As championship openers go, Ireland could scarcely have wished for better.
Going in as favourites against Wales in Cardiff last Sunday could have led to complacency, while the return of Warren Gatland as the home side’s head coach almost felt it was like tempting fate.
Ireland’s approach was exemplary, though, rewarded with a pair of early tries to claim a strong grip on the game. At the outset, there wouldn’t have been too many Irish people who would have turned down a 32-10 victory at a stadium where the record hadn’t been great in the recent past.
For management, there was the satisfaction that the work done at the team camp in Portugal – and in the months prior to that – had paid off to such an effect but also the fact that levels had dropped in the third quarter, meaning that the players can be pushed to do even better.
And there’s no doubt that they will need to do so, even allowing for the fact that France only got out of Rome with a victory by the skin of their teeth against Italy. If history has told us anything about the French national team, it’s that the sublime and the ridiculous are never too far apart and the contrasting ways in which the teams come into this weekend’s game at Aviva Stadium won’t bother Fabien Galthié’s side at all.
To an extent, Ireland are operating in an unprecedented area of having high expectations but meeting them without too much fuss. Of course, after such a dominant away win to start, the noises about the grand slam will have increased outside the camp but the team group seems to be good at shutting out the external distractions.
As well as the Six Nations points on offer, Saturday’s game in Dublin has a sub-plot in terms of the Rugby World Cup in the autumn.
Right now, Ireland are odds-on favourites for the Six Nations but, as hosts, France are still seen as the best bet for the global gathering in the autumn.
Victory for Andy Farrell’s side would sow some seeds of doubt in French minds as well as showing that Ireland can back up one strong performance with another one.
There will be an expectant home crowd in the Aviva and it might feel strange considering the Irish psyche prefers the underdog tag, but let’s embrace it. The team certainly have.
Followers of ladies’ football may have noticed something unusual in early-season Lidl National League games, without being able to put their finger on it. A number of counties have engaged in kit changes, swapping white shorts for darker colours, such as the black added to Kerry’s green and gold, Cork’s navy or Mayo increasing the red on their strip.These come back on the back of similar moves in soccer and rugby – the Ireland women’s team will have navy shorts for the Six Nations Championship – in a bid to ease concerns players have relating to menstruation.
In reality, such an approach is overdue and underlines how, in the past, female teams were seen as spin-offs of male sides rather than athletes in their own right with specific physiological characteristics. Indeed, it’s only in the relatively recent past that women’s teams have been given jerseys designed with them in mind rather than simply donning smaller male sizes. It should be noted, by the way, that camogie was well out in front with its ‘skorts’ as no county wears a white set.
One disappointment with the ladies’ football league is in terms of promotion, however. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of fanfare around double-header men’s and women’s fixtures, but that has not happened so far this year.As journalist Killian Whelan (@killian_whelan) said on Twitter: “As we now have a new bank holiday in honour of St Brigid, was there an opportunity to showcase ladies’ football over this weekend? The GAA and LGFA teams from Kerry, Armagh, Meath, Louth, Longford, Cavan and Laois were all at home and not one had a double-header.”
The domestic soccer season begins on Friday night as FAI Cup winners Derry City host Shamrock Rovers, league champions for the past three seasons.
Subscribers to LOITV will have access to the game but, in terms of promoting the match to a wider audience, there hasn’t been much from the FAI. One would think that a meeting of last year’s silverware winners would be ripe for a national television slot, especially in terms of reminding people that a new campaign is up and running, but the President’s Cup seems to fall through the cracks every year.
Given what we know now, it’s highly likely that John Delaney was engaging in deflection tactics when he called the domestic league the FAI’s “problem child” but it’s hardly surprising when it’s treated as something of an after-thought. At a time when the GAA and RTÉ are pushing ahead with a second prime-time weekend highlights show, soccer remains somewhat neglected in terms of being given a platform.
That creates a chicken-and-egg situation where the casual viewer probably won’t sit down to watch live matches when they are shown, allowing broadcasters to point to poor viewing figures as a reason why there’s not more being broadcast.
Tune in again this time next year, when it’s likely that we’ll be having to make exactly the same argument.