As sporting weeks go, this has been quite an interesting one. We had the Irish rugby team playing with a cocky swagger as opposed to their customary timid bungling. This column will unashamedly claim credit for the recent upturn in the fortunes of the rugger buggers. Obviously, the thoughtful and incisive critisim leveled at the Blazer Brigade from these pages has stung them into some positive action!!
The National Football League had a full fixture list and the competitiveness of most of the fixtures signals that we are moving towards the business end of the competition. It seems the phoney war is over and teams are now beginning to show some true indicators of form. One of the more significant wins was that of Galway away to Tyrone. The Tribesmen are already being spoken of as a good early bet for `Sam'. Personally I wouldn't take that bet just yet, as Connaught teams never fail to let you down when you expect them to perform on the big stage. Still it's one to keep an eye on.
Since the injury to Henrik Larrson, the current Celtic team have been exposed as having a distinct lack of commitment to the club and its supporters
Longford continued their impressive winter form with a win over Tipperary, while Laois kept their good unbeaten record with a win over a depleted Wexford. Laois showed that they are nothing if not consistent. This time however, they only got two men sent to the line, finishing the game with 13 players. One wonders what dizzy heights the Laoismen might scale if they actually played with 15 for a whole game.
Sean Boylan got a bit hot under the collar over Ollie Murphy's sending off against Derry for an alleged headbutt. I can only judge by the television pictures, and it seems that the Meath corner-forward made it impossible for the referee not to send him to the line. I don't know what led up to the incident but if you're caught `throwing the head' you really can't complain when you get put off, no matter what the provocation may have been. I think the `Meathmen don't whinge' t-shirts so popular among the Royal County's following will have to be reprinted to reflect the new situation. `Meathmen don't whinge... most of the time' could be more appropriate.
The Dubs recorded a good win over Donegal in Parnell Park. The Donegal team still has an unfinished look to it. If Declan Bonner can get the balance right between the youthful talent and his more experienced campaigners, they will have a significant say in the destination of the Anglo-Celt Cup this summer. Dublin, for their part, looked comfortable and at times impressive. I bear too many mental scars from previous false dawns with Dublin teams, so a wait and see approach is the only option.
It's on this note of mental pain and anguish that I move towards the substantive sporting issue of the week. I have avoided this topic so far this year, but now the silence has to be broken.
What's going on at Parkhead!?! I'm writing this piece awaiting with trepidation Wednesday night's Old Firm game. Sunday's miserable display against Hibernian at Easter Road was one of the most singularly depressing 90 minutes I have spent watching the Bhoys (and that's saying something). Now I have to admit, following the fortunes of Glasgow Celtic has always been a labour of love. Celtic were always guaranteed to take you throught the full spectrum of emotions, from unbridled ecstacy to absolute despair. This has always been the relationship - you gave undying devotion and they occasionally rewarded you with times of joyous celebration. In more recent years, the few times of absolute joy have stood out like beacons of light in an otherwise dark and depressing landscape. During the dark days we consoled ourselves with the fact that at least our players were trying. We were fighting against all the odds, a sectarian governing body and masonic refereeing. This made the successes seem all the more worthy, but this year it is different.
Since the injury to Henrik Larrson, the current Celtic team have been exposed as having a distinct lack of commitment to the club and its supporters. With a few notable exceptions, the current `Bhoys' seem quite content to accept their considerable wage packets without fulfilling their side of the bargain. This has never been the Celtic way. Celtic teams were always made up of strong characters who gave their all for the club. With players like Roy Aitken, Peter Grant and Paul McStay, you always knew they held the club and all it stands for dear to them. You felt that defeats hurt them just as much as the thousands who travelled from near and far to support their team. The same cannot be said for those who capitulated so limply to Hibs on Sunday.
This team now faces a serious challenge. On reading this article, you will already know the result of Wedneday's game against Rangers. Irrespective of the result, I feel the league title is probably going to remain at Ibrox this year. This game is a test of the current Celtic team's pride in themselves and in their club. Let's hope they have one or both of these attributes.
BY PADDY SWAINE