Category Archives: Sport

Malone settles old grudge against Harlequins.

Harlequins vs. Malone (15.03.14)

Harlequins (Quins) and Malone face each other today in an old grudge match.  With Harlequins winning the coin toss, they kick off.

An aggressive and fast paced series of plays were quickly undone by a steal and a kick from Malone.   The first five minutes built up the tempo with some crashing tackles, on both sides, only to be followed by shoddy ball handling.  It seems that Quins are opting to kick rather than to play in their own half.  However, Malone show confidence in their runners, who seem comfortable under the high ball.  Impressive end to end passing brings rewards for the Quins as they get the first points on the board with a try five minutes in,  but a missed conversion could come back to haunt them.

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The Malone no.15, Peter Henderson, displays an impressive pace, quick on the counter. Play moves into the Quins half.  Not soon after the Quins give away a careless penalty, which narrows the gap to 5 – 3.  Both teams seem to be taking their time to get settled in this match, although weather conditions could not be better.   Another penalty and a disastrous line out for Quins keeps play in their own half.  An impressive interception from Malone, followed swiftly by a poor unnecessary pass leads to a turnover deep in Malone territory.

Scrums are being dominated by the Quins, mainly due to ill-discipline from Malone, and the fast thinking of Quins no.9 Josh Fullerton. Malone defence hold up under a barrage of Quins forwards only to give a penalty away right in front of the posts.

After kicking into Quins territory, Malone opt for a line out and supplement it with a powerful rolling maul which brings them to the try line.  Quins defence could do nothing, converted try to Malone bring the score to 11- 10.

The final twenty minutes of the first half saw a lack of concentration lead to silly mistakes, and yet another penalty at the scrum.  Now it’s the Quins making mistakes right in front of the posts.

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Quins try to rally with a thundering kick into Malone territory in closing ten minutes.  After an unsuccessful clear and an earth shattering double team tackle Malone have somehow got the ball, only to lose it soon after.  A lot of tired bodies and hands on hips as the two teams trudge into the changing rooms for half time.

Impressive line outs from Malone to start with but penalties are just as riff in the second half as the first.  The game has moments of brilliance but they are being undermined by handling errors.   Malone miss another penalty at the break down again, however a strong Malone defence leads to a turnover by Malone no. 11, Jay Malcolm and a line out at the Quins 25 meter line.  Another penalty in front of the posts and the solid kicking from Malone no. 10 James McKinney sends it over.

Quins scrambling a defence as Malone relentlessly push the line.  A metre from the try line and Malone give away a penalty and Quins gain some much needed breathing space.  A final missed penalty for Quins no.10 Mark Kettyle leaves the score board static.  A cheap penalty gave Malone the 25 – 14 lead in the 73rd minute.  The final 5 min consisted of each team trying to get the ball out of their own half, with no real try scoring drive.  Neither team shone in this contest, with the winner being decided through cheap penalties. Final score: Malone 25 Harlequins 14

Frampton pummels the weak Cazares as ticket prices soar ‘Higher and Higher’

Carl Frampton’s fight on Friday 4th April lasted four minutes and twenty two seconds. The clear mismatch, his ‘toughest fight to date’, was a sign of the ever more important role money plays in the world of boxing.  But for Connor Timmins, who was sitting beside me, the £60 ticket was ‘worth every penny’, and I’d agree.

Frampton’s massive appeal within Northern Ireland means he is constantly compared to Barry McGuigan.  It’s fitting, therefore, that he is managed by the ‘Clones Cyclone’, who has been quick to talk up the 27-year-old.  “I think he will be better than me…he’s a future world champion”, McGuigan recently told the Daily Express.  Critics would ask why then, did he put him up against the washed-up Mexican, Hugo Cazares?  The bookies had Frampton at one to fourteen to win the contest; it was never going to be the ‘Thriller in Manila’.

Throughout the early evening, the majority of seats were empty.  Most fans were at the bar drinking flat beer, I must admit I was with them, albeit keeping a close eye on the undercard – the star of which was the Shankill’s Marco McCullough who faced Elemir Rafael from Slovakia.  The last-minute stand-in Rafael was absolutely dreadful.  It was the biggest mismatch since a penguin was thrown into the lion’s den up in Belfast Zoo.  A third round TKO ended Rafael, whose feet were flatter than the Odyssey Arena beer.

The Odyssey Arena filling up before for main event
The Odyssey Arena filling up before for main event

A short time later the main event began.  Cazares came to the ring first, his music drowned out by the booing of the hostile crowd.  He was followed by Frampton, who came out to Jackie Wilson’s ‘Higher and Higher’.  The crowd sang every word of the perfectly fitting song.  The atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

In the end the fight was less than historic.  After a first round of sizing each other up, Frampton came out strong in the second.  There followed a bizarre incident in which Cazares suffered a dead leg and proceeded to prance around the ring like a demented ballerina, trying to shake it off.  With 1.38 left on the clock, Frampton caught the Mexican with a hard left hook that sent him onto the canvas, game over.

Ultimately, the fans didn’t care whether the fight was two, seven or twelve rounds.  They wanted to see a win, and this more than compensated for the over-inflated ticket price.  World-class sportsmen are rare in Northern Ireland, so they are cherished here more than anywhere else. If Barry McGuigan can convince world champion Leo Santa Cruz to give Carl Frampton a title shot in Belfast, no ticket price will be too high.

GIANTS TAKE CONTROL OF FINAL

The Belfast Giants will take a 5-2 lead into the second leg of the Challenge Cup final after a 5-2 win over the Nottingham Panthers on Friday night.

In front of a packed Odyssey Arena home crowd, it was the Giants who stamped their mark on the game in the first period.  Two special team goals were finished off by Craig Peacock at 7:14 and 19.11.

An action-packed second period started much like the first, with the hosts extending their advantage with Jeffrey Swzez on target at 22:43. However, the visitors responded less than a minute later with Robert Farmer scoring at 23:53.

A quick response from the Giants just seconds later saw Colin Shields extend the lead at 24:07. The hosts then made it 5-1 at 28.25 with a goal from Darryl Lloyd.

The final goal of the contest arrived straight from the face off as the Panthers got what looks like a consolation as Jonathan Weaver was on target at 28:31.

The final period ended goalless with neither side able to add to their tally. Tempers flared in the late stages of the game but the gloves remained on. Greg Jacina of the Panthers however received a 2 plus 10 penalty at 59:06 for checking to the head as frustration set in for the visitors.

Nottingham, who have won the Challenge Cup for the past four seasons will have it all to do in the return leg after an unconvincing display against the Elite League Champions.

The Giants, meanwhile can firmly start believing of a clean sweep of trophies this season. Having already clinched the league title by some margin, they now aim to complete a Challenge Cup triumph before embarking on an end-of-season play-off challenge.

Giants fans can dare to dream of adding to what has been a sensational season for their side. Young fan, Andy McNally said, “It was a brilliant game. A fantastic display both attacking and defensively”. He added, “They have set themselves up well to go on and win the trophy with a three-goal advantage.”

The second leg takes place in Nottingham on Tuesday 25th March, with face-off at 7.30pm.

 

The Grand National – 5th April 2014

The Grand National is a race that has not been without controversy with many expressing fears and anger about the danger to the horses and riders.

I, too, am fearful but our £1 each way bets have been placed – one each for the four of us – myself, husband and two daughters.

Youngest daughter is now 21 but still picking her horse by the jockey’s colours – pink and purple.

Balthazar King’s jockey was pictured in pink and purple so youngest daughter has him. She has won a few times with her pink and purple colours.

Husband has Burton Port as it reminded him of a place in Donegal.

I have Big Shu as I had just bought big shoes for some foot comfort.

Oldest daughter has Moonbeg Dude picked at random with a pen.

We were full of excitement as they set off but, no, it was a false start.

Battle Group then refused to start. I find myself yelling at the TV: “Leave him alone, don’t make him go, remember what happened in 2012 when a horse was forced to run”.

That horse was Cheltenham Cup Winner ‘Synchronised’.

Synchronised fell, suffered a fractured leg and had to be put down. I remembered feeling that the horse sensed danger.

“Please leave him alone”, I begged to the TV. Battle Group won his own battle and refused to run.

Every year I would say never again, it should be banned. Yet, here I was, back on the edge of my seat with my betting slip gripped tightly in my hand as I listened for our horse’s names.

Then it came – Burton Port unseated at the second fence.

Big Shu has fallen at the third fence.

Moonbeg Dude and Balthazar King were still in the running. Excitement followed our disappointment.

Up close on the screen Balthazar’s King’s jockey was wearing red and blue. Cheering loudly and shouting encouragement at the TV screen you would have thought the horses could hear us.

Pineau De Re won with our local man Tony McCoy coming home third on Double Seven. Moonbeg Dude came seventh and Balthazar King second so youngest daughter won once again.

Thankfully there were no tragedies.

The RSPCA were involved in overseeing the race to ensure new safety measures were in place.

The Grand National is for everyone. There were sweets in bowls in the bookies. There were families in the bookies. Any horse could win. Pick a colour or put a random dot against a horse’s name. You may get lucky.

Despite the concerns, no doubt I will be back again on the edge of my seat next year.

Crabbies’s 2014 Grand National can be viewed again here.

 

 

Proud Pollock continues winning streak at Titanic 10K

Competitors at the Titanic 10K Road Race
Competitors at the Titanic 10K Road Race

Paul Pollock dominated the road as the 8th Titanic Quarter 10K race got under way in Belfast on Sunday.

Tipped to be the favourite, Annadale Strider Pollock was on form and did not disappoint as he joined over 1, 500 competitors in the event, sponsored by Athletics NI.

Pollock started strong and easily accelerated around the three kilometre mark.  He set an impressive tone for the event, keeping a good pace and comfortably retaining his lead as the race went on.  Increasing winds did not dampen his spirit, he ran on his own and with unrelenting determination as he approached the half way mark.

He took the men’s title with a time of 30 minutes and 40 seconds, finishing with an impressive 80 second advantage.

Scott Rankin and St Malachy’s Joe McAllister battled for second place, at the five kilometre mark the two men were running together, with Pollock forty five seconds ahead.

2012 winner Joe McAllister chased hard and strode ahead, widening the gap between himself and Rankin in the last half of the race.  McAllister didn’t let Rankin close in on him and kept a substantial gap to ensure he clinched second place with a time of 32 minutes and Foyle Valley AC’s Scott Rankin finished in third place with a time of 32 minutes and 30 seconds.

Lifford AC’s Ann- Marie McGlynn finished on top for the women with a time of 35 minutes and 18 seconds, she stayed focused running along side some of the strongest male competitors in the race.  McGlynn’s lead over the other female runners was substantial, with a 66 second advantage over fellow team mate and second place female competitor, Natasha Adams. Despite extremely challenging winds, Adams finished with a time of 36 minutes and 24 seconds and both McGlynn and Adams were unchallenged in the women’s race with the next competitor, Gerrie Short of Beechmount, coming in at 39 minutes and 53 seconds.

27-year-old Pollock’s win at the Titanic 10K marked his third success in eight days after setting a Northern Ireland record and smashing his personal best at the World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, as well as winning at the Queens Sport 5K around the River Lagan.

The Titanic 10K is the official warm up race for the Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon, which takes place on the 7th May 2014.

Ulster dreams crushed by Saracens

Ulster 15 Saracens 17

Ravenhill came alive for Ulster’s Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Saracens.

Ulster clearly fed off the crowd’s energy and started the match with a high intensity approach.  Unfortunately, they paid for their aggression after just 5 minutes when Jared Payne saw red for a collision with Saracen’s full-back Alex Goode. While the offence itself was probably worthy of just a yellow, it seems the extent of Goode’s injury, who had to be stretchered off, forced the referee’s hand.

Ulster’s misery was compounded when Rory Best hobbled off with what appeared to be an ankle problem. Ruan Pienaar was also clearly struggling with his shoulder injury that had saw him sidelined for the last few weeks, but the South African managed to put Ulster in the lead with a well-taken penalty on the 15th minute.

Payne’s sending off forced Chris Henry into outhalf for Ulster, and it was the space he would have been occupying that saw Chris Ashton burst through to score Saracens’ first try. The Englishman’s trademark swan dive was met with contempt courtesy of the silenced Ulster crowd.

Ulster recovered magnificently for the rest of the half, putting on a very impressive display despite being a man down. Pienaar converted two penalties to put the hosts in the lead for the start of the second half. Saracens’ passed up many chances to utilise their man advantage down the flanks and were visibly frustrated.

Ulster opted to play the kicking game in the second half, but their plans were undone when a stray corner attempt saw Saracens’ work the ball back up the field for Mouritz Botha to stroll over the line. Owen Farrell, who had been on the receiving end of a rough reception from the Ulster faithful, missed his third kick of the night.

Saracens’ attacked the Ulster backline again and only for a textbook bit of play to hold up Schalk Brits on the line, would have extended their lead further. Unfortunately, it could not be repeated as Ashton again burst through the open space thanks to the man advantage to score their third try of the night.  Farrell landed the conversion.

The game got messy as Ulster went for it and Paddy Jackson, who had replaced Ruan Pienaar, scored two penalties to put Ulster within reach. Unfortunately, one last drive saw Saracens steal the ball at a lineout to keep Ulster at bay.

Northern Ireland gears up to host Giro d’Italia in 2014

PIC278680540One of the world’s greatest cycling events is coming to Ireland in 2014. The Giro d’Italia’s “Grande Partenza”, the big start, will be held over three stages on both sides of the border from 10-12 May.

Two stages will be held in Belfast on days one and two of the race, before moving on to Armagh, and then finishing in Dublin on day three.

The race is one of the sports three Grand Tour events, the other two being the Vuelta a Espana and the Tour de France.

The start of the Giro is traditionally hosted in Italy but recently an outside country has hosted the event every two years, most recently in Denmark.  Such is the prestige and draw of the race to cyclists that Sir Bradley Wiggins has said that he will focus on the Giro this year, rather than defending his Tour de France title.

News of the Giro coming to Ireland coincides with the announcement in December that the opening three stages of the Tour de France will also be held in the British Isles in 2014.  The picturesque county of Yorkshire will host two of the stages with the third finishing at the Mall in London.

Michele Acquarone, head of the Giro said, “Belfast will provide spectacular backdrops for the 2014 Grand Partenza and will add something very special into the history of this great cycling event.”

The event is expected to attract 140,000 visitors to Northern Ireland as well as over £10 million in international media coverage.  More than 200 of the top professional cyclists from around the world will descend upon Northern Ireland, with a supporting programme of events and activities also being planned.

Tourism minister Arelene Foster said the event will showcase Northern Ireland, “On a local, national and international stage and raise the profile and change perceptions of Northern Ireland both in terms of a great venue for cycling as well as a great place to vist, work, study and invest in.”

Mrs Foster said the Giro d’Italia will mark yet another event which Northern Ireland can add to its list of having hosted in recent times.

She said, “2012 was a significant year for tourism which has already put Northern Ireland on the map for all the right reasons.  Including the sell out Irish Open, and the completion of iconic visitor attractions at the Causeway Coast and Titanic Belfast.

“The 2013 events programme is another big step forward for tourism as Londonderry takes up its title as the UK City of Culture.  World leaders descend upon Fermanagh in June for the G8 summit, and thousands participate in the World Police and Fire Games in Belfast this August.”

The Irish connection with the 104-year-old Giro, which was first organised in 1909 to promote the newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, is strong.  In 1987 Dublin born Stephen Roche made history by being the first Irishman to win the famous ‘Maglia Rosa’, the winners’ Pink Jersey.

Roche spoke of his fond memories of the Giro 26 years on from his triumph.

“When you see all the people on the roadsides of Italy, the enthusiasm of poor and rich, they all come together for this event”, he said.

“It is an incredible spectacle for anybody who loves cycling and for those who are non-cyclists but curious.”

Belfast Lord Mayor Alderman Gavin Robinson spoke of his excitement at Northern Ireland hosting the race.  He said, “I have no doubt the unforgettable excitement and unprecedented hype that surrounded the MTV awards will at least be matched when one of the world’s most iconic and famous sporting events begins in Belfast.”

He added, “The arrival of the world’s greatest cyclists will further enhance our burgeoning reputation as a happening city, but more importantly it will also provide us with significant economic returns.”

The threat of dissident republican terrorism is ever present in daily life in Northern Ireland.  Minister Foster believes that although this threat exists, the security services are more than capable of handling the threat at the Giro d’Italia in 2014.

She said, “Northern Ireland organisations have significant experience in running large scale events, not least over the last year.  We have widespread experience in helping to deliver safe and successful events.”

If the race is a success it will cement Northern Ireland’s status as a country capable of hosting world class sporting spectacles.

 

 

 

Sports NI come under fire over allocation of sports funding

 By Damien Edgar

A prominent MLA has claimed that he was “appalled” to find that GAA clubs across Northern Ireland have received more than double the exchequer funding allocated than their footballing counterparts over the past five years.

According to the answer TUV leader Jim Allister received from a question to the Assembly , GAA clubs have received £18 million over the past five years, while soccer clubs associated with the IFA have received £8.5 million in the same period. The starkest contrast is struck with the funding that rugby clubs have received in that period, a mere £708,187 leaving them far behind their Gaelic and soccer counterparts. Allister went on to point out that even with Lottery funding taken into account, the gap was still remarkable.

As recently as March of this year, GAA, soccer and rugby clubs were given a huge financial boost when then Stormont Sports Minister, Nelson McCausland, announced they would receive a post-budget injection of cash. Again, the GAA and the IFA was the main benefactor, with the GAA receiving more than £60 million to redevelop Casement Park in West Belfast as the provincial headquarters of Gaelic Games in Northern Ireland.

The IFA were also granted about £61 million, with £25 million earmarked for the redevelopment of Windsor Park and the other £36 million going towards developing other stadia. IFA Chief Executive Patrick Nelson, claimed that the money set aside for the development of local football was a great day for football. “We have been working with the minister and the sports department to look at making Windsor Park fit for purpose. Football is the most popular sport and this money will make the difference at club level as well”.

Rugby clubs received a fraction of the money allocated to the latter, just £15 million for building new and upgrading existing stands at the Ravenhill ground.

The current wealth of funding afforded to the “big three” sports in Northern Ireland raises valid questions over whether smaller sports can survive or come into creation in an environment where funding seems to be primarily channelled into sports that are established and already make more money than the smaller sports around them.

Under the current system, sporting organisations apply to Sports NI for grants and funding, with their applications being considered on the current level of facilities available within their area. GAA clubs can also apply to the Ulster GAA Council for funding.

Jim Wells, MLA, made headlines recently when he proposed that GAA clubs should be pushed out of bag-packing activities at local supermarkets, claiming they deprived “genuine charities” of the chance to raise money and that the GAA was an “organisation rolling in money”.

The criticism voiced by both Jim Allister and Jim Wells demonstrates that the more hard line Unionist parties in Northern Ireland still harbour some resentment towards the GAA, having previously cited the organisation’s willingness to name grounds after IRA members as non-inclusive.

However, when asked about the current level of funding for the GAA, Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff defended it and said Sport NI should be allocating more.

“The GAA is truly the “Big Society” in action. I believe that Government does not give sufficient funding to the GAA, an organisation which is the most community rooted sporting and cultural body of its kind in Europe.

“I believe that the GAA has recently lost out because of the withdrawal ofthe ‘Places for Sport’ programme. This capital funding programme fitted really well with the GAA because in nearly all circumstances the GAA owns its own property or has a long term lease on it and is ready to go in terms of community fundraising, planning permission etc. The pulling of this programme has left things very difficult for GAA Clubs and County Boards in the north which have plans for flood lighting, second training pitches etc.

“These facilities are necessary because of the expansion of the GAA and the large numbers of participants.

“Rural Ireland, in particular, would be a social wasteland if it wasn’t for the existence of the local GAA club. Any funding which the GAA receives from Government is more than well earned. The GAA is a godsend for government and communities are far more cohesive as a consequence of the GAA.”

Adrian O’Kane, chairman of Drumragh Sarsfields G.A.C. agreed with Barry McElduff’s assessment.

“The GAA is a wonderful example of a community organisation. It gives young people the opportunity to meet peers with the same interests and it teaches them valuable lessons about teamwork and the value of working together”.

Drumragh Sarsfields was the beneficiary of a £1 million development loan from Sports NI, that allowed the club to create a state of the art facility as well as two new pitches at Clanabogan, just otuside Omagh. However, O’Kane was quick to point out that this was all subject to certain conditions.

“The loan was granted on the basis that we meet certain targets every year. We have to make sure that we increase membership every year by a certain percentage and that we are completely inclusive for the community as just two examples and to those ends we have made great progress”.

On the other side of town, the manager of Omagh Hospitals F.C., Brendan Morrisson, has experienced different fortunes.

“For whatever reason, we haven’t been able to get the same sort of funding that the GAA enjoys. However, it must be said that the local GAA clubs have done a great job of engaging the community, along with fundraising activities”.

The soccer side do not own their own pitches, nor do they have facilities in which their own players or visiting teams can change.

“Currently we use the council pitches, but if we were ever to push into the top division, we would be required to meet certain standards, to have our own pitch and stands etc. It’s just frustrating that there is such a disparity between the funding figures at the minute”.

With an opening allocation of £14.5 million and a proposed allocation of £13.2 million for Sport within the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the focus will now be very much on how the Department chooses to allocate the allotments for the three main sports in Northern Ireland.

 Both the IFA and the IRFU will be watching with interest to see whether the trend set by the past five years continues or whether a change in focus is revealed.