Thursday 26 April 2018

From the Stands: Lions' tour itinerary lacks bite of old days

Eamonn Sweeney, Tommy Conlon and Marie Crowe

There's been much talk about the lop-sided nature of matches in the provincial football championships. However, the Dublin-Westmeath massacre was a down-to-the-wire thriller compared to the British and Irish Lions' 69-17 victory over a laughably weak Western Force.

As the 14th ranked team in the Super 15 competition, Western Force were always going to be weak opponents but they became ludicrously so when coach Michael Foley decided to play a virtual reserve team. The Lions began their tour with a match against a similarly weak Barbarians side which means that a ten-game itinerary has already contained two meaningless fixtures. There are more to come.

It's a far cry from the day when the Lions schedule away from the Tests contained serious games against provincial teams determined to lower their colours. The battle of Canterbury in 1971, the match against Orange Free State in 1974 and the titanic clash against the reputedly invincible Northern Transvaal in 1980 are the kind of matches the Lions simply don't play no more.

Maybe the Lions and Australia should just have played three Tests. Because the series looks like just another run-of-the-mill set of matches in an overcrowded calendar. Pity.

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Ten years after Roddy Collins lit up our TV screens with his star turn as manager of Carlisle United, the great man is back. It is the sequel that sports fans have been crying out for since 2003 when The Rod Squad first introduced a wider audience to his unique wit and wisdom. It all ended in tears at Carlisle and Roddy subsequently spent seven years in the managerial wilderness.

In 2011, he guided Monaghan Utd to promotion from Division One. And the same documentary team was on hand to capture Monaghan's 2012 season in the Premier League.

It was access all areas at Gortakeegan and the result is a four-part fly-on-the-wall series that begins on Setanta Ireland (freeview) tomorrow night at 10.0. The film charts the travails that ultimately led to the Mons' calamitous withdrawal from the League in June. But at the heart of the story is the prevailing spirit and presiding charisma of the manager, for whom no suit is too good, and no profanity too bad.

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Forget Mike Tyson in The Hangover, Vinnie Jones in all those terrible geezer thrillers, Pele in Escape To Victory and even Tony Doran in the Leo Yellow ads, the only sports stars who made a real box-office impact were Johnny Weissmuller, Sonia Henie and Esther Williams.

Weissmuller and Henie were so successful in the 1930s that Louis B Mayer of MGM decided his studio needed their own sporting siren.

They found one in Williams, a multiple national champion who'd have swum the 100m freestyle in the 1940 Olympics had it not been called off due to artistic differences between Adolf Hitler and most of the rest of the world. The California girl went on to star in her own hugely popular genre, the Aquatic Musical. They were never masterpieces but many of them have a pleasantly loopy quality as Williams performs in a 25-foot deep purpose-built pool.

One of the greatest marketing tools any sport ever had, Williams passed away last Thursday at the age of 91. She inspired a generation of swimmers, commentated on synchronised swimming in the 1984 Olympics, took LSD on the advice of Cary Grant, had an affair with Victor Mature, got married four times, sang the Oscar-winning Baby It's Cold Outside in the 1949 movie Neptune's Daughter and wrote one of the most scandalous of all Hollywood autobiographies. Not bad going really.

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The European Team Championships are just round the corner and although the Irish team has yet to be finalised, as it stands there could be five athletes following in their parents' footsteps in this competition.

Marcus Lawler's mother is former Europa Cup 400m winner Patrica Amond, Timmy Crowe is the son of Tim who competed internationally in the 1970s, Conor McCullough's father Conor is an Olympian, as are John Coghlan's father Eamonn and Colin Quirke's father Paul.

The prestigious competition is set to be held in Dublin's Morton Stadium on June 22 and 23. The final day for showing form for selection is today at the AAI Games.

Irish Independent

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