together a side of stars. I only hope (and I think it might be so) that the boy has more class than that, but of course even Milan will find it hard to turn down that kind of money these days. It'd make my eyes bleed to see a genuinely great player in mid-table scraps rather than the Champions League nights his talent deserves.

Monday, January 12, 2009

United lay their cards on table

Though we tend to overhype the bigger Premier League games as season-defining more often than strictly true, yesterday may just have bucked the trend. It genuinely did have a sense of shaping a season about it by the end. Because at the end of 90 minutes at Old Trafford yesterday, Man Utd had laid down their challenge to make it three-in-a-row titles and Chelsea had done everything but wave the white flag in their efforts to make a go of it, surrendering in a manner that suggest serious problems at Stamford Bridge.

It's fair to say the absence of Rio Ferdinand and the inclusion of Ryan Giggs in midfield - to the exclusion of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes especially- raised a few eyebrows pre-match and maybe tilted a lot of predictions towards the crowd in blue. Shows how much the average punters (Jumpthefence included it turns out) know and just why Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager of a generation. Giggs was truly superb and composed, Fletcher a bundle of energy - and the most improved player at a big club this season, that he was a definite starter beforehand says a lot - alongside him. Sure, Chelsea played some keepball for the opening half-hour but there was no penetration, no end product and Edwin Van Der Sar was as much a bystander as Jose Mourinho in the stands.

United were by no means overly fluent or outstandingly sharp going forward but they had an energy, a purpose and a threat that eventually wore Chelsea down and once they sensed a vulnerability in their opponents, United had that mentality to go for the throat. They were a big-game club yesterday. Park was boundless in his running on the wing. Ronaldo was dangerous, was involved in two goals, had two disallowed - probably both wrongly, wasn't that corner-kick trick clever in such a huge game? - and was just wide with another excellent attempt. Rooney worked tirelessly and grabbed a goal. Berbatov linked well and ended with a fine goal and an assist. More than anything, Vidic was absolutely immense, Evans looks a real player and the whole defence was rock-solid - they haven't conceded in eight league games. You have to fancy them going on a run of wins from here.

Chelsea were simply blown away and their lack of fight was kind of sad by the end. Like a washed-up fighter who'd suddenly realised, in a world title fight, there was little left in them. John Terry looked resigned to defeat. Deco and Ballack look shadows of once-great players. Drogba was disgracefully uninterested. Anelka was Anelka. They'll do well to mount any kind of challenge in the league after this sort of loss.

It was that kind of day,two performances and a result that seemed to have more meaning than one game really should. We'll learn soon enough if that's the case.

Things we learnt

1 United look a good bet; Others are shaky
We'll expand on the Utd-Chelsea game in a while but for now, awful as Chelsea no doubt were yesterday, fact is Man Utd made a serious statement of intent with that 3-0 win. They were energetic, lively, strong-minded, had a good tempo and when it came to the crunch of a big game, had the mindset to go for it and win. Chelsea look more vulnerable than any time recently, they're not playing for Scolari and Drogba's a liability wandering around like that. Liverpool and Rafa lost the plot a little by drawing at Stoke - no easy place to win obviously - but after the rant by their manager they needed to make their own statement. That they struggled to says a lot about their chances of sustaining this challenge. Leading onto...

2 Rafa doesn't fancy our Robbie
Look, we do seem to be having a go at poor Robbie Keane a lot here but we hold no grudge against the man. Much as we Irish may moan about the craziness of Benitez leaving Keane on the sideline, it's not like Keane has shown lethal, deadly finishing recently. But with Pool drawing 0-0, needing a goal from somewhere, that Benitez again left Keane on the line says everything you need to know about his real feelings on the striker: he doesn't think he's up to it. Rightly or wrongly, that's a simple fact. That Benitez spent £20m on a striker he's decided six months later isn't good enough must raise questions in Pool supporters (and American owners) heads. That Benitez went to Stoke with Kuyt up front on his own and two sitting midfielders says a lot about his mentality too though.

3 RTE ought never do GAA specials (ever!)
Take your pick on the worst moments of a typically cringe-inducing, clichéd, Late Late show GAA special. The Fields of Athenry by Brush Shiels. Bertie and Dunphs together. Showing Darragh that pic of Brian Dooher. More of the Kerry-Dublin "hilarious characters and stories from the golden era of football". The woeful attempt at parody from the comedian that was simply in bad taste. The lack of effort at including anything slightly to the left of the bigger names. Late Late specials are always terrible. This was especially terrible. Please spare us anything like this again. Please.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

9 predictions for 09

Jumpthefence has gazed into the crystal ball and seen...
1 Ireland to take second in our World Cup qualifying group; play-off despair to followPlease God this won’t come true, we could do with the shot in the arm of qualification. I fancy us to squeeze second if Bulgaria continue their dire form – I genuinely feel first is beyond us – but then it depends on the draw. Croatia, Denmark, Russia, Switzerland, Poland, Serbia, Turkey are the sort of teams you’re talking.

2 Another rather lacklustre Six Nations campaign for Irish rugby, losing twice, finishing 3rd
Time will tell if Declan Kidney can bring a Munster-type grinding of wins to an Irish team that’s desperately low in confidence. Either way, I can’t see us coming through England and France at home/Wales away without losing at least twice right now.

3 Man Utd to overtake nervy Liverpool on road to Prem Lge glory, Robbie Keane not to improve his form or finishing
Oh, this could come back to bite Jumpthefence. United haven’t clicked into gear at all and Liverpool are just showing signs of doing so. But I fancy United to put some run of eight or nine wins in a row together and still think Liverpool will snatch too many draws from winnable games. And Robbie didn’t look promising at Preston last weekend.

4 Kerry to take advantage of Tyrone’s second-year syndrome (we won’t even waste a prediction on Kilkenny)
Jack O’Connor having more bite than Pat O’Se, the pressure of 3-in-a-row off, points to prove from Donaghy, Galvin, Cooper and more, new talents like Walsh, Moran, O’Shea. All reasons for Kerry. Mayo and Meath to have decent showings. Hurling = Kilkenny with Galway and Tipp making gos of it.

5 Andy Murray to win a major; possibly, horrendously for us, even WimbledonAnother Tim Henman, Murray is not. Seems to have the ability and drive, he’s now beaten both Nadal and Federer reasonably regularly. The test will be the expectation at Wimbledon. I’d put my house on him doing it some day, it could even be this year.

6 Stephen Ireland to come back and be worth it, Andy Reid to come back and be underwhelming, Shay Given to take a leap of faith and finally move to a big clubDestiny tells us Andy Reid will somehow, somewhere get a chance under Trap and mess it up. Stephen Ireland’s too good to mess his shot up. Our big hope is that Given gets his shot at an Arsenal or someone similar.

7 Lance Armstrong’s comeback to be an anti-climax; Tiger Woods’ to be anything but
Much as Armstong will bring some drama and story to Le Tour, it’s damn hard to see him winning it after years away from the saddle. On the other hand, we expect Tiger to confirm his greatness by taking up Harrington’s challenge and winning at least two majors.

8 John Duddy, Andy Lee and Bernard Dunne will all get some form of title shots; only one, at most, will win
All these Irish fighters are going into career-defining years. All need big wins over decent opponents to prove they’re worth the hype. Duddy and Lee have been away for over six months but might come back refreshed. Dunne has a lot to prove yet. Interesting times.

9 Lionel Messi to blow Cristiano Ronaldo away in the race for ‘best player in the world’ as Barcelona win La Liga/ Champions League
Jumpthefence has made the point before that we’d consider Messi (and Kaka, by the by) superior players but that Ronaldo had been more effective than either for eighteen months. Barca are now really turning it on and Messi is leading the charge – that hat-trick and ovation against Atletico, sensational away at Sevilla.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Clough junior's impossible job

It’s nigh on impossible if you’re any sort of football supporter not to be moved a tad in some strange way by Nigel Clough taking up the reins as manager of Derby County, and in doing so, following his extremely talented, famous, and of course stone bonkers dad, Brian. By the time Jumpthefence was growing up, Brian Clough was a bit of an eccentric manager who we knew mainly for wearing green jumpers on the sideline at Notts Forest and introducing Roy Keane to top level football. Oh, what we missed out on, and in ways it was only on reading David Peace’s wonderful book, the Damned United, a couple of years back, that Clough’s achievements hit us.

Rightly enough it was different times, but Clough took Derby County from the second tier division to winning the title and making the semis of the European Cup in five seasons, an incredible odyssey in days it was impossible to “buy” a league ala Chelsea or Man City’s current attempts. Then to prove it was no fluke, he did the same with Notts Forest, winning the league, two European Cups and putting together a lovely, fluent side of footballers. He got the absolute best from almost every player he managed in those days (with the exception of his 44 days at Leeds of course) and made stars of a pile of average-to-decent footballers. He was batty obviously, but the man clearly had something about him that worked.

Imagine the sort of work his young fella would have to do to match Clough’s legacy; imagine the plaudits for promoting Derby, then winning the league, then reaching the semis of the Champions League. Impossible. But we can’t help root a tiny bit for the younger Clough to do well.

Thrilla in Manila -boxing's greatest night

Watched the Thrilla in Manilla documentary again the other night in tandem with flicking over to Cathal O’Shannon’s interview with Ali on RTE. Wowee, to have lived in such a golden age of boxing where genuine legends got in the ring with each other for nothing more than proving themselves as the best around. Lordy, but Ali and Frazier left themselves in the ring that night in the Philippines. Rumble in the jungle (Ali v Foreman) was dramatic and wonderful but this, as Ali’s doctor recalled during the quite brilliant documentary, was boxing at its most violent, most thrilling, most stunning, best (or worst).

It was 14 rounds of pummelling the lard out of each other and no let up - where first Ali pounded Frazier but couldn’t knock him, then Frazier smacked the arse off Ali for the middle rounds and then the sheer bloody brutality of the final rounds, with a more or less blind Frazier getting hit with bomb after bomb from a super-aggressive Ali. So much so that Frazier’s corner retired him on the stool before the final 15th round. Little did they know what Ali was on the verge of retiring himself at the time, and when the great man heard of Frazier’s corner’s decision, he collapsed with exhaustion. “Lawdy, I hit him with punches that’d bring down the walls of a city,” Ali declared afterwards. Frazier, when asked in the documentary if he’d have risked his life for a chance at that last round, said yes. Boy, was it a cocktail of bravery and genius.

Frazier was never the same again and it was sad to see the bitterness and cruelty that’d take hold of him over the years since; many would say he was never the brightest ticket, but mocking Ali’s current state and taking glee in the part he’d played had a nastiness to it. Ali was never quite the same boxer afterwards either, but for all the silliness and pomp and bravado and bombast there was little doubt of his greatness, both as a boxer and as a man. The interview with O’Shannon on RTE was sensationally entertaining, Ali rattling off stream-of-consciousness rants that still managed to make sense. Sure there was contradictions in him, but we’ve not seen a boxer (or you could argue sportsman) like Ali since and we’re unlikely to.
Watch Thrilla in Manila doc here