No surprises in busy GAA week
It was a busy week in Gaeldom, both on and off the field.
The national hurling league's last day threw up few surprises, with Waterford, Tipperary, Galway and Limerick all progressing to the knock-out stages. Tipperary and Waterford played out something of a phoney war on Sunday. Both teams seemed to be focused on their clash in early summer. There were good wins for Galway and Tyrone in their respective Under 21 Provincial Football deciders, particularly Galway, who beat a much fancied Mayo team. Pride of place however, goes to the Under 21 footballers of Westmeath who continued their counties recent underage successes with a single point victory over neighbours Meath. The high standard of Westmeath's underage teams coming through for the past number of years has been remarkable and is a credit to the club and school coaches in the county. It wasn't all bad news for the Royal County over the weekend; their hurlers recorded a good win and more notably, St. Patrick's of Navan beat St. Patrick's of Armagh in the All-Ireland Colleges final in an entertaining game. Credit must be given to TG4, which broadcast the game live. This station is certainly giving excellent coverage to the national games at all levels and should be commended for it. In the hurling final, St. Kieran's of Kilkenny avenged last year's defeat by defeating St. Flannan's of Ennis.
Last weekend was, of course, the highlight of the year for the country's GAA politicians. This year's Annual Congress was relatively free from controversy, as it was decided to leave the contentious Rule 21 debate well alone. It brought an end to Joe McDonagh's term, which (notwithstanding his total misreading of the situation last year in attempting to rescind Rule 21) has been a successful and modernising presidency. His successor, Sean McKeague, would have a keener understanding of the grassroots feeling on the issue of the crown forces and is unlikely to make a similar mistake.
In rugby, the People's Republic of Munster had another huge win in the European Cup quarter-final against the French Superclub, Stade Francais. Their were some big performances on the day, but none were bigger than that of ex-Kerry Footballer, Mick Galway. The big man was a colossus for Munster and an inspiration to all those around him. The fact that he has so few Irish caps is testament to the bias which has existed against the `lower orders' from Limerick among the `Blazer Brigade'. The preponderance of Munster players in this year's relatively successful national team should leave previous selection committees feeling rather shamefaced, but that's possibly an optimistic aspiration.
Munster now face an even sterner semi-final test away to tournament favourites Toulouse.
Jolly hockey sticks
A sporting event which I accidentally stumbled across on Monday was the Olympic qualifying tournament for Women's Hockey. Eurosport were broadcasting live from Milton Keynes the group game between Ireland and Germany. I just flicked onto the proceedings as the Irish women were finishing the `National Anthem', well what I presumed would be the national anthem, which turned out to be a rather insipid rendition of `Danny Boy' but I digress. The game got underway with the English commentator outlining how the teams matched up. This clown was obviously reading directly from the encyclopaedia of national stereotypes. He was unsurprisingly setting the scene whereby the technically superior, cool and calculated Germans were pitted against the fiery, plucky underdog Irish. This was going to be his take on the game no matter what transpired before him. As the game wore on, his daft commentary became actually quite funny. He moved between lamenting the days when the ``Ulster' girls'' used to play for the Great Britain side to quoting the legendary Captain Mannering from Dad's Army. While emphasising a point regarding the tactics which should be deployed by the Irish team, he uttered the immortal words, and I kid you not: ``The Germans, they don't like it up `em!'' This was quality stuff indeed.
For the record, Ireland lost 2-1. While not claiming any particular knowledge of hockey, it all seemed a bit genteel. I just wonder what Angela Downey would make of it all. The Irish women have one remaining group game against Spain, which at the time of writing has not been played. If they win, they can qualify for Sydney, so fingers crossed.
BY PADDY SWAINE