Monday 18 December 2017

Too many tears over Cup of spilt beer

The Heineken Cup trophy
The Heineken Cup trophy

Fergus McDonnell, Jerome Reilly and Seán Ryan

So farewell then, The Heineken Cup, it was good while it lasted. And welcome The (Brand Name Here) Cup. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Why all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over what was essentially an ad for beer? It's not as if there will be no tournament next season for the elite of European rugby.

Fair enough, the eligibility criteria have changed a little, and there will be four fewer clubs / regions / provinces involved, but that will have little material effect on Ulster, Leinster and Munster who will probably continue to qualify every year.

The cash flow will change a little too, but it's a professional game now and if someone does their business better than you then they will accumulate more wealth – 'twas ever thus and ever thus shall be.

And as for 'the tradition of the Heineken Cup' well, 19 years isn't much of a tradition really, is it? As Bob Dylan once sang: 'Take the rag away from your face. Now ain't the time for your tears'.

* * * * *

WE once saw a farmer standing perfectly still in the middle of a crop of barley. When asked what he was doing the farmer replied: "I'm trying to win the Nobel Prize."

"Oh how's that?" we asked.

"Well, apparently they are awarded to people who are outstanding in their fields," said the farmer.

Which brings us, in a rather clunky manner, to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association who are up in arms over the GAA's Sky deal. "The thin end of the wedge," was how National Executive member Frank Kehoe described the move.

"Farmers are generally very interested in GAA but their work schedule with looking after animals, harvesting silage, hay and crops and milking cows means that it's not always possible to travel to championship matches. They can't abandon the farm, get cleaned up and go to the pub so easily either," he said.

* * * * *

TO see Atletico Madrid's manager Diego Simeone make the same mistake the late great Kevin Heffernan did back in 1978 was a surprise. The fact that he almost got away with it was an even greater surprise.

What are we talking about? Why, starting the most important game of the season with one of your key players suffering a hamstring injury. In 1978, it was Dublin's (and Manchester United's) Kevin Moran; last week it was Atletico's Diego Costa.

A hamstring injury permits a player to run, but not to sprint. It's a vital difference at the top level, especially when it involves a linchpin defender like Moran or a key striker like Costa.

While Simeone replaced Costa at the first sign of distress, Moran played through the pain barrier until the bitter end, by which time Kerry had turned a 0-6 to 0-1 deficit into a 5-11 to 0-9 trouncing of the team that had beaten them in '76 and '77. Moran's inability to sprint proved crucial as in, for instance, the famous Mikey Sheehy goal from the free awarded against goalkeeper Paddy Cullen. Moran reacted quickest to Sheehy's kick but his hamstring prevented him making up the yards.

Simeone's gamble almost came off, but failed largely through lack of fresh legs at the endgame. Having used up one of his subs so early to replace Costa, there was nothing left to stem the white tide of Real Madrid in the vital last 10 minutes, and the equalising goal had an inevitability about it that was only delayed by the poor finishing of Ronaldo and Bale.

So those defeats can be easily explained, Fulham's former owner Mohammed Al Fayed, however, has a different view, claiming that the club were relegated because the new owner removed a statue of Michael Jackson from Craven Cottage. The curse of Michael Jackson – that's a new one in the relegation and superstition stakes.

However, if people want to go there, why not blame the FAI? After all, the FAI arranged friendlies at two Premier League club grounds this season – Cardiff City Stadium and Craven Cottage – and both clubs were relegated. QED. What more do you want?

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