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D’Arcy says Gibson-Park is more important than Sexton; Kerry and Dubs rivalry

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The 2022 Six Nations is now just three days away, and in his column this morning Gordon D'Arcy has looked ahead to Saturday's curtain-raiser between Ireland and Wales in Dublin. D'Arcy believes quick ball is the key to Ireland maintaining the momentum they built last November and pushing for the title - something which makes scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park arguably their key man during the Championship. He writes: "Keeping Jamison Gibson-Park fit and firing for the Six Nations is now more a priority than that of Johnny Sexton, with the safety net of Joey Carbery returning. When the scrumhalf departs there is a notable reduction in tempo in the way the team operates. If we lose this, we lose our competitive advantage and in this tournament that can be fatal." And he has also pointed towards the work done by his former team-mate Paul O'Connell in strengthening the Irish set-piece: "The fruit of Paul O'Connell's work with the Irish lineout is very evident from Iain Henderson's calling, through Rónan Kelleher's accuracy - a facet the hooker has obviously worked hard to nail down - and the manner in which James Ryan is thriving in the new system. Variety is the key to Ireland's success in this area. It'll be interesting to see how lineout poker pans out."

The pick of the weekend's GAA fixtures sees Dublin travel to Kerry, still licking their wounds from last weekend's opening league defeat to Armagh. And as Seán Moran suggests this morning, the Kingdom would like nothing more than to rub salt into the wounds of Dessie Farrell's men and swing the pendulum of their rivalry back in their favour. He writes: "Dublin's place in history will be emphasised by how competitive and hard to break they were in the league and how that impacted on the old rivalry with Kerry. Draws have become a feature of their matches in recent times. The last two league meetings have ended level. By Saturday evening that might in retrospect look like a levelling off before decline set in, and no county will be more eager to administer the coup de grace."

Yesterday Tipperary hurling stalwart Pádraic Maher announced his retirement from intercounty hurling on medical grounds, after a career which saw him win three senior All-Ireland titles. Tipp boss Colm Bonnar paid tribute to the outgoing 32-year-old: "It's heartbreaking for him; he had more to offer. We had seen him in the club championships and he was still a towering strength in terms of the backline for Thurles Sarsfields." Meanwhile there was another high-profile retirement confirmed yesterday, with Tom Brady to leave the NFL after 22 seasons and seven Super Bowl wins.

Tonight Celtic face Rangers at Parkhead with the chance to leapfrog their Old Firm rivals and go top of the Scottish Premier League (kick-off 7.45pm). Rangers are currently two points clear of Ange Postecoglou's side, but surprise January loan signing Aaron Ramsey will not be fit to feature at Celtic Park.

And Honeysuckle will be the headline act at this weekend's Dublin Racing Festival - she is looking to complete a hat-trick of Irish Champion Hurdle wins at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden

Patrick Madden is a former sports journalist with The Irish Times

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