Every Friday, Caolán Conroy provides his take on three different sporting developments across the UK and Ireland, and shares his predictions for match-ups ahead. This week he looks at the Ulster club championship, Ireland’s Rugby World Cup 2023 bid and shares his Ulster-born XI Team of the week.


Ulster Club Championship – upsets aplenty 

Last weekend saw a couple of shocks in the Ulster Club Championship quarter finals, with Kilcar destroying Scotstown on Sunday and Derrygonnelly cutting Armagh Harps down to size on Saturday night. All in all, it was a positive weekend for Ulster football with counties with less history in the competition winning. Derrygonnelly were the first Fermanagh champions had to win in Ulster since 2013 when Roslea reached the semi-final stage. They will now play Cavan Gaels in the semi-final next weekend, with the winners set to take their place in the final at the end of November.

It should be noted that no Fermanagh team has reached an Ulster final since 2002 when Enniskillen Gaels were beaten, and no Cavan champion has been there since 1995. You may not know this, but both counties have never had an Ulster Club winner. So, it’s a huge opportunity for both to break their duck this year.

In the other semi-final, Slaughtneil will take on Kilcar which promises to be cracker. Slaughtneil will again be favourites but I think Kilcar have a massive opportunity to cause an upset. I think Slaughtneil are there for the taking and Kilcar will have no pressure on them as they have already achieved their goal in winning the Donegal championship. They ruthlessly took Scotstown apart last weekend; and arguably have one of the most in-form forwards in Ireland with Paddy McBrearty leading the line.

I also have to question Slaughtneil’s mentality at the moment. Every time one of their players or management team speaks to the media they mention the tiredness and difficulty they are experiencing. I do have some sympathy for them, in that the club has been playing hurling or football championship games every weekend for nearly three months. I also think that the Ulster council were very unfair by making them to play last Saturday night, only six days after the Ulster Hurling club final – especially when the match wasn’t even shown on TV.

However, I don’t fully buy Slaughtneil’s grumbling. We are forever hearing how players want more games and less training; well, these lads are playing important games every week and probably barely training. As a player myself I know which situation I would prefer. Let’s hope for another classic Ulster club clash. Hopefully this one’s on TV.


Is the 2023 Dream over? 

On Tuesday it was announced that Ireland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid was rated the weakest of the three competing bids. This decision was delivered by World Rugby’s technical review group. They cited that Ireland’s stadiums “require considerable work”; the bid was riskier than South Africa’s (rated first) and France’s due to both countries having greater experience in hosting major events.

The report cited that Pearse Stadium, Fitzgerald Stadium and Pairc Ui Chaoimh all needed a lot of work to bring them up to Rugby World Cup standard. They also stated that Casement Park was still subject to a planning approval (something we’ve been hearing for years). The Irish bid was complimented in many aspects but has moved from favourites to underdog in the process.

So, who is to blame and what could have been done differently? The three stadiums that were named as inadequate are all Gaelic grounds. Pairc Ui Chaoimh has just been developed to the tune of £85m; I’m told it’s an exceptional venue with best in class facilities and amazing atmosphere. How can a stadium only opened three months be deemed inadequate?

Could the IRFU (Ireland’s Rugby Football Union) have done more? After all, these three stadiums are managed by the GAA, an amateur organisation that has offered their facilities to help boost Ireland’s bid. Maybe I’m wrong, but is it not slightly embarrassing for a professional organisation to be relying on an amateur organisation’s facilities to host a World Cup? It begs the question, should the IRFU and the Irish Government have invested more in GAA stadiums before the review? After all, both stand to gain so much from a winning bid. Could the bid team have foreseen the issues earlier and ensured the stadiums were up to standard?

The Casement Park issue also threw up a number of questions. The review team highlighted that it was a risk because the planning permission for the renovation of the stadium still hadn’t been received. Again, could more have been done by the Ireland bid team or local politicians? The staging of World Cup games could be hugely beneficial for Belfast and surrounding area economies. Could a fully functioning Stormont government helped reduce this risk and perhaps helped lobby officials to safeguard against such an event arising?

I’m sure that any issues identified with the stadiums can be easily resolved before any deadline and the stadiums identified are all likely to hold smaller group games in the tournament. This is important because although the other countries have larger stadia, ours will be full to the brim and more conducive to better atmospheres. All the stadiums are in the heart of cities which will also be better for fans and, as Philip Brown CEO of the IRFU put it, “not the big shiny new stadia on the outskirts of cities.” So, I don’t see it as a complete death nail to our chances.


Ulster-born XI – Team of the Week

Christopher Johns: Two games played this week, two wins and only one goal conceded.

Conor McLaughlin: Played in Milwall’s goalless draw away against high flying Cardiff last weekend

Adam Mullan: Two solid peformances this week.

Mark Haughey: Clean sheet against Ards last week as the Blues got back to winning ways.

Liam Donnelly: Played in Hartlepool’s long away trip and 2-0 victory against Torquay last Saturday.

Jordan Stewart: Contributed a goal for Linfield against Ards last weekend.

Steve Davis: Topped off an impressive performance against Brighton with a goal.

Paddy McNair: Returned last weekend after 11 months out. The fairy tale was complete when he scored a late equaliser against Bolton in mid-week. It wasn’t enough to save his managers job, however.

Sammy Clingan: The evergreen midfielder scored as Glenavon kept the pressure on at the top of the Irish Premiership.

Kyle Lafferty: Scored a cracking free kick against Rangers last weekend (I think he even surprised himself).

Rory Donnelly: Hat-trick hero against Dungannon.


Weekend Prediction

FAI Cup Final: Cork City v Dundalk – Dundalk to win 2-0. ‘Mon the Town’