Monday 19 February 2018

Invite to Obama is worthy of free throw

Basketball Ireland's idea to invite President Barack Obama to the National Basketball Arena in Tallaght during his visit to this country is a terrific one which deserves to meet with success.

For one thing the President is a hoops nut who plays basketball with White House staffers and turned up to a political rally last week wearing a Chicago Bulls cap. (His home town team start the NBA play-offs this week against the Indiana Pacers.)

And a visit by Obama would also be a fitting tribute to the African-American players who made such an impact on Irish basketball during the boom years of the 1980s, a period captured by Kieran Shannon in his magnificent book, Hanging from the Rafters. It's a book which, by the way, would make a perfect present for the President on his visit.

The story of the basketball foreign legion who have played in so many European leagues is an important and little known aspect of the African-American sporting experience. For example, the NBA's leading player, Kobe Bryant of the LA Lakers, is the son of Joe Bryant who played seven seasons in Italy, while Tony Parker Senior, father of San Antonio Spurs star, and former Mr Eva Longoria, Tony Parker, won league titles in Holland, Belgium and France.

Given that such high-profile imports to Ireland as Jasper McElroy, Jerome Westbrooks and, more recently, Jerrah Young hail from Obama's adopted home city of Chicago, a presidential visit to Tallaght would have a special personal resonance for the most powerful man in the world. Perhaps Basketball Ireland could even organise a pick-up game for the big man.

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Liverpool's newest home-grown star, John Flanagan, got a pleasant surprise when he presented for duty at Anfield last Monday night for his side's Premier League encounter with Manchester City.

Kenny Dalglish handed him a place in the starting 11 but didn't tell him until 6.0. And for a very good reason.

"We wouldn't have had enough tickets to go round if he'd known earlier," joked Dalglish.

The young defender is a Merseyside native and a graduate of the Liverpool Academy. His uncle, Paul Flanagan, is the business partner of Liverpool's Jamie Carragher. The pair own a string of restaurants in Liverpool called Cafe Sports England.

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Kieren Fallon is entitled to feel aggrieved at the ten-day suspension handed down by the stewards at Kempton last Wednesday, a lay-off which means that he will miss the two-day Guineas meeting at Newmarket.

Fallon was found guilty of not riding to the finish aboard Sukhothai, eventually finishing third, but in a 12-runner handicap the result made no difference to punters as Fallon had no chance of catching the winner. The horse which pipped Fallon's mount on the line, Watered Silk, had been backed from to 20/1 to 14/1 and might have won the race had his finishing surge begun earlier.

The Racing Post analysis makes interesting reading. For Sukhothai they reported: 'Prominent, ridden to chase winner over 2f out, kept on final furlong, lost 2nd on line'. And for Watered Silk: 'Started slowly, held up in rear, shaken up over 2f out, made up 15 lengths from over 1f out, finished fast to take 2nd on line'.

At a time when jockeys are routinely punished for excessive use of the whip as they try to get the most out of their mounts in tight finishes, Fallon and Pat Dobbs, who rode Watered Silk, appear to be guilty of nothing more than riding a race to the best benefit of both their horses and the punters who backed them.

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It was very surprising to see Eoin Cadogan pictured at the launch of the Kinect Sports™ for Xbox 360 last week. Four days before the launch, the Cork player received a red card in a National Football League game against Armagh.

In February, Westmeath's John Heslin was ejected from the launch of the Cadbury's under 21 championship because of a red card he received in a league game against Cavan.

What a difference two months can make.

Eamonn Sweeney, Fergus McDonnell, Marie Crowe and David Crosbie

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