Ireland's rugby team are in Cardiff for their opening game tomorrow in the Six Nations on the back of a five-game winning run. Our last defeat was in the first Test against New Zealand in Eden Park in July 2022. Since then, we have beaten the All Blacks twice, in Dunedin and Wellington, and followed those wins up home wins over South Africa, Fiji and Australia in the Autumn Internationals in November.
Coach Andy Farrell named a 37-man squad for Saturday’s game and the home game against France the following week. Some fans prefer the years when France and England have to come to Dublin, as they see them as those nations as the toughest to beat on their own grounds. Last year saw mixed results in that regard: we won the Triple Crown last year, in part by beating England at Twickenham, but lost to France in Paris and the French went on to win the Grand Slam.
Irish coach Andy Farrell is certain to start Jonathan Sexton at out-half, but there is no doubt that our captain is injury prone and it has become a familiar sight in recent years to see Sexton forced to retire early in games. Farrell surprised a lot of people when he ignored Joey Carbery, who has 37 caps and went for the relatively inexperienced out halves Ross Byrne, who has 14 caps, and Jack Crowley, who has won only two, as Sexton’s deputies for this game. The vastly experienced Sexton will be 38 before the World Cup and Farrell is going to have to give more game time to Byrne or Crowley and I wouldn’t rule out Carbery yet.
Saturday’s game will be our 134th international against Wales and not surprisingly we have only played Scotland and England more often. We beat Wales 29-7 in Dublin last year, but lost in Cardiff in 2021.
Warren Gatland, who previously coached Ireland, is back as Welsh coach after a three year-spell back home in charge of the Chiefs in his native Hamilton, New Zealand. Gatland has replaced fellow New Zealander Wayne Pivac in charge of the Dragons and has agreed to manage Wales until the 2027 World Cup. He always seems be able to stir up a bit of controversy before a game against Ireland -- wonder what it will be this week?
MORAN CALLS END
TO KERRY CAREER
David Moran has announced his retirement from inter-county football for Kerry. Moran won three All-Ireland titles, spanning 13 years, in 2009, 2014 and 2022. He won five national leagues, 10 Munster championships, one under-21 All-Ireland over a glittering career that saw him named twice an All-Star. The powerful midfielder made his league debut for Kerry against Donegal in 2008. Moran said: “After a lot of thought, I have decided to retire from Inter-County football. It’s not a decision I have taken lightly. Playing with Kerry fulfilled all my boyhood dreams, however, with an ageing body, a young family and a demanding work life I feel I can no longer give the commitment required to perform and compete at the top level.’’ Moran’s most recent Croke Park appearance was in the All-Ireland club semi-final where his club Kerins O’Rahilly’s were beaten by Kilmacud Crokes.
Meanwhile former Kerry manager Peter Keane has returned to that job for Killarney club Legion. The Caherciveen native previously managed Legion to a rare Kerry county final appearance in 2015 when they lost to South Kerry. Legion have since dropped to intermediate level and Keane will be eager to restore them to the top-flight. He also took the Killarney club to Kerry club final and East Kerry final during his two years in charge. It’s Keane’s first managerial role since his three-year reign as Kerry manager ended without All-Ireland success in 2021.
David Moran celebrated with his son Eli the Munster title win over Cork at Fitzgerald Stadium in May 2021. Inpho/Ryan Byrne
HURLEY TO HELM
‘THE SUNDAY GAME’
RTE’s popular Sunday night program “The Sunday Game” will have a new presenter this year. Cork-born Jacqui Hurley, who has been working mainly on sports programmes for RTE Radio, will replace Des Cahill as the Sunday night anchor. With Joe Brolly, Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane all gone the station will have some new analysts this year. Tomás O Sé is returning as a panelist after a year in the Offaly backroom and former Tyrone footballer Peter Canavan, who previously worked for Sport Sports, is also joining RTE. Sky dropped out of the bidding this year. Former Mayo star Lee Keegan and ex Galway hurler Joe Canning will also make their debut as analysts.
CORK HOST CHAMPS
The National Hurling League gets under way this weekend and the big game is in Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday where Cork meet All-Ireland champions Limerick. This game, which starts at 7.30pm is being televised live by RTE and should be available to GAA fans in the USA on the GAA Go platform. New Cork manager Pat Ryan, who replaced Kieran Kingston last summer, has had plenty of time to prepare and the county got off to a good start for 2023 with the Rebels beating Tipperary in the Munster Senior League final 10 days ago.
Last year Liam Cahill won the National League with Waterford, but they didn’t maintain that winning form throughout the year. Now Cahill is back in charge of his native Tipperary and they should win against Laois in Thurles on Saturday evening. Kilkenny manager Derek Lyng has also been waiting a long time for his first League game in charge of the Cats as he faces the difficult task of filling Brian Cody’s boots. Kilkenny travel to Corrigan Park and if the Saffrons have their Dunloy contingent available they will give the Cats a tough game. Davy Fitzgerald is a loveable character and is rarely out of the news. He has gone back to Waterford and it has been said that going back is a bit like a romance, it’s never the same the second time round! But Jack O’Connor has managed to do it with Kerry, so Davy should be able to motivate the Déise, who are home to Dublin in Walsh Park on Sunday.
Also the league game between Wexford and Galway at Wexford Park on Saturday will also double up as the Walsh Cup final. If it’s a draw each county will get a point, but there will be a shoot-out to decide who the Walsh Cup winners are for 2023.
KEANE GOES BACK
Cork dual star Mark Keane is returning to Australia to resume his AFL career after with Adelaide Crows. The 22-year-old made five appearances AFL appearances for Melbourne-based side Collingwood after joining in 2018, before making the decision to return home early last year, when he linked up with the Cork hurling squad on their way to an All-Ireland quarter-final.
Best known for his famous last-gasp goal that shocked Kerry in the 2020 Munster football semi-final during the Aussie Rules off-season, Keane recently helped his local club Ballygiblin win the All-Ireland club Junior hurling final at Croke Park. Already part of Cork’s hurlers early season training plans, Keane has decided to follow in the footsteps of Tyrone’s Mark McKenna and return to Australia.
ITALY MEET SPAIN
AGAIN IN NL SEMIS
European champions Italy will play Spain while hosts the Netherlands take on Croatia in the UEFA Nations League semi-finals in June. The Dutch open the finals against World Cup semi-finalists Croatia in Rotterdam on June 14 before the other last-four clash in Enschede the following day. Spain beat Italy 2-1 in the semi-final of the last Nations League in 2021 before losing to France in the final at the San Siro in October 2021. This year’s Nations final will be played in Rotterdam on June 18. The Dutch have been drawn against the Republic of Ireland in Euro 2024 qualifying group, with their first meeting in Dublin on Sep.t 10 and the return game taking place in the Netherlands on Nov. 18, which will be Ireland’s final game of the campaign. Also UEFA say they will introduce a quarter-final stage and promotion/relegation play-offs to the Nations League from 2024, with future World Cup and Euro qualifying groups to be capped at no more than five teams each.
MEATH ’67 LEGEND
Another link with Meath’s 1967 All-Ireland winning team has been severed with the passing of Bertie Cunningham, at age 81. The Ballivor native was an outstanding centre-half back on the Meath team that beat Cork in the 1967 final. He was the first man from Meath to win All-Ireland minor and senior medals, having won his minor medal 10 years earlier as a corner-back on the team that beat Armagh in the final. He also won Leinster senior titles in 1964, ‘66, ‘67 and ’70 and played football with Ballivor and hurling with Killyon. His death comes just a month after that of the captain from 1967, Peter Darby.