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Returning hero Xabi Alonso looking to crown Bayer Leverkusen rise with Europa League

Great entertainer Simon Zebo bows out; Darragh Ó Sé on recovering from a bad defeat; Football championship enters ‘sorting phase’

Gavin Cummiskey couldn’t but be impressed by Xabi Alonso’s multilingual talents when the Bayer Leverkusen coach spoke at his press conference ahead of this evening’s Europa League final against Atalanta at the Aviva Stadium. He “nimbly dances between Spanish, German and English,” he writes, but what he fails to mention is whether Alonso speaks English with a Meath accent. After all, it was to Kells he came as a young fella to learn the language. “It’s great that a lad from the town has done so well for himself,” a chuckling Mark Butler, vice-chairman of Kells Celtic, tells Gordon Manning. As Gordon puts it: “As they will tell you in Kells, Xabi Alonso is one of their own, so he is.”

The Meath man is having a season like no other, his Leverkusen side unbeaten in all competitions, winning their first ever Bundesliga title and through to both the Europa League and German Cup finals. James McDermott looks at Alonso’s remarkable impact on the club which was second from bottom of the league when he took over.

For 24 hours at least, “Dublin will feel like a European soccer city,” writes Michael Walker, but several factors down the years have prevented it from making that status permanent, not least it being “a nursery for players to go England”.

In rugby, Gerry Thornley pays tribute to Simon Zebo who announced yesterday that he will be retiring at the end of the season. “Zeebs was a true one-off,” he writes, “a free spirited, game-breaking fullback/winger who could light up grounds with his skills and his smile.”


Gerry also talks to Leinster’s Ross Byrne ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup final against Toulouse, Gordon D’Arcy seeing many similarities between the clubs – including “a strong emphasis on culture and home-grown talent as well as picking up quality overseas players when the opportunity arises”.

In Gaelic games, Darragh Ó Sé reflects on Monaghan’s “hammering” by Kerry in Killarney last Saturday, a sight that brought back some painful memories, the most painful of all the day Meath gave Kerry “the mother and father of beatings in an All-Ireland semi-final in 2001″. And Seán Moran runs his eye over the football championship now that it’s entering its “sorting phase”.

There was excellent news from Lucerne on Tuesday where the Irish women’s four qualified for the Olympics, bringing to a record seven the number of crews Ireland will have in Paris. As Ian O’Riordan reports, though, there was no joy for Sanita Puspure who failed in her quest to qualify for a fourth Olympics.

In cycling, Shane Stokes talks to Dillon Corkery as he prepares to defend his Rás Tailteann title, while in racing Brian O’Connor looks ahead to Saturday’s Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas, Aidan O’Brien having six of the 11 entries, River Tiber his standard bearer.

TV Watch: Dublin hosts tonight’s Europa League final, Bayer Leverkusen taking on Atalanta (Virgin Two and TNT Sports 1, 8.0). Earlier, Ireland’s men resume their Pro League hockey campaign against Belgium in Antwerp (TNT Sports 2, 6.0), and Dublin meet Offaly in the Leinster under-20 hurling final (TG4, 7.30).