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# sport - Tuesday 10 August, 2010

USA coach Bob Bradley has been hotly tipped to take the reins at Aston Villa in the wake of the surprise departure of Martin O’Neill from the club yesterday afternoon.

The 52-year-old, who coached the Americans in the World Cup and led them to the top of their group which included England, yesterday said he would like to coach in Europe – directly in response to a question on the Villa job.

“I have said over and over as well that I am always excited about new and different challenges,” said Bradley.

Bradley was linked to the vacancy at Fulham before Mark Hughes was appointed to that job, and confirmed that his representatives had spoken to the club on his behalf while the job was still up for grabs.

He has since been installed as the bookies’ favourite to take the job, ahead of Sven-Goran Eriksson and Alan Curbishley. Bradley has, however, also been linked to the Honduras national side, and to a number of MLS vacancies.

Bradley said he was putting any thought of the Villa job out of his mind for the moment, however, with his US side taking on Brazil in a friendly tonight. He will discuss his future role with the national side with US Soccer after the match.

“From the end of the World Cup, I have said the same thing: There would be a period when both sides would assess. I think that’s normal,” Bradley said.

“I had a few discussions with US Soccer. This fixture date comes at a tricky time and so we agreed it was most important to get on and prepare for this date and then we would have some discussions following this game. That’s where it stands.”

It is still unknown as to why O’Neill vacated the job having shepherded the club through its entire pre-season schedule, though it is understood the Irishman had fallen out with the club’s owner, Randy Lerner, over the proposed sale of midfielder James Milner.

# sport - Monday 9 August, 2010

IN WHAT WILL be seen as a major shock, Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill has quit the club with immediate effect.

The departure of the Derry native, who took charge of the club four years ago, was confirmed by the club this afternoon in an official statement.

O’Neill said:

I have enjoyed my time at Aston Villa immensely. It’s obviously a wrench to be leaving such a magnificent club.

I would like to pay tribute to the Villa players, my coaching staff and the Villa supporters for all the support and encouragement they have given both the club and me personally during my time as manager. I wish them all the best for the future.

I will obviously be assisting the club in the immediate short-term with regard to the handover of my duties.

The club’s chief executive, Paul Faulkner, thanked O’Neill for the “great work he has done” at the club and wished him the best for the future.

Kevin MacDonald has been named as caretaker manager ahead of the Villans’ season opener against West Ham this weekend.

O’Neill’s previous appointment before his reign at Villa Park was as manager of Celtic, where he won three SPL titles, three Scottish Cups and one League Cup in his five-year reign. He also brought the club to the final of the 2003 UEFA Cup.

WITH THE GAA season about to hit its climax and the English football season about to take pride of place on the back pages, it’s a good time of the year to have a look at the various sporting apps on offer.

Top of the list has to be Total Football (79c), an astonishing Irish-made app goes a step further and is an absolute must for any stat-obsessive fan.

This app, taking stats supplied by Opta Sports, tracks every single pass made in a game and can compare any two players’ performances in pretty much any two games you can think of. It even produces cloud-map style visualisations showing where individual players from any single team have been most effective on the pitch.

  • Livescore (free): From the makers of the popular LiveScore.com updates service. Updated every minute (or even more quickly – you can change the settings accordingly), the app carries the latest scores from every conceivable league – including the Airtricity League – to keep fans updated on the move. Clicking into any individual league, you can even watch live updates of the league tables based on the results as they stand – a feature that could come in very handy towards the business end of the season.
  • Hill16.ie (free) – For those more inclined to follow the fate of our own domestic brand of football, especially given Dublin’s continued involvement at the semi-final stage, comes this free app from Dublin’s sponsors Vodafone. Essentially an App edition of the Dublin County Board‘s website – traditionally one of the best among the counties – the app carries fixtures, news and results not just for the senior county team, but for club games too.
  • Fantasy Football Manager (€1.59) – Players of the official Fantasy Premier League game, of which there are likely to be three million this year, might find this app handy for keeping track of their squad on the go. This nifty and elegant app works with the official game, allowing you to manage teams, substitutions, captaincy, mini-leagues and all the rest on the go. It even manages multiple accounts.
  • Betfair (free) – Finally, for those more inclined to have a financial interest in sporting goings-on, comes the long-awaited official app from the Betfair betting exchange website. The app allows you to view live prices from any and all markets available on the site – from typical sports like soccer and horse racing down to fishing (seriously. fishing.) and even lets you withdraw your winnings – fingers crossed – on the go.

Appy Monday is TheJournal.ie’s weekly round-up of the latest and greatest in iPhone apps.

All links in this post open the appropriate app’s page on the iTunes Preview website.

MANCHESTER UNITED manager Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday refused to dismiss rumours of a bid for German midfielder Mesut Özil – fuelling rumours that the club may be about to swoop for the 21-year-old.

Taking questions after yesterday’s 3-1 win over last year’s Double winners Chelsea in the Community Shield, Ferguson said he was happy with the current squad, and “did not need to add to it” – but was unusually coy on questions about the Werder Bremen midfielder.

Ferguson, unusually, had shown up at Craven Cottage on Saturday to watch Özil’s side play Fulham in a pre-season game, and while not giving any clear sign of intent to bid for the player, evaded four questions on the subject.

He said:

  • that he was happy with the squad
  • that United play Fulham in two weeks and that it wasn’t unusual to study the opposition
  • that “a lot of clubs are interested in Özil. I have a great squad. I don’t need to add to it. But a lot of clubs would be interested in him”
  • that he ‘didn’t know’ if United were one of the teams scouting him.

Özil could be available for the comparatively small price of £13.5m – and would be seen as a definite target for United if Ferguson can convince the club’s directors to give him that much money.

United’s finances have come under intense review in the last year, with season ticket subscriptions decimated from last year’s amount and with the club apparently unable to spend the £80m made from selling Cristiano Ronaldo, with the money going straight into debt refinancing.

Indeed, with Chelsea also being linked to the midfielder, Ferguson may simply have been keen not to draw too much attention to a bid, fearing that the champions could simply outbid United if it came to a bidding war.

The midfielder – a German national with Turkish parents – went from a near-unknown to a world-beater at the World Cup, where he became the lynchpin of the German midfield.

# sport - Friday 6 August, 2010

GOOD NEWS for Arsenal fans. Club captain Cesc Fabregas has confirmed he will be staying at the club for this season, spurning the advances of Barcelona who had made a last-ditch 0ffer of €42m to lure the Catalan midfielder back to his first club.

# sport - Thursday 5 August, 2010

WITH LESS THAN FOUR weeks to go until the closure of the transfer window – keeping those poor millionaire footballers tied to their current employers for a savage four whole months – it can be difficult to keep up with all the wheeling and dealing.

That’s why we’ve done you a favour by grabbing all the rumours, conjecture, and downright lies circulating the interwebs to bring you a concise, hit-by-hit list of what’s going on in the transfer world.

We’re nice, aren’t we?

  • Manchester City’s international exile Stephen Ireland is linked with a move to Aston Villa; Martin O’Neill is said to be a big fan of the Corkman and is prepared to swap James Milner to take command of him.
    There’s just one problem though – the serial granny-worrier isn’t prepared to take a pay cut, being on over £3m a year, and Villa aren’t necessarily all that keen on forking out quite so much.
  • One of the reasons Ireland is being shunted away from Eastlands is because City are trying to free up cash for the transfer of Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli. Similarly, though, pay is an issue for Balotelli too.
    City have no problem handing over the £25m to sign him, but the Italian wants £180,000 – that’s €215,000, almost as much as Brian Cowen gets in a year – per week, and won’t budge on his demands. City, unsurprisingly, aren’t keen.
  • Spartak Moscow fans, meanwhile, are angry at how much their club are willing to pay for Ireland international Aiden McGeady, who’s in town to agree a transfer from Celtic.
    It’s believed Spartak would destroy their wage structure, prepared to offer him almost €50,000 a week, and fans aren’t sure he’s worth the club’s money. Predictably, they’ve apparently named him… McGreedski.
  • Tottenham are said to be in a bidding war with Newcastle for Sporting Lisbon forward Yannick Djalo – guess who’s going to win there. Interestingly, though, that’d be another person competing against Robbie Keane for a starting berth.
  • Fresh from scoring seven at the Aviva last night, Manchester United are willing to hand over Anderson in exchange for Lassana Diarra from Real Madrid, who – like most of their current roster – is surplus to requirements. Young Senegalese man Mame Biram Diouf is on his way out of Old Trafford after just one year – though only temporarily, apparently being loaned to Blackburn.
  • Champions Chelsea, meanwhile, are about to finalise the purchase of Brazilian midfielder Ramires pending his medical which could be held as quickly as this evening.

CHINA INVESTMENT CORPORATION (CIC) – the Chinese government’s foreign investment fund – is widely reported this morning as being behind the bid of Hong Kong investor Kenny Huang to buy Liverpool football club.

The Guardian reports that CIC has sold $558m of its shares in banking giant Morgan Stanley in the last two weeks – raising exactly the amount needed to cover Liverpool’s debt of £351.4m (€424m), and exactly the amount at which the club is valued by Huang’s consortium.

The fact that the government has been moving to liquidate its assets means that it is almost certain to make a move to take over the Anfield club.

It is also suggested that with the Chinese government funding the takeover and clearing the club’s debt, that Huang would be able to offer club boss Roy Hodgson a transfer kitty of about £150m (€181m).

CIC would be expected to take a back-seat role in the club’s affairs, with its website stating:

CIC usually does not seek an active role in the companies in which it invests nor attempts to influence those companies’ operations.

CIC seeks long-term, stable, sustainable, and risk-adjusted return.

The move comes as a bid led by former Saudi international Yahya Kirdi is widely suggested to be an artificially-created bid intended to inflate the asking price of the club in the absence of any other significant bidders.

Kirdi is known to be a close friend of the son of George Gillett, one of Liverpool’s current co-owners along with fellow American Tom Hicks.

The proposed involvement of the Chinese government in the club’s ownership, however, raises the awkward proposition of having the Premier League scrutinising the government as part of its Owners and Directors Test.

# sport - Wednesday 4 August, 2010

ON HIS HOLIDAYS in Galway recently, Spectator columnist and native of Scotland Alex Massie was less than bowled over to encounter a sign instructing all visitors to Galway cricket club that the only acceptable language was the native tongue.

The new rules applies “even to non-national members”, a sign affixed to the walls of the club states.

Massie points out that this perturbing policy may have something to do with the fact that the club was recently the beneficiary of a significant grant from the Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, adding perhaps not unreasonably:

If ACG had sufficient largesse to be supporting cricket clubs in the west of Ireland it just might be that there were other, more significant, areas of government spending – and indeed an entire political and economic culture – that were out of control.

In return for this money from the ministry, the deal was that Irish would be promoted as the language of cricket. As Massie puts it in his Speccie column: “This, no matter what language you put it in, seems a sticky wicket.”

He points out that there are some practical issues that may have been overlooked when it was decided to introduce the policy (not least the fact that only half the Irish national team are actually, er, Irish):

Needless to say, in two visits to Galway’s pleasant ground I’ve yet to hear a single word of Irish spoken … there’s a limit to how much the business of the club can be conducted “through the medium of Irish”.  What, in the name of the lord, is the Irish for “googly”? Keen eyes will also notice that the club’s Irish language policy is written in English.

That might have something to do with a further practical issue that Massie himself seems to have overlooked.

The policy had to be written in English:  how else to ensure that all  the county’s elected representatives would be able to read it?

FORMER IRELAND and Scarlets flanker Simon Easterby is set to take over as defence coach for the team after being forced to retire in December. Easterby failed to recover from a career-devastating knee injury. He remains Ireland’s most capped flanker, having made 65 appearances for his country.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND midfielder Aiden McGeady is in Moscow with a view to finalising the terms of a potential £9m (€10.8m) switch from Celtic to Spartak Moscow. Celtic boss Neil Lennon is keen to finalise the sale so he can finalise his own summer transfer plans.

AFTER YESTERDAY’S NEWS that Hong Kong businessman Kenny Huang had lodged a formal bid for Liverpool, a consortium of Arab and Canadian investors – including former Syrian international Yahya Kirdi – are reported to be putting together a renewed offer to buy the club.

# sport - Tuesday 3 August, 2010

PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPIONS Chelsea are on the verge of securing the signature of Brazilian World Cup midfielder Ramires from Benfica for a fee of about £17m (€20.5m).

The 23-year-old is understood to be scheduled for a medical at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, and to be signed up for a four-year deal.

The BBC reports that the transfer is somewhat complicated, however, by the fact that his current club Benfica only own 50% of the player, with a British consortium owning the other 50% in a deal similar to those of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano.

The owners are believed to include controversial businessman Kia Joorabchian – who was involved in the Tevez-Mascherano saga.

“Ramires staying doesn’t depend solely on us,” The Sun quotes Benfica president Luis Filipe Vieira as saying.

“There is a partnership and we must respect that. If there is a good proposal, we will do everything we can to make it work for us.”

Ramires was left out of the club’s 4-1 pre-season win over Aston Villa on Sunday as negotiations conintued.

The tough-tackling midfielder won praise from national coach Dunga after impressive appearances as a substitute in Brazil’s World Cup group games.

Ramirez joins a Chelsea squad that already includes Michael Essien, Frank Lamoard, Yossi Benayoun, John Obi Mikel, Florent Malouda, Nemanja Matic and Scott Sinclair vying for midfield berths.

Ramires would become the 29th member of the squad, with coach Carlo Ancelotti required to register a maximum of 25 players for Premier League competition before the end of the month.

CHINESE BUSINESSMAN KENNY HUANG has lodged a formal takeover bid to buy Liverpool FC from its American owners, according to reports this morning.

Huang, who is the chief executive of a Hong Kong investment company QSL Sports Ltd, has submitted a bid valuing the club at £325m (€392m).

The Cantonese tycoon was linked with a bid for the club in the summer of 2008, but is understood to have baulked at the then-asking price of £650m (€784.4m).

But with the club seeing its debt balloon significantly under the tenure of current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett – with its largest creditor, the Royal Bank of Scotland, owed £237m (€286m) – Huang now believes the club to be value for money.

A secure long-term future is thought to be vital if the club is to hold on to stars like Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, who could be sold before the August 31 transfer deadline if they are not satisfied with the boardroom setup.

Hicks and Gillett bought the club in February 2007 for a total of £218.9m (€264m), which included debt of just £44.8m (€54m). The two have had a strained relationship in recent years, however, and have sought to sell the club for much of their time as owners.

The Americans are believed to value the club at $800m (€608m) but are so desperate to sell that they may be prepared to shoulder a loss if it helps end their nightmare joint ownership.

The club’s chairman, Martin Broughton, has said that there are “several” offers on the table for the club, however.

One Syrian businessman, Yahya Kirdi, told newspapers he was interested in buying, but is known to be close to Gillett’s son and may have been asked to bid simply to raise the asking price.

Other investors linked with the club include Dubai International Capital, the Rhone Group and the wealthy Al-Kharafi family from Kuwait.

# sport - Monday 2 August, 2010

WAYNE ROONEY will be among the Manchester United first 11 lining out at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday.

United will take on a selection of top Irish talent from the Airtricity League on Wednesday and Rooney’s appearance will be his first since a dismal world cup performance. Four other senior players, who haven’t played for United since the world cup will also make an appearance. The five have missed United’s tour of North America and the subsequent friendly in Mexico.

Speaking on Sunday United boss Alex Ferguson said: “Rooney, Park, Carrick and Vidic are back in training and are doing well.

“Valencia is also training well and needs a game. All of them will be involved and Chicharito (Hernandez) will be part of the squad.”

Ferguson also said that the sides two Republic of Ireland internationals – Darron Gibson and John O’Shea – will play. “Yes, they deserve to, and O’Shea will probably be captain.”
United will be the first international soccer team to play in the stadium which hosted a rugby clash at the weekend but what does Sir Alex think? “it looks fantastic, it is spectacular”

# sport - Sunday 1 August, 2010

KILDARE HAVE BEATEN MEATH by 2-17 to 1-12 in the last of the All-Ireland football quarter-finals, after a gripping but gruelling contest. Kildare face Down in the second semi-final on August 29th – and complete a clean sweep of defeats for the four provincial champions.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON has finished second at the  3 Irish Open in Killarney, ending two shots behind the winner, England’s Ross Fisher. Fisher shot a final day 65 to finish on -18 for the week, two ahead of Harrington who went one better on the day. Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey came seventh on -11, while Darren Clarke tied for 12th on -8.

CORK HAVE SET UP a date with a resurgent Dublin in the All-Ireland football semi-final on August 22nd, overcoming a dogged Roscommon – who led early in the second half – by 1-16 to 0-10. Cork’s defeat means all three provincial champions so far have been beaten – will Kildare complete the coup by beating Meath?

DERVAL O’ROURKE is the toast of Ireland today after winning her second European silver medal at the 100m hurdles in Barcelona last night.

Cork native O’Rourke came second to Turkey’s Nevin Yanıt by just 0.02 seconds – a significant reduction on the 0.13 seconds she lost out by in Gothenburg four years ago in the same event.

But what comes next for O’Rourke? Well, there’s a few options.

The UCD graduate’s obvious next focus will be on the World Athletics Championships in Daegu, South Korea, in August and September 2011.

The biennial tournament is usually a good indicator of form going into the Olympic games, and those earning gold medals in such tournaments are generally considered the favourites for Olympic success.

What might be a more useful concern, however, are the 2012 World Indoor Championships, a setting in which Derval – like other Irish athletes, such as David Gillick and Alistair Cragg – has flourished in recent years.

O’Rourke’s only major gold medal so far was won at the 60m hurdles indoors in Moscow in 2006, though she missed the equivalent events in 2008 and 2010 with persistent injuries, and coming just four months before the London games begin, the indoors could be a great chance to build momentum.

Also on the radar will be a hopeful invitation to the IAAF’s Diamond League, the premier worldwide grand prix circuit where O’Rourke would rub shoulder’s with the sport’s finest on a regular basis over the course of 2011.

Of course, the obvious long-term target is the London Olympics in 2012. With O’Rourke being 31 when the London games roll around, 2012 represents her best – and probably last – chance to perform on the biggest stage of all.

The games are just 726 days away.

# sport - Saturday 31 July, 2010

TYRONE have followed Kerry out of the All-Ireland football championship, falling 1-15 to 0-13 to a dogged Dublin side. Eoghan O’Gara’s goal five minutes from time, when the sides were level, helped push the Dubs over the line as an off-form Tyrone shot 13 wides.

THE AVIVA STADIUM has seen ten tries on its opening day of rugby, with the combined Leinster-Ulster team thrashing the combined Connacht-Munster side by 68 points to nil. Dungannon’s Craig Gilroy got the honour of scoring the first try in front of 35,115. Reaction on Twitter to the new stadium was almost universally positive.

WE DID, in fact, tell you so. Down have scored the shock of the All-Ireland Football Championship so far, beating fourteen-man Kerry by 1-16 to 1-10. The reigning champions’ misery was compounded by the sending off of Donnacha Walsh in the second half, but Down were awesome and face Meath or Kildare in their semi-final on August 29.

IRISH GOLFERS are staying in touch at the 3 Irish Open in Killarney – though they’re all some way behind the leader, England’s Ross Fisher.

Fisher shot an astonishing ten-under 61 yesterday to rocket to the top of the leaderboard, and is -3 after five of his third round, at the top on -15. He’s followed by compatriot Chris Wood, who is a full five strokes behind.

Darren Clarke heads up the Irish challenge a further shot back, with a -3 after 10, while Padraig Harrington is another shot back, at one under for the day (after 6 holes).

Rory McIlroy is on -7, on par for the day – though the Northerner had birdied his opening two holes to join Molinari in second, before dropping two shots at the 6th and another at the 8th with a birdie in between to drop back to a tie for eighth.

Also on the same score are Irish duo Padraig Harrington (par for the day after 4), Paul McGinley (-1 after 9), and Michael Hoey (par after 7).

Last year’s winner Shane Lowry is in a tie for 21st on -4, being one under for the day after 13.

Graeme McDowell has had the best day of the Irish so far, making three birdies and not dropping a shot to shoot a three-under 68 and put himself on -3 for the tournament in a tie for 25th, alongside Damien McGrane who shot a two-over 73

# sport - Friday 30 July, 2010

FIFA’S RULING ALLOWING players born in Northern Ireland to play for the Republic, has been upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The court dismissed an appeal by the Northern Ireland soccer federation to FIFA’s rule.

The Northern Irish body claimed that Daniel Kearns was the latest player poached by the Republic of Ireland. Kearns, who has dual citizenship, switched his allegiance to the national side of the Republic after playing for Northern Ireland at youth level.

Man United player Darron Gibson, Porsmouth’s Marc Wilson and Everton’s Shane Duffy have all switched over to the Republic’s team.

The North’s Irish Football Association said it was disappointed by the Swiss court’s ruling, but wished Kearns the “best of luck in his future footballing career.”

The FIFA ruling means that players born in either the North or the Republic can play for the other team, even if they do not have a parent or grandparent from there. Players can only change their nationality before playing a senior competitive game.

A VERY DISAPPOINTED David Gillick missed out on a medal in the men’s 400m final, finishing fifth. Belgian Kevin Borlée beat his twin brother to take gold, ahead of Britain’s Michael Bingham and Martyn Rooney. They took silver and bronze respectively.

IRELAND’S DERVAL O’ROURKE has won her opening round heat for the women’s 100 metre hurdles at the European Championships, and appeared to finish with ease. Her time of 12.88 seconds is an Irish season best.

O’Rourke will race in tomorrow’s semi-final at 7.05pm.

Paul Hession finished sixth in the men’s 200 metre final, with France’s Christophe Lemaitre taking the gold in a very close finish against Christian Malcolm of Britain.

Niamh Whelan qualified for this evening’s 200 metre semi-finals as a fastest loser, but didn’t manage a spot in the final.

Robert Heffernan finished fourth in the 50km walk, having finished in fourth in Tuesday’s 20km race, too. He set a new national record in the process, with his time of 3:45:30 for the 50km.

Deirdre Ryan recorded a personal best today, too, when she reached 1.87 metres in the high jump qualifier. She missed out on the final, though, as she didn’t meet the 1.92 metre target height.

Two more Irish athletes will be competing this evening in Barcelona. Fionnuala Britton races in the 3,000 metre Steeplechase and David Gillick will run the 400 metre final.

WITH THE SMALL BALL taking a rest this long weekend as the four surviving sides prepare for their semi-finals, it’s all about gaelic football this weekend as Croke Park hosts two quarter-final double-headers.

The pick of the weekend’s games must be the meeting of Dublin and Ulster champions Tyrone at 4pm on Saturday. The Dubs are a resurgent force, having grown in confidence over their three qualifier outings.

The Sky Blues were off form in disposing of Tipperary but ground out a win when they had to against Antrim and had Louth beaten by half-time last weekend.

Tyrone, however, are easily the form team of the championship and cantered to an Ulster title – becoming the first time to retain it in 14 years – without even breaking a sweat, destroying Monaghan in a one-sided final.

Tyrone are short odds-on favourites with most bookies – 4/9 being the standard offering – with the Dubs out at 5/2 with Ladbrokes and William Hill.

The winners of that clash will take on the victors of Sunday’s 2pm tie between Cork and Roscommon. While the former clash might appear one-sided, the bookies clearly don’t hold out much hope for the poor Westerners.

The Rossies – who were considered a long shot to even overcome Sligo in the Connacht final – are an astronomical 8/1 to overcome the Rebels, who are as short as 1/16 with Victor Chandler.

In this case the odds are more than justified, however. Although Cork needed extra time to beat Limerick last weekend, Limerick are most certainly an up-and-coming team and were desperately unlucky to draw Cork having lost a tight Munster decider to Kerry.

The southerners were certainly devastating in their disposals of Cork and Cavan in earlier rounds and it would be a major shock if Cork did not win comfortably.

[caption id="attachment_6816" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Down's Benny Coulter fends off the challenge of Charlie Harrison last week."]Benny Coulter fends off the challenge of Charlie Harrison.[/caption]

The weekend’s other fixtures open with the meeting of Kerry and Down on Saturday afternoon. Unsurprisingly, the reigning All-Ireland and new Munster champions are considered the more likely to emerge victorious, having hit the ground running so far this year.

The Kingdom’s last outing saw them overcome an aforementionedly gritty Limerick side in the provincial decider, having already beaten Cork after a replay in the semi-final.

Down, though, are not coming in with the worst of form, having steadily improved in recent weeks. Early victories against Longford and a middle-of-the-road Offaly team were followed with a 3-20 to 0-10 romp over Sligo last weekend, and Down will be quietly confident of a scare.

It’s no surprise that Kerry are odds-on favourites but Down’s 10/1 odds, with some bookies including Paddy Power, are more than generous.

The final fixture of the four is likely to be the closest of the weekend, with Leinster ‘champions’ Meath facing neighbours Kildare in what ought to be a cracking end to the weekend’s activity (4pm, Sunday).

Meath have stuck with the same 15 that saw them squeak past Louth in the provincial final courtesy of Joe Sheridan’s injury time touchdown – sorry, goal – while Kildare will be boosted with talismanic midfielder Dermot Earley being passed fit.

Kildare, though coming with good form and having been the only team to come through all four qualifier rounds, will be playing for their sixth weekend in a row.

Whether the Lilywhites’ regular stream of games will see them well-oiled, or simply a little on the tired side, will be the difference.

Meath were out of sorts against Louth but could consider that a mere blip, a game gotten out of their system – and with their ever-dangerous front six, the game ought to be a cracker.

Unsurprisingly, both sides are considered even-money prospects – and Bet365′s offer of 8/1 on a draw might not be a bad idea.

JUST WHEN YOU THINK you’re on top of the world, winning over 26 major honours in recent years – including the much coveted trebble, someone takes a swipe.

That swipe came from Sports Illustrated, the popular US sports magazine, who say that Manchester United’s trebble-winning team of 1999 is one of the most disliked sports teams of all time. United came in number 10 in the survey, the only soccer team to make the list of 25 and Sports Illustrated even gave special mention to Ireland’s own Roy Keane.

The magazine claims the manner of United’s victory on that famous night in Barcelona merely intensified the feeling of disdain, coming as it did with two goals in stoppage time against a dominant Bayern Munich.

But are United really worthy of such an ‘honour’? Others on the  list include the 1976 German women’s Olympic swim team, who won 11 of their 13 races, before they were later found guilty of doping offences. Also joinging United on the list, are the New York Mets baseball team of 1986 – nicknamed ‘the scum bunch’.

No doubt ABU’s (Anything But United) everywhere will be delighted.

Watch the report here.

# sport - Thursday 29 July, 2010

SHAMROCKS ROVERS have lost the first leg of their two-part qualifier against Juventus. The visitors scored early in the game and added a second goal in the 75th minute to compound their win. Both were scored by Brazilian striker Amauri. Rovers will now play Juve in Italy on 6 August.

JUVENTUS HAVE scored within three minutes of their third-leg Europa League qualifier against Shamrock Rovers. Amauri pipped it past Mannus to score. Over 6,000 Rovers fans have turned out for the event, alongside a smattering of Juve fans.

FORMER ENGLAND SKIPPER and LA Galaxy star David Beckham could be on his way home to England.

Beckham is set to return from an Achilles injury in the coming weeks, before coming back to Europe in January.

Co-owner of West Ham David Gold told The Sun: “We had some discussions with David’s agents a few months ago and it was a possibility. “He’s preoccupied with a number of projects at the moment but he’s promised he will give every consideration to the possibility of joining us.”

The star was born in East London and is apparently keen to return to the UK.

Elsewhere, Liverpool are set to make a bid for Aston Villa midfielder Stiliyan Petrov in an offer said to be over £7m according to The Mirror.

# sport - Wednesday 28 July, 2010

IRISH RUNNER DAVID McCarthy is through to the 800 metres semi-final in Barcelona after a dramatic race this morning.

McCarthy was leading when he was bumped repeatedly by Dutch athlete Robert Lathouwers, who at one point ran off the track before rejoining the race for the final 100 metres.

The first push comes at 1:50:

Lathouwers, who won the race, was subsequently disqualified for pushing McCarthy. McCarthy finished fifth and qualified as the fastest loser for tomorrow’s semi.

LEINSTER RUGBY are hard at work this year, so much so that they’ve already started their pre-season training – do they ever get a break? We managed to get hold of some of the action that featured on the team’s Facebook. Next week the lads will have their first open training session in Mullingar RFC – all welcome.

RAÚL, the Spanish front man has agreed a two year deal with Bundesliga’s Schalke.

Raul went on a free transfer having broken ties with Real Madrid.

Raul has spent his entire career in the Bernabeu becoming a legendary figure there.

Born Raul González Blanco, but known simply as Raul. The Spanish hero is a three time winner of the Champion’s League and an all-time goal scorer for the competition.

He’s scored 323 goals for Real in 740 appearances. Raúl is also the all-time goal scorer with the Spanish national team. Having formerly captained the team, the star struggled to make the Spanish team since coach Manuel Pellegrini’s arrived in 2009.

Earlier this summer the striker revealed that he had offers from Germany and England to consider.

Schalke’s coach Felix Magath said he was delighted with his signing.”This is great news for Schalke,” Magath told the club’s website. I am pleased that we have succeeded in signing such an exceptional footballer and world-class striker.

“His qualities will help us. His commitment will be crucial in our efforts to strengthen the squad for future success.

ARGENTINIAN LEGEND Diego Maradona has been ousted as coach of Argentina’s soccer team. The Argentine Football Association said on Tuesday, that it would not renew Maradona’s contract, as had previously been expected.

The ‘hand of god’ star spent 21 months in charge of the national team, that was eventually eliminated in the World Cup quarter-finals. A disappointing performance for a team that had once been favourites.

Despite the performance, Maradona got a hero’s welcome in Buenos Aires when his team returned from South Africa with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner urging Maradona to hang on.

Maradona had been offered a renewal of his contract that would see him lead Argentina through the 2014 World Cup, but the star told local media on Sunday he wanted to stay on as coach, but only if he could keep control over the choice of his back room staff. This proved unacceptable to Argentine Football Association President Julio Grodona who asked for several assistants to be sacked.

The federation’s executive sided with their President and unanimously decided not to renew Maradona’s contract.

# sport - Tuesday 27 July, 2010

IRELAND’S ROB HEFFERNAN was just a few seconds off the medals at the opening event of the European Athletics Championships in Barcelona this morning. He finished 4th with a time of 1:21:00 in the 20km walk, just nine seconds behind Joao Vieira of Portugal.

THE FIRST GOALPOSTS have been erected in the Aviva Stadium ahead of the first match to be played at the stadium this Sunday.

Preparation continues in the stadium today for Saturday’s O2 Challenge, when a combined Leinster and Ulster team take on an amalgamated Connacht and Munster team.

Tickets, at €10, are still available from the IRFU.

The first soccer match at the new €410m arena takes place on Wednesday 4th, when an Airtricity League XI take on Manchester United.

# sport - Monday 26 July, 2010

SUNDAY’S GERMAN grand prix ended on a note of drama, after Ferrari’s Felipe Massa appeared to slow down and allow his teammate through to win.

It was a year to the day since Massa’s serious accident, but the driver forsook the opportunity to take first place. Two laps after receiving a call from his team to say that Alonso was running faster, Massa seemed to slow down and allow Alonso out in front.

Here’s the manoeuvre from the camera on Massa’s car:

Was he ordered to pull over? The sport’s rules state that team orders cannot interfere with the race result. The rule was introduced after the Austrian GP in 2002, when Rubens Barrichello clearly pulled over to allow his Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher through.

The team’s president said that this has always happened, and that team interests come above an individual’s.

Ferrari was immediately fined $100,000 and the issue is being referred to the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council for further consideration. The team could be expelled from the championship, or could face no punishment whatsoever. The Council gets to decide what, if any, punishment the team receives.

If Alonso and Massa have their results for the race eliminated, third-placed Sebastien Vettel will be awarded the win for his home track. It would also see extra points for championship contenders Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, and Mark Webber.

A hearing on the matter is not expected to take place until after the Hungarian GP this weekend.

WITH ONE OF the biggest fixtures on the racing calendar – the Summer Festival at the Galway Races – kicking off this evening, it seems only right that we go back down memory lane a bit and pick out some random bits and bobs for your afternoon amusement.

They’re a pretty old-school thing
The first ever racing festival at the famed Ballybrit racecourse was a two-day meeting in August 1869. Back then, Ulysses S Grant had just taken over as the 18th President of the United States, some random book called War and Peace was being published, and Queen Victoria had just appointed Gladstone as prime minister.

The festival only became a 3-day event 90 years later, but had more and more days added over the 1970s and 1980s before becoming a week long in 1999.

It had the world’s longest bar…
Anyone who has been to the races before they became a 7-day event in 1999 may recall the old main Corrib Stand – or, at least, they’ll recall it if they weren’t at the bar below for too long.

The bar along the foot of the old stand, which essentially stretched its entire length, was anecdotally the longest bar in the world for many years but had fallen into disrepair before the new Millennium Stand was opened in ’99.

…and the shortest gap between two fences
As if for perfect contrast, aside from having the longest bar in the world, it also has the shortest gap between two fences of any racecourse in the world.

Keep an eye out for the last two fences at the end of the ten-furlong course – which themselves are in the middle of a slight dip in the ground. If a horse takes the second-last badly, it might not make it over the final fence.

The Pope wandered along in 1979
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”

The Bible is fairly black and white on gambling – but not that Pope John Paul II was too bothered when he attended the races in September 1979 as part of his visit to Ireland.

280,000 people showed up to hear him speak and to hear the immortal words:

Young people of Ireland, I love you.

It was such a great occasion – even in the early 1900s – that Yeats wrote about it
One of William Butler Yeats’ more celebrated works celebrated sport’s ability to help its spectators escape from the humdrum of the real world and for a brief few minutes live on a higher plane:

THERE where the course is,
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind:
We, too, had good attendance once,
Hearers and hearteners of the work;
Aye, horsemen for companions,
Before the merchant and the clerk
Breathed on the world with timid breath.
Sing on: somewhere at some new moon,
We’ll learn that sleeping is not death,
Hearing the whole earth change its tune,
Its flesh being wild, and it again
Crying aloud as the racecourse is,
And we find hearteners among men
That ride upon horses.

Just remember that when your odds-on favourite stumbles between the last two fences.

THE GAA has confirmed the throw-in times for the All-Ireland football quarter-finals in Croke Park this weekend. Saturday sees Kerry face Down (2pm) and Tyrone play Dublin (4pm), while on Sunday, Roscommon play Cork (2pm) before Meath meet Kildare (4pm).