Monday 5 December 2016

From the stands: Panthers on the prowl on plains of America

Published 13/12/2015 | 17:00

Cam Newton
Cam Newton
that today is the 200th anniversary of Dubliner Dan Donnelly's famous victory over English champion George Cooper at the hollow in Curragh
Jack Grealish of Aston Villa
Trainer Dermot Weld

A fortnight ago when NFL champions the New England Patriots were sweeping all opposition aside, there was considerable talk about the possibility of their emulating the only two teams in history to go unbeaten through a regular season, the 1972 Miami Dolphins and the 2007 Patriots. Cue two defeats on the trot by the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles.

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Instead, it’s the largely unsung Carolina Panthers of the NFC South who have a shot at the record. Going into tonight’s meeting with the Atlanta Falcons they stand at 12-0, and their remaining opposition, the Falcons (twice), the New York Giants and the Tampa Bay Bucaneers have a combined 17-19 record this season.

The Panthers, who’ve never won the Super Bowl, have been somewhat helped by the vagaries of the NFL fixture system which has spared them meetings with the Patriots, the Arizona Cardinals, the Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals, but they have wins over the powerful Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts on their resume and have been impressive enough to usurp the Patriots as ante-post favourites for the big one.

Yet last Sunday’s match against the lowly New Orleans Saints showed, not for the first time, that for a team on a long unbeaten run, the thought of the record itself may be just as dangerous as the opposition. The Panthers trailed 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and were still behind with just over five minutes left when quarterback Cam Newton began a match-winning drive which ended with a touchdown pass to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery with 65 seconds left on the clock.

Right now Newton is the favourite to win the NFL’s MVP award, which would make him just the fifth player to win both that and college football’s equivalent, the Heisman Trophy, and the first since Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions in 1997. Not bad for a man who last year went through ankle ligament surgery, suffered two broken ribs in a game and fractured a couple of bones in his back in a car crash.

 

Boxing day memories

In a week dominated by talk of Mixed Martial Arts, it’s worth remembering that today is the 200th anniversary of one of Ireland’s most famous boxing events when Dubliner Dan Donnelly beat English champion George Cooper at the hollow in the Curragh.

After winning £100 for beating England’s Tom Hall at the Curragh in September 1814, Dan returned to the Kildare venue on December 13, 1815 where he eventually knocked out Cooper in the 11th round. Dan had a drink problem, but that didn’t stop him opening various pubs in Dublin and he died in one of those pubs in February 1820 at the age of 32. His famous long right arm was on display at The Hideout pub in Kilcullen for many years.

Today is also the 37th anniversary of the death of Jack Doyle at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London. Born Joseph Doyle in Cobh in August 1913 and known to his friends as Joe, he changed it to Jack when starting his professional career. Nicknamed the ‘Gorgeous Gael,’ Jack was for a time a contender for the British Boxing Championship, a Hollywood actor and an accomplished tenor.

 

Clock ticking for Jack

Jack Grealish’s chances of making the England squad for the Euro 2016 finals look slim at this stage. The FIFA Players’ Status Committee are not due to meet again until March 15 in Zurich when they are likely to rule on Grealish’s application to play for his native country after playing for Ireland at youth and under 21 level. That’s only ten days before England travel to Berlin to play Germany on Good Friday. However, England also have a friendly against Holland at Wembley on March 29, if manager Roy Hodgson decides he wants to give Grealish an opportunity to claim a place in his Euro squad.

 

Weld’s Eastern dream

Dermot Weld’s Free Eagle aims to end his career on a high in the Hong Kong Cup this morning. Winner of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot, the four-year-old has been beset by niggles. The last time Weld was successful in Hong Kong was with Additional Risk, also owned and bred by Moyglare Stud.

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