Tuesday 20 February 2018

Honeymoon period over in the Lyons' den

THE Dubs are back on the road this Sunday and, while Croke Park may not sell out for the double-header of their game against Louth and the Meath v Westmeath 'head-to-head', I would be surprised if much of the colour of last year does not return with the 60,000 or so followers.

With his honeymoon season now over, there isn't a manager in the country with as much pressure on his shoulders as Dubs' boss Tommy Lyons. By close of play in Jones' Road we will know a lot more about the likely lads this year.

Will the Dubs continue where they left off last year, with a swagger which saw them go to within a hair's breadth of an All-Ireland final appearance or will the second year syndrome hit the likes of Ray Cosgrove and Alan Brogan, both of whom were so impressive in Lyons' initial Dublin campaign?

And what of Meath? The silence has been deafening but they have sent a missive from the long grass to tell us that there will be six championship debutants facing Westmeath.

Under Sean Boylan, such a starting outpost has often led all the way to the Holy Grail, but this time Luke Dempsey will be asking the biggest of all questions of his maroon and white troops - can you go where no Westmeath team has never gone before and beat Meath in a Leinster senior football game?

He will tell his team there can be no excuses; they either build on what they laid down two years ago, or they go back to being the easy touch for the bigger counties at this time of year.

Offaly and Laois served us up the best football championship match to date, with both sides in the end feeling they wriggled off the hook of defeat at Portlaoise. I thought Offaly had the bigger chance to advance and Paul O'Kelly's interview with RTE where he could barely conceal his disappointment at not winning, underlined that belief.

He now will have a dilemma - to stick with the youngsters like John Reynolds and Niall McNamee (both of whom were revelations on the day) or revert to the tried and trusted like Vinny Claffey and Roy Malone.

For a county which spent the winter giving out about the lack of forwards to choose from, it is a change in parliament to have this type of selectorial headache.

You have to expect that Micko won't allow his charges to be as bad again. And with the wider pitch in Tullamore suiting their game more, they are probably again favoured to advance. But then again as Micko knows only too well, there isn't a fiercer underdog in the game than Offaly.

IT was tough on Martin O'Neill and Celtic to lose the way they did on two occasions within five days. But if you look at the talent at the club with an unjaundiced eye, the truth is that it is not good enough.

There is no doubt that the sum of the parts is much greater than the individual talent at this club, but that sort of near miracle working can only go on for so long. And right now, you get the feeling that O'Neill has run out of road. The Board have to provide serious cash so that top quality players can be drafted in. Let's face it, if the entire team was up for sale in the morning - Larsson aside, who would the big teams in England or the Continent chase after?

Paul Lambert was top class but in the 1990s; Sutton, Hartson, Thompson, Balde etc are good, maybe even very good journeyman pros, but no more that that.

The one thing I can't fathom is the Colin Healy situation up there. I know Lambert and Neil Lennon are more experienced, but you could tell Wayne Rooney the same thing and hold him back at Everton.

The Cork lad impressed me when I saw him playing for Ireland and would have been a much better bet when Lambert got injured on Sunday than young Maloney, who is good up front, but operated as a midfielder.

Come to think of it, Healy's young legs would have been better suited to the heat of Seville against Porto too, but again he didn't get a look in, even off the bench.

While we're at it, let's salute Alex McLeish on the turnaround he has presided over at Rangers. If they beat Dundee on Saturday, he will have achieved the domestic treble. Somewhere along the line, Fergie's teachings must be taking hold.

WHERE does ladies tennis go to from here? At the ripe old age of 22, Martina Hingis calls it a day, citing two operations as the reason. Meanwhile Monica Seles is ignominiously dumped out of Roland Garros and is seriously considering going down the same route. Question: Has the fact that the two Williams' sisters dominated the game so much over the last two seasons anything to do with it?

It must be hard on the others knowing that there is little or no chance of winning, now that their game has entered a power-packed, heavyweight phase.

GOAL OF THE WEEK: Ciaran McManus has been flying between Germany and Ireland in his attempt to play inter-county football. On Sunday, he launched an exocet missile of his own for Offaly against Laois in Portlaoise which rocketed to be back of the net for as good a goal as you are likely to see. We must also give honourable mention to Trevor Smullen's majestic effort for Longford against Kildare.

WALLY OF THE WEEK: I've always had a soft spot for Colin Montgomerie and secretly wished a Major into his possession before he puts his snout into the trough on a serious basis. But Mrs Doubtfire was far from funny or fair in his remarks about our Pádraig not playing Wentworth last weekend. And you know what? I think there would have been more invective forthcoming except the Scot had his eye on the Ryder Cup captaincy here in 2006.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "We must be the only sporting organisation in the world who are about to tell the players that they should put in less effort," - GPA boss Dessie Farrell on GAA plans to restrict county training sessions.

PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK: You couldn't be up to the pair of them. Aidan O'Brien and Mick Kinane stole the 1,000 Guineas with Yesterday, much to the chagrin of the French connections of Six Perfections, which most people thought was unbackable and unbeatable.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: It is not often than Antrim footballers grab the headlines, but their win over Cavan in the Ulster Championship suggests that the minnow county of the north could at last be on the rise.

GAME OF THE WEEK: Step forward the hurlers of Laois and Dublin. If the highlights on RTE are anything to go by, this was a game laced with skill, speed and a new found will to win by both sides. And as a correspondent to this column wrote; "Don't rule out a minor scalp or two in the qualifier for either of these - but especially Dublin. They have a fine centre back in Keaney and McGrane would get on any full forward line."


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