Friends and family often comment in awe (well, not explicit awe but I’m sure it’s implicit) on my ability to make up life events with dates.

The trick is that I generally associate things with big sporting occasions. That’s how I know that the only yellow card of my schoolboys’ soccer career came on 7 March 1998. Bandon travelled to face Carrigaline United with barely any hope in place of expectation – the lack of a goalkeeper meant a defender had to stand in.

I was not the player chosen but I didn’t help things with the concession of a penalty, a bouncing ball from a corner hitting my hand. It wasn’t deliberate and I still feel the booking was harsh. Still, it didn’t make much difference as we lost 5-1.

On the bus there, we listened to the France versus Ireland game in the Five Nations Championship. Back then, Ireland tended to lose most of their matches – just before Christmas 1997, they had lost their third straight game against Italy – but an unlikely victory over the French seemed to be in the making.

Warren Gatland

Ireland hadn’t beaten France since 1983 but, with head coach Brian Ashton having resigned following the opening loss to Scotland, 34-year-old Warren Gatland was appointed at short notice.

Unfortunately, the New Zealander wasn’t able to effect an immediate miracle – as we returned to Bandon, we heard that France had won 18-16 – and it would take time for Ireland’s fortunes to turn.

After starting the 2000 Six Nations (now with Italy included) with a heavy loss to England, Gatland undertook major changes, bringing in a host of young and hungry players. While his subsequent replacement by Eddie O’Sullivan means that Gatland doesn’t always get the credit, that marked a turning point and the beginning of the modern Irish rugby story.

More than two decades on, Gatland is in his second spell as Wales head coach and they are at the beginning of a major rebuild, with a number of talented but inexperienced players.

While things could scarcely have gone worse in the first half of their opener against Scotland, they fought back spectacularly in the second half and forced England to dig deep for victory a fortnight ago.

Coming to Aviva Stadium on Saturday, they will feel as if they have nothing to lose but the reality should be that Ireland are a level or two above them. Still, there are no guarantees in sport – except that I won’t be yellow-carded this time around.

Fitzgibbon Cup win for Jamie Wall

Mary Immaculate College manager Jamie Wall pictured during last week’s Electric Ireland Fitzgibbon Cup final. \ Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

In 2014, Jamie Wall had a promising GAA career to look forward to. A talented 22-year-old hurler and footballer, he had represented Cork at various levels and was on the fringes of the county senior football panel.

On June 25 that year, he was part of the Cork team that beat Tipperary to win the Munster intermediate hurling championship final in Páirc Uí Rinn. However, an abscess developed on his spine and led to him becoming paralysed from the waist down.

It would have been understandable if he had wanted to be away from the playing fields but instead he became involved on the coaching side.

One of his involvements was as a selector of the Mary Immaculate College senior team. As a student at the Limerick institution, he was a player when they reached the final of the Fitzgibbon Cup in 2013, losing to University College Cork (UCC), and he helped the Eamonn Cregan-managed side go all the way to glory in 2016. It was their first title.

A year later, with Cregan having retired after a long association with the college, Wall stepped up to the main job and Mary Immaculate College retained the Fitzgibbon Cup. Another final appearance followed in 2019, again beaten by UCC.


UCC won again in 2020 and there was no Fitzgibbon the following year, due to COVID-19. Since the resumption of activity, University of Limerick (UL), and University of Galway had established themselves as the competition’s superpower, with UL winning the 2022 and 2023 finals against their Galway counterparts.

The pair met again in this year’s semi-final, with UL coming out on top to stay on course for the first three-in-a-row in the Fitzgibbon since UCC did so in 1998. Coming through on the other side were Mary Immaculate College and their manager Wall, following wins over UCC, Maynooth University, TUS Midwest and SETU Waterford.

With the wind in Saturday’s final in Abbeydorney, Mary Immaculate College moved into a seven-point lead but the concession of a goal just before half-time almost halved that advantage. UL moved two ahead early in the second half but Mary Immaculate College stayed in there and late points from Devon Ryan, Shane Meehan and captain Colin O’Brien secured a 2-14 to 1-15 victory.

Three titles in eight years for Mary Immaculate College, with Wall a part of all of them and manager for two.

It said much that, in his post-match interview on TG4, Jamie namechecked a number of other third-level stalwarts and the importance of developing people as much as players.

“Our thing is about those young fellas, them growing up, help them get through college, get their degrees, become part of our world,” he said.

“To see them go on now and become the teachers of the world, it’s such an encouraging thing. They are brilliant fellas and will be brilliant role models. The future is bright.”

And perhaps the same can be said about the coaching career of Jamie Wall.

Eileen Gleeson ready for the ‘friendlies’

Another coach who has enjoyed success of late is Eileen Gleeson. Appointed as interim manager of the Republic of Ireland’s women’s national team following the departure of Vera Pauw, the Dubliner could scarcely have wished for things to go better as the team won Group B of the UEFA Nations League, earning promotion to League A.

It was the perfect illustration of how the appearance at last year’s World Cup could be viewed as the beginning of a journey rather than the end of one and nobody was surprised when Gleeson’s appointment was made permanent in December.

Ireland play their first games of 2024, friendlies away to Italy on Friday and at home to Wales on Tuesday, and while they are ‘just’ friendlies, they will serve as warm-ups for the European Championship qualifiers, which begin in May.