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 Gaelic Games, Ulster and Irish Rugby and shares his Ulster-born XI Team of the week.
Is there any stopping Slaughtneil?
What can you say about Slaughtneil? An unprecedented double treble has been achieved by the lads and ladies from the foot of the Sperrins. Their camogie team defeated all in front of them to claim back to back Ulster titles, as did their hurlers and footballers. Their hurlers made winning the Ulster title look easy and, in truth, so did their footballers. The run to winning the Ulster club football championship was probably the toughest run of any winners in the last 20 years; having beat Down champions Kilcoo, Tyrone winners Omagh and a semi-final victory over Kilcar from Donegal, before comfortably beating Cavan Gaels in the final.
Both men’s teams deserve huge credit for managing a very tough schedule and maintaining a consistent level of performance throughout their campaigns. All three teams will be quietly confident that they can claim an historic All-Ireland treble. The ladies experienced All-Ireland success last March, but their hurlers lost to eventual champions Cuala in the hurling semi-final and their footballers fell to Dr Crokes in their final.
Their footballers will face Nemo in the All-Ireland semi-final in February; even though they might go into the game as underdogs they will expect that they can beat the Cork and Munster champions. Corofin, the recently crowned Connaught winners, are probably the strongest team left in the competition; they won the Andy Merrigan cup as recently as 2015. However, Slaughtneil will fancy themselves against any of the teams that remain in the competition; they’ll be determined to right the wrongs of last year.
Sticking with GAA, it was announced during the week that County Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney has added Jim McCorry to his back-room team for the season ahead. I’m sure the addition of McCorry will add huge experience to the Armagh set-up, but I have to question the thinking behind the decision. At the moment, Geezer has a back-room team that includes Paul McGrane, Paddy McKeever, John Toal, Justin McNulty, Dennis Hollywood, and Peter McDonnell amongst others. I also know McGeeney has approached some other names in and outside the County to join the set up.
I said earlier, that I question the wisdom of having so many selectors/coaches – for me, it’s a case of too many cooks spoil the broth. I also wouldn’t like to think of how much this high-profile management team will cost the Armagh County board. It’s got to the stage where the management team is nearly as big as the playing panel. In my opinion, this could cause problems down the line.
Finally, massive congratulations to my old club Seoul Gaels on their Asian Gaelic Games win. I studied in Seoul during my gap year and loved every minute of it. The club was a massive reason for this; hopefully they can go onto dominate at all levels for years to come.
Autumn hat-trick for Ireland to provide timely boost for Ulster
It was a good Autumn for the Ireland rugby team as they won all three internationals. Despite the perceived low quality of opposition (a poor South Africa team, Fiji and struggling Argentina) compared to who they could have played, it was a very positive month for the squad. They were able to blood fresh talent and have now moved up to third in the world rankings. However, we should be wary; in the past we’ve seen Ireland peak two years before a world cup only to falter come the tournament.
Hopefully the returning Irish players will provide Ulster with a boost before their game against the Newport Gwent Dragons on Friday night. I watched Ulster last Friday night and was flicking between that and the Leister game. Ulster struggled against a Benneton team that were missing nearly 20 players, needing a late Andrew Trimble try to secure an undeserved victory against the lowly Italian side. Leinster on the other hand, missing many of their starters, cruised to victory against the Dragons, playing some breath-taking Rugby.
Ulster have named two debutants in their side to play Friday’s night game: Greg Jones and South African prop Schalk van der Merwe will start for the province for the first time after making their first appearances off the bench last week. It is also interesting to see Paul Marshall selected at scrum half at the expense of Johnny Cooney. Marshall made his 200th appearance last weekend and I thought he struggled when he came on. Personally, I think Cooney offers more from the start than Marshall.
There was positive news this week for Ulster as they tied down Luke Marshall, Rob Herring and Kieran Treadwell on three-year contract extensions. With this news and the strengthening of their team with the return of the internationals I expect Ulster to rack up a big score and keep up the pressure in their conference.
Ulster-born XI – Team of the week
Conner Byrne – What a week for the 14 year old, who made his debut for Glenavon and got called up for Northern Ireland U’16s
Chris Baird – Very good performance for Derby away at high scoring Boro last weekend.
Howard Beverland – Scored an equaliser for Crues against table toppers Coleraine last weekend.
Shane Duffy – Two outstanding performances for Brighton against Man United and Crystal Palace
Cameron Dummigan – The Lurgan man has made a good start to his Oldham career and has contributed to two consecutive clean sheets.
Darron Gibson – His first selection in my team this season; came off the bench and was influential as Sunderland recorded their second Premier League win of the season.
Corry Evans – Played a huge part in Blackburn winning four games in a row; not guaranteed to start every game, he has played well when he’s been given a chance.
Steve Davis – Scored a cracking goal in a very good performance for the Saints against Everton.
Jamie McGonigle – Scored the opening goal for Coleraine against Crusaders and continued his impressive form.
Ryan Harpur – Hat-trick hero for the Swifts against Carrick Rangers.
Michael McLellan – Scored the opening goal for Ards against Glentoran.