O'Grady raises optimism levels in Limerick

There will be much focus on the Munster Hurling Championship game between Limerick and Waterford in Thurles on Sunday next. Donal O'Grady has done a good job restoring pride in Limerick hurling after two dreadful years under fellow Corkman Justin McCarthy. Under O'Grady, Limerick went unbeaten in division two of the league this spring and beat Clare in the final. But we all know that championship hurling is a big step up. O'Grady has coaxed the senior players back and has found two young exciting forwards in Leaving Cert. student Declan Hannon and 20-year-old Kevin Downes. In the opposing dug out on Sunday will be the fiery Davy Fitzgerald, who like O'Grady took over an unhappy squad from McCarthy. That was in the summer of 2008 when Fitzgerald took on the Waterford job after the Déise players rebelled. The former Clare goalkeeper led Waterford to the All-Ireland final that year, where they collapsed against Kilkenny. Many people thought Fitzgerald would walk away after that heavy defeat but he hung in there and took Waterford to the All-Ireland semifinals in 2009 and 2010. Tony Browne has returned for what will surely be his last season, but Ken McGrath has retired. Waterford also had a good league campaign and I think they will possess too much talent for Limerick on Sunday. But I know that a Limerick reader near Van Courtland Park will be hoping that I am wrong about his county once again!

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After winning division two of the National Football League many pundits were tipping Donegal to do well in the championship this summer. Then came that forgettable Ulster championship preliminary round game against Antrim at a wet and windy McCumhaill Park on May 15. Donegal won, but it wasn't pretty with Antrim manager Liam Bradley describing Donegal's style of football as "puke football." That was a term first used in GAA circles by former Kerry star Pat Spillane when referring to Armagh and Tyrone. Now we get an Ulster manager using the term to criticize another team in the province. The win over Antrim has earned Donegal a first-round proper game against Cavan at Breffni Park on Sunday next. Even though Cavan have won the Ulster title a record 39 times, their last success was in 1997. They got to the All-Ireland under 21 final this year, but I still fancy Donegal to progress.


It's a long time since Wexford Park staged a big Leinster championship game. Now GAA supporters in the Sunny South East get two big games on Saturday evening when Wexford take on Kilkenny in the Leinster hurling semifinal and Westmeath in the Leinster football quarterfinal. Brian Cody's hurling team have been the Top Cats in Leinster in recent years, but they have been slipping since last year's All-Ireland final defeat to Tipperary and were well beaten by Dublin in the National League Final. Kilkenny are unbeaten in Leinster since 2004 when they lost to Wexford in the semifinal. I think The Cats should have regrouped by now and I expect them to brush aside the challenge of Wexford. The curtain raiser on Saturday will be the Leinster football quarterfinal between Wexford and Westmeath. Wexford, who had an impressive away win over Offaly and should be too strong for the midlanders.

On Sunday we will have another football quarterfinal when Carlow and Louth meet at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise. Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick got good news last week when Mick Fanning and John O'Brien both returned home early from Australia. Both players played for the Wee County last year and will be in the squad for Sunday provided their clearance comes through. Both played football Down Under.


Down forward Martin Clarke is set to return to Australian Rules when the Mourne County's interest in this year's championship is over. Clarke, who won an All-Ireland minor medal with Down in 2005, spent three years with Collingwood before returning home in 2008. Last year he played a major role in helping Down get to the All-Ireland final. Two weeks ago Clarke kicked five points as Down went out of the Ulster championship to Armagh.


Fine Gael TD and former manager of Mayo's intercounty team John O'Mahony wants McHale Park in Castlebar to be made available to the Connacht rugby team for their home games in the Heineken Cup next season. But making a GAA pitch available for a rugby game would require official clearance from Croke Park. O'Mahony, the only man to manage three counties to Connacht titles, said: ''There is a process there to be followed in exactly the same way as the decision was made to open Croke Park to rugby and soccer. It's great news for sport in the province to have Connacht playing in such a prestigious competition as the Heineken Cup.'' The GAA's Congress is over for this year and I think any move to play rugby games in McHale Park or Pearse Stadium, Salthill will have to be deferred until 2012. At present, the Connacht rugby team play their home gamest at the Sportsground in Galway City.


Colin Montgomerie, the victorious Ryder Cup captain at Celtic Manor last year, is expected to play in this year's Irish Open in Killarney. The Scot, who has won the Irish event three times, is expected to be lining up at the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club on July 28. Irish stars Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell have already committed to supporting this year's event, which looks set to go ahead without a title sponsor following 3's withdrawal at the end of last year.

Meanwhile Offaly-born Shane Lowry has qualified for the US Open after getting one of 11 qualifying spots at Walton Heath in England last week. Lowry is the son of former Offaly footballer Brendan Lowry.


There was speculation last week that David Beckham could sign off his career with LA Galaxy in Ireland. The former England international is due to tour Europe with his club in November after the MLS season finishes. Dublin-based sports promoters Platinum One, the people who brought Real Madrid to Ireland two years ago, are understood to be arranging the tour and games in Scotland, England and Ireland have been mentioned. In Dublin, Galaxy are likely to play Shamrock Rovers.


Among the new senators recently appointed to the Upper House of the Oireachtas last was former World 5,000 Metres Champion Eamon Coghlan. The 58-year-old "Chairman of the Boards" was appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny to what could well be the last ever Seanad Eireann. Fine Gael has promised a referendum to decide if the country can afford or needs an upper house in these tough economic times.