Irish World Cup dream still alive after victory

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Republic of Ireland players clebrate Julie Ann Russell's goal against SloveniaPhoto Credit: Jason O’Callaghan

The Republic of Ireland Women’s slim chances of making next year’s World Cup are still intact after a solid win against a tricky Slovenia side, who, bottom of the table, were playing for pride in this Group 1 fixture.

The Irish got off to the perfect start when a late tackle on Denise O’Sullivan, just two minutes into the game, set up a free kick for Julie Ann Russell. The midfielder slotted the ball into the top right hand corner from then resulting 35-yard free kick. The Irish proceeded to dominate for the first quarter and let good chances go to waste as both Denise and Fiona O’Sullivan had shots blocked by the Slovenian defence.

Russell showed the crowd what women footballers are made of early in the game. After her stunning free kick, the UCD Waves midfielder took, what looked like, a devastating blast from the ball to the face from point blank range. However, the 23 year old got up and after a check over by the physio, was back on the pitch.

Slovenian captain, Mateja Zver led her team by example. The midfielder looked dangerous at times as she paced down the right wing. She made numerous crosses into the Irish box but there were no Slovenian players to meet them

However, the Slovenian’s best chance in the first half came in the 40th minute when Kaja Erzen headed Andreja Nikl’s cross down towards the goal. However, the forward couldn’t get it on the target and it went well wide of Emma Byrne’s goal

When the teams came back onto the pitch after half time, it was the away side who started the off better. Erzen made numerous attempts on goal in the first 10 minutes of the second period and was unlucky to find the equaliser. One attempt saw the forward beat Byrne; hit the post with the rebounding ball bouncing off Byrne’s back. Fortunately for the Irish captain, she caught the ball and her blushes were saved.

The Arsenal keeper was again spared embarrassment when Zver’s long-range effort crashed off the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. Ireland started to lack concentration and Slovenia pushed forward in an effort to bring the game all square.

Ireland had other plans though, with just less than 15 minutes left in the game, Aine O’Gorman managed to get her cross to Fiona O’Sullivan. The SC Frieburg forward chested the ball and just caught it on the volley. The ball crept past the goalkeeper, Lucija Mori and nestled into the bottom corner of the net.

Ireland sprang back into life after the goal and minus a couple of attempts by the visitors; the win and a crucial three points were Ireland’s. The win pleased the, close to, 1,500 spectators that turned up to Tallaght Stadium, which included FAI supremo, John Delaney and Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill.

Speaking after the game, Ireland boss Sue Ronan said; “We went into this game full of confidence and we started off confident and got an early goal, which should have settled us down. We played well for 30 minutes and should have got a second goal, which would have disheartened them (Slovenia). We started to get nervy and sloppy and they sensed they could get something. We agreed at half time that the tempo needed to be lifted and move faster. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. They got a bit confident and had a good couple of chances. So it was a relief when we got a good, decent cross in and Fiona (O’Sullivan) took her goal well.

The Irish manager suggested that previous results were down to the fact that most of her players are out of season and not in full fitness. “I think one of the problems we had was that are home based girls are only coming into their season now and done a lot of pre-season work, so there is some fatigue there too. Hopefully, in another three weeks they’ll have some more games and gel and match the girls who play abroad in terms in fitness, “ said Ronan.

Speaking about her plans for the future, Ronan is looking to integrate members of the U19 and give them “some experience” and had some of the members training with the team last week. She feels there is a good mix of youth and seasoned veterans in the squad.

With two important away trips next September, the final qualifiers against Slovakia and Germany respectively, Ronan and her team will be aware that tonight’s win is a building block to those trips. However, she will be happy with the recent displays by the side, and should Russia slip up in the remaining games, Canada could be a reality rather than a fantasy.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Byrne (C), Fahey, Quinn, Gorman (Littlejohn 46), Caldwell, F.O’Sullivan, D.O’Sullivan (Smyth 66), Russell, O’Gorman, Duggan, Roche (Killeen 59).
Substitutes: Reid-Burke, Perry, De Burca, Grant.

Goals: Russell 2’, F.O’Sullivan 76’

SLOVENIA: Mori, Jerina (Ketis 76), Grad, Rola, Nikl, Zver (C), Kos, Marolt (Kralj 51), Erzen, Zganec, Tibaut.
Substitutes: Vamberger, Sevsek, Erman, Rogan, Siljak.

Yellow Cards: Marolt 21’, Zganec 43’

Referee: Linn Anderson (Sweden)

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Ronan keen to build on form against Slovenia

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Meabh De Burca training while Sue Ronan looks on

Photo Credit: Jason O’Callaghan

The Republic of Ireland Women’s team manager, Sue Ronan is looking to build on the performances shown in June against Croatia and Russia when her side take on Slovenia in a World Cup qualifying game at Tallaght Stadium on Wednesday night.

A 1-0 win at home against the Croatians and a 0-0 away to Russia helped keep the “Girls in Green” in contention for a play-off spot. They will need to win on Wednesday night to keep that dream alive. Ronan knows that despite victory in the reverse fixture, the Slovenians will be no pushover.

“We deserved to win against Croatia even though it was a tough game and our draw away to Russia could easily have been a win so we want to build on those results next week against Slovenia. We played them away last October and I still believe that was our best overall attacking display and we comfortably won 3-0. However, this is a new game and I expect it to be another tough one for us,” said Ronan.

There is some positive team news with defender Seana Cooke returning to the squad after an 11 month absence through injury. Reading’s Grace Moloney has also been drafted into the squad as a third choice goalkeeper. They replace Raheny United’s Rachel Graham and the American-based defender Mary Therese McDonnell. Millwall’s Sophie Perry, who was forced to withdraw from the games in June against Croatia and Russia after suffering concussion in a club game, is also included.

There are places in the squad for veteran players, Emma Byrne (captain), Niamh Fahey and Aine O’Gorman. Denise O’Sullivan, who scored the winner against Croatia in June, also has a place in the squad of 20.

Furthermore, Ronan stated her intentions to invite some of the members of the successful U19 squad, who reached last month’s UEFA European Championship semi-finals, to train with the senior squad next week.

“I was in Norway and there are a few of them on my radar. Some of the U19 squad, like Clare Shine, were with us in La Manga in January while five more were part of the squad I took to Spain to play the Basque Country in May. Unfortunately, there is no U21 grade in women’s football so it is a big jump from U19 to senior international football but we have managed to bring through a lot of the U17 squad from 2010 over the last few years and we will be hoping to do the same with the U19s. What they achieved was tremendous and it is exciting to think that 12 of the squad are underage next year,” said Ronan.

With three games left in Group 1, the Irish are five points behind second placed Russia and 13 points behind group leaders, Germany. They have a game in hand over their German counterparts. The Irish will need the Russians to slip up in their future fixtures against Slovakia, Croatia and Germany, win their remaining fixtures and hope that they can manage to rank as one of the top four best second placed teams. No tall task for the Irish team.

The game on Wednesday night will be the last home game of the campaign and the team will undoubtedly be looking to finish the home portion of the qualifiers on a high before travelling to Slovakia and Germany in September to complete a year-long effort to book their plane tickets to Canada next year.

Kick-off for the game at Tallaght Stadium is 7:30pm and admission is €5 for adults and €2 for students and U16s.

The 2014/15 Premier League A-Z

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Manchester City Premier League 2013/14It’s that time of the year, where the banter amongst mates is proclamations of knowing the final positions of favourite clubs come next May, top signings during the transfer window and that nostalgic feeling when talking about the ups and downs of the previous year. Yes, it’s the start of a new Premier League season.

Each year we see previews of the 20 teams vying for the top spot in English football and where they may end up come the end of the season. Well, I decided to go a different route – the A-Z of what you need to know ahead of the Premier League kick-off on Saturday.

A is for Arsenal – Two pieces of silverware in 85 days, Alexis Sánchez and Mathieu Debuchy. Arsenal fans will hoping to be celebrating at the end of the season.

B is for Bolasie – The Crystal Palace midfielder was one of the stars in the incredible 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the end of last season. His performances on the wing last season put him in the top 5 dribblers. Should he repeat these performances, he’ll surely be one of Palace’s key men this season.

C is for Champions League – Arguably, the second biggest battle in the league after the title chase, there will be a handful of teams looking to break into that top four with Manchester United still reeling after last season. Time will tell who will make the challenge but nonetheless it will be great entertainment.

D is for Didier Drogba – The King has returned to Stamford Bridge. Drogba will be seen as adding vital experience and leadership to a squad that has lost some key veteran players. Having scored 28 goals in 64 competitive club games since leaving Chelsea, fans are hoping that he can recreate some of the magic that made him an icon.

E is for Enner Valencia – One of the key players in the Ecuadorian World Cup squad (and perhaps their best), Valencia will add desperately needed firepower to The Hammers, something that became evident during pre-season with the club only scoring four goals in six games.

F is for Fired – The sack race has already begun with Tony Pulis leaving Crystal Palace. The question is: Who’s next?

G is for Gerrard – The Liverpool captain will be looking to put a dreadful end to last season behind him and lead Liverpool to glory. A heartbreaking slip during a back pass meant that Liverpool’s title chances all but disappeared and an awful World Cup performance from England lead by Gerrard, followed.

H is for Heroes – Every season there are always players who stand out, heroes and villains that define a season. Whether it’s the youth player you’ve heard so much about breaking into the first team and becoming a wunderkind or if last season’s worst player is still going to ruin your club and questioning why the manager has stuck with him despite all the poor displays. These questions will remain from kick-off on Saturday until the final whistle in May.

I is for Ince – Tom Ince was in the news early in the summer as he exercised his right as a free agent to talk to other clubs. There were murmurs of Inter Milan and Monaco. A deal was allegedly offered to the former Blackpool player by Inter. A chance to follow his father’s footsteps in the San Siro. A dream to some. Not to Tom though, his dream was Yorkshire and Hull City.

J is for Joe Cole – Hoping to reignite his stalling career at Aston Villa, the 32 year old will be looking to help supply key man, Christian Benteke and help Villa obtain a reasonable position this season and steer away from the relegation battle, no easy task.

K is for Krkić – Probably one of the oddest transfers of the summer. Once regarded as one of the top emerging talents in Europe, Bojan Krkić has joined Stoke City from Barcelona. His career stalled after spells at Roma and Ajax and it will be interesting to see how he plays into Mark Hughes’ squad.

L is for Leicester City – It’s been a long 10 year wait but the Foxes are back in the big time. Nigel Pearson’s men secured automatic promotion from the Championship with six games to spare and then went on to win the title with two games left to play. The club will most likely be in the relegation mix but Pearson will be hoping his side can face the challenge of England’s top tier and survive.

M is for Magic Spray – One of the big talking points of this year’s World Cup in Brazil is coming to the Premier League. One can only suspect that the Premier League bosses will be looking to Gillette as a sponsor.

Magic Spray

N is for Newcastle United – Plenty of changes at St.James Park but Alan Pardew will hope that it will help the club improve on last season’s 10th place finish. Also, with Joe Kinnear gone, Pardew has the freedom to purchase players that suit his needs.

O is for Odemwingie – It wouldn’t be Transfer Deadline Day without seeing Peter turn up at some random Premier League ground. Granted, it has only happened once but it will stick with him for the rest of his career no matter what he does on the pitch.

P is for Pochettino – The Tottenham manager is chairman Daniel Levy’s third manager in two years. However, should the Argentine be given the opportunity to apply his game plan he could well be a success with Spurs.

Q is for QPR – ‘Arry is back! And he has brought Glenn Hoddle with him. He has also made a few signings that will strengthen his side’s chances of surviving relegation. Rio Ferdinand is a key signing who has much experience and Steven Caulker is also a good signing and could form a solid partnership in defence with Ferdinand or Richard Dunne.

R is for Ross Barkley – The midfielder was one of the best players in Everton’s successful squad last term. Having signed a new contract in the summer he will be hoping to build on his boyhood club’s position last season and bring Champions League football back to Goodison Park.

S is for Southampton – What seems to be the feeder club to Liverpool these days, The Saints have lost a number of players but at least manager Ronald Koeman has seen the funny side. His tweet (below) at his first training session showed his funny side and won some fans. He will be hoping to keep those fans by proving that despite the loss of players, Southampton are still a force to be reckoned with.

T is for Transfers – There have been a host of names that have come and gone during the summer and this will more than likely last until 11pm on Monday, September 1st aka Transfer Deadline Day. Cue Harry Redknapp hanging out of his car door window.

U is for Underdogs – Some teams are always written off before a ball is kicked off (Think of Hull City in the 2008/09). Burnley have already been condemned to failure and return to the Championship at the end of the season. They will be hoping to look at the likes of Hull or even the 2009/10 Burnley squad lead by Owen Coyle, who performed well and seemed safe, until he left the club.

V is for Van Gaal – The man with the Golden Willy (well according to Arjen Robben anyway) comes to Old Trafford to clean up the mess left behind by David Moyes. He has already stamped his mark on the team, criticising the squad’s trip to America and telling new £30m signing, Luke Shaw that he needs to lose weight to make the team. It will be interesting to see how well the Van Gaal experiment works this season. Top four is the goal and it could well be achieved.

W is for Webb – The Premier League’s senior referee has retired to take up a position with the Professional Game Match Officials Limited where he will analyse controversial refereeing decisions. One assumes he will be defending all pro-Old Trafford decisions.

X is for X marks the spot – OK I’ll admit I’m getting desperate now! 1,052 goals scored in the 2013/14 season. Let’s hope this season matches that, if not betters it.

Y is for Yaya Touré – The Manchester City midfielder must have been given the cake he yearned for as he will be staying put at the Etihad Stadium. It will certainly be a relief to City fans who hope the Ivorian can, this season, replicate the form from last term that has made him so popular.

Z is for Zaha – One of the final acts of Sir Alex Ferguson’s successful career at Old Trafford was signing the highly rated Crystal Palace winger. After being kept in the dark last season by former manager David Moyes, he will be hoping to kick-start his career under Louis Van Gaal or move elsewhere.

PGA Championship 2014 – McIlroy aims to become the first player in 6 years to win back-to-back majors

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Rory McIlroy 2014 WGC Bridgestone Invitationalbridgestone

Valhalla Golf Club is the location for the last major of the season, the 96th PGA Championship. It will be the third time the Louisville, Kentucky course will host this particular major. It held the tournament in 1996 and 2000, with both tournaments needing a playoff to determine the winner.

Will McIlroy continue his momentum at Valhalla?

Rory McIlroy is the clear favourite coming into this tournament. His fine form at Hoylake in July helped him capture The Open title, the third major of his career. He followed that up with a fantastic performance at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational last weekend, opening his final round with four birdies on the first five holes to snatch the lead from Sergio Garcia and ultimately, take the title at Firestone.

With his form indisputable, the Holywood man will be looking to hit accurately off the tee on a course that will not be nice to wayward shots. In his PGATour.com preview of the Valhalla course, Mark Immelman suggested accuracy was the key when teeing off; “I believe that the really low scores will come from the guy who plays from the fairway. Players who miss the fairways in the correct spots should still be able to score but I believe that the long and accurate driver will have an advantage. So time spent on tightening up the accuracy with the driver will prove advantageous and I would highly recommend it.” McIlroy should take note of this. His season’s Driving Accuracy Percentage is 59.74%, leaving him in 116th in the stat ranking.

The new World Number 1 has stated that he is in the best form of his life and he will be hoping to become the first player to claim back to back majors in six years. To win at Valhalla would be no mean feat for the Northern Irishman. It’s tough enough to win back-to-back titles in the space of a month but to win 3 in a row will be something special and in this age of golf (with a list of world class players) it could be one of the most significant streaks in the history of the sport. Then again leave it to the Irish to make something special (just ask Pádraig Harrington).

Never settle for being second best when you know you deserve to be first

That’s a saying that no doubt sums up Sergio Garcia presently. For the second tournament in a matter of weeks, Garcia played second fiddle to his fellow European. Last weekend, he dominated the first three rounds and fell flat on the fourth, a round that nearly cost him more than just the title. A wayward shot on the third, hit the engagement ring of a female spectator and sent the diamond loose into the long grass.

Garcia is probably the name that tops most journalists’ list of “Best player to never win a major,” a list Sergio will be hoping to come off of this weekend. He has all the attributes to win here at Valhalla. He also has the experience of playing at the Louisville course, as part of the ill-fated European team at the 2008 Ryder Cup and at this tournament in 2000 where he finished tied 34th.

However, hearing him talk about the course would make one question his confidence. “I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not my favourite golf course in the world,” claimed Garcia ahead of the Bridgestone Invitational. If he wants to be in contention for the title, Garcia needs to forget about the past and concentrate on the challenge ahead. With Driving Accuracy Percentage at 63.95% and 70.11% Greens in Regulation Percentage, Garcia can make a substantial challenge to win his first major.

Tiger’s season in doubt

Tiger Woods 2014 WGC Bridgestone InvitationalIt was the sight that nobody was hoping to see, Tiger Woods crouching over with an expression of agony. After three months out of action due to back surgery, the unbelievable happened – Tiger withdrew from the Bridgestone Invitational with a back injury. At the time of writing, the former World Number 1 has not ruled himself out of this weekend’s tournament.

Woods is no stranger to short turnarounds, however, at 38 years old he seriously needs to consider whether competing at Valhalla will do him any favours in the long run. His season is effectively over. He would need to win this weekend to make the playoffs for the FedEx Cup. He would also need to play some spectacular golf over the next few weeks for captain, Tom Watson to consider picking the 14-time major winner for his Ryder Cup team.

As Steven Cook quite rightly posted in his column for Bleacher Report, it would serve Woods best to sit out the remainder of the season and prepare himself for Augusta next April rather than risk his health, and potentially his career, searching for that 15th major title.

 Ones to watch

Adam ScottThere will be plenty of talent on show this weekend at Valhalla Golf Club and there will be many players who will be wanting to make an impression ahead of the FedEx Cup playoffs and also the Ryder Cup.

Adam Scott (above) will be looking to build on from this tied eighth finish at Firestone and mount a challenge to win his second major title and regain the number 1 spot in the world. He has been impressive in the majors in the last four seasons (a win and eight top 10s). Expect to see the Aussie make a challenge at Valhalla.

Phil Mickelson has had a poor season this year but he will be happy with his fourth round performance at the Bridgestone Invitational, scoring a 62 to leave him at tied 15th, scoring 10 birdies and bogeying two. He will relish his pairing of Tiger Woods, should his old rival make it to the tee.

Fellow American, Keegan Bradley will also be looking to make an impression in Louisville. A poor back 9 last Sunday cost the Vermont native his slim chance to claim the Bridgestone Invitational title. A good performance this weekend will boost his chances of making the Ryder Cup team. Although Keegan will undoubtedly be looking win back the title he won in 2011.

24-year-old Patrick Reed will be looking to win himself a belated birthday gift this weekend. A solid 9-under par at Firestone left him at tied-fourth, which included an impressive eagle shot on the par four 17th. More displays like this will help the young man get his first major. With two wins under his belt so far this season, he will be looking to improve on his tied 35th at the U.S. Open and his early exit from The Open in July.

With so much on the line this weekend, expect some good golf to be played with top scorers expected to go into double figures. Putting will be challenging as players come up against some difficult hole locations. However, this will make good viewing over the weekend for us spectators.