Trainer Willie Mullins with schoolchildren in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow, when he paraded some of his nine 2024 Cheltenham winners. [Inpho/Morgan Treacy]

Nick Rocket 'ticks the boxes'

Having dominated the Cheltenham Festival, Willie Mullins has set his sights on the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday with unexposed novice Nick Rockett likely to be all the rage. The champion trainer is seeking a third win overall in the richest jumps race run in Ireland and back-to-back victories after the unlikely success of 11/1 chance I Am Maximus 12 months ago. Mullins had earlier saddled Burrows Saint, ridden by Ruby Walsh, to win the Irish National in 2019. Nick Rockett has been allotted 10 stone 13 pounds in the weights by handicapper, with Gordon Elliott’s Galway Plate winner Ash Tree Meadow the top weight. Three Cheltenham Festival winners are towards the top of the weights: Corbetts Cross, Inothewayurthinkin and Limerick Lace, but having kept his powder dry, Mullins might just have the ideal candidate. He said: “Nick Rockett has performed well around Fairyhouse and I love horses for courses. Jockey Paul Townend was very happy the last day he won around the course and we thought instead of going to Cheltenham that we should maybe aim for Fairyhouse. That’s  what we have been doing and we are very happy with how he is. He jumps, has won over the track, is a novice coming up the ranks, has a nice weight and Paul is very happy to ride him. That is more than enough and he ticks all the right boxes, I think.’’ Mullins says he will have a few other entries in the big race including Stattler, Bronn and Minella Cocooner.  

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Munster Rugby coach Graham Rowntree has praised Jack Crowley’s level of composure displayed during Ireland’s successful Six Nations campaign as he challenged Munster’s new signing Billy Burns to challenge his first-choice fly-half for the red number 10 jersey next season. Last week Munster confirmed the signing of 29-year-old  Burns from Ulster for next season as they moved to add experience to their out-half stocks following Joey Carbery’s impending departure this summer to Bordeaux-Begles.



Dawn Run remains the only horse in the history of horse racing to have won the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but Willie Mullins thinks he might have finally found one capable of emulating the legendary mare in the shape of last week’s Novices’ Hurdle winner Ballyburn. The audacious double has rarely been tried, or even thought about by trainers, but Ballyburn is a unique horse who could have the necessary speed and stamina to have a crack at it according to the man who knows him best of all. Dawn Run won the Champion Hurdle in 1984 and followed up with the Gold Cup two years later for Willie’s father Paddy, and connections of Ballyburn will have a big decision to make this summer about whether to stick around over hurdles for another season or switch to fences. Mullins is keen to have a crack at the 2025 Champion Hurdle and he feels that the first leg of the famous double might be the trickiest to achieve as he is convinced Ballyburn is every inch a chaser. 

Speaking about the prospect of trying to follow in the hallowed hoofprints of Dawn Run with Ballyburn, Mullins said: ‘‘You have to look for the right horse who could do it, and it struck me that he would fit the bill in my book. He might be the right horse to try and do it with.’’



Former National Hunt jockey Nina Carberry is hoping to enter politics as a candidate for Fine Gael in the European elections in June. Carbery, like her father Tommy and brother Paul ,was a successful jockey, has written books for children and appeared on the RTE television program “Dancing with the Stars.” Carbery, who lives in County Meath, is married to Ted Walsh Jr., son of the famous race horse trainer Ted Walsh. Fine Gael has two sitting MEPs in the vast Midlands-North-West constituency: former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh, based in Mayo, and Colm Markey, a farmer from County Louth. The party is expected to pick at least two candidates to run in the five-seat constituency made up of counties in North Leinster, Connacht and Ulster.




There are very few inter-county transfers in the GAA, both hurling and football. In recent years you could count on one hand the number of intercounty  transfers, Larry Tompkins from Kildare to Cork, Seánie Johnston, Cavan to Kildare, Karl O’Dwyer, Kerry to Kildare, Shea Fahy, Kildare to Cork, Ciaran Barr, Antrim to Dublin. It’s often a favorite question for former hurlers and footballers, if there was a transfer system, who would they like to transfer to?. In a recent podcast former Galway star Joe Canning was asked was asked that question and his answer was Limerick. Canning said: ‘‘It’s funny, before they got successful, I probably would have said Limerick. I was in college down there and unlike Clare or Tipperary, Limerick were not bordering us. I grew up around 1994, ’96 when Limerick  lost a few All-Irelands and you were probably feeling a bit sorry for them. We border Tipperary, I couldn’t have played for Tipp, as with any neighbors, you don’t like them. It’s the GAA, it’s a rivalry. Clare were only 20 minutes up the road, I wouldn’t have played for Clare either.



South Africa’s new Irish-born defense coach Jerry Flannery has revealed he thinks he can learn Afrikaans within a year as he embraces his new role with South Africa. Flannery worked with Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber at Munster a few years back and has now replaced the latter as defense coach of the Springboks as part of a coaching shuffle for the next Rugby World Cup cycle. The former Munster and Ireland hooker is not the first Irishman in a Springboks set-up with Felix Jones having paved the way over the last two World Cups before joining England. Flannery revealed he had been in contact with his compatriot around the intricacies of being part of the Bok set-up. Flannery said. “I was told that I have got to learn Afrikaans in two years, but I reckon I can get it done in a year. Daan Human, the Springboks scrum coach said to me if I can learn one sentence every day, I should be okay.’’



Kilkenny Camogie player Katie Power says playing inter-county camogie is a choice. Nobody is forcing her to do it. It’s an honor and a privilege  she adds. But the question is whether making such a choice, engaging that privilege, should be costing her and the majority of her contemporaries money. Power said: “You are 100 percent out of pocket at the end of your month. Genuinely, there are some girls who have to borrow money for diesel at the end of each month. It’s tough going, to ask your partner or your mam or your dad for a few bob to put in the car because you have to go training. I know for a fact that there are people on our team who have had to do that.’’ 

A GPA report published last year highlighted that only 9% of female inter-county players are in receipt of mileage expenses. And that’s broken into two-thirds getting less than 20 cent per mile, with the rest getting between 20 and 40 cent. Under the new charter, inter-county camogie players are to be paid 50 cent a mile as part of the Camogie Association player charter unveiled last week. The Camogie Association has pledged €2.5m across the next three years, with payments capped at €45,866 per squad.



New GAA president Jarlath Burns has revealed how getting involved in the Association kept young men away from the IRA during the Troubles. Speaking in a podcast hosted by former Irish President Mary McAleese and retired RTE presenter Mary Kennedy, the former Armagh full-back spoke about the importance of the GAA in Northern Ireland. He said: “We in the North owe the GAA so much, I don’t think that story is being properly told. It was for us a way of staying non-violent. “We are Irish, we are very proud to be Irish and this is how we are going to demonstrate our Irishness.” It was such a non-aggressive way of being Irish with the injustice of life at the time, fears that all of our parents had that we were going to get involved in the IRA. That was a real thing. For me, it was the GAA that kept a lot of us away from the IRA. That story has never been properly appreciated maybe by the unionist community.’’