There was a chance after Saturday’s Investec Champions Cup results that we could have been looking at a Leinster-Munster tie in the last 16.

Essentially, the four qualifiers from each pool are assigned a seeding based on points won, with number 1 facing 16, 2 meeting 15 and so on. Leinster’s superb record meant they were towards the top of the order while, after an unexpected loss at home to Northampton Saints, Munster were still through but guaranteed a tough away draw.

As things transpired, they just missed each other – and funnily enough, they will face the same teams they did last weekend. Leinster wound up as second seeds (Toulouse were top) and Leo Cullen’s side have a home clash against Leicester Tigers, whom they beat 27-10 at Welford Road last weekend.

Round-robin system

Having gone down 26-23 against Northampton, Munster must travel to Franklin’s Gardens to try to effect a revenge mission.

Curiously, it’s not the first time that they’ve played Northampton in their last pool game and then again in their first knockout tie – it also happened in 2009-10. Most sports operating a round-robin system leading into a knockout stage have a stipulation that avoids such re-matches so soon, but nobody seems to have an issue here.

Of course, had we been left with an all-Irish tie, it might have been a great occasion in a full Aviva Stadium but the bottom line would have been just one representative in the quarter-finals, given that Connacht and Ulster both fell through the Challenge Cup trapdoor.

It may well be the case that that’s the case in the last eight anyway and one must wonder why there is such a discord between that and national team performance being at such a high level.

Utilizing resources

The fact that Leinster fielded a full team of Irish internationals is a bit of a pointer. However, Leinster only have to worry about Leinster and are getting close to the best from their resources.

The IRFU have tried to redistribute international players to the other provinces, with varying degrees of success, but players want to play where there is the best chance of winning – witness the South African’s RG Snyman’s impending move from Munster to Leinster.

It’s a debate for another day as the Guinness Six Nations Championship hoves into view and will take up almost all of the focus. More on that anon.

Rebel Óg awards

You may remember last week’s column and the mention of how I had been inveigled into co-hosting the annual Rebel Óg awards.

Thankfully, the event went off fine – and by that I mean I didn’t fall off the stage or grossly insult anyone – but of course these occasions are not about the presenters.

Twelve young teams were honoured for their achievements and the All-Ireland-winning Cork minor camogie side took the overall prize. In fact, it was something of a female hat-trick as the special guest was Amy O’Connor, who had captained Cork to the senior All-Ireland title, while the hall of fame inductee was also a woman.

Mairéad O’Callaghan was a great player in her day for Watergrasshill in both ladies’ football and camogie, in which she won an All-Ireland club title. Beyond that, she gave so much of her time to sport as a coach and administrator.

Glenville NS, where Mairéad taught for 40 years, was one of the first schools to include girls on the boys’ teams in the Sciath na Scol, before proper girls’ competitions were initiated. She went to give stellar service on the Sciath na Scol committee and served as chairperson of Cork LGFA before going on to become the first female president of Cumann na mBunscol Náisiúnta.

As the half of fame recipient is a surprise announcement on the night, with the winner having no idea of what is to come, Mairéad understandably had no notes prepared but still gave a grateful and thoughtful speech.

She noted how some past pupils were among the winners – while some of them were being taught by slightly older past pupils – and asked all of the young stars of the future to remember those who had given their time to provide assistance, encouragement and guidance with a view to passing on their own experience in time.

It’s that chain from one generation to the next and it’s little wonder that Mairéad has given so much – among her teachers growing up was the late Eamonn Ryan, brother of her partner Jim.

The man who led Cork to nine All-Ireland ladies’ football titles in ten years always spoke of “winning choices” rather than “sacrifices” but, equally, was more concerned with development of players as people as much as athletes.

When that happens, the success is as much a natural by-product as anything.

Is it time for goal-line technology?

20 January 2024; Caelan Doris of Leinster takes possession in a lineout during the Investec Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 4 match between Leicester Tigers and Leinster at Mattioli Woods Welford Road in Leicester, England. \ Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

January 21 proved a bit too early to be St Brigid’s Day – the Roscommon and Connacht senior club football champions fell to Derry’s Watty Graham’s, Glen in a pulsating AIB All-Ireland Club SFC final. Conor Glass’s goal in the 58th minute was vital for Glen, who had been staring at the vista of a second straight final defeat after the heartbreaking and controversial 2023 loss to Kilmacud Crokes.

Instead, Glen followed the pattern of Crokes and Down’s Kilcoo before them in losing a final and then winning the next one.

With Corofin of Galway achieving a three-in-a-row before that, you have to go back to Kerry side Dr Crokes in 2016-17 for the last time the football champions had not won a provincial title in the previous campaign.

Glen had not won the Derry title before 2021 but have built impressively since then, adding two more county championships, two Ulster titles and now the big one. At the same time, the days of a team coming from nowhere to win the All-Ireland – like O’Donovan Rossa of Skibbereen, 33/1 shots for the Cork SFC in 1992 – are long gone, for better or worse.

That may be a bit less romantic, but the presence of such high-quality teams has made for great finals in recent years. That was seen in the hurling decider too as Éanna Burke got the late winner for St Thomas’ against O’Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny.

The final scoreline showed 0-18 to 0-17 in favour of the Galway side, though of course that masked the eighth-minute incident where the Gaels looked to have scored a goal as the ball crossed the line only for Thomas’ to escape.

It was an unfortunate state of affairs, to say the least, that such a thing would happen in such a big game. If we have Hawkeye to adjudicate on point attempts, is it time for goal-line technology?

At the same time, game-state is game-state and it happened early enough that O’Loughlin Gaels were able to recover. They did brilliantly to score three points to level the game, but Burke had the final say.

Read more

Sport: Champions Cup needs respect from all quarters

Pivotal weekend in Champions Cup