Bohemians made a great start to their League of Ireland campaign back in February but the Gypsies have faltered in recent weeks, as Shelbourne claimed 4th place in the Premier Division. Now Bohs have one last chance of European football next season, but they will have to beat St Patrick’s Athletic in next Sunday’s FAI Cup final at the Aviva, to get that coveted European place. If the Saints win then Shels will get the last remaining Conference League place for 2024.
After winning the FAI Cup in 1961 St Pat’s had to wait 53 years before the Cup returned to Inchicore. The Saints beat Derry City in 2014 and two years ago won they won Cup for the 4th time in their history, beating Bohs in a penalty shoot-out at the Aviva.
Bohs have won the FAI Cup eight times, but never at the Aviva. Their last success was in 2008 with a 2-2 win over Derry City at the RDS. Pat Fenlon, who was the manager back then, is now the Director of Football with the Gypsies.
St Patrick’s will probably go into the game as favorites. Bohs will be without their captain Keith Buckley, but they do have a possible match-winner in Johnny Afolabi, who was called up by Irish manager Stephen Kenny last month. Two years ago 37,126 supporters turned up at the Ballsbridge venue for the meeting of the clubs from North and South of the Liffey. That cup final attendance record for the Aviva will probably be broken on Sunday.
Bundee Aki, arguably Ireland best player at the recent World Cup in France, has put an end to speculation regarding his future after agreeing a contract extension to remain with the IRFU and Connacht until 2025. The 33 year-old’s contract was due to expire at the end of this season. Aki, who hails from Auckland, qualifies for Ireland on the residency rule. He has won 53 Irish caps and has made 121 appearances for Connacht.
Prop forward Finlay Bealham has also signed a two-year contract extension with Connacht. The Canberra-born tighthead will remain at The Sportsground until at least the end of the 2025/26 season. This latest deal means Bealham will have a 15-year association with Connacht, having first joined the Connacht Sub-Academy in 2011. He made his professional debut in February 2014, before signing his first senior contract that summer. Since then, Bealham has made 189 appearances for the province. Bealham moved to Ireland in 2010 and initially played in his grandmother’s native province of Ulster with amateur club Belfast Harlequins.
Also England’s Wayne Barnes, who refereed the recent World Cup final, says he is calling time on a career that spanned 17 years and a record 111 Test matches. The final was a record 27th Rugby World Cup match for 44 year-old Barnes, who worked at five World Cups.
Galway's Jason Flynn in action with Huw Lawlor and Cillian Buckley in the Leinster final at Croke Park on June 11. [Inpho/Morgan Treacy]
FIXTURES ARE SET
Kilkenny will begin the defence of their Leinster senior hurling title against Antrim in April next year. The Cats, who defeated Galway in dramatic circumstances in this year’s final, will be at home to the Saffrons in the first round of the weekend of April 21. Also in Round One Joe McDonagh Cup winners Carlow, who have replaced Westmeath in the top tier, face a difficult trip to Galway, while Wexford and their new manager Keith Rossiter welcome Dublin to Wexford Park. The Leinster final will be played on June 8.
Meanwhile Cork GAA has assured supporters that a Bruce Springsteen concert at Pair Ui Chaoimh on May 16 next year will not disrupt the Munster hurling championship. Last year Ed Sheeran concerts at Pairc Ui Chaoimh meant Cork’s hurlers had to play in Thurles, while their footballers had to play their home game at the smaller Pairc Ui Rinn. The disruption led to Cork GAA chairman Marc Sheehan stating the Sheeran concerts would be the last time a concert took priority over home championship fixtures for Cork’s senior intercounty teams. Springsteen will also have concerts in Belfast, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny and Croke Park in May 2024.
Former Ulster and Ireland outhalf David Humphreys will succeed David Nucifora as the IRFU’s performance director next year. The process will begin in March, when the two will work alongside each other to facilitate a handover process, before Humphreys formally takes over the position from June. Nucifora, who joined the IRFU in June 2014, initially on a five-year contract, has overseen an unparalleled era of success in Irish rugby during what will be a decade in charge by the time he steps down following the Paris Olympics. Humphreys, who is 52, won 72 Irish caps and kicked 560 points during his Irish career. He studied law at Queen’s University and Oxford and subsequently trained under former Ireland rugby legend Mike Gibson, a partner at Belfast law firm Tughans.
LONG WAIT OVER
AS TIPP PICK KELLY
After a long wait Tipperary have found a man to manage their senior footballers with Paul Kelly replacing David Power, who quit last June. The Dubliner has had success in the past with Dublin club Thomas Davis and Naas and last year he was a selector in Wicklow with Oisin McConville. Now former Wicklow star Hugh Kenny will be part of his coaching team. With Kelly’s appointment confirmed Waterford is now the only county without a senior football manager.
HELPED ‘BOKS IN CUP
South Africa won the Rugby World Cup for the fourth time when beating New Zealand in Paris on Oct. 28. As the Stade de France rocked to the beat of South African celebrations, Kerry was represented by Killarney native Paddy Sullivan. Sullivan’s role with South Africa as a senior performance analyst marks the high point of a remarkable backroom career, which saw him start as a performance analyst intern with Munster. He then went on to work with Pau in the French Top14, and subsequently for the last two years with Montpellier, again in the Top14. With Sullivan’s help, Montpellier won the Top14 in 2022 and South African out-half Handre Pollard was a key figure. That, plus the Killarney man’s Munster links, brought him to the attention of the South Africans, where former Munster player Felix Jones is assistant coach, and where head coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus also worked. Montpellier facilitated Sullivan’s role with South Africa for the duration of the World Cup, and he has already resumed his role there now that the championship has concluded. Sullivan’s father Ben, his mother Marie, and his sister Molly who is a coach with the Munster academy, were all present in Saint Denis to see South Africa win.
SAM’S FIRST 50
Christmas is coming and if you have any doubts check the sports section in your local book store. Recently retired sports stars tend to be very cautious in their biographies, and that’s why I prefer books on the history of sport. “Chasing Sam Maguire” is a unique book on the GAA, a comprehensive account of the All-Ireland football finals from 1928 up to 1977; that’s the first 50 years of the how the Sam Maguire Cup was won. Meath-born Colm Keys, the Irish Independent’s GAA writer, and his Kildare-born friend Dermot Reilly have done a good job giving us the background to the first 50 years of Sam. One of the things I really like about the book is that the authors list all the subs, those who played and those who didn’t and the clubs they played for. A nice touch.
DEATHS OF TOP HURLER,
AND TOP FOOTBALLER
The death occurred last week of former Galway hurler Jimmy Duggan, at age 93. The Liam Mellows clubman won a national league medal with Galway in 1951 and featured in three losing All-Ireland senior final defeats in 1953, 1955 and 1958. Duggan was renowned as a fast, light and agile hurler whose stickwork saw him selected on several Rest of Ireland sides during his 15 years playing senior inter-county hurling, while he was also one of four hurlers chosen in 1965, along with Christy Ring, Paddy Molloy and Tom Neville, for the Cardinal Cushing Games on a promotional tour to New York, Boston and Connecticut.
The death also occurred of former Galway footballer Seamus Leydon at age 81. The Dunmore MacHale native was left corner-forward on the first-ever All Star team in 1971. By then he had won three All-Ireland senior medals, starting at left half-forward in each of the finals as Galway defeated Kerry in 1964 and ’65 and Meath in ’66. Leydon won seven Connacht senior medals and a league title and went on to capture five Galway championship wins with his native Dunmore in 1961, ’63, ’66, ’68 and ’69. He played for Connacht from 1964 to 1972, winning Railway Cup medals in 1967 and ’69. He later played for Nemo Rangers, when he worked in Cork.