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Dragging football through the sectarian mud; Italy are not going anywhere

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

Despite reports to the contrary, it appears that Paolo Garbisi and Italy are going nowhere in terms of the Six Nations competition structure. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Plenty has been said about the joint bid by Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England to host the Euros in 2028. In Irish football, much of the rhetoric has centred on the opinion that League of Ireland grounds and infrastructure should be prioritised instead of spending funds on the tournament. However, up north the conversation has been altogether more toxic, according to Johnny Watterson. Casement Park - a GAA ground - is set to be redeveloped for the tournament and despite the GAA catering for all communities, one side in particular has dragged the debate into the mud by labelling the decision to use Casement as 'sectarian'. Watterson says the rhetoric is a bid to "chum the water for unionism" ahead of what will be a particularly brutal election cycle for Stormont. As Watterson points out, politicians know exactly what they are doing "by describing the decision on Casement Park along those lines, they are simultaneously turning up the temperature and driving wedges into communities that often need little help in doing it themselves." In terms of on pitch action, last night was a bizarre one of European football as Celtic lost at home to Bodo/Glimt while Rangers shocked Dortmund away. Closer to home, tonight sees the return of the League of Ireland and it's undeniable that there's a new buzz around the competition this year. Lisa Fallon points out all the development that needs to happen in order to cash in on this newfound interest in what should be a fascinating season.

"Ah, no thanks." That's what Leinster and Ireland's Hugo Keenan had to say when asked about the prospect of Ulster's Mikey Lowry getting a runout in Keenan's 15 jersey next weekend against Italy. Keenan was almost gushing in his praise of his Ireland colleague given the ridiculous year he is having, but unsurprisingly, he is keen to play as much as possible even if some are calling for rest and rotation against the Six Nation's minnows. In terms of Italy's future in the tournament amid reports of South Africa booting them out in 2025, I wouldn't be so quick to decry the death of Italian rugby. Gerry Thornley has found out that, despite South Africa certainly sounding out the Six Nations about the possibility, there is little desire among any of the countries to even conduct feasibility studies into the potential change.

Gearóid Hegarty's recent sending off in the league against Galway has triggered a fierce debate about Limerick's disciplinary record. Are the All-Ireland champions dirty? Not according to Séamus Hickey, who rejects that view while also accepting that they have in recent years "strayed over" the line between physicality and foul play. In other GAA news, Donegal's 2012 All-Ireland winning goalkeeper Paul Durcan has been giving his positive views on the development of the position in recent years.

Cyclist Imogen Cotter last month posted on social media that she was lucky to be alive after being hit by a white van while training on the road in Spain. The Irish road race champion has been speaking to Ian O'Riordan about the near fatal incident: "I think he was going too fast to even notice what was in front of him. After that I just remember the feeling of hitting the van, the noise of it actually, which was madness. Then waking up on the ground, and a man holding my hand, who turned out to be the other cyclist, and he had the kindest and most soothing face I'd ever seen." Elsewhere in golf, Séamus Power is four shots off the lead after the opening round of the Genesis Invitational.