By Kieran Rooney
Nov. 17-23, 2010
A much needed overdue victory, but not nearly the quality of performance coach Declan Kidney had hoped for. That was the general view following the Irish rugby team's labored 20-10 success over Samoa at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Worryingly, New Zealand are next in line at the same venue next Saturday. While Ireland were struggling to overcome Samoa, the All-Blacks gave a demonstration of how the game should be played by demolishing Scotland 49-3 at Murrayfield.
In doing so, the New Zealanders scored seven tries, and kicked all seven conversions.
That's the same Scotland team, it's worth pointing out, that deprived Ireland of the Triple Crown last season and then went on to beat Argentina in a test series during the summer.
So, on the basis of current form, Ireland could also be in for quite a beating come Saturday. Thankfully, though, sport doesn't always work that way.
Not that anyone seriously expects Ireland to record a first ever victory over the All-Blacks. What the home fans will hope for, however, is that the side will regain some self respect with a much improved effort against the top side on the planet just now.
Apart from the final 10 minutes against South Africa, they just don't seem to be able to put anything together. The most obvious concern is that following four test defeats, admittedly three of which came against top southern hemisphere sides, they ware badly lacking confidence.
Ronan O'Gara, back in the No 10 jersey for the Samoa game, admitted as much, stating: "I think confidence is quite low, so we need to find our rhythm quickly as we face the ultimate test against the All-Blacks."
Reflecting on the victory over Samoa, O'Gara commented: "I think it was a dull, boring game, to be honest. It was difficult, but we got our win which was important because we haven't had many wins recently."
O'Gara secured one of Ireland's two tries in a match played in miserable conditions and in front of a crowd of just under 31,000. The Munster man's score was badly needed because it same at a stage when the Samoans looked to be in with a chance of recording a shock victory.
The try arrived 16 minutes into the second half when Ireland were struggling to hold on to a 13-10 advantage. It owed much to Peter Stringer, whose quick thinking allowed O'Gara go over for an opportunist score between the posts.
The conversion made the score 20-10 and effectively ended the Pacific islanders' challenge. Earlier, O'Gara had converted a Jamie Heaslip try and added two penalties to give his team their 13-7 interval advantage.
But easily the best bit of football in the entire encounter was produced by the visitors when Alesana Tuilagi dived over for their only try. Sadly, the Irish back division never came even close to providing something of a similar standard.
Part of the problem was that the Irish front-row had another difficult day in the scrums. Unfortunately, at 37, John Hayes is at last feeling the years, and was substituted 17 minutes from time.
Nor did it help that the referee, Keith Brown from New Zealand, consistently penalized Ireland in this area. The line-outs were, in contrast, much improved with Leinster second-row Devin Toner making a positive impact on his debut.
But, to put things in context, the Samoan line-out can't be remotely compared to those of South Africa or New Zealand. Predictably, the Irish side has come in for an awful lot of criticism.
It's now up to Kidney to try and use this to motivate his players. Interestingly, unlike O'Gara, he refused to admit that confidence is a major issue.
"I don't think it is that bad. Our confidence is going to be a little bit better going into the New Zealand game." the coach insisted.
"Anxiety will always be there when you lose a few matches and I think we were anxious going into the game against Samoa. It wasn't exactly an attractive encounter, but we managed to get a win out of it, and I suppose after four test defeats, that's a plus."
Kidney admitted that Ireland haven't played to their potential in the two opening November tests, and is understandably looking for a big improvement against New Zealand.
"We just have to get ourselves as right as we can. Everybody who plays New Zealand needs to perform at the top of their ability to have any chance of getting the better of them," he said.
SLIGO OVER ROVERS
Shamrock Rovers bid to complete the double ended in failure when they were beaten 2-0 on penalties by Sligo Rovers in a dramatic FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
The crowd of 36,101 crowd was treated to an exciting encounter, despite the lack of goals in normal and extra-time. Importantly, also, the better team won.
This was a tremendous day for Sligo and, most especially for their goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly. A year ago, the same player had given away the penalty which provided Sporting Fingal with the opportunity to beat Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup decider.
It could have been argued that Shamrock Rovers should have been stronger mentally for the penalty shoot-out as they had managed to survive after playing much of the extra time with 10 men. This followed the sending off of Stephen Bradley.
Yet, they failed to get any of their spot kicks past Kelly. Michael O'Neill, the Shamrock Rovers manager, had told his players to make sure they got their efforts on target.
They did, the only problem being that Gary Twigg, Pat Flynn, Chris Turner and Paddy Kavanagh just couldn't beat Kelly. Admittedly, nerves got to them and some of the penalties weren't exactly well struck but a huge amount of credit should still go to the Sligo goalkeeper.
Not that Sligo were exactly world beaters with their spot kicks. At least though Eoin Doyle and Gary McCabe found the net to bring the Cup back to Sligo for only the third time in their history.
Manager Paul Cook was rightly praised for his contribution. To win the trophy, beating Bohemians in the semi-final and Shamrock Rovers in the final, shows that Sligo are a top class outfit.
Unfortunately, Cook's nerves didn't allow him to watch the penalty shoot-out. Instead, he departed to have a smoke in the car park.
Now he is looking for his side to push on and secure further honors. "We've already done pretty well, having secured two pieces of silver, the League Cup and the FAI Cup.
"We've also taken a bit of momentum away from the Dublin clubs that everyone seemed to think were all powerful."
To his credit, the disappointed Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill agreed that Sligo had deserved their success.
SALLE VERSUS SARSFIELDS
De La Salle from Waterford and Tipperary's Thurles Sarsfields will contest the Munster Hurling Championship final with O'Loughlin Gaels from Kilkenny and Offaly's Oulart-The Ballagh meeting in the Leinster decider.
Remarkably, two of the provincial semi-final went to extra-time on Sunday. O'Loughlin Gaels were given a real fright by Dublin's Ballyboden St. Enda's before edging home 1-21 to 3-11 after extra time.
It was only in the extra time that Ballyboden's challenge finally ran out of steam. While O'Loughlin Gaels undoubtedly deserved their victory, they will feel that they will need to defend a bit better if they are to go on and secure the Leinster and, hopefully, All-Ireland titles.
Ballyboden's ability to score goals, two of which came from Paul Ryan, brought them within a whisker of a mjor upset. Ryan's 60th minute effort from a free meant that O'Loughlin Gaels had to rely on a late point from Niall McEvoy to go into extra time.
The sides were still level after the first period of extra-time with two points apiece, before O'Loughlin Gaels came good in the second period with four unanswered points from Mark Bergin (2), Martin Comerford and Brian Dowling.
In the other Leinster semi-final, Oulart-The Ballagh were made to fight all the way before accounting for Raharney form Westmeath by 4-11 to 4-8. The contribution of Nicky Kirwan, who scored 2-3, was vital.
At Pairc Ui Chaoimh, De La Salle produced one of their trademark fight backs to get the better of Cork champions Sarsfields 0-22 to 2-15 after extra-time. They required two dramatic points from Bryan Phelan and Kevin Moran at the end of normal time to draw level at 0-17 to 2-11.
Sarsfields refused to lie down and it took a point from Jake Dillon four minutes from the end of extra-time to settle matters. The other Munster semi-final saw Thurles Sarsfields justify their favorites tag to get the better of Limerick's Kilmallock 2-10 to 0-11.
For once, Lar Corbett had a quiet enough game but still contributed a vital second half goal.
On the Football front, Armagh's Crossmaglen Rangers and Glenties (Naomh Conaill) from Donegal will contest the Ulster SFC final. Crossmaglen narrowly saw off the challenge of Burren by 1-11 to 2-7, with Glenties edging out Coalisland 1-10 to 1-9.
Tipperay, meanwhile, have appointed Declan Ryan as their new senior hurling manager in succession to the departed Liam Sheedy. The three times All-Ireland winner will be joined in the new management team by Tommy Dunne, as the coach, and Michael Gleeson. It is the expected line-up following the decision of Nicky English to rule himself out of contention.
In football, Seamus McEnaney has been ratified as the new Meath manager. McEnaney, who has been in charge of Monaghan for the past six years, takes over from Eamon O'Brien.
THE Connacht rugby team was provided with a major boost with a 26-22 victory over the midweek Somoa side at the Sportsground in Galway.
Coach Eric Elwood choose to give some of his younger contingent a chance and they responded with a rousing performance. Brian Tuohy and John Muldoon crossed for tries, while out-half Miah Nikora was in outstanding goal kicking form, contributing 16 points.