Time’s flying: the Rugby World Cup is just over three months away, and for players hoping to have persuaded Andy Farrell that they can make a useful contribution to that campaign, today is D-Day: he names the training squad that will begin its pre-tournament preparations on June 18th.
“Some seriously good players are going to receive some disappointing news,” writes Gerry Thornley who attempts to predict who will make the cut. You sense he struggled to whittle it down below sixty. His conclusion? “It’s doubtful any Irish squad of around 43 players has ever been harder to muscle in on.”
It came mighty close, after all, to being “the greatest Irish season ever”, falling just one score short of perfection, so a lot more than 43 players staked their claim for a slot in Farrell’s plans along the way.
Gerry reflects on that season, doffing his cap to Munster’s ending of their 12-year trophy drought, but arguing that Leinster’s brilliant rugby shouldn’t be forgotten. “It seems grossly unfair that one or two defeats can define a season, and thus deem it a failure,” he says.
Owen Doyle also salutes Munster for finishing their campaign on such a high, while looking back on the performance of referee Andrea Piardi in the final. The Italian, “in at the deep end but still the best available”, made some questionable decisions, but, Owen insists, they “did not influence the totally merited result”.
In Gaelic games, having watched Dublin draw with Roscommon last Sunday, Jim McGuinness was left wondering if they’re capable of wrestling back “the tactical superiority” they enjoyed over the rest of the country for much of the last decade. If not, “they run the risk of getting left behind”.
Kerry risk the same if they lose to Cork next weekend, Paul Keane writing that a defeat would deal “a serious, if not catastrophic, blow to their hopes of retaining the Sam Maguire Cup”.
But how significant will home advantage be for Cork? Seán Moran had a browse through the records, in both football and hurling, and ended up questioning the benefits of playing on your home turf. In this year’s Munster hurling championship, for example, the 10 group matches have yielded just three home victories.
There’ll be no home comforts for Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry or Séamus Power at the Memorial this week, it being staged in Muirfield Village, Ohio, the trio starting a critical four-week run of tournaments that will, writes Philip Reid, “effectively define many players’ seasons”.
How confident is McIlroy heading into the first leg of that run? “Muirfield and I have had a bit of a complicated relationship.” Ish.
Telly watch: It’s day three at the French Open (Eurosport, 9.30am-10.50), with Iga Swiatek scheduled to begin the defence of her title against Spain’s Cristina Bucsa around 2.0ish. In the men’s singles, number two seed Daniil Medvedev is due on court at 12.0 for his match against Brazil’s Thiago Seyboth Wild.