Munster hope O’Gara’s boot can win again

[caption id="attachment_68310" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Tipperary’s goalkeeper Brendan Cummins, right, in a goalmouth struggle for possession with Eoin Larkin of Kilkenny during the All Ireland senior hurling final in September. "]


There will be much focus on Munster out-half Ronan O’Gara this weekend, mainly to see if the Corkman can make it a miraculous three last-minute winning drop goals in a row. The man known as “Rog” scored a dramatic last second drop goal against Northampton at Thomond Park in Munster’s opening game in the Heineken Cup on Nov. 12. That score came after over 40 phases of Munster possession. There were not as many phases the following Saturday away to Castres, but the end result was the same, the ball was worked to O’Gara and he slotted it between the posts for yet another Munster win.

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Despite those two wins, Munster are not top of pool one. That honor is currently held by Welsh club Scarlets as bonus points put them one ahead of the men in red. Coincidentally Munster visit Parc y Scarlet on Saturday next and if O’Gara is on form with his kicking Munster could go top of Pool One by Saturday evening. The Scarlets then travel to Thomond Park the following weekend.

Meanwhile Leinster, the reigning Heineken Cup champions, are top of their pool after one win and one draw, but thanks to bonus points they are two points ahead of Bath, whom they travel to play on Saturday. With Brian O’Driscoll recovering from surgery to remedy a shoulder problem, there is intense competition for places in the Leinster team with Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley both impressing in the back line. Ulster should pick maximum points in their back to back games against Italian club Aironi, who are pointless after two games. The only other side in the Heineken Cup currently without a point are Connacht, who are finding the going tough in their first season playing in the top tier. On Saturday Connacht play Gloucester at the Galway Sportsground on and then travel to England the following weekend.


Northern Ireland, who are still without a manager, will start their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign with a trip to Moscow to play Russia on Sept. 7 next year. The North’s full list of World Cup qualifying games are: 2012: Sept. 6 v Russia (A), Sept. 11 v Luxembourg (H), Oct. 16 v Portugal (A), Nov. 14 v Azerbaijan (H). 2013: March 22 v Russia (H), March 26 v Israel (H), Sept. 6 v Portugal (H), Sept. 10 v Luxembourg (A), Oct. 11 v Azerbaijan (A) and Oct. 15 v Israel (A). The last three games are away from home and during that time it’s expected that work will get under way upgrading Windsor Park in Belfast. Jim Magilton and Michael O’Neill, who are currently with Shamrock Rovers continue to be the favorites to replace Nigel Worthington as manager. Former Republic of Ireland and Faroe Islands manager Brian Kerr has also been mentioned, but now it looks like Kerr may be heading to Malta.


Meanwhile former Northern Ireland international Gerry Armstrong feels that the Irish Football Association should consider a replacement anthem for “God Save the Queen.” Part of Armstrong’s brief with the IFA is to try and convince Northern Ireland-born players from the nationalist community not to switch allegiance to the Republic as has been happening in recent years. Armstrong says that “God Save the Queen” was not an issue in his time playing for the North, but admits that it is an issue now with some of the younger players. Armstrong has had preliminary discussions with Gary Lightbody, who is from Bangor, Co. Down, about composing a new anthem. Lightbody was one of the founders of rock band Snow Patrol. Can you feel another “Ireland’s Call” coming on?


Dates and venues have now been agreed for the British and Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013. The Lions will play six tour games down under in addition to the three tests in Brisbane (June 22), Melbourne (June 29) and Sydney (July 6). Lions team manager Andy Irvine said a decision on appointing a coach for the 2013 tour will be made next April after the Six Nations championship. Unless England come up with a brilliant replacement for Martin Johnson it looks like the coaching role will be a straight fight between Ireland’s Declan Kidney, Scottish coach Andy Robinson, who is English, and Welsh coach, or Warren Gatland, who was born in New Zealand.


Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins admits that he is still disappointed after Tipperary’s defeat to Kilkenny in last September’s All-Ireland hurling final. But the 36 year-old, who broke Christy Ring’s championship appearances record this year, says he will make himself available to manager Declan Ryan again next year. Cummins, who has now made a record 67 championship appearances in 17 years between the posts for Tipp said: ‘‘It takes more than a week or indeed a month to get over a defeat like that. I think the scars will remain for life. But if manager Declan Ryan rings I will be happy enough to give it a go for another 12 months.’’

Also staying on is Waterford legend Tony Browne. The Mount Sion clubman will be 39 next July. However, two Cork footballers are quitting. John Miskella and Anthony Lynch, who are both 33, have been forced to retire after many injuries. In his prime Lynch was one of the best corner backs in the game, while Miskella lined out at centre half-back in Cork’s 2010 All-Ireland final win over Down. Lynch was once described b GAA commentator Micheál O Muircheartaigh as the last man who would let you down. It was a reference to the Lynch’s family business in Ballyvourney, which is an undertaker!


The Leitrim County Board has asked selectors Barry Breen and George Dugdale to temporarily take over from Mickey Moran, who has been forced to step down as Leitrim senior football manager due to ill health. Mick O’Dwyer, who has been off the intercounty scene since quitting Wicklow last summer, has ruled himself out of the Leitrim job for now. The Kerryman, who is awaiting an ankle operation, says he plans to take 2012 off, but says he might be open to offers in 2013, by which time he will approaching his 77th birthday.

Meanwhile in Sligo, Declan Loughnane has been named senior hurling manager. The Offaly native played hurling for Sligo and will now take on the managerial role in the Yeats County.


Limerick’s Thomond Park has been confirmed as one of the 18 venues for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. The revamped stadium which now has a capacity of 25,600, staged its first-ever rugby league game earlier this month when a crowd of 3,000 saw Ireland lose 34-16 to France. Rugby League Ireland has previously said they hope Thomond Park will host Ireland’s World Cup group game against Australia. Limerick’s bid was backed by Shannon Development and the Shannon Region Conference and Sports Bureau. The other 17 venues are in England, Wales and France with semifinal and final venues to be confirmed early in next year. Rugby league grew out of a schism from rugby union at the end of the 19th century.


Finn Harps financial worries were eased somewhat last week when Donegal County Council agreed to give the struggling first division club €20,000. Harps need to raise €48,000 by Dec. 21 in order to comply with requirements for applying for a League of Ireland first division licence for 2012. At their meeting last week Councilors spoke about the importance of the club to the county and said that it would be a tragedy if the Ballybofey-based club, who joined the League of Ireland in 1969, went out of senior soccer. Supporters have already raised €12,000 and with a Monster Draw coming up and the County Council’s grant, members are confident of reaching their target. League of Ireland clubs are forever struggling and it’s difficult for them to compete with the English Premier League that supporters can view from the comfort of their armchairs. But together with various junior clubs, League of Ireland clubs struggle on and keep soccer alive all over the country.