UEFA European Championship

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Sky Sports News yesterday were very down; no more domestic football to enthrall the viewers but hold on the next best thing was today. Yes, you guessed right – it was the day that England, Wales and Republic of Ireland decided to put the fringe players out of their misery and name their Euro 2016 squads. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the squads.

Republic of Ireland

Turner’s Cross in Cork was splendidly turned out, it was shame therefore that the Republic of Ireland team produced a rather flat and uninspiring performance against a Belarus side where Alexander Hleb oozed class throughout. Shortly after 10:40pm GMT, the squad was announced and to be frank there were no real surprises in the side.

Harry Arter would have being a lock in the squad but for injury sustained against the Netherlands last Friday. The unfortunate injury opened the door for the likes of Stephen Quinn and David Meyler to get into the final squad. Neither will get significant game minutes but Meyler may be required to shore up the flanks if called upon. McGoldrick’s injury woes this season even though the player showed flashes of potential for country put paid to his chances.

Robbie Keane on one leg was always going to be brought tonight much to Sky Sports News disappointment. The performance of Daryl Murphy tonight was abject and it is no wonder that O’Neill has decided to bring Keane as the options upfront apart from Shane Long are quite limited. I would expect James McClean to realistically be ahead of Murphy in the striker depth chart after tonight.

The unfortunate omission was probably David Forde who at the start of this campaign was the number one keeper but a loss in form and the emergence of Jordan Archer for Millwall meant that the Galway native was confined to Johnstone Paint Trophy cameos and even then did not go well. Kieren Westwood’s performances for Sheffield Wednesday this season have being superb and his display last weekend in Wembley cemented his place.

I sensed that Westwood thought he was packing his bags when Forde got game time tonight but the Republic of Ireland management have gone with a keeper in form and playing regular club football to give Randolph the competition required. Shay Given’s inclusion was fortunate considering the circumstances. His cameo for the second Belarus goal tonight was unflattering, flat footed prior to the shot being deflected. There are lingering questions on match fitness. Is the knee fully fit? I doubt if Given will be given game time in this tournament.

O’Neill is hoping that Coleman, McCarthy, Keane will be fit throughout the tournament. It is a risk but considering the options at his disposal, the dice had to be thrown on all three players. Coleman is a massive player for the side. Christie tonight looked out of sorts and could be well exposed in the pool stages. Robbie Keane will probably play a cameo role off the bench. Long will lead the line and McClean showed tonight that he is capable of making running behind defenses. Keane’s game management and ability to poach a goal from nothing will be crucial for the team in the pool stages.

Loyalty was rewarded to a certain extent with the inclusion of Aiden McGeady; a player who struggled for first team football this season but his vital goal against Georgia away was ultimately rewarded with a place on the plane to France. McGeady’s pace out wide could be an asset but whether he will get a chance in the tournament is a big question.

O’Neill has announced his squad. The team lineup to play Sweden will be along familiar lines unless Shane Duffy makes a compelling case to replace Keogh at the heart of the defense. Things will have to go Republic’s way to get out of this pool. The lack of creativity in the final third is a concern even though Hoolahan and Brady are in the squad. The loss tonight may be a blessing indisguise; dampen down expectation and reduce the pressure on the players.

England

Roy Hodgson has done a Sven Goran on it; named an eighteen year old to join the squad on work experience. If people think that Marcus Rashford will get any game time, think again. Rashford has the pace and attributes to cause defenses issues in this tournament but with the likes of Kane, Vardy, Rooney and Sturridge ahead in the pecking order, the Manchester United youngster will be there for the experience. A wasted squad selection pick if you ask me.

The squad looks distinctly light in the defensive department. The central defense area in particular will be an area to exploit. Smalling and Cahill will be the first choice center backs but if anything were to force either unavailable for selection, then Roy will be in a pickle. John Stones has not progressed this season, good footballer but plays in the wrong area. Does Roy decide to drop Erik Dier back into the center back position, a role he rarely played for Tottenham last season. Plenty could go wrong for England defensively and it is a distinct minus for their chances of advancing deep in this tournament.

Danny Drinkwater can consider himself unlucky not to get into the squad. Wilshere’s inclusion is hilarious; no significant game time for Arsenal this seasson and trying to prove his fitness at the end of May is not what an international manager should be contending with. Jordan Henderson has had an average season. His statistics when compared with Drinkwater are well down.

Who in this England midfield will make a tackle? All England central midfield options selected made less than fifty tackles last season. Drinkwater made 101 tackles. There is a question mark on the work rate in this central midfield area and I sense Rooney will be asked to drop deep and try to control games from central midfield. Andros Townsend is yet again the fall guy of the squad, had a good end to the season with Newcastle and his pace would have posed problems. Dele Ali and Ross Barkley will need to step up to provide the creativity required. Barkley showed little in the league this year.

Roy Hodgson’s attacking options look decent. Vardy’s pace and power will be an asset ad Kane predatory instinct in front of goal if provided with adequate service will mean England will advance to at least the last eight of this competition. Sturridge if match fit could also provide a cameo off the bench; a moment of magic to unlock a defense. The issues in central defense and midfield are gaping and expect opponents to try to run at England in the pool stages.

Wales

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Let us not beat around the bush. Chris Coleman may emphasize about team spirit and morale in the next couple of weeks  but ultimately it all depends on Gareth Bale. Are Wales capable of providing adequate service to their talisman and be defensively hard to beat? Bale pace and power will pose defenses massive problems.

The squad was predictable in nature. Joe Ledley’s miraculous broken leg recovery lends more to the fact that Coleman has no other player in the current squad that can do the job that Joe Ledley does; box to box player with enormous work rate.

Plenty will also rest on the shoulders of Ashley Williams; the defense will be asked stern questions by both England and Russia and Williams need to marshal his troops superbly for Wales to have any chance of pool group progression. In Bale, Wales will trust.

Germany

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Let the Manchester United Carrington Training Ground search for Bastian conclude. He has being selected for the Germany squad, we found the legend. A surprise decision but Joachim Loew needed experience in his midfield with the withdrawal of Reus. Bastian when fit is a superb player but how many games did he play for United this year? A squad which oozes class but can opponents exploit Boateng defensively, an intriguing clash with Poland in the pool stages will indicate this answer.

Hail Hail Connacht!

 

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Connacht – Champions

There is a saying in sport ‘that you have to lose one, to win one’. Connacht obviously paid little heed to this analogy as they comfortably defeated Leinster 20-10 in an exciting Pro 12 final encounter at Murrayfield with a performance which oozed class, skill and has raised the bar set by Glasgow Warriors last season in terms of how NH teams should play the game with dynamic ball carrying, well executed supporting runs for the player with ball in hand and a relentless appetite for work in the breakdown whether with ball or not.

Leinster can have no arguments with this final encounter. They were comprehensively beaten in all facets of play. Nacewa was badly missed as Connacht exposed massive issues in the outside channel defense aided by a clearly not fit Rob Kearney at full back who was culpable for the opening try. Nacewa’s ability to create line breaks from nothing were also missed as Leinster back three struggled to get into the game as Connacht’s fast upfront in your face defense caused confusion in the Leinster ranks where supporting runners were indecisive at best with their running lines to allow Sexton to launch the decisive pass to the likes of Ben Teo.

Leo Cullen will also rue the absence of giant Devin Toner. His influence in the Leinster pack (calling the lineout set piece) has resulted in reliable ball possession. Toner’s absence resulted in Mick Kearney being handed the responsibility of calling the line but to be frank, the set piece struggled from the first whistle. Strauss struggled to find his jumpers and Dillane and Muldowney were disrupting Leinster ball so much so that Strauss was hauled off on forty-two minutes and Mick Kearney was already on the bench due to injury. Ross Molony was faced with the unenviable task of trying to manage the lineout set-piece and while it improved when Sean Cronin came on, the damage had being done.

It was a rather cagey opening first fifteen minutes to this final contest. Both teams focused on settling into the contest, not allowing their opponent any scoring opportunity. The cautious nature of this final was then smashed on fifteen minutes when Matt Healy (former Lansdowne player) receiving the ball deep in Connacht territory. As so many times during this encounter, Healy identified defensive mismatches to exploit his electrifying pace. A game line break of thirty meters ensued and suddenly Leinster were on the back foot. A swift ruck clearout later and the ball was passed to O’Halloran who stealthy identified confusion in the defensive cover between Kearney and Heaslip who was looking at Connacht players out wide. Kearney’s lack of match fitness was exploited to the full and O’Halloran strode past the Ireland full-back and scored for the decisive opening try.

McGinty hit the extras but it was the second try of the afternoon which encapsulated all that has being good from Connacht this season. The offloading game which Pat Lam has religiously implemented since taking over at the club was seen to full effect. Aki’s deft pass even though not going initially to Marmion first time round had drawn the Leinster defense enough to allow Niyi Adelokun, a player plying his rugby with Trinity College only two years ago with space out wide. Credit to Nigel Carolan who recommended the player to Connacht and the Nigerian born winger has taken his opportunity with both hands. The try was superbly executed. Adelokun identifying space behind Reddan put a deft kick behind the scrum half, winning the 50/50 possession battle and touchdown. An incredible score and one which showed the ambition and super skill set possessed by the men from Connacht.

Even though AJ McGinty did not kick the extras, Connacht were now in the mood and a penalty was superbly converted by McGinty to give the men in green 15-0 up at the break. Leinster were like a fighter with one knee on the floor and a standing count being applied. Nothing was going right. Sexton and Ringrose defensively were having a torrid evening, constantly being targeted by Connacht in attacking plays and as a result easy game line yards being created. Ringrose was given a lesson in attacking and defensive play by Aki who was a man on a mission. His tackle count and work rate around the fringes coupled with ball carries which provided momentum and go forward ball were a joy to watch. Henshaw provided Aki the the platform to shine with a professional display; defensive solid throughout, constantly barking out orders to his team mates to get into position and was excellent in ball carries and offload game.

The second half saw the inevitable Leinster response. Leo Cullen losing patience with Strauss on the set-piece and introducing Sean Cronin whose dynamic ball carrying had early positive results. Mike Ross struggling with Connacht’s tempo was also hauled off. An early penalty award for Leinster was all to show for a sustained period of pressure as Connacht were resolute defensively. Each Connacht player putting their bodies on the line and with the likes of Muldoon having an epic performance in the breakdown and fringes, Leinster were losing this battle despite the best efforts of Jamie Heaslip.

The final nail in the coffin was applied by Connacht just after the fifty minute mark, a period of play which forced Leinster’s defensive to go deep into the reserves as Connacht moved their opposition from one side of the pitch to the other. Leinster’s outside channel defensive vulnerabilities eventually created the gap for McGinty to dink a gorgeous drubber kick for Matt Healy to collect and touchdown. It was an emphatic try; emphatic setup work, emphatic response to Leinster’s early second half response.

20-3 and Leinster were handed a lifeline when Sean Cronin went over just into the final quarter. The try was booed by Connacht fans as O’Halloran came off second best in a 50/50 tackle. The game on another day could have being stopped to allow medical attention to come on for a head injury but Nigel Owens continued to allow play to proceed resulting Cronin going over unopposed as Connacht were unable to cope with the player loss. Sexton who continued to try unlock the Connacht defense albeit taking massive hits from the likes of Muldoon and Aki tagged on the extras and the deficit was down to ten points.

However, Connacht reacted in the best possible way and won two quick penalties from scrum set-piece infringments from Leinster. Despite Connacht’s two scrum halves off the pitch, Matt Healy and AJ McGinty continued to execute the game plan with efficiency. McGinty in particular catching the eye with an impressive performance. His kicking out of hand was sublime throughout and his relieving kicks into touch in that last quarter drew the sting out of the Leinster challenge. The last ten minutes were a procession as Connacht and Leinster emptied their benches to give players a chance to sample the final atmosphere.

Connacht finished the game on the front foot and were unlucky not to add to their score. McCartney unlucky not to go over only for a sensational last ditch tackle from Sexton with Rob Kearney again floundering. The team who have created the most intriguing story in the league this season were champions. The team who have entertained the league with their expansive style of game reaped the ultimate rewards. It is a triumph for Pat Lam, a magnificent coaching performance in the last two years. The rugby ball was called a friend to the players by Lam on his first day with the players and the players have embraced the philosophy. Serious ambitions and plans are now laid for Connacht. The fan base is energized and it all points to Connacht to grow from strength to strength next season and beyond. Congratulations Connacht, fully deserved.

Louis Van Gaal – The Real Statement

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Louis Van Gaal Army is few and far between today

The biggest secret in world football is out. Louis Van Gaal has being given the door by Ed Woodward and the Glazers and leaves the rest of the board facing up to the prospect of dealing with a certain Portuguese translator as new head coach. If Louis had his way, this is what he is really thinking.

“It has been an honour to manage such a magnificent club as Manchester United FC, and in doing so, I have fulfilled a long-held ambition.”

“I am immensely proud to have helped United win the FA Cup for the 12th time in the club’s history. I have been privileged during my management career to have won 20 trophies but winning the FA Cup, which is steeped in so much history, will always be one of the most special achievements of my career.”

Louis: Mission accomplished. I won the FA Cup and you still sacked me. Alex Ferguson, you were one lucky boy to survive as long as you did back in the 80’s. Piranhas alert!

“I am very disappointed to be unable to complete our intended three-year plan. I believe that the foundations are firmly in place to enable the club to move forward and achieve even greater success.”

Louis: Shocked but not surprised when Ed Woodward continually dithering on transfer market, I had to call on the young kids in the club. I discovered Rashford (by accident), Martial (I bought), Lingard (crawling around Derby last season), Fosu Mensah (Ajax boy like myself). The youth is bright at the club but Jose will destroy in one fell swoop.

“I thank my players and wish them well for next season. It has been a pleasure to work with them and it has been particularly rewarding to see so many young players take their chance to break into the first team and excel. I look forward to watching the continued development of these young players next season.”

Louis: Thanks Phil Jones for your service, incredible performances on the terraces this season particularly in Anfield. Jose will be in for a treat. The kids are special, not sure I can say the same for the likes of Herrera and Schweinsteiger. Thank god, David De Gea is our goalkeeper to protect Chris Smalling from a nervous breakdown having to coax Denny Blind through games at center-halve (masterstroke move from yours truly).

“Thank you to the owners and board of Manchester United for giving me the opportunity to manage this great club.”

Louis: Thanks Ed and the American owners for the job opportunity. I will be entirely grateful for the Game of Thrones ending today. Don’t hold your breathe for a Christmas card from Amsterdam this year.

“I would also like to express my gratitude to the amazing United supporters. They are truly the best fans in the world.”

Louis: The football on display was shite but we are all part of the Louis Van Gaal Army; nothing else matters. I will always remember you Ajax (sorry Manchester).

“I am indebted to my support and coaching staff, who have given me their all during their time at the club.”

Louis: Thanks Ryan for controlling your mates on telly pundit work this season, it was an absolute joy to listen to their thoughtful insight, constantly undermining my authority. Paul Scholes, come and see me when you decide to manage Oldham Athletic and tell me about entertaining football then.

“I am deeply grateful to each and every member of the club’s staff – the sports science team, the medical team, the kit and laundry department, club administration, the press office, the manager’s team, the Academy team, ground staff and the catering team, both at Old Trafford stadium and Carrington training ground, all of whom have given me their unwavering support in my time at United. Never in my 25 years as a manager have I been so well supported in my role.”

Louis: I should have included that lady who played the saxophone at our end of season party last year, what a joy. As for the medical team, thanks for tying my hands behind my back. Bastian was supposed to be with you but where has he gone? Lovely people you are, keep in touch on Linkedin.com!

“Finally, my special thanks go to Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton for always making me and my family feel so welcome throughout my time as Manchester United manager.”

Louis: My forever friends who know football not like the clowns Woodward or Glazers who could not wait to get rid of me. We will keep in touch when UEFA draws take place in the summer and recall good times. Bring that lady saxophone player as well. I am off on my holidays now, see you soon.

Munster SHC: Tipperary 0-22 – 0-13 Cork

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Tipperary stroll

End of May. Thurles. Munster Senior Hurling Championship. Dreams should be made of this but thanks to horrendous weather conditions and a timid Cork challenge, Tipperary eased to victory by nine points, equaling their largest winning margin over the Rebel county.

Tipperary came into this encounter with plenty to prove. Several key player retirements and speculation of a playing panel unrest led to uncertainty in the Premier County in the lead-up to this fixture. Michael Ryan made bold moves in his team selection giving debuts to wing back Kennedy and half forward duo of Curran and McCormick.

The debutantes did not let Tipperary down as the trio soared to the occasion, something that Cork failed to do. The post-game reaction spoke of how loose Cork were before this fixture; something for a team who have struggled for form and performance was surprising. Put it simply, Cork never got to grips with the game and their tactical decision to deploy Bill Egan in the sweeper position posed more problems for themselves than nullifying the threat of Seamus Callanan inside.

It was clear from the early exchanges that Cork were worried about Callanan. The Drom Inch marksman had two players for company at all times and Cork defenders could not resist a bit of sledging when the forward missed a long range free early doors. The Tipperary forward did  have the last laugh with eight points (four from play) and his point when he gave Cahalane the eyes in the first half, thought he was going to pass the sliothar cross the field but then took on the shot was spectacular.

Cork’s tactical failure allowed other Tipperary forwards to express themselves. O’Dwyer was having the proverbial field day scoring points when presented and John McGrath hold up work and ability to bring players into play was a joy to watch. The newcomers to the forward line also contributed as Cork’s back line started to afford more space to Tipperary in extremely trying conditions.

The weather was horrendous. The constant torrential downpour meant that first touch and ball control was vital. Cork deployed a short passing game which on several occasions broke down in their back line which were punished by Tipperary. When Cork decided to haul ball from deep, it was extremely ponderous and chances were that Padraic or Ronan Maher were collecting the ball.

Tipperary will not learn much from this contest only that overall the team played within themselves. There was a period in the second half (15 minutes) where Cork did attempt to mount a challenge but was ended when Pa Horgan’s free was saved by Tipperary. The strength on the bench in the last quarter was impressive with Forde, Bergin and Bonnar Maher coming on and thriving in the open space now afforded by Cork.

The Premier County were rarely troubled as the sweeper system deployed meant that goal chances were non-existent, a worrying trend ahead of the remainder of the championship.

Cork have serious issues; the panel has good talent in the forward line but unfortunately their work rate yet again was not at the standard required. The midfield area was a no contest as Maher and Breen dominated proceedings so much so that Daniel Kearney was called ashore before half-time. The back line was protected by a sweeper system which worked to prevent goals but systematically lacked the nous required to stop Tipperary’s scoring threat from long range.

The officiating caught the eye again. The enforcement of players pulling helmets offense is not being implemented. Yellow cards were given to Barrett and Cooper but should have being red after a handbags incident. Barry Kelly was a busy man as Hawkeye was called upon several occasions as the weather conditions deteriorated rapidly. Hawkeye was setup correctly and all decisions were reviewed with minimum fuss; nice addition to Semple.

It might be early stages in the hurling championship but the sweeper system is going to rid the game with any goal-scoring chances. Waterford and Clare have started the system and have perfected it; other teams have tried to adopt the system and failed. It is a system which works well in winter hurling but summer hurling is a different story.

I hope that a team who does not adopt the system wins Liam McCarthy this season; it is a terrible plight on the sport and hurling requires goals and excitement in games. Today was dire entertainment value and hopefully the powers that be have taken note. Limerick and Tipperary will play conventional hurling in four weeks but this will be the exception to the rule.

Man of the match

Brendan Maher had an incredible game, controlled midfield exchanges and his distribution throughout was on point with some deft flicks and hand passes in terrible weather conditions. Maher’s conditioning was immense and his work rate edges the accolade from Padraic Maher who had a field day in the half-back line as a sweeper.

 

 

UEFA Europa League Final Thoughts

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Introduction

The football proverb ‘a game of two halves’ would be so apt for this UEFA Europa League final in Basel tonight. Liverpool were in cruise control at the interval but the game was turned on its head when the reigning champions decided to run at the heart of the Liverpool midfield and back four. Liverpool were punch drunk come the end of this contest and much to ponder for Klopp and anyone associated with the football club. Seville’s three in a row is accomplished; a sign that La Liga is the league to watch and for certain pundits to do more research before they make bold predictions that a team will ‘win easy’.

Liverpool penalty shouts

What do those officials behind the goals do? Two stonewall penalties not given to Liverpool in that opening period who exposed massive space afforded by the Spanish side. Nathaniel Clyne was given the freedom of the park in that first half and produced several quality crosses which should have being slotted home. The opening goal of this final was a sublime finish. Daniel Sturridge was the standout for Liverpool tonight, looked sharp and his finish (ball starting outside the post leaving was quality) on thirty-five minutes. The goal nearly led to a deserved second before the interval but the match officials failed to give a stone ball penalty when Krychowiak handled the ball in the area, shambolic officiating again. Seville got their get out of jail card and the second half was an entirely different story.

Liverpool capitulate or Seville that good?

Seville to their credit regrouped at the break and their decision to run at the heart of Liverpool’s defense paid dividends immediately. Coke played the captain fantastic role with a brace of goals but question marks have to be raised on Liverpool central midfield who failed to protect their back four but Moreno for the equalizer was disastrous; a nothing header clearance and then over commits on the tackle. The central defenders and goalkeeper as well failing to close the space out once Moreno was easily beaten. Liverpool were now a boxer who was hit by a sucker punch; their senses were gone and Seville ruthlessly exposed the lack of leadership in the team with two other quick fire goals which exposed more weak back four defending. Clyne’s momentarily ball watching fatal for the second and then the third goal which was correctly given was the end product of a Liverpool rearguard in sixes and sevens. It looked to me that Liverpool ran out of gas in the second half; all the energy was spent in that opening period took its toll. The midfield area was a no contest in that second period with Nzoni powerfully winning ball and 50/50 tackles. Liverpool’s back four looked weak on paper. Skrtel on the subs bench looked glaring. Toure in the heart of the defense was a disaster waiting to happen and so it proved.

Liverpool key players did not deliver

Apart from Sturridge and Can, the key players for Liverpool failed to deliver. Coutinho and Firmino in particular were hardly mentioned and offered little to upset Seville defensively. Milner worked hard but lacked any threat in attacking areas. Adam who? The back four were wholly exposed in the second half. The leadership in the Liverpool ranks was non-existent, no-one looked to lead the team out of the crisis in that second half. Klopp will have learned more about his team today than he would have done since he arrived at the club; expect a massive cull in defense and midfield areas as Klopp looks to Bundesliga to create the mentality and toughness required for Liverpool to take more steps forward. This loss will hurt Klopp; his final record is poor (five losses in the last six final appearances). The setup of the team was wrong and the back four was there to be picked off. Toure over Skrtel was a decision which is still baffling.

Graeme Souness needs a reality check

The pre-game prediction of Graeme Souness of Seville was damning. His assertion that La Liga was all about the top three teams; Barcelona, Real and Atleti was highly disrespectful to the teams which play in the best European league. The comments ignored Seville’s record in this competition and their speed and ability to launch counter attacks was utterly cast aside. The pundit usually is a joy to listen to but he got this badly wrong; some may say that he did not know anything about Seville but the unfounded air of confidence in Liverpool’s chances seemed to be reflected in the team lineup and team behavior. Moreno’s antics at half-time spoke volumes; thought the game was in the bag but how wrong he was and the match pundit.

Liverpool loss an indication of EPL on the wane?

The manner in which Liverpool capitulated in that second half is a worrying concern for EPL whose teams have struggled in Europe this season. EPL teams have struggled in game management and general basic skills and Liverpool in that second half were guilty of both. The league is admired globally but the fact that Leicester City (workmanlike team) winning the title by ten points should have raised alarm bells. The perceived top teams are in rebuild mode and one wonders if the EPL challenge in Europe will be any better next season than it was this season? Liverpool have provided some memorable European moments along with Manchester City but both teams were found out ultimately in their leadership and ability to take the game by the scruff of the neck. Worrying signs for the ‘best league in the world’

 

Rugby Thoughts

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Saracens are European Rugby Cup Champions

After steady progress in recent seasons, once unfashionable London Rugby club Saracens are now at the European Rugby summit. Saracens have learned from their mistakes in recent seasons and they handled the final occasion in an efficient manner compared to Racing Metro who were disjointed throughout, not helped by their decision to field a clearly unfit Dan Carter at fly-half.

21-9 scoreline was an accurate reflection on how the final went. After a cagey first quarter where both sides had their moments, Saracens seized control of the final with a pack performance which oozed confidence and forced their counterparts to leak penalties at regular intervals.

While Owen Farrell was unerring in his accuracy from the tee, Racing Metro were scrambling to identify a consistent goal kicker with Dan Carter clearly not up to performing his kicking duties. Muller to his credit was excellent in his penalty kicking duties but there did not seem to be a coherent backup kicker strategy by the Parisian outfit.

The decision to risk Dan Carter backfired when Lyon was greeted with a torrential downpour midway through the first period and Carter was unable to assert any influence on the game as the ball became a bar of soap for Racing Metro when entering into Saracens territory. Carter’s leg injury meant that the legendary New Zealander was quite one dimensional and his reluctance to put ball into space was evident throughout his final cameo.

This final will not be remembered as a classic. The weather conditions extinguished any hope of an expansive final thus nullifying the threat of the likes of Imhoff on the flanks for Racing Metro. It meant that Racing had to win this final with their pack and they fell well short of the performance required to win the match.

With a youthful squad, Saracens can look forward to many seasons of competing for top honors. The emergence of George Kruis and Maro Itoje in the second row positions, Jamie George at hooker and the likes of Owen Farrell and Duncan Taylor in the back line means that opponents, the future looks so bright for the North London club and one would not bet against them winning the Aviva Premiership in two weeks.

Love them or loathe them, Saracens are here for the long haul. Their game smarts won them the final last weekend but this team have evolved this season evident in their big scores racked up against Toulouse and Ulster in the pool stages. They are the only team to go through the tournament with a 100% record, immense feat.

The success was just desserts for Mark McCall and Charlie Hodgson; two men who have embodied everything good in rugby. McCall’s reign at Saracens have being immense, the foundations of the club are in a firm footing and McCall has developed an effective youth academy which has identified talents such as George, Kruis and the new face of world rugby Itoje.

Charlie Hodgson’s illustrious playing career has finally secured the European Cup medal he richly deserves; an unassuming player whose performances for Sale and Saracens have being on point. Hodgson has provided the guidance and experience for the likes of Owen Farrell to flourish.

Racing Metro are a team on the upward curve. Their performances in Europe this season confirmed initial promise from last season. The talent at their disposal is impressive in the fly-half and back line positions but the pack is a work in progress where their conditioning and discipline was exposed by an abrasive Saracens pack.

An interesting off-season beckons and one thing is for sure is that Castrogiovanni will be nowhere near the club next season; how an experienced professional (say that loosely) can go and party with PSG players in Las Vegas when his team-mates were putting their bodies on the line against Leicester in the European Cup semi-final beggars belief. Time for Castrogiovanni to do the honorable thing; retire and kudos to Conor O’Shea to drop him from the Italian national squad, something that Brunel should have done years ago.

Racing Metro like Saracens last season will learn from this final heartbreak. The pain and devastation in the dressing room after this final should spur the club on in domestic action and in Europe again next season. Discipline and the need to identify a player who can step up to backup Dan Carter (if injured) is required. Interesting days ahead and for the likes of Ronan O’Gara, a more pivotal role in the club setup will be required next season to lift the squad to new heights next season.

Wasps – the new Montpelier?

With news that Kurtley Beale and Willie Le Roux are to become Wasps players next season, it marks a significant departure for Wasps who prided themselves a rugby club who nurtured talent at the grassroots. Wasps are trying to clone the policy implemented by Montpelier who to be honest could be named the ‘ANZAC All Stars’ such is the SH rugby talent on their books for Jake White to call upon.

While signings of the standard of Beale and Le Roux will bring potentially short term success, one wonders what the lasting effect will be for Wasps? Will a local Coventry boy who is a promising rugby talent even get a look in at the club. The whole ethos of rugby is fundamentally changing; the need for instant success is diluting the true essence of what it is to be a rugby club.

Import players do little for the development of the national game; you only have to look at the French national team in recent years where imports have stifled development of homegrown players who are forced to ply their trade in the lower leagues. England Rugby is in good health at this time but the talent pool may diminish quite rapidly if teams such as Wasps decide to buy import for short term gain.

Pro 12 Preview

Two intriguing playoff fixtures this weekend. Ulster have to produce a performance, otherwise I fear that the province will have lost their chance to get to the next level. Leinster are in a vulnerable position at present; their loss to Ulster at Kingspan Stadium exposed weakness with and without the ball. The lack of game line breaks from Leinster during this contest was to the fore as Ulster absorbed all Leinster could throw and identified overlaps out wide consistently. A routine mauling of Treviso in the last regular home game of the season does not mask the issues from the penultimate fixture.

Ulster have the talent; have the financial backing and it is high time they delivered silverware for their supporters. Pienaar and Jackson need to play in the right areas and execute the exit strategy with efficiency. The Ulster pack need to be abrasive and look to build their platform from the set piece where the lineout has fired well in recent weeks. The back line have enormous potential with Marshall and McCloskey in the three quarters. They have the edge over Teo and Ringrose but whether they get the supply of quick ball is another story.

I sense that if Ulster are to be considered a serious team, they need to win a game such as this. Ulster get my vote considering how exposed Leinster look at this time and that Ulster have come into form at the right time. Ulster are the classic Jekyll and Hyde team so this prediction could be ripped up well before full-time.

As for Glasgow, the reigning champions have their backs against the wall. A loss to Connacht in the last regular game of the season at the Sportsgrounds mean another fixture at the Galway venue. Puafisi’s suspension will be a loss but Alex Dunbar’s injury withdrawal could be absolutely pivotal when Aki and Henshaw in the Connacht three quarters.

The weather forecast for Saturday is rather mixed and it will be the team who can game manage the best will prevail. Connacht showed great game decisions in the last fixture to win a game that on another season could have seen Glasgow survive and win. McGinty at ten is a huge addition. The pack are healed and ready to go. Bealham, Buckley and McCartney have played stellar all season. Muldowney and Dillane are a formidable second row partnership. Muldoon at eight; there are no weak points.

Glasgow if allowed to get quick ruck ball are a dangerous animal. This is such an intriguing fixture. Home field advantage is huge but Glasgow are a team which revel in playoff rugby this time of year; they know how to get the job done and there should be no surprises from Connacht this time round. It all depends on the packs this weekend; back lines win games, packs win championships.

Connacht have not shirked any pressure games this season. It is so so tough to call. Slight edge to Connacht but there will be one score in this contest and a refereeing decision may prove crucial to the final outcome.

 

 

How to get relegated from the EPL?

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EPL Relegation confirmed

The reaction of Big Sam Allardyce at the final whistle tonight at the Stadium of Light spoke volumes. Sunderland had survived for another season in the top flight, a turbulent season where the club courted controversy with the shameful events leading up to the Adam Johnson’s prosecution, accusations from the Sunderland fans that Ellis Short was not providing the funding to secure key purchases, a managerial exit leading to the arrival of relegation safety expert Big Sam Allardyce which was ultimately the difference why Sunderland are staying in the division. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the relegation of Newcastle and Norwich City and reflects where it all went wrong for both teams.

Relegation from the top flight this season will hurt badly for anyone associated with Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Norwich City. The prospect of rolling up the sleeves in the championship next season to automatically bounce back is extremely difficult to do. Forty-six titanic battles loom large for the vanquished and to make matters worse, the loss in revenue from the new television rights deal will hurt the bank balance.

The demotion will lead to inevitable job losses to people who have put their heart and soul into the football club; job losses at the fan store, job losses in stewarding due to lack of support attendances, job losses in the administration side of the club; job losses in businesses which depend on the football club. It is a devastating blow for the regions where these football clubs reside.

Why did Newcastle United fall this season? The lack of planning in the off-season was a fatal flaw for the football club. The team had gaping defensive weak points and the club failed to act in the transfer market. Steve McClaren’s arrival at the football club in the summer was greeted with indifference by Newcastle fans (after his tenure with Middlesbrough) and he failed to assert his game plan or authority on the first team. The players on duty failing to execute the game plan; looking to attack rather than defend and the lack of clean sheets were compiling to the squad depth issues seen.

With Cisse struggling for form and goals, the team relied on Wynaldum for inspiration. The Dutch player at times showed in flashes goals but he could not do it on his own and with the wayward Mitrovic more miss than hit, today was inevitable. The arrival of Rafa Benitez was too little too late as McClaren continued to struggle with the defensive woes created by the season ending injury of Tim Krul and then Rob Elliott in goals and having to contend with Steve Taylor’s absence at the heart of the defense for long periods.

Outside of the playing side, the financial business model from Mike Ashley and associates must be called into question. There appeared to be no genuine long term financial plan for the football club. Ashley has admitted that the bank balance is low at the club and relegation will do very little to address this revenue concern.

The questionable appointment of McClaren to the football club and subsequent lack of transfer signings in midfield and defensive positions in the off-season indicated that Ashley was trying to do business on the cheap and this time it failed spectacularly.

Will Ashley stay on after this relegation? Several players and Rafa Benitez will be heading for pastures new. Newcastle again are in a financial and organizational mess and they have no-one but themselves to blame. When you could not beat Aston Villa last weekend, you do not deserve to stay up which is a shame considering the passionate fan base.

Norwich City’s woes were varied. Their woeful home loss to Liverpool was the turning point of their season. The loss exposed massive confidence and bottle issues in the side. Players went missing from that result onward and even experienced players such as Steven Naismith could not keep the newly promoted outfit up.

The lack of clean sheets was glaring but the distinct lack of a quality goal scorer upfront was detrimental to the club this season. Redmond and Mbokani showed glimpses but their goal haul of five goals each before tonight does not cut it at this level. It is baffling considering the midfield talent at Norwich’s disposal. Naismith, Hoolahan and Redmond are standout performers in the league this season. Chances were created but not taken.

Alex Neil as a manager has learned more in this season than he has in his whole managerial career. Neil felt confident in his squad in the early part of the season but players’ form dipped after a memorable victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Ruddy in goal was dropped for Declan Rudd and while the youngster performed well, a couple of lapses against Villa and Watford caused the back four to become even more unstable. The switch in goals did not work.

Norwich’s season could be summed up last weekend when Manchester United came to Carrow Road. Norwich dominated possession but lacked cutting edge in the final third and when Bassong misread a ball over the top, United scored. There was no way back for Norwich and despite the 4-2 win over a Watford side who let us face it were on holiday mode was only papering over the cracks.

The chief executive Twitter debacle over the weekend did little to inspire confidence from the outside that the administrative side of the football club was in synchronization. You could argue that the squad assembled was a very good Championship squad but was not good enough for the top flight. Norwich City out of the bottom three will look to retain as many of the squad to bounce straight back up but expect the likes of Redmond, Ruddy, Naismith and Hoolahan to seek pastures new in the off-season. Alex Neil could be a manager in demand as well despite the demotion.

 

Guinness Pro 12 – Round 22 Review

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A weekend where the regular Guinness Pro 12 season came to a conclusion. A season for some which could not end quick enough (Treviso, Zebre, Dragons, Blues), a season for some to forget (Munster, Ospreys and Edinburgh) while it was a season to savor for the men of Connacht. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action in Limerick and Galway and wonders will Munster Rugby learn anything from this season’s campaign failings?

Munster win to secure top flight European Cup Rugby

Anthony Foley said it as much in the post-game comments immediately after Munster’s bonus point victory 31-15 over a limited Llanelli Scarlets at the medium sized Thomond Park crowd.

This was a game which Munster needed to be won first, performance came a very remote second, just get over the line and win the game to secure European Champions Cup Rugby next season.

The prospect of travelling potentially to exotic places such as Siberia in the middle of November no doubt spurred Munster players on in recent weeks to produce two bonus point performances to finish sixth in the league.

This game was strange in the extreme. Llanelli Scarlets bossed the early exchanges but found themselves 7-3 down after the first quarter. Munster’s defensive scheme just about held up to scrutiny and when presented with a half-chance deep inside their twenty-two plundered with the efficiency not regularly seen by the men in red this season.

Huge credit for the first try must go to Francis Sailli whose deft drubber kick created the space for Earls to run onto the ball and after evading several tackles who had the composure to delay his pass to the support line runner (yes, supporting line runner) of Sailli to finish the score from midfield.

The normal service of Munster coughing easy scores after scoring reared its head consistently in this contest. It is a facet of play which has killed Munster in games this season; any momentum quickly extinguished.

After a splendidly worked second try, the hosts gifted the Scarlets easy points from the boot of Shingler to only lead 14-9 at the break. The penalty concessions were frustrating; offside, not rolling away. Rassi Erasmus will see the statistics for himself on July 1st and discipline will be a key area of focus next season.

The second half was an incredibly nervy affair from Munster, littered with basic skill set errors in the third quarter allowed Scarlets to get within two points but spurred on by a boisterous home crowd came through in the last quarter to score three unanswered tries to put a gloss on proceedings. Ronan O’Mahoney’s try again the end product of more Scarlets unforced errors (pass going astray) for the Grangewood native to score the try.

CJ Stander was immense throughout, his ball carries throughout the game set the platform for which Munster launched their attacks. Johnny Holland continues to learn his craft at ten;  tough day at the office on the tee but he was assured in his overall game management and defensive duties even though Scarlets clearly targeted the rookie.

Munster must learn from this season and fast. No distinct player recruitment for the new head coach to work with. The current group of players will be buoyed by the return of Peter O’Mahoney (second row role potentially) but questions a plenty for the new coach in the front row where the scrum again was bossed around and the lineout set piece was average to be kind.

It is blatantly clear that the Munster front five do not “put the fear of god” into opposition anymore and Munster Rugby need to provide funds for Erasmus to address the void left by Botha, O’Connell and O’Callaghan.

The back row is solid but then questions emerge in the half-back options. When you take out Murray, there is not a lot of options at nine and the ten situation was a running joke throughout the season after JJ Hanrahan hit the road for the East Midlands.

There is still a future for Ian Keatley and I think the player did himself no harm at all with an assured performance at full-back when Zebo was forced to retire from proceedings. Keatley also provides coverage at twelve and despite a wretched season, the player has a role at the rugby club.

Interesting developments beckon in Munster come the off-season. Who comes to join Erasmus in the backroom staff and playing squad? Can Munster Rugby provide enough financial liquidity to attract one or two tried and trusted world stars? Will the fan base come back to Thomond Park or will the disillusionment which was seen in the lack of attendance numbers be now the norm?

Connacht continue to take the plaudits

14-7, a scoreline which secured Connacht’s home playoff semi-final berth. The decision of Pat Lam to rest nine first team starters in Italy last weekend was now merited.

The slippy, wet conditions made expansive running rugby a danger hazard but Connacht showed in this contest the grit, the street smarts and game management to get over the line, a nice omen ahead of the playoffs.

The game was hugely influenced by the Glasgow red card. Puafisi was committed but his head first contact on Kieran Marmion was dangerous and a red card was produced (some will say that a lack of consistency on another day yielded a yellow card).

Bundee Aki has had a marvelous season. He has led the team with his attacking play; his swashbuckling game line yards and tries have provided momentum to Connacht. His first half try demontrated Aki’s strengths; decision making and strength were paramount.

Connacht had to withstand long periods of pressure from Glasgow but their defensive line was quick all game. First tackles were made and colleague support in the breakdown exchanges resulted in Glasgow receiving extremely slow ball to work with.

Gregor Townsend will rue the red card as his charges were just getting a grip of the contest. A smart finish from Gordon Reid in the early exchanges of the second half should have set the platform for the Warriors to win the game but it was not to be.

Connacht won the game with a try which encompassed all that has being good about Pat Lam’s charges this season. The deft kick from O’Leary realizing there was space out wide was admirable but the take from O’Halloran in the wet conditions was unbelievable. A try fitting to win any contest.

The two sides face each other again in two weeks in the playoff semi-final. Glasgow know what needs to be done and if it is a dry day and fast track, expect fireworks from these two teams.

 

 

 

GAA Reflections

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Introduction

The dust has not even settled on the NHL season. Hold on, the league season has not even finished with a replay scheduled for this weekend but the GAA have decided to launch into the championship with as much fanfare as a Kilkenny Minor Football outing. It was a weekend where puck hurling was the order of the day in Thurles, Kerry hurling continued to show promising signs, Offaly hurling hitting a new low while Roscommon had a major fright in the Big Apple. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action and wonders how low does Offaly hurling need to go before they hit the abyss.

NHL Final

Has intercounty hurling really come down to this? A sport typically where attacking endeavor and skill were rewarded has now being reduced to a sport where defensive schemes and counter-attacking is now the order of the day. For the purist, last weekend’s NHL Division 1 final was horrendous to watch. The game was a cagey affair throughout with both sides guilty of crowding the other in attack and even more so their wayward shooting. The number of wide balls by both sides did little for anyone who paid their hard earned dosh to watch entertainment.

The contest will be remembered for the cameos of Conor McGrath and the superb late free from Maurice Shanahan to force the replay. Waterford will though wonder how they had not the game sewn up in normal time as they were the dominant team for long stretches. Their shot selection smacked of a side who were feeling pressure of putting back to back league titles. Waterford and Clare’s defensive schemes do their job but they do little for the entertainment value of the sport.

I do not envisage anymore excitement from the replay. I will give it a skip, god help us when they actually meet in the Munster SHC fixture on June 5th. The hurling traditionalist will already have their words inscribed before the ball is thrown then. Kilkenny and Tipperary hopefully to smash this conservative game plan approach out the window come the summer. The sport needs it as the display in Thurles on Sunday fell somewhat short of the excitement and entertainment value required for fans to pay to watch.

Leinster SHC Preliminary Round

No sign of a RTE or Sky Sports camera in Westmeath and Kerry as both home teams started their championship campaigns with deserved victories. The fourteen point victory for Westmeath over an Offaly side whose lack of desire, conditioning and hunger for the fight was truly shambolic. Eamonn Kelly is a man on the ropes already but the mess in Offaly hurling was created long before the Tipperary native took the reins this season.

Kelly is hurting but one would wonder about some of the current Offaly hurling panel after a truly sorry performance. Their first touch, pace were all off and it is so strange to see an Offaly hurling team being beaten in the skills department but that is what happened in Mullingar last weekend. The scoreline and margin of victory does not flatter Westmeath who controlled the game for long periods. Their ability to open up an overworked Offaly back line to setup easy score after easy score was the order of the day. Westmeath dominated the central positions. The result was never in doubt and such was the comprehensive nature of the result, Kelly and Offaly backroom management staff were baffled who to take off. Offaly hurling continues to spiral out of control.

After a reasonable NHL campaign, they were taken to the cleaners by Kilkenny in the quarter final and this trouncing has rocked the confidence of the panel evidently. When teams push on in conditioning and skill set in May, Offaly have clearly regressed as the season has progressed. Questions on player’s commitment to the cause will be asked. The future of the backroom staff will be discussed but Eamonn Kelly should be given time to develop structures similar to what he did with Kerry in recent years. Offaly continue to struggle in underage competitions and the lack of talent coming through the ranks does little to reverse the slide. Offaly have two home games to resurrect their championship ambitions against Carlow (should win) and Kerry (debatable). A proud hurling county is on the ropes. GAA head honchos in Croke Park must take note and put investment into Offaly grassroots to allow the county to prosper again.

How Eamonn Kelly must ponder what if he remained with Kerry? The county continue to be the bright spot of an otherwise drab intercounty hurling season beating Carlow in their debut in Leinster. The result was well merited and continues the good work inherited by Ciaran Carey and Mark Foley by Kelly. The first touch and general game management were to the fore for the Kingdom who could relax in the last quarter to record a convincing win. They will look with confidence for the remainder of the preliminary round robin and surely a trip to Offaly will hold no fears for Carey and Foley’s charges. Carlow are going nowhere fast and a swift exit from the championship looks incredibly likely. A county which has regressed in recent years which is disappointing considering the club exploits of MLR in 2014. Leinster hurling county woes are further compounded by these results. It would have being nice to see the action live to ease the burden of watching the puck hurling on offer in Thurles.

Roscommon survive New York

Jonny Evans last season was ridiculed from pillar to post when Roscommon were dumped out of the Connacht SFC last season to Sligo. The Kerry man was ousted and the dream ticket of Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell were installed in the off-season on the back of the miserable championship performance.

It may be too early to call it but Roscommon are showing worrying signs ahead of the real start to the championship. Has the NFL season taken its toll? New York lost by a point but they were the real winners on the day. The lack of support for New York in Gaelic Park was surprising but the panel and management performed superbly and on another day should have taken the scalp.

The media and Roscommon supporters have gone quiet on this performance compared to last season. Roscommon were lethargic and lacked any ambition throughout, a repeat later in the Connacht SFC will be punished. It looks like Roscommon have run their lot this season and Mayo will again retain Connacht; a massive letdown for Roscommon supporters after a promising NFL season.

The fact that the game was not advertised or broadcast by the national broadcaster raises questions on their commitment to the GAA. It should have being televised and GAA could have made more of an effort to launch the SFC competition in a stellar location like New York. A weekend which shows the limitations and lack of foresight by the GAA and TV broadcasters to make the sport more appealing to an increasing global audience.

 

 

Hail Hail Leicester City

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Introduction

What an evening to be in Leicester tonight? Not one but two sporting triumphs to bask in the glory as both Leicester City and snooker player Mark Selby are triumphant tonight. Both successes at the start of each respective competition was remote at best. Selby came into the Crucible with little form and given little chance while Leicester City were dismissed as also rans before a ball was even kicked this season. 5000/1 chance at the start of the season was emphatic, this side had no divine right to be hovering in the title mix, how wrong the bookies and pundits were?

How did Leicester City win the title?

Hard work. Determination. Organization. Team Work. Unity. Those words resonated throughout the season for the Foxes this season starting with a 4-2 triumph against Sunderland at the King Power Stadium and that momentum never relinquished for the rest of the season.

Shrewd signings during the tenure of previous manager Nigel Pearson and current head supremo Claudio Ranieri have highlighted massive issues in recruitment in other supposed top clubs such as Manchester United. If you look at the key players which have started most games for Leicester City this season, their roads to King Power Stadium are quite similar; shrouded in rejection by previous clubs who deemed them surplus to requirements.

Leicester was a club to rebuild their careers and one would wonder what those clubs who rejected players such as Kante, Morgan, Vardy, Mahrez are thinking tonight? Twenty-three million in total transfers spent, Leicester City have demonstrated to other clubs that you do not need a war chest to win titles. You need smart recruitment, identifying the right characters to join the football club and anything is possible.

Off the pitch, Claudio Ranieri was mercurial in deflecting attention away from his squad throughout the season. His forty point mantra at the start of the season set realistic expectations for the club, kept the fan base in check with their expectations and allowed to the players to focus on their performance one game at a time.

When forty points was achieved, the focus was then to secure Champions League and it was only the last two weeks when Leicester beat Sunderland away that talk of league title success was uttered by the shrewd Italian whose reputation for tinkering squad was the contrary this season only using twenty-three players in the league this season.

On the pitch, Leicester had massive performances throughout the first eleven. Kasper Schmeichel now has an EPL medal like his father Peter. His assured performances in goal gave confidence to his back four and his vital saves at times during the season gave Leicester the lifelines required to win games on another season may not have achieved. Schmeichel’s stock continues to rise.

The back four on paper looked nothing special but their performances were united and organized throughout. Wes Morgan, a player who struggled at times to cope with the top flight last season has being a man reborn this season. His aerial dominance at both ends of the park was a huge plus for the Foxes.

Morgan’s performances were aided by the arrival of Robert Huth, a player deemed surplus to requirements at Stoke City. Huth’s organizational ability came to the fore and his goals during the season particularly the winner against Tottenham Hotspurs at White Hart Lane was a huge psychological blew for Tottenham in this title win.

Danny Simpson and Christian Fuchs on the full back flanks have being sublime this season. Their defensive duties have being unheralded but their ability to keep their shape to allow Huth and Morgan to marshal central defense areas was huge. Fuchs is the transfer buy of the season, consistent performer in the full back position and his ability with quality crosses in the box for Vardy was a real key this season.

The best central midfield partnership this season in the league was undoubtedly Kante and Drinkwater. Kante was outstanding, his energy and work rate to break down opposition attacks were the norm and Drinkwater’s game management and ability to hit excellent distribution to his flank players and hit Vardy early with balls over the top of defenses were enough to warrant an England International recall. A key component of Leicester City’s success, their protection of their back four was also paramount and they can feel proud of their roles in this league title success.

The fact that Leicester City had the third worse ball possession statistics in the league this season makes this triumph even more amazing. With such limited ball, you need a team which has the pace and guile to unlock opposition defenses quickly. Leicester City had that in abundance this season with several players coming to the fore.

The midfield flanks for the Foxes has being a revelation this season. The cameos of Albrighton, Schlupp and Gray at the end of this campaign have being impressive but they have continued the work laid down by the Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez. What must Le Havre be thinking tomorrow morning, dispatched the player for a paltry 300k and you would imagine the valuation is now up to at least thirty million now.

Mahrez showed signs of this season’s form towards the end of last season when Leicester launched a superb relegation escape act. His ball dribbling skills were bamboozling opponent full backs and his vision to pick the right pass at the right time for the likes of Vardy and Ulloa set up endless goal scoring chances. Mahrez chipped in this season with numerous assists and goals and his understanding with Vardy was telepathic at times.

Jamie Vardy has had the season of his life. His goals have ultimately won the league title for Leicester City. His road to the summit starting with Halifax Town to Fleetwood Town (several other clubs passing over on the player) is a Hollywood Movie in its own right. Vardy has all the components of a top striker: pace, work rate and eye for goal.

Vardy’s pace has tormented opposition defenses throughout this season thanks to quality quick ball from the likes of Mahrez and Drinkwater. His ability to roll up the sleeves and run for hopeless causes allowed his side the time to regroup defensively. His goal haul culminating with the record for the number of consecutive games scored in the league was just rewards for several standout performances.

Vardy’s red card against West Ham United with four games to go looked a defining moment in the title race but Leicester City had the likes of Ulloa and Ozakzaki in their ranks to steady the ship upfront and provided the work rate and goals in Vardy’s absence to push Leicester City over the line. The decision to include Jeff Schlupp in the starting lineup against Swansea by Ranieri was a masterstroke.

It has being a magical season. Leicester City have shown that team work, heart and determination are still key to team success. Leicester City have demonstrated that it is okay to dream big; it is acceptable to mix it with the big boys. This win hopefully is a watershed moment for the EPL and that several other teams will take on the mantle from Leicester City who could conceivably challenge next season to compete at the top of the league. Well done to Leicester. May 2nd a day that the residents of Leicester will never forget.