It was a game of hads. Had Tommy Bowe not fumbled that ball into touch and presented Wales with a lineout which would eventually, a few phases later, result in a try for the visitors; or had referee Wayne Barnes or his touch judge spotted just how dangerous the Bradley Davies so-called tip tackle on Donnacha Ryan actually was and given him the red card instead of the cop-out ten minute sin bin colour; or had the same officials observed that the Stephen Ferris challenge on Ian Evans, not alone didn’t merit a yellow card but should never have been the penalty from which the Welsh secured the winning score (and now comes the even more astonishing news that the Ulsterman has been cited for it).
All significant moments in Ireland’s opening Six Nations bout which immediately obliterated our Grand Slam and Triple Crown aspirations, and, as close to certainly as it can be, our Championship hopes along with it.
But you could point to another ‘had’ that may have swung the match into Welsh hands. With Davies still warming the sin bin seat and the Irish gaining momentum by the minute after Bowe’s try, a penalty was awarded to the home team just inside their own half. But why on the Lansdowne Road earth did they give it to Jonathan Sexton to go for goals and a three pointer when a kick deep into touch and a line-out close to the Welsh line might, on the balance of play at that particular stage of the game, have lead to a more decisive score? The penalty attempt was squandered and with that Wales were allowed the platform from which to build their two point victory.
Not quite an under par performance by Ireland and, perhaps, on the basis of Wales having lost a few key players beforehand we should have expected a win but the fact is we now travel to Paris with a little less confidence than we might have had we even managed to hold on to that slender lead last Sunday.
In the R.T.E. post match studio, where George Hook claimed that the last innovation Ireland had was in launching the Garryowen into world rugby back in 1896, Donal Lenihan proposed that Tommy Bowe should be switched into the centre for future games. Which would, to this simple mind, leave a vacancy on the wing for Simon Bebo who claimed a trio of tries for Munster in their recent outing against Northampton and might just be the young man to unhinge the French this weekend, just as 19 year old George North did against us in Dublin on Sunday.
While France ran out comfortable winners over Italy in their opener, the boy Hook wasn’t quite gushing about their early performance in that game. They had, he said, been described as a Rolls Royce team but were playing like a second hand Lada.
What kind of vehicles both the Irish and French will roll into service this Saturday we can’t too readily predict given that the most predictable thing about both teams in recent years has been their unpredictability but, for sure, Declan Kidney and his backroom staff will have been forced into tinkering long and hard with the engine this week to get the green machine back on track.
Ireland to spring into overdrive in Paris.
Donegal’s starring role
Another weekend of triumph for Donegal’s sporting personalities - call them stars, they deserve it given their achievements to date - and one we should all hail as mighty moments in national and international terms.
Where to start? Chloe Magee taking the honours for the sixth time in the National Women’s Singles Badminton final with a straight sets win over Sinead Chambers; and a mixed doubles success with her brother, Sam, who also paired up with Ian Macbeth to clinch the men’s doubles crown.
Then there was Ciaran Doherty’s magnificent run to claim the title of Irish Masters Cross Country Champion in Boyle, County Roscommon, on Sunday, the Dungloe man who vests out for Letterkenny A.C. finishing in front of fellow county native, Pauric McKinney. At the same meeting, Finn Valley’s Dominic Bonner, triumphed in the over 50’s race.
A handful of other individual and team medals followed for Donegal athletes at the Roscommon event.
And what about yet another feather in the cap for Letterkenny’s Mark English, this time breasting the tape first in an 800 metres race at an Invitational meeting in New York? Not the only successes for Letterkenny A.C. on the track - Darren McBrearty taking the title of Irish Universities Champion over 1500 metres in Tullamore; Dan King coming second in the 800 metres at the same event; and Danny Mooney winning the race to the line in the 1500 metres at the McCain City Challenge in Sheffield.
Too often we view those documentaries on television or see at first hand on a Saturday night in our towns and cities, young people strung out on drink and whatever else and believe that it’s par for the course for the entire generation. Far from the case, of course, and the dedication of the young sports men and women mentioned above, and many others like them, puts the lie on it.
Eamon for the target
With the two Doyles, Eoin and Kevin, both netting for their respective clubs, Hibernian and Wolves, and James McClean also scoring the winner for Sunderland, it was a good weekend for former League of Ireland players across channel.
But not as good a performance as another ex-domestic player, Eamon Zayed, who is now plying his trade in Iran with Persepolis of Tehran. In a local derby match against Esteghal last Thursday, his side were two goals and a man down and looking destined for defeat. That is until the former Derry City and Bray Wanderers man popped up with a hat-trick to send his club’s supporters into footballing heaven. Those supporters, incidentally, numbered 90,000 - slightly more than the Brandywell or the Carlisle Grounds would draw for an average game (it’s likely the Carlisle Ground is well short of that number in an overall context since Bray first bowed into the League).
Instant hero among Persepolis fans is Zayed - he even got an invitation to a wedding in the hotel his team were staying in and was guest speaker! Bet he never received that sort of treatment in the Maiden City.
Lot of disgust over events at Croke Park when the Rubberbandits performed as part of a G.A.A. double header.
“We should be doing everything we can to protect the young from that kind of stuff. It was disgraceful. Who wants their children exposed to that sort of language? It was hardly what you would call appropriate entertainment,” a spokesman for the Rubberbandits insisted.