After a feast of rugby and cricket (he has played both!), Paddy Walsh questions the brutality of the oval ball sport, backs Shay Given to roll back the years and delights at Ireland bowling over the West Indies.
A busted eye and three cracked vertebrae – rugby just gets more and more physical with each passing match.
What the World Cup is going to bring later in the season should leave us shuddering at the thought and the authorities surely questioning where the game is going.
Or maybe not. Perhaps, they revel in the physicality of it and Saturday’s Ireland/France bruiser had plenty of that.
Johnny Sexton had just returned from being sidelined with concussion – another issue that those in charge aren’t tackling with any great momentum – to find himself the victim of a bloodied eye following a head collision with Mathieu Bastareaud who also, to be fair, suffered a similar injury.
But it was the vicious knee in the back on Jamie Heaslip from the French lock, Pascal Pape – subsequently cited for his actions and hopefully facing the stiffest of bans – that underlined how rugby has turned from brawn to brutalised.
Heaslip will be out for a month as he recovers from those cracked vertebrae – it could have been much longer had Pape put even more venom into his assault.
Let’s face it, many of us actually watch rugby for the very purpose of viewing two teams go into battle at full throttle – soccer and Gaelic Games are infinitely softer in comparison – but we don’t need to see players on the end of potentially career – life? – ending challenges.
On the performance itself, Ireland were deserving winners even though they, and fans, were forced to sweat through that final quarter as France upped the tempo and came within a converted try of puncturing the home team’s Championship aspirations.
The fact that Joe Schmidt’s side didn’t register a single try themselves was certainly worrying though his tactics may have mitigated against it.
Perhaps, they’re saving them for the England game.
BREEN KEEPING IN BERKSHIRE
Former Finn Harps striker, Chris Breen, is now showing how it’s done on the pitch at Reading F.C. A skilful operator when he was at Finn Park, he’ll no doubt prove equally adept on the green grass at the Madejski Stadium.
But, not as you may have seen already, as a player. For the Ballybofey man has ventured into a different capacity in the game – that of assistant green keeper at the ground which the English Championship club shares with the London Irish Rugby Union club.
Breen undertook a course in Cork on green keeping and sports turf management and has subsequently worked on golf courses in Sweden and England.
A chronic shoulder problem had forced him to retire from football much earlier than he should have. I always rated him as a player and can recall one hugely vital goal he scored that helped Harps to that rarest of things – a league title.
It came in 2004 when the Finn Parkers travelled to Kildare County in the second last game of the season needing to win to almost make sure of clinching the First Division championship.
There were just four minutes left and with the sides at stalemate, it looked as if U.C.D. might pip Harps to the title until Breen rose in the penalty to score with another rare thing – a header! Striking partner, Kevin McHugh, added another in stoppage time and Harps went on to beat Dundalk 3-0 at home in the final match of the season to signal some serious celebrating.
Breen went on to play for both Shamrock Rovers and Limerick but I’d hazard a guess that the 2004 season remained a highlight of his League of Ireland career.
And now he’s tending to the pitch of F.A. Cup quarter-finalists, Reading, who have been drawn away to Bradford. Who knows the giant-killers may yet be trotting out on to Breen territory should that game end in a draw and a subsequent replay.
SHAYVE OF THE SEASON
Well, did you see it? THAT save from our own Shay Given? Matty James about to turn away in celebration for Leicester City after letting fly with a shot destined for the top corner only for the Lifford lion to somehow leap across his goalmouth and fingertip it away for a corner? Outstanding is one word for it. Undoubted save of the season is five more words for it.
It might not have come in time to save Paul Lambert’s job at the Villa but it certainly helped propel them into the F.A. Cup quarter-finals. And while Lambert didn’t give the Donegalman any kind of decent run in his starting line-ups in recent times, Tim Sherwood may just have seen the benefit of including the vastly experienced Given in his team as he takes over the reigns at Villa Park.
Thirty-eight he may be but goalkeepers don’t age as quick as outfielders and you could see the former Republic of Ireland international – or maybe not former – don the gloves for the remainder of the campaign.
AVOIDING THE RESULTS
A letter in one of the English newspapers caught my attention for a specific reason.
The writer recalled doing his best to avoid seeing the football results on one particular Saturday afternoon back in the seventies to enable him to enjoy the Match of the Day highlights later on that evening.
He was watching a Five Nations rugby match – no Italy back then – on the television when a latest score flashed up on the bottom of the screen. Consequently he decided to stick a roll of black tape over this part of the T.V. to prevent him seeing anymore.
But when the next latest update came it was scrolled across the TOP of the screen. Result? A black tape border surrounding the entire screen which just about allowed him the space to see the action on the rugby pitch but did keep him ignorant of the results from the soccer.
Only reason I mention this is because I’m one of those irritating people who attempt to avoid all the final scores, Premiership and Football League, so I can settle down to savour the highlights programmes later on Saturday night. It has meant avoiding the tail-end of news bulletins, plugging my ears with my thumbs if I’m in a shop and the results come on, and requesting the drivers of cars in which I’m getting a lift to turn off their radios just before the sports headlines (I told you I irritate the hell out of people). And you know what – look away now if you don’t want to know the result – it’s worked most of the time and I’m able to sit down for Match of the Day and the Football League Show with no results to hand and a couple of hours of not knowing the outcome of any of the games on show.
Sad, isn’t it? And to think I used to go out on a Saturday night.
WEST INDIES STUMPED
Last time I watched a cricket match all of the players were wearing white and I couldn’t tell the difference between them.
How things have changed. Now they’re geared up in every colour of the rainbow and looking like fashion statements more than sporting figures.
But what a statement made by the Irish cricket team this week – disposing of no less a top cricketing nation than the West Indies in a World Cup Pool B game in New Zealand and no freak result either.
It appears we’re arriving on the world stage and even the loss of a couple of Irish born stars – eat your heart out Eoin Morgan from Dublin who opted to quit Ireland for England and is now the captain of our ‘local’ rivals – hasn’t knocked us back.
Not the first big scalp for an Ireland cricket team – indeed the West Indies were victims of past such upsets – but this time it feels like a genuine move forward and one that could yet yield the ultimate achievement.
Apparently there have only been five successful chases of more than 300 in World Cup history and three of them belong to Ireland (check the rules yourselves to rate that particular accomplishment).
CRICKET IN GWEEDORE
Even Martin McGuinness is flying the Irish cricket flag and was recalling this week how he used to play the game with his children in no less a location than Gweedore.
Acclaiming the Irish performance in the World Cup, the Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland acknowledged his passion for cricket on the John Murray radio show on R.T.E. “We used to take our kids to Gweedore and we would go to the grass part near the beach and play cricket there. I used to be infuriated when a five year old would get me out.”
Not, of course, the first time a politician has been infuriated after being put out.
SOUND AND VISION
How do you manage to get David Bowie into a headline on an F.A. Cup match report? Well, ‘The Sunday Times’ did so at the weekend in their coverage of Blackburn Rovers’ 4-1 thumping of Stoke City.
Rovers players came on to the field of play to the soundtrack of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, the first line of which runs: “I, I will be king’ which became even more appropriate as the game wore on.
Okay, Stoke were Under Pressure, and endured much Sorrow throughout and were far from Hunky Dory over the ninety minutes.
But after conceding first, Blackburn won it courtesy of a hat-trick from their Starman, Josh King.
[Editor’s Note: I had a plateful of pancakes yesterday and none of them were as flat as that}.
SEE YOU IN THE BAR
Great result for Munster in their Pro 12 clash with Cardiff Blues at the weekend but undoubtedly the moment of the match belonged to the referee, Lloyd Linton.
During a break in play – of which there can be quite a few in rugby – he addressed one of the Cardiff players with the comment: “Is that you? We’ll have a wee chat afterwards…see you in the bar”, as clearly heard over his link mike and broadcast to TG4 viewers.
Anyone out there who happened to be in the Musgrave Park bar after the game might fill us in.
Two men were charged in a Merseyside court last week with conspiracy to make and sell fake tickets for hundreds of Liverpool’s home games.
The Judge is apparently considering sentencing them to watch Manchester United for the rest of the season.