GALWAY football has been rocked by the withdrawal of Kieran Fitzgerald and Niall Coleman just a week into the Allianz Football League season.
Fitzgerald, appointed a joint-captain by manager Tomas O Flatharta a few weeks ago, started against Monaghan yesterday week but was replaced at half-time while Coleman came on as a sub in the second half.
The official line is that Fitzgerald has withdrawn due to recurring injury problems while work commitments are behind Coleman's decision.
However, the departure of two experienced players at this early stage of the season has left Galway supporters surprised and confused, leading to speculation that other factors were involved in the pair's decision to opt out.
Galway have made a poor start to the league, losing by five points to Monaghan yesterday week, and face another tough assignment against Down in Newry next Sunday.
FORMER Billy Coleman Award winner Owen Murphy and co-driver James O'Brien scored a last-stage victory in yesterday's opening round of the Valvoline National Forest Rally Championship, Tipperary MC's Sean Conlon Memorial event at Mitchelstown.
They held third place for most of the day, with Dubliner John Reid leading all the way, but on the last stage the Dubliner lost more than 40 seconds, dropping to runner-up position, while second-placed Andrew Purcell retired, promoting the Cork pair to top spot.
Longford pairing Chris Kelly and Sam Johnston were the clear winners of the Midland Navigation Trial at Rooskey, finishing well ahead of the father-and-son combination of Pakie and Colin Duffy.
WILLIAM Porterfield had more to smile about on Saturday night despite Ireland slipping to a third World Cup warm-up defeat -- they lost to New Zealand by 32 runs in a high-scoring game in Nagpur.
After two poor batting displays in Dubai last week, Ireland this time made a spirited attempt to chase down New Zealand's 311-6 before a clatter of late wickets saw the underdogs bowled out for 279 in the 49th over.
Kiwi opener Martin Guptill made a steady 130 but skipper Porterfield and fellow opener Paul Stirling got the chase off to a flier and Ed Joyce and Niall O'Brien also worried the Test side.
Porterfield, who top-scored with 72, said: "We got off to a pretty good start and managed to keep that going for a long period. We came up just short, but overall I'm reasonably happy." At 177-2, with Joyce and O'Brien well set, Ireland were in position to cause an upset but Kiwi skipper Daniel Vettori saved his side embarrassment with 4-42.
Ireland's next warm-up game is against Zimbabwe tomorrow.
Denis Lynch and Shane Breen both clinched fifth placings in Grand Prix competitions at Vigo in Spain and Dortmund, Germany.
Lynch and Abbervail van het Dingeshof jumped double-clear at the 5-Star Spanish fixture, but were almost four seconds off the winning time produced by Germany's Philipp Weishaupt and Catoki.
Lynch also qualified for the jump-off in Saturday night's World Cup Qualifier but dropped two fences against the clock to stay out of contention. And three first-round mistakes put paid to the chances of Jessica Kuerten who, however, picked up good results with AP Largo, Fashion and Lektor at the three-day fixture.
At the 3-Star fixture in Dortmund, Breen kicked off with runner-up spot in Friday's Speed class riding Camblin before winning the Young Horse Qualiifer with Cos I Can, which then went on to finish third in Saturday's final. At Kildare International yesterday, John Floody won the first leg of the HSI Chippison Spring Tour.
MICHAEL Mulhare's excellent cross-country form continued when he won the men's senior international at the 42nd Coca-Cola Ras na hEireann in Drogheda yesterday, finishing the 6km course in 18 minutes and 20 seconds, 11 seconds clear of England's Pat Martin with his Irish U-23 team-mate Brendan O'Neill taking third. Gary Thornton, in sixth, helped Ireland win the team title ahead of USA and Finland.
Katie De Camillo won the women's 4km in 13:32 ahead of England's Sara Tunstall with Ireland's Ciara Durkan third while Becky Woods and Aoife Talty took fourth and fifth to help Ireland win the women's team title.
Elsewhere, Ciara Mageean (City of Lisburn), West Waterford walking prodigy Kate Veale and Letterkenny 10,000m runner Mark English took top honours at the Tipperary Crystal annual juvenile 'Star' awards.
A total of eight double faults derailed Conor Niland in the Marseille Open.
After successive first-round exits in the main draw of the ATP Challenger Tour, the Irish No 1 crashed out at the initial stage of qualifying in the top-tier French ATP Tour tournament. World No 134 Niland lost out to Sweden's Michael Ryderstedt, 6-4 6-1.
THE Cork bragging rights belong to Neptune after they overcame UCC Demons 73-62 to move within a point of their rivals in third place of the Superleague southern conference.
Michael Bonaparte scored 23 points for Neptune in an evenly matched affair, that saw the hosts steam away with 30 points in the final quarter.
DCU Saints continued their fine start to 2011, beating Moycullen 78-68, while UCD Marian returned to winning ways in Belfast, defeating Star 83-77. Killester beat Ulster Elks 91-67.
In the Women's Superleague, UL moved into poll position with an 87-52 win over Team Montenotte Hotel, Cork, while DCU Mercy edged out Waterford Wildcats 64-61.
Three Rock Rovers regained their men's national indoor hockey title after a one-season break as they defeated YMCA 5-3 at the National Basketball Arena.
Rovers quickly established their mastery on the boards as Colin Huet scored within seconds of tip-off in the final. They were 4-1 ahead by the break, keeper Stephen West beaten only by a David Robinson penalty stroke awarded against Peter McConnell as the ball brushed his foot on the line. The YM threat was posed mainly at penalty corners but, with West sharp, the damage was limited.