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Rory McIlroy armed with relaxed demeanour; Women’s structural problems in FAI

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

Happy Masters day one and all! Today marks the start of the year's first major at Augusta National and four Irish are hunting for that famous green jacket in Rory McIlroy, Séamus Power, Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry. McIlroy is always the one under the most scrutiny in the build-up to the historic event, given his famous meltdown in 2011 as well as his quest for a career Grand Slam. However, Philip Reid points out in his preview this morning that perhaps the Holywood man's relaxed demeanour this year could provide the extra stimulus that has been missing in previous campaigns. As well as that preview, here is a lowdown of all you need to know in terms of tee times as well as a list of the five golfers to watch out for. Away from the course, Dave Hannigan looks at the history social issues in the local area surrounding Augusta National.

Ahead of next week's World Cup qualifier against Sweden, Gavin Cummiskey takes a lot at the organisational structure of women's football in Ireland. Ultimately, it is concerning that nobody with a direct link to the women's game in Ireland appears to have a say in any FAI decision-making processes, while all of the Republic of Ireland underage female squads have male head coaches. By contrast, Joanne O'Riordan uses the case study of Barcelona's record crowd at their recent El Clasico clash with Real Madrid to show how long term investment in women's football from youth level all the way up can have an incredible effect. In men's World Cup news, Fifa and Qatar have been hit by fresh allegations of worker exploitation in a newly published Amnesty International report.

Tributes have been pouring in from across the rugby world following the tragic passing of Tom Smith. The former Scotland and Lions prop died Wednesday at the age of just 50. He had been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2019. In terms of this weekend's European action, Jack Conan has insisted that there is no chance of Leinster underestimating Connacht despite a recent thumping win over their provincial rivals, while Stephen Larkham has admitted that Munster are hurting after last weekend's Leinster defeat but have to quickly move on.

Being an Olympian doesn't stop the funding struggle for being able to put shoes on your feet, according to middle distance runner Louise Shanahan. The Cambridge PhD student who ran for Ireland in the 800m at the Tokyo games has welcome the latest funding tranche from The Jerry Kiernan Foundation, named in honour of Kiernan after his death in January 2021. Funding issues for athletes are also discussed by Sonia O'Sullivan today, who believes that if you have the attitude of you would do this anyway no matter what the financial support, then you are more likely to achieve success in the long run.