Six Nations team of the tournament; McCarthy has big decisions to make

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

Ireland assistant coach Robbie Keane during training ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers with Gibraltar and Georgia. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Ireland assistant coach Robbie Keane during training ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifiers with Gibraltar and Georgia. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

It was a St Patrick’s weekend pockmarked both by Irish success and Irsh disappointment. While Katie Taylor and Michael Conlan continued to reign supreme in the boxing ring and Rory McIlroy claimed the biggest prize outside the Majors on the PGA Tour, the Ireland rugby team fell to a dismal loss to Wales, bringing a rather sad curtain down on the Six Nations careers of Joe Schmidt and Rory Best. With the Grand Slam going to Wales, Gerry Thornley has picked his team of the tournament which was quite a different task to this time last year when it could easily have been made up of 15 Irishmen. And what of Ireland as the World Cup gets ever closer? Well, there’s no doubt that confidence has been dented but, as Gerry Thornley writes, Schmidt’s men have enough credit in the bank to retain the faith of supporters and also to demand some patience. Focus now turns back to the provincial game and specifically the Champions Cup knockout stages which get underway Saturday week. For Munster, Joey Carbery is in a race to be fit for their meeting with Edinburgh while, for Leinster, Robbie Henshaw is running out of time to be fit for the quarter-final clash against Ulster. Speaking yesterday, Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster said Ireland’s Six Nations disappointment can be traced back to the first game and the loss to England.

On to football and Mick McCarthy took his first Ireland training session in 17 years yesterday ahead of the opening Euro 2020 qualifier against Gibraltar on Saturday. Much of the talk has been around how McCarthy will incorporate both Séamus Coleman and Matt Doherty in the team with the Ireland manager strongly hinting that Doherty will play on the right-hand side of midfield. McCarthy has also been impressed with Shamrock Rovers’ Jack Byrne since he joined the squad. “I thought he was excellent [on Friday night for Shamrock Rovers] and he deserves to be here, he looks a good player. I think he started on the right but was never there; he flits around, gets on the ball . . . he’s one of them that likes the ball all the time,” McCarthy said. In Spain, Lionel Messi continues to excite and confound with his hat-trick against Real Betis on Sunday night just the latest act in his breathtaking Barcelona career. The Argentine’s third goal of the game was enough to earn a standing ovation from the Betis fans as Sport newspaper proclaimed that “this league has just one name on it,” writes Sid Lowe.

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