Friday 18 January 2019

Weekend Takeaways

Kaan Kigen Özbilen of Turkey celebrates after winning the Senior Men's event during the European Cross Country Championships 2017 at Samorin in Slovakia. Photo: Sportsfile
Kaan Kigen Özbilen of Turkey celebrates after winning the Senior Men's event during the European Cross Country Championships 2017 at Samorin in Slovakia. Photo: Sportsfile

Cliona Foley

Euro Cross is a pure farce

When is a national flag not a national flag?

When it's not actually your flag, as demonstrated yesterday when the European Cross-Country Championships threw international athletics' farcical transfer rules under scrutiny yet again.

Kaan Kigen Ozbilen (pictured above), originally Mike Kipruto Kigen from Kenya, became the fourth consecutive Kenyan-turned-Turk to win the senior men's Euro Cross-Country title and the women's senior title was retained by Yasemin Can (originally Kenyan Vivian Jemutai).

Turkey, with four Kenyans in their five-man team, won the men's team title too, and doubts about how much time any of them have ever spent in their adopted nation were certainly increased when the TV cameras caught them posing with the Turkish flag. It took the team's only native Turk Alper Demir (who finished 55th, four places behind Ireland's top five men) to come over and tell them they were holding it back to front.

The great irony is that the European Cross-Country Championships were set up in 1994 specifically because European runners could not compete with the strength of African runners at the World Cross-Countries.

Clonmel runner Kevin Maunsell (36), making his debut in the event, best summarised it inadvertently when he said "It was great to be mixing it up with Africans and guys you'd see on the TV."

 

History made in Cork GAA

Tracey Kennedy's opening address as new chairperson was greeted with a standing ovation at Cork GAA's county convention.

The Killeagh native who has been vice-chair of Cork GAA for the past three years officially took over the reins from Ger Lane yesterday. She is only the second woman to take on such a role nationally, following Roisin Jordan in Tyrone.

Cork's new vice-chairperson Kevin O'Donovan is another noteworthy appointment as he was the board's coaching officer and the man who, in recent seasons, circulated a 25-point plan to give clubs a much stronger voice.

They take over at an interesting time as their remit will include clearing the estimated €23m debt after the rebuilding of Paírc Uí Chaoimh.

 

Fans look back in anger at Noel

Sky Sports will hardly be repeating their celebrity pundit experiment after the public reaction to having Noel Gallagher on their panel for yesterday's Manchester derby.

Fans didn't hold back on social media, with one called @Zola Fanatic likening it to "asking Mary Berry for guidance on Brexit" while @PlinketyPlink quipped "what next? Richard Keys drumming for Kasabian?".

Many offered to join Sky's punditry team on the basis that they "knew nothing about football but can do a decent Oasis cover". And there were inevitable quips here about what popstars could next appear on RTE'S Sunday Game.

The only good thing to come out of it - and actually funny - was Paul Merson raising £600 for charity by secretly slipping Oasis song titles (12 of them) into his commentary on Sky the previous day. Gallagher's brother Liam was asked by one fan why he wasn't chosen and pithily demonstrated why by replying: ''I don't think I'd be on air long as soon as the first goal went in from city I'd be p***ing all over GN (Gary Neville's) head.'

 

La Rochelle buck trend

Surprise of the European Championship rugby season so far is La Rochelle.

The relatively unknown French club continued their winning run by trouncing Wasps 49-29 in Group 1, taking maximum points from their first three games in the tournament. La Rochelle played in the Challenge Cup for the last three years but have made an immediate impression in Europe's top rank since beating Harlequins 34-27 in the first round.

They are full of attacking flair and bucking all kinds of trends in French club rugby. Their success has largely been built on local ownership and a much smaller budget than their rivals, and they have 10,000 season tickets for their 16,000-capacity home ground.

A year ago their budget was reportedly €18.2m, compared to Clermont (€30.5m), Stade Francais (€27.5m), Toulon (€25.5m) and Montpellier (€24.02m).

Their title bid in France's Top 14 last year (which only faltered at the play-offs) has resulted in quadrupling of their merchandising revenue, and their unusual geographical location has its advantages.

Most of France's top clubs are based in the south but they're based in a beautiful port city on the west coast, giving them less competition for fans and sponsorship.

 

Sad note to John's return

Two horses with a lot of fans made milestone appearances yesterday.

Highland Reel bowed out of racing by winning the Longines Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in his last race before retiring to stud. The five-year-old's seventh Group One win also brought trainer Aidan O'Brien's haul of G1 winners in 2017 to a world record 28.

Returning to action over jumps was Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Sizing John, which won the John Durkan Memorial Chase in Punchestown for trainer Jessica Harrington.

The punters' favourite only made one early mistake and romped home with ease yet it was a somewhat poignant occasion as both of his owners, Alan and Ann Potts, have died since his heroics last season.

Alan Potts died last month, three months after his wife's death. An engineer from Yorkshire, he made his fortune by refining a key process in the mining industry known as 'sizing'.

Irish Independent

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