What a contrast in the fortunes of the two counties who will meet in next Sunday’s Leinster senior football final in Croke Park. Dublin will be bidding to win the Delany Cup for the 13th time in a row, while Louth are seeking their first provincial title since 1957. Sixty six years ago, the Wee County went on to beat Cork in the All-Ireland final and lift the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time. When Louth won their previous All-Irelands in 1910 and 1912 there was no Sam Maguire Cup. Louth reached the Leinster final again in 1958 when they lost to Dublin and in 1960 when they beaten by one point by Offaly.
But then they had to wait 50 years for another Leinster final appearance, when in 2010 they were “robbed” by a controversial Meath goal. Deep into injury time with Louth winning by a point Meath came in search of a score and eventually Meath full-forward Joe Sheridan won possession a few feet from the goal line. The big man never got a foot to the ball, simply fell over the line with ball in his hands and Tyrone referee Martin Sludden awarded a goal. TG4 commentator Seán Ban Breathnach famously described the goal as a “try” as the Meath player simply carried the ball over the line rugby style.
Meath didn’t win any friends when they refused a re-fixture against Louth. Now, 13 years on, Louth are back in the final after an extra-time semi-final win over Offaly. Meanwhile Dublin’s haven’t lost a game in Leinster since June 2010 when they conceded five goals to Meath in the semi-final. Dublin manager Dessie Farrell brought back 41-year-old Stephen Cluxton for their semi-final against Kildare. The Lilywhites did very well, but in the end couldn’t repel the blue wave that came at them late in the game. Dublin should win, but Mickey Harte has done a great job since taking over as manager of Louth and win or lose on Sunday they are in the Sam Maguire Cup this summer.
In Ulster Derry will be hoping to retain the Anglo Celt Cup when they meet Armagh in the final in Clones on Sunday. The Oak Leaf county were very impressive in their win over Monaghan and will be fancied to beat Armagh, whose last Ulster final win was in 2008.
NEED A WIN
On Saturday evening, Waterford manager Davy Fitzgerald will be hoping his team turn up and put in a good performance against his native Clare when they meet in the Munster Round Robin series in Semple Stadium. With Walsh Park undergoing repairs Waterford have to play their home games in Thurles. Waterford put up a great performance in the first round against Limerick, before losing by two points, but they were poor in their second game against Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh where they lost by 9 points. Fitzgerald admitted that the ‘‘drive wasn’t in the team’’ against Cork and really they have beat Clare on Saturday and Tipperary on May 28 to have any hope of progressing beyond Munster this year.
TO MEET N.I.
The Republic of Ireland Women’s team have been grouped with Northern Ireland in the inaugural Women’s Nations League. Vera Pauw’s side will also face Hungary and Albania in League B. Northern Ireland are currently without a manager following the departure of Kenny Shiels. The two Irelands last met competitively in qualifying for the 2019 World Cup. The Nations League will be the first tournament The Republic will play after the World Cup, hosted by New Zealand and Australia, with games due to played between September 2023 and February 2024. The winners of the group will be promoted to League A.
Reacting to the draw Irish manager Vera Pauw said: ‘‘Now that we know our opponents for the Nations League, we can start planning accordingly. But our priority for the next few months will, understandably, will be on preparing for World Cup. For these UEFA Nations League games, we are under no illusion that they will be difficult challenges for us. We are the top-seeded team in League B but we cannot take anything for granted if we are to achieve our aim of topping our group and qualifying into League A.’’
Northern Ireland’s players celebrate scoring a goal against Norway in a game last summer. INPHO/PRESSEYE/WILLIAM CHERRY
JUNE 19 RETURN
Irish Rugby captain Johnny Sexton says he hopes be fit for the start of pre-season training on June 19. The Leinster and Ireland out-half left the pitch during the Grand Slam clincher against England at the Aviva Stadium on March 18 with a groin injury that ruled him out for the remainder of this season. Speaking last week, Sexton said: “Physically it’s going well now. Five weeks post operation, I am feeling much better the last few weeks. The first couple of weeks were pretty tough and slow and sore. But I have turned a corner now and am back training well with the physios, hopefully back ready to go on June 19 when we come back for pre-season. That’s the goal.”
Ireland play their first World Cup warm-up game against Italy at the Aviva on Aug 5. Before that, Sexton will miss Leinster’s Champions Cup final against La Rochelle at the Aviva on May 20.
Meanwhile Keith Earls’s season may be over following confirmation by the province that the Irish winger suffered a groin injury and will be out for a number of weeks. The 35-year-old has started rehabilitation for a groin injury sustained against the Sharks. Earls is contracted up to the end of the Rugby World Cup in October but missed out on the Six Nations with injury. He will hope to work his way into Andy Farrell’s squad for the World Cup warm-ups in August. Munster assistant coach Denis Leamy indicated that Munster would be interested in keeping the local hero, who has won 98 Irish caps. Earls made his Munster debut in 2007 and made his 200th appearance against the Sharks.
Irish striker Chiedozie Ogbene and captain Seamus Coleman are doubtful for the Republic of Ireland’s Euro qualifiers against Greece and Gibraltar next month. Ogbene suffered a hamstring injury while playing a for Rotherham’s when the Millers secured their Championship status with a 1-0 home win over Middlesbrough 10 days ago. Coleman was stretched off last week after suffering a knee injury against Leicester City last week. Coleman posted on social media to say he had avoided damage to his anterior cruciate ligament, indicating the injury is not as bad as first feared. But then his manager Sean Dyce said he doesn’t expect his captain to play again this season. Irish manager Stephen Kenny is already down three players with Alan Browne, Dara O’Shea and Callum Robinson all injured.
Former NFL star JJ Watt and his wife Kealia, a former USA soccer international, are to invest in Burnley, who have recently been promoted from the Championship to the EPL. The Watts attended Burnley’s game against Wigan at Turf Moor in March. Watt said: ‘‘When you invest in a club that has been around since 1882, you must have great respect for its history and tradition. We understand that not only are we investing in the squad and manager, we are investing in the town and its people. We take that responsibility very seriously and intend to work hard in earning their trust and support.’’