‘Fearghal’ on Sport

 
 

McIlroy is showing true professionalism at such a young age, while Benitez and Cheika are the sources of the problems at Liverpool and Leinster, writes Fearghal Kerin, still sans title for his column…

Rory McIlroy might not have won the Alfred Dunhill Links championship, but his performance once more is a reminder of just how good this young man can become. It is so easy to forget that he is as young as many of those that are only beginning in UCD this year, with the boy only having turned twenty this year.

McIlroy’s short game still has improvement ahead, and he needs to develop the consistency to shoot four good rounds a weekend. I have little doubt though, and nor does Tiger Woods, that he will be going all the way to the top of the sport. His treatment of Shane Lowry, buying the amateur a crate of champagne and celebrating with him on the 18th green when he won the 3 Irish Open this summer, showed all the hallmarks of a gentleman, and the fondness with which all involved in the sport hold him is testament to that.

Sky Sports commentators speak of McIlroy with the same tone a loving grandfather would speak about his talented child. The Northern Irishman is just another from the conveyor belt of talented Irish golfers – astounding given the relative lack of size of the country.

The North in particular is an anomaly; with the exception of Serbian tennis players or Cuban boxers, there can be very few countries with such an extraordinary number of world-class talents per capita in a major sport.

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Football’s international break gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the start of the Premier League season. At the risk of schadenfreude, it’s easy to take great pleasure from Liverpool’s slow start. With four defeats already in all competitions, Liverpool’s form so far this term compares less than favourably to last season’s record over the entire season.

Rafa Benitez Benitez, for all his aloofness, must surely realise his arrogance in trying to force Xabi Alonso out of the club in 2008 is the reason for many of their woes right now. It will be interesting to see how Alonso’s €20m replacement, Alberto Aquilani, fares – though Aquilani plays a very different role than the Spaniard, and is continually hampered by injury.

One of the more common criticisms thrown at Benitez is the issue regarding the ‘zonal marking’ system, and up to this point the defenders of this concept have pointed out that there are flaws in traditional man-marking too. This doesn’t stand up in the case of Liverpool, though, who seem to concede exponentially more goals from set plays than the teams in the top three. Benitez will soon have to accept the facts and consider a change to this tactics.

Despite an inconsistent start to their season, Arsenal have – at times – looked like the best team in England. The problem remains, though, that Arsenal remain like the freestylers on YouTube who balance balls on their heads or hit the crossbar from their own penalty box: they have all the panache and guile in the world, but none of the intelligence or ability to play without the ball.

If Wenger could manoeuvre a situation like in ice hockey, where offence and defence can interchange freely, Arsenal might indeed look like winning a trophy – or more – again. Their victory against Blackburn illustrated this perfectly: though they scored six, Blackburn also had half a dozen clear-cut chances on goal.

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Ireland’s marquee year of rugby seems to have come to a crashing stop with Leinster’s home defeat against London Irish. How fitting, for a team renowned for being their own worst enemy, that it would be opponents with ‘Irish’ in their name that began the dethroning process.

Poor refereeing and moments of madness from newly returned Exiles Mike Ross and Eoin Reddan will be pointed to as causes of Leinster’s defeat, but in the light of day the problems lay a little closer to home. Sure, Irish are Guinness Premiership finalists, but Michael Cheika’s tactics need to be examined more closely. The Australian is attempting to build an effective side by installing an impenetrable defence structure, which was an adequate system last season.

However, things were different in previous scenarios: Leinster were usually vast underdogs and could rely on the behemoth Rocky Elsom to lead the pack. At ‘home’ in the RDS, they’re going to need to show a lot more ambition if they intend making it beyond the Group Stage and avoid a humiliating abdication. Only Leinster could manage it really.

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