Big game season is here
The championship is now upon us. The recent lengthy spell of summer weather has really added to the whole feeling of anticipation. Training now takes place on sunny evenings on scorched pitches. Lads who haven't been seen in months are now appearing out of the woodwork (boots untainted by the mud of winter training) to kick a few balls.
This weekend is the beginning of the Dublin Senior Football Championship and this column is already feeling that familiar buzz and expectation. Sunday morning will be the litmus test of both our own and every other team's winter work. The familiar team talks and impassioned `one bite of the cherry' speeches, clichés reserved exclusively for the Championship, will be resurrected and delivered with gusto before heading out to do battle.
Of course, I have to remind myself that while I'm sure you all find the whole prospect of my club championship game on Sunday fascinating, that there are other (albeit less significant) sporting stories to discuss this week.
The first of these would have to be Munster's qualification for rugby's European Cup Final last Saturday in Bordeaux. Beating the French Champions, in France, was a colossal feat and one which I'm sure has now eclipsed the famous 1978 victory over the touring All Blacks. I certainly get the feeling that sporting people across the country have more affinity with this Munster team than any of the other provincial outfits. Although Ulster won the competition outright last year, they did not generate the same level of support among your average non-rugby fan. The same would apply to Leinster and possibly Connaught if they had a strong run in the competition. The elitist clubby network which pervades the game throughout the rest of the island prevents a similar emotional buy-in from the general population. This Munster team are different, the lack of class bias in the game in Limerick has enabled people to relate to this team and support them on their European odyssey. They are now at the final hurdle and I'm sure the whole of the sport loving population of the Island will be behind them when they face Northampton in Twickenham at the end of the month.
In soccer, Shelbourne added the FAI Cup to their league title to complete the double. Shels have been the outstanding FAI team this year and seem to be operating at a level of professionalism above that of the rest of the league. They have set the standards for teams to follow for next season and hopefully some of the bigger clubs in the chasing pack can improve to match the Tolka Park club.
Pulsating Croker draw
While the premier fixture in local soccer attracted just over 8,000 people to Dalymount on Friday, almost 26,000 attended the GAA's National League Final between Meath and Derry in a seriously under construction Croke Park on Sunday. Reports of the death of the GAA's secondary competition have been greatly exaggerated in recent times and Sunday's clash was well worth the entrance fee. Although I have highlighted the problems of having the final stages of the league so close to the championship, counties, and in particular their supporters, still want to win the competition.
There was no holding back between Meath and Derry on Sunday and the latter stages of the game reached championship-level fever. Of the two teams, Derry might feel slightly aggrieved at the drawn result. The `free' which produced Meath's equalising score seemed to be a terribly soft one. I'm not sure how referee Michael Curley could possibly have deemed the Derry defender to have committed a foul. If anything, he should have been awarded a free the opposite way for a barging offence.
The result now leaves Derry in the unenviable position of having to play Cavan on Sunday in the Ulster Championship and then Meath in the League Final replay the following Saturday. Meath, for their part, don't lose many replays and would have to be fancied to now go on and win the competition.
Louth's Division Two title win over Offaly was a great result for the `wee county' and should be a great boost to the morale and confidence of the squad approaching the Leinster Championship.
In Leinster, the round robin stages of the championship got under way. The most notable result was the scare Carlow gave the Dublin hurlers. Dublin escaped with a single point win. Hopefully this is a wake-up call to the Dubs, who hope to make a credible assault on the Championship this year.
other busy GAA week beckons, with the National Hurling League Final and action from the Ulster Championship, Leinster Championship and the Dublin Senior Club Football Championship.
Our National games are now moving to centre stage. Even in a year when we will have both the Olympics and European Soccer Championships, the anticipation and excitement generated by our own games outweighs that of any international events. Isn't it great to have them!
BY PADDY SWAINE