Matters at home – and even closer – are on the agenda this week as some harsh truths and praise are handed out by resident columnist Fearghal Kerin, whose column shall forever remain nameless or whatever
It hasn’t been the greatest start for the Irish teams in this year Heineken Cup. But while Ulster will be disappointed with their performance on Matchday Two, there’s a sense that perhaps it won’t take vintage performances from Leinster and Munster to get out of their groups this time.
The inevitability that came with Munster’s home victory over Treviso was best illustrated by the Paddy Power online in-running betting, which saw the Limerick side still cast at 1/100, even when ten points down. Leinster, meanwhile, saved themselves with their win over Brive. However predictable an early season demise might have been, it would not have been welcome for the reigning champions to limp out of their defence of the Heineken Cup at this early stage.
Another two Magners League defeats for the two premier provinces does not bode well ahead of the visits of Australia and world champions South Africa in a fortnight’s time. These tests will prove the great barometer of this Irish team. Without question, the current Irish squad is the culmination of a generation’s work in cultivating a Six Nations winning side. The question now is whether the boys in green can show competitiveness on a trans-hemispherical stage.
If, as seems to be expected, the Wallabies and the vastly over-rated Springboks both gain victories at Croke Park, it will dilute the achievements and steps forward made over the last year. Rather than being a great team which, with wins over two-thirds of the Tri-Nations, could style themselves Champions of the Northern Hemisphere, defeats to the touring sides would instead mark Ireland as simply being the best of a bad lot.
Even if many in the media or public will not admit it, have no doubt that the great competitors in the Irish team will see the situation as it really is, and will crave so badly to avoid that gnawing devolution of spring’s achievements.
I wonder what Stephen Ireland thinks about Ireland being shafted by FIFA’s decision to see the World Cup qualification playoffs. Does he even know? In fairness to FIFA, while it does seem a bit suspect that the seeding of the playoffs was only introduced after Michel Platini’s home country looked in danger of elimination, seeding was present in the 2006 play-offs.
It is used in every other round of the competition and in every other continent. It’s hardly as if it was done deliberately to annoy us. In addition to that, Ireland deserved a tough draw after drawing the long straw – or whatever it is that’s the opposite of the short straw – in 2002 when they got to play Iran. The France tie is infinitely interesting.
The fact that our opponents France have been dull, uninspiring and completely disinterested under Raymond Domenech gives us hope. But be realistic: a look at a potential first XI for the French is scary. If the Gallic side decide they want to play – and in all likelihood, they surely, surely will, with a place at the World Cup at stake – Ireland will certainly be in bother. The biggest pity from an Irish perspective is that the home leg comes first, but let’s hope Ireland can still be in contention come the trip to Paris, if only because half of Ireland (or certainly most of UCD) will be making the trip over.
Fair play to UCD AFC. As Sports Editor last year I wrote a lot about the great job Pete Mahon had done as manager of the student side. In promoting Martin Russell to the top seat from within, the board have gotten things spot on, finding a man to ensure the club are in good health with a view to the long term.
Last year UCD were relegated from the Premier Division, with several teams who had operated vastly outside their financial means finishing above them. Those same teams are now struggling to keep afloat, and were immensely lucky to keep their licenses to stay in the League this season. Meanwhile, UCD kept wages and expenses down and took their relegation with true honour. Now, twelve months on, UCD are atop the Division One table and looking odds-on for a straight return to the top flight, ahead ironically of the greatest exponent of financial mismanagement in Irish soccer, Shelbourne.
UCD’s promotion, which hopefully should be sewn up at home in two weeks’ time, will be a proud day for Russell, the departed Mahon, and in particular the club’s executives.