Edinburgh Weekender Guide

Edinburgh primed for Munster Rugby visit

The end of the Guinness Six Nations tournament which means that the Heineken Champions Cup is not far off. Munster Rugby will travel to Murrayfield to face Edinburgh Rugby in an eagerly anticipated last eight contest. Ahead of the fixture, Hawkeye Sidekick made a trip to Edinburgh to gauge the mood and where to check out for Munster Rugby fans who are travelling over for the weekend.


The easiest way to get to Murrayfield is on the Edinburgh tram service with frequent departures from either Princes Street or Edinburgh Airport; very impressive setup. Good bus service schedule as well last weekend in the city center while over as well. Useful links enclosed below.



Places to Go:

Edinburgh Castle:

Before or after the game at Murrayfield, there is plenty to do and see around Edinburgh. If you are anywhere near the city center, then make sure to visit Edinburgh Castle, the historic landmark which looks out over the city. A compelling story on the site and how it has evolved over time.

Edinburgh Castle

Old Town:

I loved the old town, the royal mile has many shops, bars and restaurants amidst the music of the bag pipers along the stretch. When you add the late night bars in the Cowgate district, then the area is a must visit for the weekend. Check out The Three Sisters bar.

A nice coffee shop that I visited was Zebra Coffee Company on Bank Street, a nice cozy coffee house with plenty to whet the appetite.

Zebra Coffee Company

Princes Street:

The main shopping thoroughfare of the city with plenty of retail stores to browse at the weekend. Bus stops and tram stops aplenty on this street to connect to Murrayfield, Leith et al. Edinburgh Waverley Train Station is situated at the East End of Princes Street. Scott Monument as well as several museums to visit as well on the thoroughfare too.

Rose Street:

There are so many good thoroughfares in the city to enjoy an evening. During my visit last weekend, I spent a couple of good nights down Hanover Street and Rose Street where there are several standout bars and restaurants.

A couple of standouts were Robertsons 37, Auld Hundred (live music), The Kenilworth, The Boozy Cow (quality cocktails) and a quality seafood restaurant called Mussel Inn. If you love your seafood, then go here but word of warning, the restaurant gets quite busy over the weekend so book early!

If you want a nice cozy bar with good banter and hospitality, then check out Thistle Street Pub (39 Thistle Street). The scotch and Belhaven flowed the night that I was there, a warm welcome assured.

Thistle Street Bar; an absolute gem

Scotch Tour:

I am not the biggest scotch fan but I went on the Scotch Whiskey Experience tour on Castle Street. Go for the fifty minute tour to get the rundown on how the refreshment is produced and find out what distinguishes a Lowland from a Highland scotch.


Royal Yacht Britannia

A quick bus trip down to the Ocean Terminal will find you at the Royal Yacht Britannia which was in use by the Royals until 1997. An interesting tour on the life and times of the yacht and hear about the famous dignitaries who were on board. A superb insight on how the yacht operated. The decor of the yacht is mirrored in the nearby shopping center adjoining Britannia. I was skeptical on the tour at the start but it was enjoyable. Check out the fudge bar stand on the boat!

Royal Yacht Britannia

A city that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting last weekend; there is so much so to do that I have probably missed numerous other noteworthy attractions but this is a sampler for the Munster Rugby fans who are arriving to the city next weekend. Edinburgh Rugby fans are in buoyant, confident mood ahead of this quarter final and after that exhilarating Scottish second half performance at Twickenham, confidence will be in ample supply amongst the locals.

Hawkeye Sidekick in Boston

This time last week, I was in Boston on a work trip. It was a week filled with big news stories in local and national media. The Boston Red Sox World Series triumph was totally emphatic. No dramatic game sevens as the top quality pitching and some key hitting from the Red Sox was sufficient to snuff out the LA Dodgers who continue to ponder how they get to win a World Series. 

The parade around Boston looked crazy; the office that I was based for the week was in Downtown Boston and from early morning last Wednesday, the fans were filing out of South Station and the other big commuter belt train stations in the city to gain an excellent vantage point (1 million fans) to see their heroes in person. Alex Cora as a player was such a hard working player and as a head coach, he has continued in the same vain. Price as a pitcher arrived to the post-season. Steve Pearce’s MVP accolade in the World Series a true inspiration. 

For the numbers in attendance at the parade, there were always going to be a few idiots in the crowd looking to stand out for the wrong reasons. The beer can throwing to the cavalcade was a classic example; the players and staff would have happily taken a beer, the only problem was that the beer cans were flung at such velocity that it was fortunate that no one on the parade was seriously hurt (apart from the World Series trophy). The video phones were out to name and shame the poor kids who quickly realized that the beer can throwing was probably not one of their better ideas. 

USA is in the fever of mid-term elections. The USA national media is a confusing place to get the ‘fair and balanced’ viewpoint on things. Trump pushing the immigration card and the caravan convoy to raise fears and suspicions in the key US states while the Democrats are throwing the likes of Oprah and Obama to get the minority vote out. The vote in Georgia looks intriguing given the celebrity star power that have being drawn to this governor race. Abrams is making gains. Roll on Tuesday! 

The Squirrel Hill massacre was another timely reminder on how life is so precious and how high ranking officials words can lead to individual’s to do such crazy things. The stories of the victims were gut-wrenching; all good, decent people who arrived to the Synagogue to reflect and pray like they did every Saturday. It was a terrible event and the Pittsburgh people were top class in how they handled the tragedy. Trump decided to barrel into town despite locals opposition on the national airwaves. A fractious week for sure in the political and social elements of the country in full view. 

The end of the week saw the passing of Whitey Bulger. A watershed moment in Boston. I lived in Harbor Point, South Boston for a period in the early 2000’s and the locals would tell of the fear imposed by Bulger and his gang in the community at its height.

The Departed movie was a production that I could not watch; the themes of the movie were eerily striking to Bulger. Given what I had heard about the individual, the news of his death in Virginia was as brutal as Bulger’s regime. The news was greeted for the victims of Bulger with reflection and perhaps a quiet toast for their loved ones lost. A horrific, sad part of Boston history has being consigned to the history books finally.

A week in Boston, a week where the glitzy apartments and condos around the waterfront of the World Trade Center stretch far and wide into the horizon. The wealth and splendor of these new dwellings in comparison with the numbers of homeless people on the street corners in Downtown Boston late at night. The class divide continues unabated. 

The World Trade Center district is vast now and the Convention Center is a superb addition to the area; recall when the area just had the WTC, a couple of restaurants and vast car parks. It has being some transformation in this area, the majority of it definitely for the betterment of the community. 

I spent 6.5 years in Boston back in the early 2000’s, a city which will always have fond memories for me but I cannot help but feel that the country is at complete loggerheads and it is going to take someone exceptional to heal the divisions of the nation in the years to come. Who can step forward to start this remediation process? A difficult question to answer indeed. 

In Memoriam: Jimmy Magee


RIP Jimmy Magee

Just an ordinary morning start today, listening to Today FM from the National Ploughing Championships. All very upbeat until Paul Collins suddenly came back on air to relay the sad news of the passing of Jimmy Magee.

A death which has saddened everyone here in Ireland from all walks of life. You did not have to love sport to not love Jimmy Magee; charismatic, genuine, jovial, communicator, sports broadcaster beyond reproach. Jimmy had it all.

My childhood memories were in the 80’s and Jimmy Magee was a prominent face on the television in my family homestead. His commentary of numerous Olympiad were instant standouts; describing great Irish sporting performances abroad.

John Treacy in Los Angeles was a particular standout; remember a sunny summer’s day in North Clare at my grandparents and news was filtering through of an impending Ireland medal at the Olympics. Quick, switch on the television and my grandparents and I sat captivated by the marathon event for the next two hours, assisted in no small measure by the commentary from Jimmy Magee.

I remember the Wanamaker Mile race commentaries when the likes of Eamon Coughlan, Frank O’Mara and Marcus O’Sullivan would produce superb performances in the acclaimed Madison Square Garden, New York. Stirring commentaries; captured the excitement of the event perfectly.

Katie Taylor in London 2012 when Jimmy expertly called the action in the boxing ring; providing knowledge and assurance in a language which was so eloquent but yet discernible to all viewers of the broadcast. I loved Jimmy’s style of commentary particularly when it came to boxing, a sport which requires so much knowledge and insight. Many commentators have tried and utterly failed at delivering a coherent boxing broadcast. Jimmy was the standard bearer from my perspective; his knowledge of athletes was second to none. He loved commentating on the Cuban boxers whose footwork, hand speed were sublime.

The boxing angle continued well into 2000’s when RTE took the step of broadcasting professional boxing bouts. Bernard Dunne’s world title victory against Cordoba was an astonishing fight in 2009; ebbed and flowed throughout but the commentary from Jimmy Magee captured the atmosphere and scene perfectly. Jimmy Magee was the blueprint, the template which all other Irish sport broadcasters and journalists were compared against.

Jimmy Magee entered the world of evening television with George Hamilton hosting Know Your Sport. The ‘Memory Man’ was in his element; posing questions on various specialized sporting areas. No sporting area was out of the bounds. The entertainment value was superb; sad to see the show end in 1998. A genuinely entertaining sports show in Ireland.

FIFA World Cup’s for me personally were forever associated with the commentary of Jimmy Magee. His first world cup commentary was in 1966 and continued until 2010. The commentary on Diego Maradona’s wonder goal against England in 1986 was as he said different class!

Ireland has lost a true sporting broadcasting great today. Ireland has lost a journalist of massive reputation and class. Ireland has lost a national treasure today. I have not even mentioned about his extensive publications and press columns. His articles were always incisive and would refresh the memory on a specific event gone by.  Gone but never forgotten. Jimmy Magee. RIP.

Santa Cruz vs. Frampton did not disappoint


Tough night for the Jackal but the future remains bright for the Belfast boxer

Las Vegas. The boxing mecca where boxers dream of headlining a world championship event. There was no disgrace in Carl Frampton losing his professional unbeaten record. He faced a boxer in Leo Santa Cruz who had gone on record to say that he would retire from the sport if he did not win the bout. Statement of intent.

Santa Cruz’s reach advantage was the key to this success, he used his key strength unlike in the opening bout where he was intent on boxing Frampton on the inside, a tactic given the Belfast’s native skill was doomed to failure.

Frampton look stunned early doors that Santa Cruz had the boxing skills to execute that game plan with his jab working a treat. Santa Cruz was a boxer on a mission for redemption and try as Frampton might in the later rounds, the Mexican punished Frampton defensive lapses late in the middle rounds to win a few rounds that on another day would have being scored even.

The respect between the two boxers was evident throughout the buildup and after the bout. A trilogy is very much on the cards but the idea that Belfast will be hosting it this summer is way off the mark and with other boxers looking for a title shot.

There is a Welsh boxer by the name of Lee Selby who is on the phone to Eddie Hearn as I type to get a bout with Santa Cruz. Selby’s hand speed and movement is sublime and I genuinely believe that Selby would have every chance of beating both boxers last night.

The farcical scenes on Friday when Selby’s opponent had to withdraw due to not being able to get a Nevada boxing license was something that I thought was behind boxing (but obviously not).

Christmas sacrificed, multiple training camps away from his family, Selby was left high and dry by the events of Friday afternoon. Selby deserves a shot with Santa Cruz (title shot) or Frampton next in a domestic bout, a big bout to whet the appetite of a boxer who has had to travel long distances to become a world champion in his own right.

Frampton’s classy post bout interview has won him even more admirers across the Atlantic. Carl Frampton and Shane McGuigan will sit down and look at where the bout went away. Frampton is a majestic boxer when opponents come forward but Frampton at times one dimensional when on the front foot as Santa Cruz picked off Frampton with some excellent jabs and combinations. Shane McGuigan instructions at times sounded like more of the same; no backup game plan to counteract the reach advantage that the Mexican was executing during the bout. A learning experience for everyone associated with the Frampton camp.

I do not think anyone would mind seeing another bout but it will be intriguing to see where the bout will be held. Frampton’s first experience boxing in Las Vegas can only help in the trilogy. It will be a US based bout, don’t see Santa Cruz coming to Belfast. If he does, I think my cap off to the man but money talks and HBO will be keen to hold this bout in Las Vegas yet again. The expected PPV sales alone mean that an European location is a non-starter. Two super fights this year already with the drawn DeGale / Jack bout and now Santa Cruz vs. Frampton along with the devastating KO produced by Mikey Garcia (a beast) as the new three weight world champion knocked out Dejan Zlaticanin.

I really wished that Floyd Mayweather would stop talking about a bout with Conor McGregor; the idea smells rotten and given the boxing craft of Mayweather, it would be an easy night for Mayweather and notch up fifty wins in the professional ranks. The sport of boxing does not need a charade event this year. There are plenty of super bouts scheduled this year (Joshua vs. Klitschko), no need for this bout to make a mockery of the sport but some people will probably respond on the Haye vs. Bellew bout in March (true point) but you know what I am getting at 🙂

Sporting Review – The Bad


Anthony Foley – RIP

Still shocked to write the above headline. A colossal player who lived and breathed Munster Rugby. The team have emerged from his death a more galvanized force but the fact that it took for the passing of the head coach is desperately sad. People may have had a pop at his management selections but no-one can deny his love for the province. Foley will be sadly missed.


Pat Hickey

A miserable start to the Rio Olympics was bad enough with the failed drug test of disgraced Ireland boxer Michael Reilly but it was only compounded with the embarrassing ticket controversy surrounding Pat Hickey and Kevin Mallon. Kudos to the Brazilian authorities for swooping to make the arrests but it raised serious questions on how the Olympic Council of Ireland distributed their tickets. While Ireland Olympian athletes families and friends were struggling to buy tickets for various events, their tickets were being dispatched for inflated prices. It will be an interesting couple of months in terms of what happens now with both Mallon and Hickey back on native soil but it is up to the likes of Shane Ross and Patrick O’Donovan to stay on this fiasco and make the relevant decisions to remove people involved from their positions. Brazilian judicial process needs to take its course but for Ireland’s head Olympic supremo arrested in his bath gown in a different hotel room was the low point of the year for me personally. The man has zero credibility and it is time for him to go.


Billy Walsh Fiasco

As Billy Walsh accepted his AIBA accolade last night, it would have being interesting to see the reaction of the likes of IABA and John Treacy. The departure of Walsh from the high performance boxing program was a devastating blow; one which was felt more in the lead  up to the Rio Olympics where the boxing team actions out of the ring were the main headline. Michael Reilly failed dope test was bad enough but then the revelations that the boxer was not with the rest of the squad leading up to the Olympics was a surprise. The fact that a couple of Irish boxers were caught placing bets on boxing bouts in the tournament only supported the view that the squad was in chaos. The lethargic performances from Joe Ward and Paddy Barnes again compounded the departure of Billy Walsh who guided USA to three Rio Olympic medals. Walsh is boxing coaching gold. Ireland boxing and sporting red tape proved fatal and USA’s gain is Ireland’s loss. A program which was the envy of many is one at ground zero. The back and forth in the media was pretty embarrassing and did little for the likes of John Treacy who is supposed to be an oversight figure in resolving disputes such as this.


Gabay Report — What a pile of ****

The bizarre spin on this report was akin to a comedy production down in the local hall. “As a brand, the league delivers. It’s cool” — sorry to bear the bad news Mr. Gabay but the attendances at certain grounds was abysmal. While Dundalk, Cork, Shamrock Rovers grounds were well supported, the same could not be said for the likes of Ferrycarraig. The situation was worse in the First Division where famed clubs of past glories such was Waterford United, Athlone Town were on the brink of bankruptcy. A certain CEO of an airline described an organization as a “North Korean Rat Infested Union Shop”, the name term could be labelled at the powers running the national game in this country. God help us, when the likes of O’Shea, Walters, Hoolahan, Long retire from the national team; no viable youth prospects coming through the ranks. Everything is okay though according to the head office. What a waste of money issuing this report. The SSE League is in chaos. Limerick and Drogheda will be welcome additions but numerous clubs are dying on their feet. 5K donation from John Delaney will hardly dent the club debts of any club in the league. Dundalk and Cork excelled but the rest of the league floundered.


Team Sky – Decongestant Anyone?

Bradley Wiggins reputation is blown to pieces; Lance Armstrong scandal awaits in the New Year. The levels in which Team Sky Director David Brailsford wanted to quell the story speaks volumes; pro cycling is as bad as ever when it comes to injecting substances into where the sun don’t shine. It is a year where Paul Kimmage excelled; exposing the truth. It is a year where David Walsh association with Team Sky during the Tour De France undermines his authority in writing on doping scandals. Sky Sports News credibility when covering Team Sky must be called into accounts; additional probing of GB Cycling team is also required with the likes of Shane Sutton hovering around even though ridiculed earlier in the year. 2017 will see pro cycling kicked again in the nether regions but it remains to be seen where the sport goes from here. New era? Chuckling on that comment often bandied by Team Sky and Brian Cookson.


Media Rights

Newstalk losing their GAA media rights was bad enough but no strategic vision on promoting lower tier hurling competitions with televised coverage was damning. The fact that GAA officialdom have turned a blind eye to these competitions yet courting the likes of Sky Sports and Rte for televised coverage for the big games is shameful. There is distinctly no vision in the organization on how to improve the product on the pitch; black card controversy in football was evident throughout the season. The black card were issued early doors in the championship but when it came to the critical incidents of critical games, the black card interpretation was back in the media spotlight. Ditching the black card has being greeted with stubborn denial.

Demise of Cork GAA

Cork Hurling and Football Senior team performances were a low point of the season. The Cork hurlers staved off relegation miraculously against Galway but the championship performance was well short of the level required. Tipperary dispatched Cork with minimal ease and their elimination to Wexford exposed massive leadership, work rate and skill set issues in attacking and back line play. No long term fix. Cork footballers did not fare much better; relegation to the Division Two ranks and then a shock loss to Tipperary in the Munster SFC. A gallant defeat to Donegal could not paint a positive picture on the season. A season to forget for all involved with Cork GAA. Pairc Ui Chaoimh aside, improvement is required on the pitch in both codes. An interesting year beckons down Leeside.


Dylan Hartley

The player had a relatively incident free year; captaining England to a full sweep of international fixture wins but then his bad boy image reared its head with a disgraceful sending off for Northampton Saints against Leinster. Six week ban after a cowardly no arms tackle on Sean O’Brien and the player again proved that he cannot be trusted to lead or execute a team’s game plan in any manner. Eddie Jones comments on December 21st was enough; his international career is hanging by a thread.


Dublin Senior Hurling Team – Crisis

When your best player decides it is better to stay on the sidelines, it is time to talk. Danny Sutcliffe’s decision to not be considered for selection says plenty about the current morale in the Dublin hurling team. Cuala’s exploits in All Ireland club will inevitably lead to several county players unavailable; the squad looks stretched and relegation looks a possibility. Ger Cunningham’s tenure has being shrouded in disappointment; no progress being made and they are falling behind Kilkenny and Galway in the province. Disappointing for the game in general, need a competitive Dublin hurling team in the All Ireland Series but they are not at the level at this time. Davy Fitzgerald as manager would have being a viable option? Dublin board missed a trick there.

Sporting Year Review- The Good


Connacht, Connacht, Connacht!

Connacht’s fantastic Guinness Pro 12 triumph which raised the league standard with their offloading, expansive style of play. The emergence of Dillane, Bealham, McGinty, Marmion, Healy, O’Halloran to name but a few as well as the leadership of Muldoon, Muldowney were to the fore. Their final performance against a strongly fancied Leinster team in Edinburgh was sublime. Four strong provinces of Ireland. The national side benefited as a result.


Tipperary Senior Hurlers

Tipperary’s performance against Kilkenny in the All Ireland SHC final last September. Their ability to execute a game plan which exposed Kilkenny’s full back line and allowed the likes of Callanan, O’Dwyer and John McGrath to flourish in the full forward line was a managerial masterstroke. Apart from Clare in the NHL semi-final, Kilkenny took all comers but they had no answers off the bench to stem the flow of ball into the Tipperary full forward line. Kilkenny will be back next year but the rest of the chasing pack have renewed hope and confidence. An excellent hurling championship beckons.


Austin Gleeson

The skill set of Austin Gleeson. The player is a freak of nature; has all the traits to become one of the hurling greats. Gleeson started in the half back line but the versatility of the youngster was evident in his performances in the half forward line towards the end of the season. Double award winning hurler of the year, Gleeson has the hurling world at his feet, will be interesting if the Deise county can get over the line and win Liam McCarthy next season.


Waterford U21 Hurlers

Waterford U21 hurling team performances this season; one of the best teams in this age grade in the history of the competition. Their first touch, superb passing and goal scored were hallmarks of their season in this grade and they demolished Clare, Tipp, Antrim and Galway enroute to final glory. Shane Bennett was to the fore; a young man in the same career path ascent like Austin Gleeson. Massive underage potential in Waterford.


Dublin Senior Football Team

The all conquering Dublin football team. Their skill and power was too much for everyone in the championship this season. Their demolition of Kerry in the NFL final was an indicator of what was to follow in Leinster. Jim Gavin negotiated the absence of defensive absentees with Cooper and Small slotting seamlessly into the back line. Diarmuid Connolly class was evident in the opposition fascination to nullify his influence but it allowed players like Dean Rock more time and space to score points. Mayo gave it as good a crack as anyone but Dublin’s overall squad depth came through. A memorable year for the Dublin and few will back against them retaining Sam Maguire next season.


Mayo U21 Football Success – hope springs eternal?

Gaelic Football fans sometimes have short memories. Recast our minds back to Cusack Park, Ennis on April 30th and Mayo U21 footballers won a thrilling U21 football final over Cork. The emergence of Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O’Connor during this encounter should be signs of optimism for Mayo football fans despite the pot shots currently taking place by ex-manager, former players and current players of the senior panel.


Leicester City – underdog come good.

EPL Champions. 2016 is Leicester City. A triumph which mirrored that of Connacht in the Pro 12 league. Leicester were given little chance even in January to be in the title shakeup but with a resolute defense led by Schmeichel, Morgan, Huth, Simpson, Fuchs; a hard working midfield with Kante and Drinkwater to the fore setting the platform for the likes of Mahrez and Vardy to score the goals to propel the Foxes to the league title. It was a victory for the underdog in a league where money wins over shrewd transfers signings typically. Leicester’s triumph will live long in the memory as a a story like this will not happen again for years to come.


Annalise Murphy

The definition of determination and resiliency. The Dublin native was a forlorn figure four years ago in Weymouth having missed out on a medal. Fourth place is a horrible position for any athlete to occupy in an Olympics; some athletes would have being finished after such a heartbreaking final day performance but Murphy regrouped and worked hard to secure her thoroughly deserved Olympic medal. Her diligence in researching the Rio course was paramount and her superb performances on the water were to the fore. An incredible role model for Ireland.


O’Donovan Brothers – Lifted a nation

The opening week of the Rio Olympics was filled with negative stories associated with Ireland. Shameful ticket distribution controversy, underpar Ireland boxing team performances which raised questions on preparation and failed drug testing results plighted the Ireland camp but then arrived the Skib’s finest rowing brothers to lift the mood of the nation. Their interviews with Joe Stack were sublime; they pulled like dogs to secure the silver medal and Paul went onto to further European rowing triumph in Rotterdam. Their fun loving style was legendary; their performances on the water were emphatic. Like Annalise Murphy, incredible role models to the country and rescued our Olympic reputation in Rio.


Paralympics Ireland – take a bow

An incredible medal haul from Paralympic Ireland. Massive respect to the Paralympic movement for taking a zero drug tolerance stance to Russia; someone the IOC failed miserably to take. Jason Smyth, Michael McKillop continued their success but other Irish athlete parties came to promince. Eoghan Clifford, Katie-George Dunlevy / Eve McCrystal. The future is bright with sixteen year old  Noelle Lenihan who swam to a bronze medal. Inspiring two weeks of action and the team did the country proud.


Ireland Horse Racing Success

In flat and national hunt, Ireland success was frequent. Willie Mullins, Aidan O’Brien, Gordon Elliott, Mouse Morris, Dermot Weld all won notable races in this calendar year. O’Brien’s procession in the Arc was the highlight from my perspective; hard enough to get one horse to place in such a prestigious event but to train a 1,2,3 in the French golden ribbon was superb. Shocking that Rte failed to acknowledge a sporting arena which has yielded so much success year in, year out and raises credibility issues on the Sports Year Awards ceremony.


Carl Frampton – Two Weight World Champion

Best Irish boxer of his generation. Frampton had a superb 2016. He beat Scott Quigg in Manchester and then went onto beat Leo Santa Cruz in one of the fights of the year at Madison Square Garden. The tale of the tape is clear. In 2016, Frampton unified the Super Bantamweight Championsip and then went onto win the WBA Super Featherweight champion but obviously not good enough to get into the BBC Sports Personality of the Year list. His rematch to Leo Santa Cruz in Las Vegas promises to be as explosive as their first encounter. 2017 potentially could eclipse 2016 for the Belfast native.


Conor McGregor

The most recognizable athlete in MMA, Conor McGregor had a superb 2016. Despite losing to Nate Diaz earlier in the year, McGregor dusted himself down and won the rematch. His victory over Alvarez at the back end of the year resulted in McGregor being a two weight world champion simultaneously for the first time in the sport. His promotional skills, his athleticism and striking ability has resulted in massive PPV numbers. Dana White will need to thread carefully with his most marketable product; signs of friction are there. It will be an interesting year for the Crumlin native. His Rte Sport award was just reward for a stellar year.

Walter Swinburn – RIP

Awful news on the sad passing of a true racing jockey great Walter Swinburn at the age of 55. Swinburn stylish riding style was to the fore and his performances on Shergar were sublime. The great horse racing observers will be far more eloquent than I but found this gem of a video earlier this evening. 1981 Epsom Derby with commentary from the great Peter O’Sullivan and featuring the mercurial Shergar and Walter Swinburn. RIP Walter. Thank you for the memories!

Rio Olympics: Reflections


The end springs eternal

August 21st. The end of the Rio Olympics. I have kept my powder dry until the end of the Olympics. It was a sporting extravaganza which inspired, it was a sporting extravaganza which questioned the ideals of the Olympic movement with greed and corruption. It was an event which has put the spotlight on Ireland for the good and bad reasons, it is time to reflect, it is time to review the accomplishments but also plan how best to achieve sporting glory in Tokyo 2020.


The good, the bad and the downright ugly

The picture above sums up my sporting thoughts from the last weeks. We have had some inspirational performances from Ireland in sporting events either home or in Rio.

Rio Olympics will go down as the games where Annalise Murphy and the O’Donovan brothers came to national prominence with performances which fully merited their silver medals. Murphy’s triumph was so poignant considering the final medal race in London 2012; the post race interview where she was devastated. Experiences of failure either make or break you and Murphy’s resilience and determination to win a medal was truly inspiring.

The O’Donovan brothers were equally inspiring; their focus and drive to win along with their interviews to raise the profile of rowing in this country was phenomenal. Their planning, dedication and their ability to focus on what was required paled into contrast when you seen the performance of the lauded boxing team.

Irish boxing team can blame judging decisions but the preparation of the squad was off. Apart from Conlon and Donnelly, all other boxers in this tournament under-performed. I felt so sorry for Katie Taylor, the golden girl of London  2012 is now facing a decision on her boxing career. The alarming defeats this year were compounded by a loss to a Finnish boxer who on paper should not have posed many issues. Taylor owes nothing to this country, her sporting exploits are unparalleled but the management of her and the rest of the team post Billy Walsh must be called into focus. Distinct lack of tactics in several Ireland boxing performances and visibly exhaustion in the later rounds of bouts unfortunately caught the eye.

The rumors of Michael O’Reilly not participating in training camps to the lead-up to the games was embarrassing let alone compounded by the doping test result. The fact that Paddy Barnes was forced to drop massive weight the day of his fight looked shabby. The fact that Joe Ward did not implement a proper game plan to beat his Ecuadorian opponent speaks of a team in chaos. Conlan’s performances were the highlight, he was robbed of a medal but the team as a whole were well off the pace. Over-trained?

Massive questions are now on the high performance boxing unit need to be asked considering the level of funding put into the programme. Zero medals is a massive let down. The lack of focus in several twits from the boxing team speaks it all. Sorry state of affairs as Conlan will turn professional while the likes of Taylor, Ward and Barnes must assess where next in their careers.

The ticketing fiasco is a national disgrace; the manner in which Mr. Mallon came to receive the OCI tickets is one thing but the subsequent events of Pat Hickey’s arrest (evading Brazilian Police in a hotel room) casts a major PR blow to Ireland as an assured, reputable Olympic member. It is a shame considering the admirable detection and calling out of Michael O’Reilly in the lead-up to the games. Ireland doping test procedures coming up trumps where other countries are lagging well behind (Caribbean, East African countries) to name but a few.

More uncomfortable evidence will ensue in the weeks to come but OCI needs a revamp. Hickey needs to go and needs to be replaced by a person who has experienced the games and knows the changes required. Sonia O’Sullivan or Derval O’Rourke for me look like ideal candidates to fill the role. To replace Hickey with another crony is simply not an option. The ticket fiasco may be a god scent for the OCI going forward.

For the horrific bad news stories coming from Ireland in this Olympiad, there were several standout performances on the track. Thomas Barr was exceptional in the 400 meters hurdle race. The modern pentathletes were superb in finishing in the top ten. Rob Heffernan yet gain produced a consistently high level of performance to finish sixth. The Ireland field hockey team provided several keynote moments, their teamwork and work rate were immense.

Can Ireland strategize funding to maximize sporting success?

While looking at the GB medal haul, they have strategized on the sports to win their medals. Why can’t Ireland have a sevens rugby outfit for men to follow the women? Why can’t Ireland invest in velodromes to unearth cyclists from all over the country? Why can’t Ireland look to improve their equestrian ranking to get more riders into the Olympics? A shame when the likes of Bertrand Allen was missing from the event. The planning for Tokyo 2020 starts tomorrow, sincerely hope that OCI / Shane Ross think long term in sporting investment and look to spend funding in an efficient manner to yield more medals in the next Olympiad. Enforce national centers of excellence for swimming, athletics. Our performances in the Games needs to be accountable like Team GB where funding is determined on performances in competition. Precious little in the past so hoping for more scrutiny in the performances of our competitors in order to give the potential athletes who could medal at Tokyo 2020 to get more funding.

High point of the Games

A toss-up between Fiji’s gold medal in the Rugby Sevens or the unstoppable force that was Usain Bolt in his treble treble success in successive Olympic games. Bolt is the guiding light of the athletics sport, his charisma and performances leave you awe inspired. Andy Murray’s defense of the Mens Tennis gold has to be noted too, something Novak cannot boost on his resume. Simon Biles in the gymnastics. Team GB medal haul. Jason Kenny. Michael Phelps in the pool but it is probably Fiji’s performance in the rugby. World class, celebrations were emotional.

Low point of the Games

Michael O’Reilly. Boxing judging. Nikitin’s result over a Thailand boxer in the previous round before facing Conlon was even more bare faced. GB Joyce’s loss to French boxer Yoka this afternoon summed it up perfectly with the judging. Doping cheats caught rotten during the tourney. Hostile home crowd to any opponent who dared compete well against a home nation competitor. Lack of crowds. No lasting legacy for Rio after the Games. Paralympic funding debacle; where did the money go? Ryan Lochte and chums on their infamous nightout in Rio – embarrassing. Men’s golfers who decided it was best to ditch Rio over Zika even though the women top golfers participated. Bullet holes in media center tents, let the drug war recommence in the Favelas tomorrow. Pat Hickey. OCI ticket distribution process.

Random Sporting Thoughts


NHL Final Preview

A game which could be a decisive indicator as to who from the chasing pack could realistically challenge in Kilkenny come championship time. I sense that both Clare and Waterford will go all out to win this final; a victory for Clare which would point massive improvements during the off-season both in playing and backroom staff while Waterford can provide more proof that the game plan implemented by the astute Derek McGrath is reaping its rewards.

The story of the NHL semi-finals was the performance of Clare who beat Kilkenny at their own style of play; imperious under the dropping ball, exposing gaps in the Kilkenny defense where Joey Holden and Eoin Murphy were tormented throughout by John Conlon and then Tony Kelly late on. Clare’s fitness, conditioning and speed to the second ball all caught the eye had the imprint of Paul Kinnerk.

How Limerick did not approach the Monaleen resident to take on a similar role with the county senior hurlers is beyond me? Kinnerk’s influence in this Clare side is evident; the preparation prior to the Kilkenny contest was methodical, all training drills executed with a precision and speed which subsequently was brought to the actual game contest. When you compare the half baked Limerick hurler preparations before the Waterford contest, it was a no brainier from the Limerick County Board not to approach Kinnerk last season to get into the fold.

The tactical battle which will ensue tomorrow will be intriguing. Waterford have being maligned for their defensive side of their play but they have added to their attacking side with the emergence of Bennett in the half-forward line to support the likes of Maurice Shanahan upfront. When you consider the return to the fold of long term injury absentee Padraic O’Mahoney, Waterford management have attacking options which will test any defensive rearguard.

Waterford’s performance against Limerick must be put into context. Limerick flat out collapsed in the second period; their short passing game and sweeper defensive system both breaking down in massive proportions. Waterford did not get out of second gear and they created at least seven goal scoring opportunities during the contest. Goals were a problem for Waterford last season, their goal glut against Limerick suggests that management are looking to remedy the issue. Goals will be required from Waterford tomorrow and further in the year if they have any ambitions to win Liam McCarthy.

How do Clare break down the Waterford defensive wall will be intriguing? Their forward line relished the open space afforded by Kilkenny two weeks ago but the same amount of space will be non-existent against a Deise side who now pride themselves in not conceding goals. Tom Coughlin at full-back is solid but gets massive protection from the likes of De Burca and Noel Connors who is playing superb hurling this season. How Clare try to provide the quality ball inside to John Conlon in the full forward position will be one of the game’s main talking points?

This game is evenly poised. Both teams process serious fitness and conditioning and it will be the substitutes coming into the final quarter who will make the difference. Clare have the mercurial talent that is Tony Kelly to be unleashed. Waterford have Padraic O’Mahoney. It will be interesting to see how Waterford contend with the running power of Conor McGrath and Colm Galvin from deep. Kilkenny could not handle this threat so wondering if Waterford will be able to nullify the threat?

Given that Waterford had an easy victory over Limerick, shading the final to Clare who impressed massively against Kilkenny two weeks ago and that momentum will be hard to stop. The sideline battle with the arrival of Donal Og Cusack to the Clare ranks suggests that Clare will have the game plan and tactics to nullify the Deise threat. Expect a cagey affair but it will open up in the final quarter and Clare have the better forwards to score the points to win this contest. Clare by three points.

Arise Leicester City, EPL Champions

Sunday, May 1st could be a sobering experience for Manchester United at Old Trafford. An EPL title coronation potentially for Leicester City could be sealed with victory over an United side whose performances have being Jeckyll and Hyde to say the least. No Jamie Vardy, no problem for the Foxes who dispatched Swansea with minimum fuss last weekend. Their pace is breathtaking. Schlupp last week in for the suspended Vardy provided the speed and blistering pace to allow Ulloa to revel in the central striker position. United’s rearguard have struggled with pace all season and Leicester could run riot in their counter-attacking style.

The Leicester City story has being the standout story from this EPL season. They have availed of problems in the traditional top four teams and the inability of Tottenham to mount any sort of title challenge. Their wage bill compared to other more illustrious teams in the league speaks volumes but their work ethic, team work have come to the fore. They will provide inspiration for teams who doubted that they could compete in this league for top honors, expect more teams to challenge the top four hierarchy next season. A new era beckons in the league and Leicester City conceivably could be leading this charge.

Claudio Ranieri was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea, incapable some said of winning the big title, think again. Old Trafford or back at the confines of King Power Stadium with see the redemption of the Italian to the footballing masses. I sense Leicester will get the point required to get over the line as Tottenham will not beat Chelsea on MNF. It is a fantastic story and one that Hollywood producers will be lining up to take the story to the big screen. Congratulations to all concerned. Kasabian will be delighted.




Random Sporting Thoughts


Wales win – opportunity lost?

A day where yet again the RWC fixture scheduling comes into sharp focus. A clearly fatigued Wales beat an entertaining Fiji 23-13 at the Millennium Stadium. The win was the minimum mandate for Warren Gatland’s charges but given the reaction of the Welsh management at the end of the game when several opportunities to score the elusive bonus point were spurned, you get the sense that Wales do not feel completely secure in the pool. The sense of insecurity could potentially grow if and a big if England were to defeat Australia at Twickenham on Saturday. Wales today will enjoy this victory, built on a promising open period where Davies and Biggar continued their rich vein of form. The locals may have expected Fiji to roll over in the second half but the Pacific Islanders relished their surroundings and proceeded to throw the ball around in quite spectacular fashion. Fiji’s style of play was probably the last thing Wales wanted today, lung bursting periods of play where the pack and back line were throwing the ball around like they were in the school yard in national school. Wales’ energy was not there in the second half and Fiji took full advantage with one of the tries of the tournament courtesy of Goneva. Wales’s squad depth is so depleted that forgotten man James Hook even got a cameo today. Biggar’s leg injury adds to the Wales casualty list. Gatland and management will realize that Wales’ energy levels will be far improved next weekend but the level of set piece execution has to drastically improve to compete with Australia, albeit the green and gold could do England a massive favor by dumping the hosts out this weekend. Ashes redemption, maybe not but revenge for the cricket would be priceless. No pressure for Lancaster and the England team.

Will the real France please stand up?

France produce the Jekyll and Hyde performance to either excite or create dread for Ireland rugby fans. You have to give massive props to Canada for sticking so long with Le Bleu considering the ridiculous lack of time to prepare for the contest. France showed tonight that they are more than capable of bludgeoning an opponent’s pack but also have the ability out wide to expose an opponent. Five try haul for France where the key point was quick ruck ball, when they provide that platform, they are extremely dangerous. Canada’s two try haul did expose French vulnerability in defense but given the bench depth, an upset similar to Japan over the Springboks was never going to happen. 41-18 is a bit harsh on Canada but France showed no mercy when presented with try scoring opportunities. There are still issues with France linking play between pack and back line but once Parra came on, the team grew in stature. Bastareaud in midfield is a battering ram and with Wesley Fofana’s pace and speed shown with his early try, Ireland three quarters will have their hands full next weekend. Ireland will realize that France have shown areas of strength and weakness. France’s maul was the strength and Canada unfortunately could not do anything to stem the tide. Ireland’s focus is Italy but provided that a performance is produced, all eyes will focus on France with renewed confidence. The keyword is performance for Ireland and France next week. Intriguing times ahead.


Mayo Football Woes (Now Off The Pitch)

A quick note for the Mayo footballers. When you decide to ditch your management team who dedicated their year to you, you better produce the goods on the pitch next season. This has a recipe for disaster written all over it. The county board will support Connelly and Holmes to the hilt while the squad will dig their heels in. Mayo players can complain about managerial tactics but were they not five points ahead of Dublin with fifteen minutes to go in the All Ireland Football semi-final replay? The management can only do so much. It is down to the players on the pitch to deliver the goods. It is down to the players to adapt the game plan when need be. It is down to the players to make the right decisions on the pitch. These facets of play have deserted this group of players year in year out when it came down to the crunch. James Horan could not provide the answer to the issue. The managerial duo installed this season could not stem the irreversible tide. The common denominator is the players. Be careful what you wish for Mayo footballers as I can speak as a Limerick man when the Limerick hurlers dug their heels in with Justin McCarthy a couple of years ago, it did permanent damage and Limerick hurlers are still plying their trade in NHL 1B. This is the scenario that could face Mayo if this crisis drags out over the winter. Time for cool heads within the county board, current senior football team management and players to resolve the issue. Jimmy McGuinness is not taking the job so who else would take it? Rochford may have won am All Ireland club title with Corofin last season but it is a massive step up to take on an inter county football team. Risky appointment in some quarters. Donie Buckley interest? Interesting times in lovely Mayo, let us hope they are singing off the same hymn sheet soon.

GPA Football Championship Proposal

The proposed GPA football championship (champions league format) sound good but what happens to the U21 and Sigerson Cup championships? Compressed schedule means the official end to the dual inter county player. How do the parish clubs fit into the equation, the heartbeat of the organization? The fixture (lack of) in the club scene is a disgrace. Do not get me wrong, the proposal has merits — teams waiting for seven weeks between championship games is not acceptable. Time will tell. Wonder if the GAA HQ will take these proposals seriously?