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Mary Hannigan: Even James Ryan can be struck by the heebie-jeebies

Manie Libbock ready for big game; Leona Maguire preparing for Solheim Cup; unsavoury side of GAA

Good morning,

Just two more sleeps until that meeting with South Africa in Paris. If you’re able to sleep, that is. Even James Ryan, with 57 caps already to his name, can be struck by the heebie-jeebies.

“Sometimes I think I get less nervous, but then the gameday arrives and ... you feel, ‘surely I haven’t felt as nervous as this?’” The nation will feel the same at 8.0 on Saturday evening.

If Simon Easterby is feeling the nerves he was hiding them well when he spoke with the media on Wednesday, Ireland’s defence coach hinting that there’d be no veering from their customary 5-3 split on the bench in response to South Africa opting for seven forwards and a lonely back on theirs.


John O’Sullivan, meanwhile, heard from South African number 10 Manie Libbok ahead of the biggest game of his career, his placekicking statistics – “down in the mid-60s in percentage terms at Test level” – the focal point for his critics.

And Johnny Watterson brings us his latest World Cup diary, and will possibly be feeling nervous about the reaction of the tourism folk in Nice after he likened the city’s seafront the last few days to “Bundoran at the end of the season”.

Further south on the Mediterranean, Philip Reid has been monitoring Leona Maguire’s preparations for the Solheim Cup which gets under way tomorrow in the Costa del Sol. Last time around she collected four-and-a-half points from five and is aiming for a repeat of that sparkling form.

In his America at Large column, Dave Hannigan writes about the less savoury side of golf, namely its ever growing relationship with gambling companies. “There is,” he writes, “a serious public debate to be had about what is doing more damage to professional sport right now, gambling corporations or Saudi sportswashing”.

Ciarán Murphy uses his column to look at the equally unsavoury describing in court cases of defendants coming “from a good GAA family”, in an effort to persuade judge and jury that “you don’t need to worry about this lad”. It’s an attempt, he writes, “to weaponise the GAA’s position in Irish life”.

Also in Gaelic games, Gordon Manning talks to Dublin’s David Byrne who, remarkably, suffered a cruciate ligament tear during the 2022 season but opted against undergoing surgery – and was able to return for the latter stages of the championship.

And we hear from Saoirse Noonan who, if she gets some minutes in the Republic of Ireland’s Nations League match against Northern Ireland on Saturday, will become the first woman to have played in a senior All Ireland final in Croke Park and a soccer international at the Aviva Stadium.

TV watch: Liverpool (v LASK, kick-off 5.45) and Brighton (v AEK Athens, 8.0) are in Europa League action today (Virgin Media Two & TNT Sports 1), as are West Ham (v Backa Topola, TNT Sports 2, 8.0), while France resume their Rugby World Cup campaign against Namibia (RTÉ 2 and ITV4, 8.0).