Posts Tagged ‘ European Cup ’

Heineken Cup – Munster Finish Their Heineken Cup History On A Low

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“Not with a bang, but a whimper”. The words of T.S Elliot may seem a somewhat harsh reflection on the weekend’s rugby, but for two teams like Munster and more significantly Clermont to bow out of the competition’s final ever incarnation in such fashion was deflating at best. Munster can take heart from the fact that they lost to the best and that they were at least extremely close to functioning fully, whereas Clermont will only be too happy to close the door on the competition that has caused them such mental anguish over the years, in the hope that the new Championship brings more prosperous times. Continue reading

Creating Paradise : The Jock Stein Story

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It was the September 10th 1985, Scotland had just earned a valiant one all draw with Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff, securing a vital play off with Austria which would eventually lead to Scotland’s qualification for the 1986 FIFA world cup.

The game was rendered meaningless, however, after the news filtered through about the tragic and sudden death of legendary Scottish boss Jock Stein. Continue reading

Ireland v England – Memories From Enemy Territory

lansdowne2Stuttgart, 1988

Psychiatrists will often focus on the traumas of childhood – those moments when our cosy kiddywink world is brutally introduced to reality. “Hello,” says reality, “Guess what, you are not the centre of the universe. In fact the universe is chaos, and basically out to destroy you. Have a nice day.”

One such psychological wound is the sudden realisation that our parents are not gods, and in my case paternal authority crumbled at exactly 5:20PM on 12 June 1988. As a nine-year-old I had the vague knowledge that football did not always go well (Maradona’s hand of God had previously introduced me to the concept of injustice), but when an omnipotent father-figure proclaims in assured tones that “England will stuff Ireland this afternoon” the match itself becomes a mere formality – the gracious unfurling of a pre-ordained fact. Continue reading

Heineken Cup Quarter Finals Preview: Leinster, Munster and Ulster Fight For Semi Final spots

And we’re back. The Heineken Cup resumes this weekend with some truly mouth-watering games that will decide, amongst other things, which and how many Irish provinces proceed to the semi-finals of this wonderful competition. On Saturday we have the intriguing matchup of Edinburgh and Toulouse in Murrayfield followed by Leinster VS Cardiff in the Aviva. We’ll get to Leinster in a minute but first of all the French and Scottish warrant our attention. Based on form, Edinburgh really have no right to be still in the competition. They have been less than dire in the domestic league, sitting one place above Aironi second last on the table. They’re last Rabo game was a narrow win against Scarlets, at home. Toulouse on any given day would run rings around them. This season however, Toulouse, whilst by no means playing poorly, were very nearly looking at an Amlin spot only for the fact that Connacht triumphed over Harlequins. In essence though, both teams are where they are and that alone means they somewhat merit their places. It is not an easy one to call by any means, the home advantage factor works very well for Scottish teams traditionally, something that is easy to forget as an Irish rugby supporter given that Murrayfield has proven to be not much of a bother to them. Edinburgh though look nearly as lost as the national side at times, with very little along the lines of game plan apparent in their approach. This is something Toulouse, and most French club teams, can always pull out of the bag when needs be. Putting aside the yarn about whether or not a French team “travels”, the Semi Final in the Aviva last year is all the proof that was ever needed that Toulouse can front up in any location when needs be and it is doubtful that Edinburgh have a Leinster-esque performance in them. There’s a chance of this being a fairly tight game and, if Edinburgh have another gear and shift into it, this could be a very entertaining way to kick off the weekend’s rugby. But for the sake of realism, Toulouse win

Sunday sees the other non-Irish match of the weekend, that of Saracens VS Clermont in Wembley. This one, unlike the game above, is near guaranteed to be a cracker. Sarries form in the Heineken, and indeed the Aviva Premiership, has been nearly on a par with that of Leinster or Munster, with fairly consistent results across both competitions. Clermont too hold a similar record, holding the same position domestically as Saracens, though their Heineken form has been somewhat wayward. Fair enough, Ulster thoroughly deserved the win they achieved against them and indeed the bonus point loss, but the 23 – 19 loss to Leicester at Welford Road after having commanded the first half so expertly is one of the pool moments Clermont need to be wary of. Once again in this fixture, they are playing away from home against an English side. Not only that but this side contains internationals such as Farrell, Hodgson and Strettle who are flying high after what was a shockingly successful Six Nations campaign, one in which England were particularly electrifying against France. With a spring in his step, Farrell could be a huge factor for Saracens in this game, assuming he’s starting that is. For Clermont, they have got plenty of big names themselves, the usual suspects such as Parra, Fofana, Hines and Byrne to name but a few and do have a good run of form to lead into the game, aside from a one point loss last weekend to Biarritz. Essentially, there’s not much except for home advantage and international form that can separate these two teams. Much like Leinster and Munster last week, they are very well matched to each other and really it’s a coin toss, my toss is Saracens win

With that synopsis of the weekends other two knock-outs done, it’s time to move on to the two big games for Irish rugby fans, starting with Leinster VS Cardiff Blues. In the days leading up to this clash, the main headlines have been focused on injuries and booze. First off on the Cardiff side was the news that Gavin Henson has, finally, been sacked. No more suspensions or transfers, Blues have seen him for the waster that he is and he has been let go. It is impossible to stay impartial on the subject of Henson because he has nobody to blame for the way his career has gone but himself. And above all else, he is no great loss to the team. No, Cardiff’s great losses come in the shape of Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts, who it was announced this week is set to be out of action for six months due to a persistent knee problem, which has culminated in a need for surgery on his ACL. These two powerhouses were really one of the main driving forces Cardiff had in the run up to this game, though it is never fair to say that any one or two players can be the winning or losing of a game. Definitely they’re presence will be missed however. Cardiff can still boast a massive talisman in the shape of Leigh Halfpenny and he will be key to their performance on Saturday if success is to be anywhere on the menu. Based on form alone though it has to be said that Cardiff wear their underdog tag well in this game. The best they can hope for is that they manage to bring the forwards into the game more so than the backline, not to say that Leinster are weak up front, but Cardiff almost certainly can’t handle Leinster’s backline. Speaking of which, Leinster need to get one thing in order crucially before Saturday, they need to get their attack back. The last two games from them have seen plenty of the tried and true Leinster style, but the score boards aren’t reflecting as much. By denying Munster even a losing bonus point last week, they proved that they still have the clinical nature that makes them so dangerous. But Saturday’s game, against a Cardiff side who really can throw everything they have at it given that they’ve not got much of a league left, is not going to be won on a kick. Tries will be scored and Leinster need to be sure that Nacewa, Kearney and Fitzgerald particularly are firing on all cylinders if picked and know what must be done. Leinster also have the benefit that their internationals seem to have slotted back in with complete and utter ease, and this Saturday they could only be better than last week. With no loss to their name there so far, Leinster in the Aviva is a solid bet for the hosts. With the crowd, nearing a full house, behind them, Leinster have to have this one in the bag. Leinster win

Possibly the biggest game of the weekend comes Sunday in the form of Munster VS Ulster. As suggested after last weekend’s match, Munster are in need of some form of a spark, much like Leinster, to get themselves back into European form. This will hopefully be coming through the inclusion of David Wallace, Paul O’Connell, Conor Murray and Donncha Ryan in the extended squad. More than any other player, O’Connell’s presence has been missed hugely, his leadership is a make or break factor in Munster rugby. On the other hand Ulster have themselves a similar situation with Ferris named in the extended squad but not yet completely confirmed as fit to play. Should all of these players find themselves ready and able to play, this match will be one for the history books. Both Ulster and Munster have played a concise and organised game this season, though admittedly Munster have been lacking in some areas, notably their backline play. When these two teams are firing on both cylinders they produce some fantastic rugby though. Ulster are in a better position than most teams travelling to Thomond also as they have recorded a win there only a few seasons ago. That was of course their famous 37 – 11 win in 2009 and whilst there’s little chance of that scoreline repeating on Sunday, it is still one of the harshest defeats Munster have ever suffered at home and one that will be on their minds. It is of course a shame that two Irish teams have to meet in a knock out before the semis as both teams arguably deserve to go through, but one thing that will be achieved here should Ulster win is what I alluded to on Monday. The confidence and belief that Ulster are lacking when it comes to consistency can not only be gained by making their first semi since 1999, but doing so against two time champions and national rivals will be all the better for them. Should this be the outcome, hard as it may be for a Munster fan to take, it will be hugely beneficial for Ulster regardless of what they go on to achieve. On the other hand Munster will be remembering last year and how much they would have given just to be in the knock-outs let alone win one (two or three). This will be a high octane match that most likely comes down to a kick for the win, the only question is who will be taking it? Based on attacking prowess it has to be said that Ulster look like the better team here, and with a win against Munster at home only recently under their belts then really all Ulster have against them is the location of the game. Munster won’t give up without a fight that’s for sure, but this may very well be Ulster’s day. Ulster win

In more pathetically early business and bad handling, the ERC have announced the longlist for player of the year, and it included three Irish players in the shape of O’Gara (!), Sexton and Ferris. Whilst at least two of those three can genuinely be accepted on the list (O’Gara in my opinion has not had a good season by his standards, relatively anonymous save for two drop goals), there really is much to be said for how ridiculous it is that with Ireland providing 40% of the final teams and with many players having their best performances ahead of them over the next few weeks, that this list gets put out now. But hey, much like the Six Nations equivalent of the award, it’s an insignificance right?

February 6th 1958: Ireland Loses Its Rising Star, Manchester Loses Its Heroes

They were the heroes of a generation, a team on a rapid rise to the summit of world football, they were the Busby Babes.

Led by the iconic Sir Matt Busby this Manchester United side stood on the brink of history, hoping to become only the third team to win three successive English league titles and becoming the first British side to lift the European Cup.

 But unfortunately this new generation of stars were unable to continue their meteoric rise as tragedy ensued on February 6th 1958. The team was returning from a European Cup match in Serbia against Red Star Belgrade when they had to make a stop in Munich for refueling. After refueling, the pilots, Captains James Thain and Kenneth Rayment, attempted to take off twice but were forced to abandon both attempts. Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt which ultimately led to the tragic events we now remember 54 years later.

By the time of the third attempt takeoff the ground had been covered in slush and snow. The aircraft hit the slush and lost its velocity making take-off impossible. It ploughed through a fence past the end of the runway, before the port wing hit a nearby house and was torn off.

 23 of the people on board British European Airways flight 609 died while 21 survived, thanks to the heroics of the United goalkeeper who returned to the stricken plane after hearing a crying baby who he later pulled from the wreck. Among the fatalities where 8 Manchester United players including Duncan Edwards who had the footballing world at his feet. Edwards died some days later in a Munich hospital having emerged from the crash.

Another one of the fledgling Busby Babes who perished that day was Dublin native Liam “Billy” Whelan. The name of Whelan is not synonymous with other footballing greats of the time period as the 22year old was cut short in his prime.

The Irishman was born into a large catholic family and suffered the grievance of losing his father in 1943 when he was only eight years old. Yet such was his determination to reach the top he continued to plug away at Home Farm until he was noticed by scouts from the famed Manchester club.

He quickly gained recognition for himself banging in goals from his midfield role. His 26 goal salvage in 1956-57 endeared him to the fans of United and earned him praise from United legend Bobby Charlton.

 Whelan amassed 98 appearances for United during his short time as the rising star of Old Trafford, clinically scoring 52 goals thus showing his prowess and capabilities in front of goal. The true extent of his potential will sadly never be known. Yet his standing amongst the eight Busby Babes will forever be revered in the world of English football.

We can only imagine what would have been had it not for that faithful flight before which the unconfident flyer remarked “Well, if this is the time, then I’m ready”. R.I.P Busby Babes February 6th 1958