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The importance of Sexton and a good 10; Kenny summons two new faces

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

It cannot be a coincidence that whenever an Irish province has won it all in Europe, they have had one of the premier outhalves in the country’s history filling the 10 shirt: Ulster had David Humphries, Munster had Ronan O’Gara and of course Leinster have had Sexton at the helm for their four Champions Cup final wins. Gerry Thornley analyses Sexton’s impact on Leinster’s European knockout games, pointing out that Leinster lost their first three semi-finals before Sexton’s emergence in 2009, since when, in addition to winning four out of five finals with him at outhalf, Leinster have won five out of six semi-finals when he has played. Spot the trend? Outside of Sexton in the centres, it emerged nearly a fortnight ago that Robbie Henshaw played in the Toulouse semi-final win despite being cut down by a bad dose of the flu in the days leading up to the game. He took inspiration from Michael Jordan, who detailed his. famous ‘flu game’ in his recent documentary The Last Dance. In keeping with the build-up to Saturday’s final, John O’Sullivan previews the frontrow matchup between Andrew Porter and the behemoth Uini Antonio.

Stephen Kenny has shown no reluctance to blood new players since taking over the Ireland manager job in 2020, handing out 16 new caps in total. In his squad named yesterday for June’s four Nations League games, two more new faces are in the mix in the Udinese-bound Fetsy Ebosele and Blackpool’s CJ Hamilton. The loss of Matt Doherty to injury and concerns over Séamus Coleman’s fitness means that Ebosele in particular is in contention for a maiden cap: “I see Festy as a right winger, but he’s someone who can play at right wing back, and we just had to make sure we’re covered in that area. But a wing back isn’t necessarily a defensive position, depending on who you’re playing, and his speed really frightens defenders,” said Kenny about the Derby man.

Roscommon have a chance to beat Galway for the second time in the last three months in the upcoming Galway final. Despite that, defeat for Galway would still come as a big shock for their fans, no matter how many historical Roscommon victories we’ve seen down the years. Ciarán Murphy analyses the matchup ahead of Sunday’s final: “Roscommon have a more settled midfield, an attack every bit as potent as Galway’s (if maybe lacking the all-out star quality of a Damien Comer or Shane Walsh), and if Roscommon have worries in their full-back line, then Galway would do well to remember that one good defensive display against Mayo will need to be backed up again this weekend.” In the Munster women’s final, Kerry head into Saturday’s game with the lingering off-field story line of Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh having her picture used on the county’s training centre despite the women’s team not being able to use it. Despite Kerry’s seeming willingness to embrace chaos on and off the pitch, Joanne O’Riordan believes in one outcome alone: “Cork are now looking more fresh and agile, and no longer is it slow and laboured. The team look energetic and will bring a new energy to Fitzgerald Stadium that will overcome Kerry and continue their reign in Munster.”

This season’s NBA playoffs has been marred by ugly interactions between players and fans. To be honest, so was last year’s. Most notably, the Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green had some choice words to say after a fine following an obscene gesture to hecklers: “I’ll take the fine and go make an appearance and make up the money,” said Green. “But it felt really good to flip them off. You’re going to boo someone that got elbowed in the eye and blood running down your face. I could have had a concussion and everything. So, if they are going to be that nasty, I can be that nasty, too. I make $25 million a year. I should be just fine.” In his regular column, Dave Hannigan tries to explain why poor fan behaviour is on the rise in America.