Clark on Sport: September 23rd, 2008

 
 

Sunday’s titanic clash between Tyrone and Kerry was a fantastic coda to a solid championship. The Kingdom’s dreams of a first three-in-a-row since the eighties were overwhelmed by a Tyrone team that had produced exquisite football over their last three matches.

Kerry, it seems, have the measure of the other 25 counties on this side of the border but have been found wanting when faced with Northern Irish power, passion and general hustle.

Whereas other counties go weak at the knees when faced with the Green-and-Gold juggernaut, Tyrone increase their intensity and do the necessary business.

It’s hard to believe that this Tyrone team contrived to lose to Down in the Ulster Championship three months ago.

At the time, the pundits had written off Mickey Harte and his team and spoke of an end to an era. All pronouncements of doom were soon made to sound silly in the wake of the crushing 12-point defeat of Dublin in the quarter-final.

Yet Tyrone, like a Phoenix bursting forth from the ashes of the Down defeat, produced a footballing master class to silence Hill 16. More brilliance was to follow as an outlandish tally of twenty-three points was scored against a competitive and spirited Wexford in the semi-final.

Yet all the pre-match indicators pointed to Kerry running out of the luck that seemingly pervades their footballing history. The pundits themselves are paralysed the Kingdom’s traditional dominance.

Kerry have won only five All-Ireland’s since their last three-in-a-row in 1986 (bad for a county that has won over thirty titles) and four of those five final victories have come against Connacht teams with the fifth against their favourite Cork whipping boys.

Let no-one say that this Kerry team is great until they have beaten one of Derry, Down, Armagh, Tyrone, Meath or Dublin on the third Sunday of September. Tyrone now stand deservedly at the top of the pile. They may well be difficult to dislodge.

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Arsenal stand proudly at the summit of the Premiership after three resounding victories in their last three league games.

Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton have been put to the sword in the wake of that abject defeat to Fulham last month. There’s no doubting the talent that sweeps through the young team but one can’t help but worry that the immense spending power of their rivals will soon overwhelm the spendthrift Gunners.

Wenger’s men/boys now face four winnable games against Hull, Sunderland, Everton and West Ham before facing local rivals Tottenham at the end of October so it’s eminently possible that an extended stay at the top of the table awaits Theo Walcott et al.

Liverpool once again drove their supporters to distraction as they contrived to draw with Stoke City four days after they beat Marseille in France and a week after they beat Manchester United at Anfield. I was a boy of eight years of age when Liverpool last won the league and at this rate I’ll be an old man of eighty-eight before they do it again.

Last Sunday, Manchester United showed once again that they are never to be written off as they produced a much-improved performance to draw with Chelsea. The Blues still look like a formidable outfit and with Scolari at the helm, Roman Abramovich’s investment in West London may at last pay off.

They are deserved favourites to win this season’s Champions League and have the extended squad to be competitive in all four competitions. Scolari knows he has to produce the goods.

Spare a thought for poor old Avram Grant… had things gone differently, he would now be presiding over the English and European champions. Instead, it is rumoured that he will become coach of Ukranian ‘giants’ Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk.

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Clark on Sport has got used to hailing gargantuan European Ryder Cup victories on a biennial basis. Two consecutive nine-point victories in 2004 and 2006 seemed set to herald an epoch of European dominance that would threaten the tournament’s long-term viability.

Prior to last week’s proceedings at Valhalla, the European team looked strong on paper while the US team was a Tiger-less bunch of has-beens, never-wases and never-will-bes. Yet, as I write, the US team has just completed an emphatic 5-point victory, its most resounding win since 1981. At times like this, it’s easy to blame the losing captain, so I will.

Nick Faldo was the finest golfer Europe had ever produced but it’s safe to say that he is not universally liked as a man throughout the golfing world.

Admittedly, it would have been almost impossible to disregard his claims to the top job given his record but it’s not good enough that anybody should get so important a task because it is his ‘turn’. The twelve members of the European team will deny it but it’s clear that Faldo was simply unable to get the best out of his players.

Somewhat ironically, Faldo’s controversial decision to pick Ian Poulter (4/5) was a spectacular success but in any case, I always felt that the choice of Casey (1/3) was more problematic. The whole wild-card selection process stank, perhaps undeservedly, of a pro-English conspiracy. How Europe could have done with Monty, Darren Clarke or even a pugnacious Paul McGinley when the chips were down on Friday.

In Faldo’s defence, it must be said that he was let down by very poor results from Padraig Harrington (0.5/4), Lee Westwood (1/4) and Sergio Garcia (1/4). I just have a nagging feeling that those three and others would have produced more if Bernhard Langer had been in charge.

One final thought…it seemed to me that Valhalla was just a bit too easy for a tournament of the Ryder Cup’s standing. Clearly, Paul Azinger set it up to help his team, which is his prerogative as home captain but for me there is something unsatisfactory in seeing a succession of rough-less holes and placid greens. Matchplay is much more exciting if the participants can get into trouble. Birdies and eagles are fine, but triple-bogeys are much more exciting.

Michael Clark is a former Vice-Auditor of the UCD Law Society.

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