A St Patrick’s Day Grand Slam showdown at Twickers? Probably.

Ireland last won a Grand Slam back in 2009. In odd years, like 2009, Ireland play England and France (the 2 traditional heavyweights) at home – and odd years were therefore deemed Ireland’s best chance of winning a 6 Nations Championship and particularly a grand slam. But in more recent times, France’s form has fallen off a cliff and Ireland has taken to beating them both home and away. In contrast to France, Ireland has moved up the pecking order … Read more

Ireland and Europe: how Rugby could provide a very positive story in 2018…

The European club championships have now closed down until the new year. Rounds 3 & 4, played over the weekends of 9th and the 16th December, saw all 4 Irish provinces win for the 2nd weekend in a row. Leinster, Munster and Ulster (listed in alphabetical order) are all now well placed in their groups to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup, with Connacht likewise well placed in the Challenge Cup. Since the European Cup started in … Read more

Can Warren Gatland see off his tribal critics with an historic Lions NZ win for only the second time in history?

When Warren Gatland announced his Lions squad for the tour to New Zealand there was considerable disgruntlement in Scotland that only two of their kith and kin and had been selected. Former Scottish internationals lined up to criticise the selection that also saw 16 players from England and 12 players from Wales even though they had finished below Scotland in the 6 Nations. Jim Telfer, himself a former Lions (and Scotland) coach stated: “Scottish Rugby should really feel as if … Read more

Is it time for a European Lions v the southern hemisphere rugby test match series?

Once every four years, the best players from the 4 rugby nations in the British isles play as a single team as the British and Irish lions. And when it is a Lions year, every week the papers revise and review their best guess as to who will be in the test team, who will be in squad and who will be captain. This year, in June, the Lions go to New Zealand to play the All Blacks, where they … Read more

The Heineken Cup – an Irish success story.

This is the sixteenth year of the Heineken Cup and so far we have had 4 Irish victories. If Leinster beat Northampton in Cardiff’s Millennium stadium tomorrow(Saturday kick off 5pm) that will make it 4 Irish victories in the competition in the last 6 years- two each for Munster and Leinster – an incredible record. Unfortunately, this season, a resurgent Ulster exited to Northampton in the quarter finals, the first time they had qualified for the knock out stages since … Read more

Queen’s Visit: Time to move on but not to forget…

‘I have signed my own death warrant’; so (allegedly) did Michael Collins spake after he had signed The Treaty in London in 1921. Collins’s support for the Anglo-Irish Treaty which both agreed to the partition of the country and required elected representatives in the new state to promise to be faithful to His Majesty King George V (the Queen’s grandfather) was to lead to civil war and Collins’s own untimely death on the 22 August 1922. Irish attitudes to the … Read more

Stand up for the Ulstermen (and the Leinstermen).

With Rory in the lead in the US Masters in Augusta and Ulster in the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup for the first time since they won it in 1999 – it could be a sensational weekend for Ulster sport. … if Ulster beat Northampton (away) on Sunday they will have a home semi-final and the possibility of an All Ireland Heineken Cup final in Cardiff in May – just the preparation Ireland need for the world cup. …if … Read more

Of Prohibition, Paddy’s day, Leprechauns and the AOH

After watching the first 6 episodes of the excellent Boardwalk Empire (Sky Atlantic, Saturday 9pm) a few well established truisms are reassurignly reinforced. Firstly, just about everybody can do (and does) an Oirish accent but just about no one can do an Irish one. Secondly, given that the Irish do so love a drink, it was not very clever to impose Prohibition on a population so heavily represented by our goodselves. Thirdly, just as in fashion and style the Italians … Read more

Jeremy, Plaid Cymru and how to do economic competence

I have to confess to being something of a fan of Jeremy Paxman but his smugness can occasionally require use of the TV brick or alternatively a viewing of this excerpt from Newsnight below. It is quite an old clip, having originally been posted by Dewi (Slugger’s Welsh + Rugby correspondent) around election time and which was perhaps a little too concealed in his post – I only just stumbled on it recently. About two and a half minutes minutes … Read more

Election: New government expected but same old politics to continue.

Back on the 23rd June 2006 when Ireland was the richest country on the planet Berty Ahern, Taoiseach, had this to say in the Dail. “You would love to bring us back to the pathetic poverty when de Valera and Lemass built social houses, when no other houses were being built.” That was the “great tradition you and your merry warriors want to bring back too”. “You have a failed ideology and the most hopeless policy pursued by any nitwit. … Read more

Help me with the West Wing: Essential viewing or Party Political Broadcast?

Having somehow managed to avoid watching a single episode of the widely praised West Wing TV series I was delighted to discover the entire Box set in my Christmas stocking – and with enough spare time over the holidays to give it a good lash. But with 10 episodes of the first series under my belt, my initial burst of viewing enthusiasm is on the wane. There seems, to be a distinct lack of edge to the plots, a fairly … Read more

When two (Celtic) tribes go to war

The good relations that traditionally mark Irish-Welsh relations will be under strain this weekend as the homespun-talk-themselves-down Munster take on the brash-talk-themselves-up Ospreys in Saturdays crucial (rugby) Heineken Cup match. Relations have been poor for a number of years since the Ospreys counter-cited Munster player Marcus Horan for racially abusing one of their players – a charge Munster angrily suggested was simply made up. Encounters between the teams are usually fiery and in keeping with this tradition, last weekend Munster’s … Read more

SDLP MI5 and taking the fight to Sinn Fein…

The SDLP are still alive – and they give the distinct impression that they see this as something of an achievement. As continuing (relative) peace brings with it political consensus to both sides of the constitutional fence, the SDLP like the UUP are armed with new and rather uninspiring leaders as they continue to struggle to find a gap in the green and orange political markets. For the UUP, with Tom (Elliott) the Orangeman in charge and with the Tory … Read more

Rocky (A5) road to Dublin?

As the Irish government clings desperately on to both the country’s economic independence and to its tiny Dáil majority whilst simultaneously promising the Plain People in the South more pain in the shape of less pay, fewer jobs and disappearing public services it may seem surprising that they are still funding that road which winds its way through the middle of the Ulster countryside and for no obvious electoral advantage. Of course, all political parties in the South insist that … Read more

No Pope here either.

If Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was determined to visit those of his flock who reside in the Northern Irish territories (NIT) he would presumably be extremely well briefed as to which parts of Belfast it would be safe and sensible for him to drop in on. He would also probably be discouraged from going walkabout, particularly in full regalia and might be well advised to apply some additional armour plating to his pope mobile depending on which … Read more

The ‘Englezes’ V ‘The Boche’ and our complex ties with ‘de udder’ island

This afternoon at 3pm and the latest round of the conflict will kick off when the old war and soccer-ball adversaries take to the football field. Perhaps the bestest football chant of all time Two world wars and one world cup provides the sporting and historical context for the tie – although the damned Boche might quibble that the chant needs updating to take account of their 1970 and 1990 World Cup victories over their deadliest rivals. And we can … Read more

Bloody Sunday and the legitimacy of the Republican insurgency

Political reaction to Saville has been largely predictable, Unionists indulging in whataboutery and deflection, the ill-informed British public shocked by the appalling savagery of our boys and Nationalist Ireland, already well acquainted with the horrible facts, delighted that they have been officially admitted. What was a little less predictable was David Cameron, standing up in parliament and sounding like he was reading a press release from Connolly House and the incredible scenes in Derry where the watching crowds cheered when a family member … Read more

Building on the Rugby success of the Ireland team(s)

It is understandable to view the 09/10 Irish rugby season as bit of a disappointment. No Heineken Cup win, no Grandslam and not even a trifling Triple Crown or a measly Magners league title. Ulster in particular, have had a difficult season vying at the business end of the season with Connacht for the third and last Heineken Cup slot. Of course Ireland did beat the World Champions South Africa back in November and Munster, Leinster and Connacht made their … Read more

Why – really – did Gordon Brown walk away from coalition?

It is now nearly three weeks since the general election and something still keeps nagging away at me. Back on May the 10th and a few days after the election, the intensive Tory-LibDem talks which had been going full tilt, had run into difficulty. The Daily Telegraph was reflecting the deep anxiety that must have been sweeping through the Tory party that they had been ‘outflanked’ as the LibDems had now opened talks with Labour. To add to Tory unease, … Read more