Predicting the outcome of sports events is always a difficult task, but that task gets even tougher when you turn to the Ulster football championship. In recent years it would have been difficult to make money betting on the winners of various Ulster championship games, from the preliminary round through to the final. With nine counties Ulster always has a preliminary round and the competition is so intense that Armagh is the only county to win the preliminary round and go on to lift the Anglo Celt Cup. That was in 2002 when the Orchard County also won the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time. This year it's the turn of Donegal and Antrim to contest the preliminary round in Ballybofey on Sunday next. Two years ago at this venue Antrim surprised Donegal, but the men from the North West have shown a big improvement this year under new manager Jim McGuinness and they were recently crowned National League division two champions. When the counties met in the League at Ballyshannon last month Donegal had a comfortable nine-point win and while it may not be comfortable on Sunday I still think that Donegal can overcome this first hurdle and line up a quarterfinal meeting with Cavan.
It's a busy weekend for Antrim as their hurlers travel to O'Moore Park, Portlaoise to play Laois in the Leinster championship on Saturday evening. Meanwhile back in Ulster the weaker counties meet in the opening round of the Ulster hurling championship, with Monaghan now guaranteed a place in the second round after Cavan's decision to withdraw from all senior hurling competitions.
U.S.-BASED FOLAN BACK IN FAVOR
The Republic of Ireland's planned end of season friendly against Italy will not now be played in the US next month. But we could still meet the Italians at a European venue, possibly Brussels or Arsenal's Emirates Stadium on June 11. The agent who was trying to arrange the game in Meadowlands, couldn't reach agreement with the FAI and the Italian FA, whose clubs apparently are not keen on releasing their players for an end of season friendly. Meanwhile striker Caleb Folan, who is now playing for Colorado Rapids in the U.S., has gotten a recall from manager Giovanni Trapattoni for his squad for the upcoming European and Nations Cup games. Folan won the last of his seven caps against South Africa in a friendly at Thomond Park, Limerick in September 2009. It was expected that Dubliner Wes Hoolahan, who helped Norwich gain promotion to the English Premier Division, would get a recall, but it didn't happen. Instead there is first call up for West Bromwich Albion's Simon Cox, who qualifies through his Galway-born grandmother.
MANCHESTER CITY TO TAKE STOKE CITY
When I was a young lad I could remember the goals and line-ups from nearly every FA Cup Final at Wembley. Back in the late sixties and earlier seventies we didn't have a surfeit of live soccer every night of the week and the Cup Final was our big treat of live action. In recent years the Cup Final has lost a lot of its attraction with so much football being beamed into our homes. Now I can hardly remember which teams were in the final 12 months ago! On Saturday next there will be a full round of Premier Leagues games, while the FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Stoke City goes ahead at Wembley. Next year the final will be downgraded even further when the kick off time will be switched from the traditional 3 p.m. start to 5.30 p.m. to accommodate television coverage. Changed times indeed as the English FA seek to review the Cup at a time when the Premier League is God.
Manchester City don't have any Irish players in their first XI and sub goalkeeper Shay Given is unlikely to be on the bench after a long lay off through injury. However, Stoke has three Irish internationals: Glenn Whelan, Jon Walters and Rory Delap, who continues to be ignored by Irish manager Giovanni Trapattoni (See Dave Hannigan's column on Page 27). After their memorable semifinal win over neighbors Manchester United, City will be favorites to lift the Cup for the first time since 1969. City's last Cup Final appearance was in 1981 when they lost to Spurs in a replay remembered for a great individual goal by Argentinean Ricky Villa. This will be Stoke's first-ever FA Cup Final appearance. In a neat twist of fate Stoke and City were due to meet in the Premier League on Saturday.
Meanwhile in Dublin on Saturday evening the Tallaght Stadium will be the venue for the All-Ireland Setanta Cup final between Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk.
AVIVA BECOMES ARENA
The Europa League Final which will be played at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin next Wednesday will be an all Portugal affair between Porto and Braga. It will be the biggest soccer event ever staged in Ireland, but you won't see a mention of Aviva Stadium in any UEFA press release. The European soccer body has rebranded the new stadium on Lansdowne Road as the Dublin Arena for next week's final.
CAVAN '47 LEGENDMCGOVERN IS DEAD
The death occurred last week of Owen Roe McGovern, the last surviving member of Cavan's1947 Polo Ground winning All-Ireland team. The Swanlinbar native, who was 92, won two All-Irelands medals, two national football leagues and four Ulster titles during an illustrious career with Cavan. In 1957 Owen moved to Elizabeth, N.J., with his wife Philomena to look for work. He started a team called Elizabeth Gaels and played for them until he was 45 years of age. He adapted to life in New Jersey and for many years ran the Morley and McGovern pub in Roselle Park.
STOP DYING MINUTES' P.A., SAYS OFFICIAL
Kilkenny GAA secretary Ned Quinn is calling on the GAA to drop their "end of match positions" public address announcements at Croke Park. Quinn believes the announcements, which are directed at match stewards and are made about five minutes before the end of matches, put unnecessary pressure on players. "Quinn said: 'I have always said there has to be match regulations but I don't see why this announcement is made. Could it not be a preordained thing that when you see there are five minutes left the people move into their end of match positions?'' A similar situation arises at the Aviva Stadium at the end of all soccer internationals and I can tell you it's not a nice announcement to hear if the Boys in Green are a goal down at that stage.