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 golf, junior GAA, and some fantasy football…
Bring back the Ulster Junior Football Championship?
In my view Ulster football has deteriorated over the last 2-3 years. Last year Ulster had no representation in the All-Ireland semi-finals, this year there is only one. That of course is Tyrone, who have only played their provincial rivals to reach this stage.
I know last week they ruthlessly put Armagh to the sword but how good are they? They have beaten four average teams to get to this stage and they will be punished by Dublin in the semis if they play like they did during the middle third of the game last week.
This demise in Ulster football got me thinking about why we seem to be lagging behind and what can be done to improve it. A lot of ideas have been bandied about, including: a second tier championship; improving level of resources invested in county teams; and changing the format of the competition.
One way that may boost competitiveness and quality is to reintroduce the Ulster Junior Football Championship. This competition was last played in 1986, but in all other provinces the competition is strong. For a number of years Cavan actually entered the Leinster competition but have recently withdrawn.
I believe this competition would give young players who don’t play for senior clubs the opportunity to showcase their talents on a national stage. It could be used as a link between minor / under 21 squads to the senior county squad.
It may help these players familiarise themselves with a county set up and professionalism involved. Players would have the opportunity to catch the eye of county management (many of whom seldom attend club games). Late bloomers, many of whom have been written off earlier in their careers would still hold a realistic ambition of being able to represent their counties. There is also the carrot of possibly playing in Croke Park.
Dublin’s Junior All-Ireland football win in 2008 has been referenced as one of the catalysts for the senior team success in 2011. That 2008 winning team included players such as Eoghan O’Gara, Denis Bastick, Michael Fitzsimons, Jonny Cooper and Darren Daly. It gave these players the opportunity to prove they were good enough to play at that level and gave them a taste of success.
Kerry have won the competition three years in a row and they have been able to blood some new recruits for their senior team. If it is good enough for Kerry then why shouldn’t it be good enough for Ulster counties?
Irish Golfers at the PGA
This year has been a disappointing year for Irish golfers. Following on from a mixed 2016, many of them would have been eyeing this year as a chance to right some wrongs. However, I think many of them will be disappointed by their season so far and frustrated by their lack of leader board finishes.
This week sees our top golfers compete for the PGA Championship and the last major of 2017. For a few years the PGA Championship was a special place Irish golfers with three wins in six years (Padraig Harrington 2008; Rory McIlroy 2012 & 2014). However, I expect it will be difficult for any of them to challenge the leading pack this year, especially after a relatively poor start for them on Thursday.
Rory McIlroy has been installed as bookies favourite for the trophy but I struggle to see why. I know his form has picked up over recent weeks but in my eyes he is not showing the consistency that would help him capture a fifth major. There has also been the media circus surrounding the sacking of his caddie and no matter how he plays, he will have to continue answering questions about this topic.
Graeme McDowell has had a pretty forgettable year, as has Padraig Harrington. Shane Lowry has been frustrated by his performances and admitted this week that he was struggling to find interest to practise.’
Hopefully their fortunes can change this weekend and hopefully their best is yet to come.
Fantasy Football Anyone?
Last season was a highly successful year for me when it came to fantasy football. I skilfully (or luckily, depending on how you look at it) went on to win all three leagues I entered. I’d love to say I spent my winnings on something tangible but I suppose I did have a couple of good nights out.
The Telegraph fantasy football site is the one we use for our leagues among colleagues and mates. Unlike other sites you can’t build a team with 11 star names. This ensures you have to be creative with formations and player selection.
You also don’t have to worry about subs. Selecting players who are guaranteed to play is crucial and finding a cheap gem that consistently scores highly can be the difference between success and failure. The Telegraph league also includes FA Cup games but excludes European competition. Plus, you have the opportunity to make 40 transfers throughout the season.
After my success last year I thought I’d take you through my thought process when selecting my first 11 for the season ahead.
Formation: 4-4-2; Total available spend: £50m; Total team value: £48m.
Thibaut Courtois; Chelsea; £4m
I don’t expect Chelsea to be as defensively solid this year, especially if Cesc Fabregas replaces Matic in midfield. However, I still expect them to have best defence in league. Courtois is the most expensive goalie to choose from but I expect him to earn me points consistently. He was also the top scoring keeper last year.
Ben Davies; Tottenham; £3.4m
Danny Rose is injured until at least September and Davies proved to be a more than dependable deputy last season. He only played 23 Premier League matches last year but still scored an impressive number of points.
James Milner; Liverpool; £3.8m
Milner filled in at left back for the club last season and didn’t look out of place. He may revert back to his usual midfield role this year as Liverpool have bolstered their squad with the addition of Andrew Robertson. Milner is a consistent performer and penalty taker, pitching in with seven league goals last year.
Michael Keane; Everton; £3.4m
Proved last year that he was Premier League material and also earned a call up to the England squad. After his £30m move to Everton he will be looking to kick on. The Everton back four should be one of the most dependable in the league and Keane is very dangerous in the opposition box.
Martin Olsson; Swansea; £3.1m
Made an impressive impact after joining the Swans from Norwich in January and one of the key reasons they stayed up. Olsson is good going forward and should hopefully get a few assists.
Christian Eriksen; Tottenham; £5.5m
Eriksen is the fourth most expensive midfielder in the game but I think he represents good value, especially compared to his team mate Dele Ali who is valued at £5.8m. Eriksen is a quality passer of the ball and is brilliant from set pieces. He was the second top scoring midfielder last year and hopefully he can reproduce that form this year.
Willian; Chelsea; £4.1m
Should play regularly for Chelsea in the opening weeks of the season in the absence of Eden Hazard. Like Eriksen he is consistently reliable from set pieces and chipped in with 8 goals last year.
Wilfred Zaha; Crystal Palace; £4.1m
Zaha performed brilliantly in the closing months of last season and formed a potent partnership with Christian Benteke. He also seems to thrive off being the main man. I believe he is very good value and hopefully for me he can be more consistent throughout the season.
Matt Ritchie; Newcastle; £3.2m
I believe Ritchie could be one of the cheap gems that I spoke about earlier. He scored 12 goals last season in the Championship. This season will probably be more challenging, but he should be a guaranteed starter and can be relied upon for some priceless goals and assists.
Sergio Aguero; Manchester City; £6.8m
There has been a lot of debate in our office regarding who will start up front for City. Most of my colleagues think Gabriel Jesus will start instead of ‘Kun’ but I don’t think any team in the world could afford to leave him out. I expect him to beat his tally of 20 goals last season if he stays fit.
Romelu Lukaku; Manchester United; £6.6m
He was the third highest point scoring striker in the game last season (behind Kane and Sanchez), and scored 25 Premier League goals. The pressure will be on him to deliver after his big money move. He is up against West Ham this weekend and has an incredible record of scoring nine goals in his previous ten games against them.
What do you make of this team? Is there anyone obvious I have missed out? Do you agree with my formation? Whatever happens I always have 40 transfers to put things right throughout the course of the season…
All Ireland Hurling Semi Final – Cork v Waterford – Cork (by 2 points)
The English Premier League and Irish Premiership kicks off tomorrow, here are my predictions for season;
Winners: Manchester City
Other Top four: Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal
Relegation: Brighton, Burnley, Huddersfield (I also think Stoke and Bournemouth will struggle)