Dublin manager Dessie Farrell. [Inpho/Evan Logan]

Dubs begin bid on busy Sunday

The All-Ireland football championship cranks up a gear this weekend with reigning champions Dublin in action. In recent years the Leinster Council has taken Dublin out of Croke Park for the quarter-finals, but in what is now a compressed inter-country season, the champions start their bid for 14 Leinster titles in a row at headquarters against old rivals Meath. Coincidentally it is also 14 years since Meath beat Dublin at the Jones Road venue and I think that losing sequence for the Royals will probably extend to 15 years. 

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Dublin lost the National League final to Derry, but Dublin supporters are quick to point out that the game ended in a draw and that they lost on penalties. After the defeat to Derry, manager Dessie Farrell said: ‘‘We were disappointed with the overall outcome. We didn’t get into a flow, into a rhythm, the way we had in previous weeks. Great credit to Derry for creating that and not allowing that to happen.’’ 

It’s a busy day in Leinster with two more football quarter-finals in Portlaoise on Sunday. Kildare, who had a woeful National League campaign, could do with a boost, but there is no guarantee they will beat Wicklow, while Louth will be favorites to beat Wexford. Local rivalry is what the GAA is all about. I remember Eugene McGee, who managed Offaly when they stopped Kerry’s five in-a-row bid in 1982, used to say that for Offaly a Leinster championship game against neighbors Laois was like an All-Ireland final. The counties meet in O’Moore Park on Saturday evening and after their big win over Leitrim in the Division 4 final at Croke Park on Easter Saturday, Laois will be in confident mood. Offaly spent last season in the bottom half of Division 3.  

As usual Ulster is likely to be the most competitive province, but Down, who recently lost the Division 3 final to Westmeath, should be too strong for Antrim in Newry on Saturday evening. Then on Sunday Armagh, who lost the Division 2 final to Donegal, will be strongly fancied to beat Fermanagh at Brewster Park, Enniskillen. But as I have often said on these pages previously, anything can and does happen in the Ulster football championship.

’23, ’22 WINNERS FOR 


Irish horses have a great record at Cheltenham in recent years and while the Aintree Grand National is a bit of lottery, compared to the National Hunt Festival, our record at Aintree is also very good with 30 Irish-trained winners down through the years. And there will be a good Irish representation in Liverpool on Saturday where the big race is due to start at 4 p.m. Some of the tougher fences have been eliminated in recent years and the maximum number of horses in the race is now set at 34.  It’s still a race that catches a lot people’s attention and staff in many offices all over the country organize a “sweep.” 

Last year’s winner Corach Rambler was bred in Wellingtonbridge in Wexford, trained in Scotland by Lucinda Russell and ridden by Sligo-born jockey Derek Fox. Corach Rambler is due to run again this year and the two top weights are both Irish-trained. The Gordon Elliott-trained Conflated will carry 10 stone 12 pounds, while the Emmet Mullins-trained Noble Yeats, who won the race in 2022, will carry one pound less. Three years ago Rachael Blackmore made history when she became the first female jockey to win on board Minella Times for Hendry De Bromhead. Covid meant there was no Aintree National in 2020, but Gordon Elliott won in 2018 and 2019 with Tiger Roll. 



BBC Sport NI has won Best Sport Programme at the Royal Television Society awards for its coverage of last year’s All-Ireland senior football final between Dublin and Kerry. The production beat competition from Sky Sports’ coverage of the Ashes and ITV Sport’s Rugby World Cup to win the prestigious accolade. GAA-loving celebrities Paul Mescall, Patrick Kielty, Dara O Briain and Adrian Dunbar all gave their opinions on the Dublin v Kerry decider which attracted a peak viewing figure of almost one million. Sarah Mulkerrins presented the live broadcast, which was produced by Margaret O’Hare. Galway native Mulkerrins said. ‘‘I have worked here in the UK for 12 or 13 years and I never thought I would be able to work on this sport, a sport that I grew up on. It’s really special and the GAA holds a very special place in people’s hearts, so it is lovely to have been able to work on it and bring it to wider audiences.’’


Conor Murray will remain at Munster for now. The scrum-half, who turns 35 later this month, had been due to come off his IRFU central contract at the end of this season, but has now agreed a deal with the province until the summer of 2025. Murray, who has played 185 times for Munster, in addition to 116 Tests for Ireland, made his provincial debut in 2010, and featured on three consecutive British and Irish Lions tours in 2013, 2017 and 2021. But we are still waiting on a decision on Peter O’Mahony. Like Murray, the Ireland captain has been offered an extension by Munster. In addition to scrum-half, Munster has also confirmed new deals for back rows Jack Daly and Brian Gleeson.

Meanwhile Munster’s Irish-qualified centre Antoine Frisch has declared that he wants to play for France, the country of his birth. Despite moving to Ireland two years ago and making it clear that he wanted to represent the country where his grandmother was born, Frisch has had a change of heart. The 27-year-old has been unable to force his way into Andy Farrell’s plans, and while he impressed on the Emerging Ireland tour to South Africa in 2022, that did not mean Frisch was “captured” by Ireland. Speaking to French publication L'Equipe, Frisch said: “I have been in contact with French coach Fabien Galthié for a long time and this contact has never been interrupted. From the moment I was called into the France group, it became very clear to me. I want to play for France.’’



New NFL recruit Charlie Smyth has admitted he’s “buzzing” after winning a contract with the New Orleans Saints. The goalkeeper from Mayobridge, Co. Down, navigated through the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program to complete the Combine in Indianapolis before performing at a Pro Day in Florida to win a deal with the Saints. Signing with New Orleans last week capped a remarkable journey. As a teenager, the goalkeeper native wrote to the NFL asking how he might break into the sport. And last week, he inked a three-year deal. Smyth said: ‘‘I suppose it feels a bit surreal. Coming from the position that I have where you are playing Gaelic football back home. Also coming from the position as a fan, I have been a huge fan of the NFL for the past seven or eight years. To have the chance to kick in the Superdome in front of 73,000 people, I am absolutely buzzing and cannot wait to get started. I just thought I could skip it all and go straight to the NFL back when I was 18. It really has come full circle. I think I always saw the ability I had in my free-kicks in Gaelic football and thought I could transfer my skills over to American football. Over this past six or seven months, I think I have proven I can do that and now it is just about going into training camp and showing to all the coaches I have the ability to be a starting kicker for the Saints.’’



Former Dublin manager Jim Gavin says the Football Review Committee, which he is chairing, is aiming for any rule enhancements to be ready for a trial period by the start of the 2025 season, with the objective of permanent implementation in 2026. The 12-strong committee looking into ways to improve the game also includes fellow former inter-county managers Eamonn Fitzmaurice, James Horan and Malachy O'Rourke, as well as former Donegal All-Ireland winner Michael Murphy. Gavin says the remit of the body is to make Gaelic football the most attractive amateur sport globally to play and watch. He added: ‘‘We would like people to engage with us, tell us what they think about the games, things that they like, things that they dislike. Gaelic football is the most played sport on the island of Ireland, it’s the most watched sport and it’s the sport that gets the most attention, so there is a big group that we need to survey and get their thoughts and ideas.’’



The first male President of the Camogie Association, Longford native Brian Molloy, was ratified at the organization’s annual Congress, which was held at the Westgrove Hotel in Clane, Co. Kildare, at the weekend.


 Former Republic of Ireland defender Joe Kinnear has died at the age of 77, has family have announced in a statement.

 Dublin-born Kinnear played 26 times for Ireland and won the UEFA Cup, FA Cup and two League Cups during a 10-year spell with Tottenham Hotspur as a player.

 As a manager, he was perhaps best known for managing Wimbledon, during the now-defunct club's “Crazy Gang” era of the 1990s. Kinnear led the London outfit to a sixth-place finish in the Premier League in 1993/94, and helped to maintain their status in the top division before he left in the summer of 1999 after suffering a heart attack before a match against Sheffield Wednesday.

 In 2021, his wife revealed that her husband had been living with dementia since 2015.

 A family statement on Sunday said: "We are sad to announce that Joe passed away peacefully this afternoon surrounded by his family."