first_imgST EUNAN’S SET TO DEFEND THEIR TITLE ON SUPER SUNDAY:Another Super Sunday looms as the Irish rugby team prepare for theirWorld Cup quarter-final clash with Argentina, the Irish soccer team(the Southern one at any rate) await their fate in the play-off drawbeing staged on the same day, and the most crucial of them all, theRTE Raidio na Gaeltachta Donegal Senior Championship Final taking starbilling in Ballybofey.Maxi CurranThe bookies have made Naomh Conaill the favourites in the eagerlyawaited clash with St. Eunan’s but, hey, they’ve been stung before(not least by this parish’s own Mark Forker who put a couple of bob onIreland to beat Germany 1-0 and Shane Long to open the scoring lastThursday though, unfortunately, not on a double docket). No betting man in this column but I confidently predict a County Finalworthy of the name and certainly a match that won’t be as one-sided aseither of the semi-finals.Martin Regan, not too long in the managerial hot seat in Glenties,feels his team don’t get the credit they deserve at times and he’sprobably right in that.They’ll be up for it from the start come Sunday afternoon but I have asneaking feeling that it will be Maxi Curran’s men celebrating at thefinish and bringing the Dr. Maguire Cup through the Bullock Park andback to where it ended up last year.GREEN GIANTS TO BE TESTED (AND THE BIGGEST OF THEM ALL TO WEAR THECOLOURS AGAIN) Absolutely no doubt which international team provided us with the mostthrills last weekend even if it all came at the expense of thatdreadful injury to Paul O’Connell which rules him out of the rest ofthe tournament and, we are told, from ever appearing again in thegreen jersey. The injuries to Peter O’Mahony and Johnny Sexton will at least heal intime for them to don the shirt again at some stage – in Sexton’s case,perhaps as soon as this weekend. But it was the hamstring tear to thecolossus that is O’Connell that drew the most sympathy as the big lockwas stretchered off during that bruising battle with the French andinto, seemingly, enforced international retirement.I say seemingly because somewhere somehow I have this feeling that wewill, in fact, see the Irish captain again in the shirt he served sowell since making a try scoring debut in the Six Nations against Walesback in 2002. It may be just a November test match and it may be acameo appearance but I can’t believe that the I.R.F.U. wouldn’t allowhim the honour of taking a final bow at the Aviva Stadium toofficially bring the curtain down on that distinguished career.Carted off at the Millennium Stadium – spectacular as the venue is andfilled as it was with adoring Irish fans – is no way for him to endhis international days. He deserves much more than that.Like the rest of us, meanwhile, he’ll be watching on as the Argiesattempt to spoil the Irish party with a team well capable of doingjust that. The Pumas were comprehensive winners over all their rivalsin Pool C bar one, and not surprisingly it was the All Blacks whoclaimed the win against them but only after being tested to the limit. Joe Schmidt’s team will know for certain they have been in a game – arepeat of that blistering second half performance against France couldwell ensure they are still in the tournament come Sunday evening. Butwe’ll have bitten a few nails before the finish.POLE AXEDThe only consolation for those of us watching on from Donegal asMartin O’Neill’s Ireland fell to defeat in Poland was the fact thatRonnie Whelan awarded the man of the match award, deservedly at that,to Seamus Coleman, back in the side after missing the win overGermany.That apart it was a disappointing outing, particularly in a game whenautomatic qualification could have been secured and we could have beenbrushing up on those old French verbs. True, if the Poles did not possess a striker of the quality of RobertLewandowski, the Republic might have nicked it though you’d have toask how, seeing as O’Neill’s men created so little on the night andwere tactically off the pace.Now we venture into the play-offs and despite the optimism of somepundits who appear to have dismissed many of the countries in the pot,it’s going to be a slog over the two legs whether it be Sweden,Hungary, Denmark or what ever team comes out of the hat on Sunday.Still, at least we lasted longer than Holland.AND HERE’S ANOTHER PLAY-OFF ON THE HORIZONFinn Harps welcome champions Dundalk to Ballybofey this weekend.Whoops, getting ahead of myself here. That’s next season’s preview.We’re still waiting on the outcome of this one though the bit aboutthe champions is spot on.Back to back Premier League successes for Stephen Kenny and wellmerited with a squad that was head and shoulders above their closestrivals and played some outstanding football throughout (though I’dstill be concerned about the artificial surface at Oriel Park). Harps face at least three more matches – and if it stops there, therewon’t be a slot in the upper league for next campaign – over the nexthandful of weeks with the least important being this Saturday night’sfinal league fixture against the First Division champions, WexfordYouths.Oliver’s Army travel to Belfield the following weekend for the firstleg of their play-off before the return leg in Ballybofey. Should theyprogress, they could be facing any one of five or six teams stillhovering around the drop zone in the Premier Division.That selection will be reduced come this weekend’s fixture list butone thing is certain. Paul Hegarty’s Derry City team won’t be amongthem.More’s the pity.A NIGHT OF AWARDS AND A SPECIAL TRIBUTEThere’s rarely a day goes by when I don’t pass through the Ballyrainearea of Letterkenny and rarely a day when I don’t still expect to seethe big man pottering around his garden or in the shed behind hishouse.Neil Cullen, stalwart of Donegal athletics and indeed football in aprevious existence, may be gone but his memory lives on and it wasfitting that M.C. for last Friday night’s Letterkenny A.C. awardsceremony, Marty Gormley, remembered him and those of us in theattendance likewise.It was a night for tributes and presentations – the honours werecarried out by R.T.E.’s Greg Allen – but a sad year in one respect, asMarty pointed out, with the loss of Big Neil. A jovial character and aman of great humour, he described him. And someone who tooksignificant pride in the achievements of the young athletes in hischarge and those who went on to greater things.Marty remembered travelling to many an athletics meeting with Neil –they were, he said, the ‘Ant and Dec’ of Letterkenny (only – even ifMarty didn’t say it -a lot funnier).The stories were legendary just like the big man himself. And thegenerous round of applause called for by the M.C. on Friday night inthe appropriate surrounds of Arena 7, not a 200 metre sprint from hishome, in memory of this giant of Donegal sport, represented a fittingtestimony to him.Perhaps, a more lasting testimony might still be considered by theclub, and indeed the County Athletics Board, in recognition of all hisachievements.BORDER INCURSIONSThree thoughts arrived quickly into this head as the celebrations onboth sides of the borders continued on Thursday night following hugelyimpressive results by the respective international teams operatingunder the managership of a duo of M. O’Neills.First of all, my mind drifted to the Irish rugby camp and the likes ofRory Best and Iain Henderson proclaiming Northern Ireland’s advance tonext summer’s European Championships and, on the other hand, thesmiles on the faces of such as Paul O’Connell and Johnny Sexton(smiles that were sadly to turn into painful grimaces just a few dayslater) following the Republic’s win over the Germans. What a nightthat must have been for Joe Schmidt’s squad – and what a boost inlight of their own adventures in the World Cup.And then my thoughts turned back to a night in November 1993 whenWindsor Park hosted a game of a different colour (or rather the samecolour but featuring the most bitter of splits down the middle). Iwasn’t among the band of Republic supporters who braved the insultsand outright venom that hailed down from the terraces occupied bysections of the home support (and let’s be fair, many of those fansdidn’t share in that hatred) and could hardly, within fear of furthervitriol, celebrate Alan McLaughlin’s famous equalizing goal thathelped qualify Jack Charlton’s men for the World Cup Finals in theU.S.Over twenty years later, I still taste that bitterness only it’s myown that I’m tasting – and when Northern Ireland were going teninternational games without scoring and sixteen without recording avictory, there was a smirk of avenging satisfaction greasing thesefeatures I have to confess. And all because of that night in November.But things change and began to change when Michael O’Neill took overand brought the team out of the international wilderness. And now, Imay even cheer them on in France next year.And the third thought? Or memory. An afternoon in the Delacroix Bar inDerry. On the television screen in the corner of the packedestablishment, the Republic of Ireland are a goal down to Germany inthe 2002 World Cup Finals and the game is edging into injury time. AndNiall Quinn rises to flick on a ball to Robbie Keane in the box andthe Republic’s all-time leading scorer drills the ball home for adramatic late, late leveller.Cue celebratory pandemonium on the pitch and in the homes and pubs ofIreland, and not least in the Delacroix Bar where complete strangers(I know because I’m one of them) are hugging and leaping in thegeneral direction of the ceiling. And it was only later on that Irealised I had been celebrating with a bunch of Northern Ireland bornand bred punters who weren’t interested in the fortunes of their ownnative land but were 100% behind Mick McCarthy’s band of warriors.Political persuasion, I know, borne of years of division but I stillwondered about it and wonder what percentage of them were punching theair as Shane Long netted that winner last Thursday night at the AvivaStadium while ignoring events up the road at Windsor Park.Funny old game, Saint.FROM SHAMROCK ROVERS TO EURO FINALSNot the first time, Michael O’Neill has led an Irish team to Europeanheights though not much has been said about it in recent days as hisNorthern Ireland squad confirmed their place in France next year.He made history by becoming the first League of Ireland manager –indeed the first manager of any Irish domestic club – to lead a sideto the group stages of a European competition back in the 2011-2012campaign. Under his guidance Shamrock Rovers recorded a 2-1 win awayat one of the shining lights of the game, Partizan Belgrade, to earnthat prestigious spot in the Europa League.True, they went on to lose all six of the subsequent matches but stillhad the audacity to take the lead against Tottenham Hotspur at WhiteHart Lane before succumbing to a 3-1 loss.Credit to O’Neill for that particular slice of history but, of course,even more so for leading the North to their first ever EuropeanChampionship Finals. With his squad of lesser lights, plying theirtrade in everywhere from Hamilton Academicals to Ross County and fromFleetwood Town to Doncaster Rovers, he managed to bring them throughfinishing on top of top of the pile in their group, even if, it has tobe said, that group featured a handful of nations struggling on theinternational front in recent times. It still shouldn’t take away fromthe achievement and whatever happens in France, O’Neill will no doubtbe the subject of club attention given what he has managed thoughhe’ll hardly be heading back to the Tallaght Hoops any time soon orlater.WEDDING BELLSYou have have noticed – though just as likely not – that this columnwas missing last week.  Reason? Attendance at the wedding in Sicily ofmy nephew, Michael, and his new bride, Niamh. Many congratulations andyears ahead to both of them.SHIRT DEALI see the shirt worn by Ramelton’s Dave Gallaher in his playing careerwith the All Blacks has been sold for 180,000 euro.Doesn’t really surprise me to be honest what with the cost of footballjerseys these days……HEARTBREAK FOR PAULIE, IRELAND POLE AXED AND PLAY-OFF FEVER – IT’S WALSHY ON WEDNESDAY was last modified: October 14th, 2015 by Mark ForkerShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Tags:newsSportlast_img

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