Sunday 20 January 2019

Eamonn Sweeney

The Ireland team celebrate with their medals after the women's hockey World Cup final. Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney's A to Z in a remarkable year of sport 

A is for all-conquering Leinster who swept aside all opposition in the Champions Cup. The abiding memories of the campaign may be of sparkling attacking rugby but victory was founded on a mean defence which conceded just over 15 points a game. The quarter-final win over Saracens was perhaps Leinster's most significant, the semi-final destruction of Scarlets saw them at their most spectacular and in the final against Racing they proved they could grind out results when things weren't going for them. No-one was better than James Ryan, who this time last year wasn't even starting for Leinster.

‘On The Seventh Day was launched by Eamon Dunphy, which was entirely fitting because I think you can divide Irish sports writing into Before Dunphy and After Dunphy’. He is pictured at the launch with Joe Brolly. Photo: David Conachy

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Who reads simply to have their prejudices confirmed? You can do that for yourself' 

Here are five things I learned on Wednesday night. Joe Brolly is taller than you'd think. Eamon Dunphy really hates the word 'lachrymose'. Neil Francis has a low opinion of my abilities as an NFL tipster. I'm aging a lot faster than some of the Dorian Grays of Irish journalism. And there has been an awful lot of great writing in the sports pages of the Sunday Independent over the last 30 years.

Malachy O’Rourke and Mickey Harte have both had to regroup after setbacks earlier this summer and today their teams go head-to-head, with a place in the All-Ireland final on the line. Photo: Sportsfile

Make or break for sideline stalwarts 

One way of looking at today's semi-final between Tyrone and Monaghan is as a play-off for Gaelic football's Manager of the Year title. To get this far, both Mickey Harte and Malachy O'Rourke have had to recover from morale-sapping defeats, overcome the odds away from home in the Super 8, defy harsh criticism which questioned their whole footballing philosophy and make extremely judicious use of the players available to them. Making it to the semis under these circumstances has been a fine achievement. Reaching the final would be a remarkable one.

‘Monaghan deserved better. Most people expected them to play a defensive game but their willingness to attack Kerry made the game a classic’ Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney: Some of the mutton really was lamb 

This morning last week it looked as though the Super 8 had, like 'social justice warrior', 'holy Catholic Ireland' or 'Fox News - fair and balanced,' become one of those phrases only ever used sarcastically. Then out of the blue in Newbridge and Clones came two matches containing open, attacking football, long-range points, end-to-end action, players kicking the ball forward rather than handpassing it backwards and thrilling finishes. The transformation of kindly Dr Henry Jekyll into malevolent Mr Hyde was hardly more startling.

Darren Daly of Dublin in action against Richard Donnelly of Tyrone and (inset) Spillane and Brolly

'Brolly and Spillane's critics sound like 10-year-olds trying to persuade you One Direction are better than The Beatles' 

Is Gaelic football the world's most boring field sport? Not yet. But it's getting there. It has potential. One more big push and those apocryphal Americans who used to stream from Croke Park exclaiming, "Mah god Paddy, ah caint believe your game of hurling is so goddamn fast," will soon be saying, "Gee whizz this is the most tedious thing ah have ever seen. And you say they're all amateurs?...

The Mayo team. Photo: Sportsfile

Comment: They didn't win Sam - but this Mayo team will be remembered far more vividly than some sides who did 

The two-goal start handed to Donegal in the 2012 All-Ireland final, the defensive mix-up which gave Bernard Brogan his first goal in the 2013 decider, the five-point lead with five minutes left lost in the 2014 semi against Kerry, the two own goals in the drawn 2016 meeting with Dublin, the decision to replace All-Star goalkeeper David Clarke for the replay, the red card for Donal Vaughan just when...