Seamus Duke on Sport – 9th December

Christmas crackers in Champions Cup

The Champions Cup is back this week in rugby and there are some cracking games in prospect, not least the clash of Connacht and Wasps in London on Sunday at 2.10 pm.

  The decision of Pat Lam to leave Connacht and join Bristol at the end of the season is a huge bombshell and there is no doubt that he has been a massive inspiration to Connacht over the past few years. But if Connacht choose wisely they can get a top class coach to build on what Lam has done. Managers come and go and this early decision will give the powers that be a decent time frame to line up a suitable replacement. 

  Leinster travel to Northampton on Friday night and they should be able to win that if they have a full team out. On Saturday, Ulster have a very tough game at home against the French champions Claremont. At Thomond Park, Munster play host to Leicester, which should be the game of the weekend. The tragic passing of Anthony Foley is still a huge motivating force for Munster and I am expecting them to win. 

Dublin hurlers keep their ‘Cuala’ to win first title

With the GAA season winding down, the Leinster club hurling final was a superb game and it produced another first time winner when Dublin’s Cuala took the honours. To have defeated the Kilkenny champions in any provincial decider in hurling is a significant achievement and now Cuala are just an hour away from an appearance in the All-Ireland club final.

  The Cuala followers brought a unique atmosphere to O’Moore Park and it seemed that every one of them was wearing a Santa hat and they brought great colour to the game. I was also so impressed by ‘man of the match’ Con O’Callaghan who was tremendous during the game but who was fluent in Irish when interviewed afterwards. He is also a very good footballer and is a name we will be hearing about a lot over the coming years.  

  There are some mouth-watering club games in prospect in February with Cuala taking on Slaughtneil and Ballyea playing Galway champions St. Thomas’. In the football, there is the prospect of Dr Crokes v Corofin and Slaughtneil v St. Vincent’s or Rhode who do battle on Sunday.

  The ‘mark’, which will come into Gaelic football in January, has not received a lot of publicity thus far. It has been trialled in the Higher Education Leagues over the past couple of months and apparently it has been a big success. Many people have been bemoaning that the skill of the high catch is being lost in the game. This new rule should bring it back. Let’s give it a go and see how it works. It is hard to believe it but in a month’s time we will be off and running for another year with the FBD League. 

Chelsea are genuine contenders

I had a chance to watch a couple of soccer games over the weekend and there were plenty of talking points. The Man City v Chelsea game was a superb battle. City should have been 2-0 up before Chelsea started their comeback, but with (David) Luiz fantastic at the back and (Diego) Costa running the show further forward they were devastating on the counter attack. They look like possible champions. City will have to bounce back quickly as that loss to Chelsea at home is a huge blow.

  Liverpool were very careless against Bournemouth. They will not win the Premier League if they make mistakes in defence like the ones we saw in the final 10 minutes last Sunday. They were absolutely cruising to victory yet they somehow managed to lose the game. However, if anyone can sort it out it will be Klopp.

  Spurs and Arsenal both scored five and Sanchez was on fire for the Gunners but neither North London team looks to be consistent enough to go on and win the title.

  Manchester United are going from one bad result to another. Once again, they were by far the better team in the match against Everton but instead of pressing home their advantage they brought on Marouane Fellaini to protect their lead and he gave away a needless penalty in the final minute. To gauge just how far United have fallen in the past three years all you have to do is to look at the fact that Fellaini has now made 100 appearances for the club. No one was ever able to convince me that he was good enough to play for Manchester United from day one.

  There is still a mountain of problems at United and Mourinho will not be winning any league title this year. United haven’t even a chance of finishing top four. They are as well off to try and win the League Cup or the Europa League. They are playing ok but there is no ruthless streak in them any more.

Gentleman John calls home

Last weekend I met with Roscommon native and Cork City manager Johnny Caulfield who was in the county to visit his parents who live in Lecarrow.

  With the League of Ireland season over, Johnny has a couple of weeks off before his team get back into training in January. He is a lovely man and he takes a huge interest in what’s going on in Roscommon and was up to date with all the latest news in GAA and everything else. He is hugely popular in Cork after his exploits as a player and now as a manager for Cork City but he has never forgotten where he came from and it was a pleasure to meet him.

Tiger roaring back?

The return of Tiger Woods was one of the sporting stories of the weekend and it was good and bad news for the former champion. He showed glimpses of his former prowess with loads of birdies and his 65 on the second day was a great round. But he made many mistakes too and especially in the final round, but he showed that he is not finished yet.

  The statistics for the TV viewing figures of last weekend’s tournament are remarkable. More people watched than watched any of the major tournaments in 2016 except for the Masters and the US Open. It just shows the draw that Tiger still has when it comes to golf.

  The powers that be and the TV stations in particular will be hoping that he plays a bit more in 2017. He has his faults surely but he has the X-factor and there is no bigger draw in golf. It would be great to see him be able to compete again.

From the internet

Another indication of the madness of the money washing around in English Soccer…how about this story from the Sunday Times last weekend.

One of Liverpool’s most damaging transfer decisions in recent years is replacing Luis Suarez with Mario Balotelli. The Italian was a desperate last resort for Liverpool, and signed for the club on the agreement he would clean up his act off the pitch – ‘just cut down on the bathroom fireworks and throwing darts at youth team members, Mario’ – and focus solely on football.

  Brendan Rodgers spoke to him for three hours to remind him of his responsibilities, drawing him a picture to ram the message home: he drew a stickman wearing a crown, to illustrate to Balotelli that he was the king of his own destiny. The desire that Balotelli behave himself at Liverpool did not solely manifest itself through Rodgers’ mindfulness sketchings.

  His contract at Liverpool included provisions for bonuses to be paid in the event of continued good behaviour, and the exact details of those clauses have been made public knowledge today. Football Leaks have brought the public light upon a host of previously confidential football documents in today’s Sunday Times (last Sunday), and the bar Balotelli had to meet in order to earn himself a tidy million pounds were comically low. Here is what the contract said…

  “If during each season of the term of this contract the player is not dismissed from the field of play on three or more occasions for violent conduct, spitting at an opponent or any other person, for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures and/or for dissent by word or action . . . then on the 30th June at the end of each season he shall receive a bonus payment of £1m.”

He could still afford to be sent-off twice!

  Furthermore, the club paid for his hotel for the first thirty days at Anfield, giving him a tab of £10,000. On top of his basic salary of £85,000 per week, Balotelli was to be rewarded £50,000 for every goal he scored after notching five in a single season, in either the Champions League or Premier League.

Absurdly, he only scored two in his first season, so he didn’t get near it. (The Sunday Times)