The peerless Ali: Death of the greatest sports personality of all
Like everyone else, I was saddened to hear of the death last weekend of Muhammad Ali. He was definitely the greatest sports personality that I have ever seen.
Millions of words have been written about Ali since his passing but one thing I saw really resonated with me.
It came during an interview that Ali did with Cathal O’Shannon for RTE in 1972. Ali recited a poem that he wrote about prison riots in the USA, where black prisoners were being ill-treated. It is stunning in its simplicity but so powerful in its message, and the delivery of that poem was incredibly skillful too. (The clip is on Youtube).
The man was a genius with so much charisma. He was a mega sports personality with so many strong opinions on what was going on around him and he certainly wasn’t afraid to speak out.
In the ring he was a peerless boxer, but he probably went on too long and it cost him his health in the end. He was not perfect either, and his insulting behaviour towards Joe Frazier was a stain on an otherwise incredible career. But it showed that Ali was human and had his faults, like all the rest of us. One thing is certain. We will definitely never see the likes of him again. May he rest in peace.
Swede or bust for Irish in Paris
The much-awaited Euro 2016 Championships start in France on Friday, and while I am not expecting that we will see too many memorable games, the fact that the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales are there will certainly add to the excitement.
So, how will Ireland do? I think that all depends on how they get on next Monday against Sweden. If they could manage to win that game then they will almost certainly go through to the next phase. A defeat would leave the team with a steep uphill climb while a draw would not be ideal.
This Irish team are well managed and well organised but we have very few class players. Take out Seamus Coleman and Shane Long and the rest are very ordinary indeed. The game against Sweden is 50/50, although I see where they thrashed Wales 3-0 at the weekend, which is ominous.
England will suffer from over-hype as usual and will bow out at an early stage. Northern Ireland are like ourselves, they have very few stand-out players. Wales are interesting though, and their game against England will be a ‘must-see’. They will treat that game as a World Cup Final and it will be very intense. Wales might well win it.
As to who might win the tournament, Belgium have the best squad of players but it remains to be seen if they have the mentality for the big games. As far as I can see it’s down to France, Germany or Spain.
I’m looking forward to it and let’s hope that there are no terror attacks for the legions of fans who will be travelling to France over the next three weeks.
Roscommon ready for redemption
This Sunday, Roscommon footballers will get a chance to reverse the result from last year’s semi-final when Sligo deservedly turned over the Rossies.
One thing that Kevin McStay said to me the first week he was appointed was that Roscommon need to be able to win the games that they are expected to win – and this is one of those games.
The facts are that if Roscommon aspire to be considered even a top-eight team then they must win on Sunday in Hyde Park. I think they will too.
I hope that there is a big crowd and that it’s a good match. After all the controversy about the pitch this year it would be nice if the weather was good too.
Given the great weather that we have had over the past few weeks there is no truth to the rumour that they are watering the Hyde Park pitch at the moment!
Testing times for minor players
Something that has been brought to my attention over the weekend – and it is a totally unacceptable situation – is that in the Connacht Minor Football Championship Roscommon and Sligo (two strong teams) will meet in the quarter-final on the Saturday evening after the Leaving Cert finishes (for some students that’s the day before). Then the winners of that game will play Galway in the Connacht semi-final the following Wednesday evening!
I understand that the Leaving Cert exam poses a problem for the fixture-makers, but surely it is possible to organise a knockout competition between just five counties without teams having to play two big games in five days? It’s not fair on the players – and they should always come first. Is it any wonder that the GAA wanted to abolish the minor grade?
Djokovic a class apart
Novak Djokovic proved beyond any doubt last weekend that he is one of the greatest tennis players of all time with his win in the French Open Final against Andy Murray. The Serb is the first man to hold all four major titles at the one time since Rod Laver 47 years ago. He now has 12 majors and is closing in fast on Roger Federer’s record of 17.
Spare a thought for Andy Murray. He is probably Britain’s best tennis player of the modern era, but he has now being beaten in six major finals, which includes five losses to Djokovic.
Championship Crystal Ball
Leinster SHC Semi-Final: Kilkenny v Dublin in Portlaoise on Saturday
As the championship progresses, the task of making accurate predictions is becoming more and more difficult! Kilkenny are under the radar so far this year, if that’s ever possible for them. I am sorely tempted to go for a shock here. There won’t be a lot in it but the Cats might just survive. Prediction: Kilkenny.
Ulster SFC Quarter-Final: Donegal v Fermanagh on Sunday in Ballybofey
Fermanagh have made great progress under Pete McGrath in the past few years. They will give Donegal a game for sure, but they do not have the strength to beat them. Donegal are not the team they were but they are still very strong at this level. Prediction: Donegal.
Leinster SFC Quarter-Final: Meath v Louth on Sunday in Parnell Park
A local derby here that is sure to be very well contested. Traditionally Meath would have the edge against Louth, but both sides have slipped back, and while neither side are great, Meath look the better bet here. Prediction: Meath.
Quarter-Final: Westmeath v Offaly on Sunday in Mullingar
Another local derby here and there is sure to be a huge crowd in Mullingar for this one. Offaly are improving and will give Westmeath plenty to think about. John Heslin’s performance will be crucial to Westmeath’s chances as Niall McNamee will be to Offaly’s prospects. Westmeath to edge a tight game? Prediction: Westmeath.
Munster SFC Semi-Final: Tipperary v Cork in Thurles on Sunday
Tipp are not a bad side but they are not in the same league as Cork. It might be a close game for 50 minutes or so. Prediction: Cork.
Semi-Final: Kerry v Clare on Sunday in Killarney
Clare won the Allianz League Division Three. They are on a high at the moment but they will come back down to earth in Killarney on Sunday. Prediction: Kerry.
Connacht SFC Semi-Final: Roscommon v Sligo at Dr Hyde Park on Sunday
I am expecting Roscommon to win by four or five points. Prediction: Roscommon.
Note: Our 100% prediction record continued last weekend (22 out of 22 so far), but looking at this weekend’s fixtures I suspect that run is sure to come to an end!