Summer in GAA land
The summer seems to have arrived, and right on cue. As ever, half the country is going through the stress of last minute cramming for exams, while outside the sun is splitting the stones.
The GAA season is now getting mighty close to the sunny championship days in Croker, Thurles, Clones or wherever else supporting your county may take you. The sunburn, sweat and tears are all ahead of us.
The National Hurling League is down to its final pairing. Tipperary and Galway both progressed last weekend after wins over Limerick and Waterford, respectively. Nicky English has publicly stated his disapproval over the timing of the competition. This is understandable, as the league final is now to be played just two weeks before Tipperary's Munster Championship clash with Waterford. It certainly takes some of the focus away from the league decider with such a vital championship match on the radar. That said, I fully understand the dilemma faced by the GAA; on the one hand they have tried not to fix league hurling in the depths of winter, but on the other hand you can't have the league running into the championship. It is a difficult balance to strike, but finishing even a couple of weeks earlier would give both competitions reasonable breathing space.
Of the two counties contesting the final, Galway will gain more from participation. The Connaught county need as many competitive games as possible before their first championship outing in July. Tipperary will have their sights set on honours later in the summer but the game will provide a useful indicator of championship form.
This Sunday's National Football League decider between Derry and Meath could also give a reasonable snapshot of how both counties are gearing up for the championship. Derry have a habit of flattering to deceive at the latter stages of the league. This side, however, seem to be quite solid and although they have a championship clash with Cavan only one week after Sunday's final, they should go well in Ulster this year. As stated previously in this column, Meath have reached this league final without much fuss and look to be unbackable to at least retain their Leinster title later in the summer.
William wins for Wales
Over in Sheffield, the World Snooker Championships were concluded on Monday. The final was an all Welsh affair, with Mark Williams eventually emerging victorious over compatriot Matthew Stephens. The tense final session was compelling viewing and was, personally speaking, the first time in years that snooker has come close to the heady days of the 1980s. The championships were a major success for Belfast's Joe Swail, whose very credible semi-final appearance will hopefully be a precursor to bigger and better things.
Exciting but scoreless
Over in Tolka Park on Sunday, the FAI cup final was a reasonably exciting, albeit scoreless game. The replay is scheduled for Friday night and is certainly worth a ramble across town have a look at. I will at this point give advance notice of my bias in this fixture. The Shels line-up will include an ex-clubmate of mine at St. Anne's GAA club. The FAI young player of the year, Richie Baker, was a star performer at juvenile level for our club before he moved to Shelbourne. Our loss was of course soccer's gain, so I'm sure all the Boh's fans will understand my lack of balance on this one.
New York's illegals
Finally, an interesting story emerged during the week relating to the New York Gaelic Football Team and their participation in this year's Connaught Championship. The New York team are fixed to play Galway in the first round of the competition but are currently having difficulty fielding their strongest side for the clash. The reason is that if several of their first choice players travel to Ireland for the game, they may not be re-admitted to the United States. This perfect example of the extent of our own `illegal immigrant' population in other countries should serve as a sharp reminder to those currently protesting against the presence of refugees in the 26 Counties. How quickly they forget!