The grand slam talk is growing and, barring something completely unprecedented, it will only be louder after the weekend. And do you know what? That’s not a bad thing at all.

Ireland go to Rome this weekend to take on Italy (their third straight fixture with a Saturday 2.15pm start) and it would take a complete collapse from Andy Farrell’s side in order for their hopes to be derailed.

After beating Wales and France so impressively, Ireland will be unbackable favourites against the home side at Stadio Olimpico, and there is no reason to expect that the performance levels will drop.

The management may opt to rotate the team a little bit in order to ensure that competition for places remains strong, but there would be few fears around anybody that may be thrown into the fray.

Don’t think it will be a stroll – Italy gave France a real scare and made life difficult for England at times – but Ireland are currently playing at a level where they know that if they do things right, they will win.

For sportspeople, it brings an unbelievable level of confidence to have such power in your grasp.


Obviously, there is a pitfall in ensuring that such confidence doesn’t tip into arrogance, but all we have seen from Ireland over the past year or so gives heart that that will not be the case.

The grand-slam chatter is a by-product of that, in the way that people speculate about Manchester City winning the Champions League but don’t dwell too much on the chances of Scunthorpe United doing so.

This is the conversation around Ireland right now because they are, on form, the best team in Europe. With performances come greater expectations and these have to be embraced.

That doesn’t mean that the team or management are getting carried away or ignoring the task at hand.

For them, the patches are being put together one at a time, and the end result is a beautiful quilt – us outsiders only see the mix of colours without marvelling at each stitch that brought them together.

If Italy are seen off, then there will be a large level of Irish interest in Sunday’s fixture as France take on Scotland in Paris. Like Ireland, the revitalised Scots have two wins from two.

Another triumph for them would set up an intriguing fixture in Murrayfield on 12 March. First things first, though.

Tiger woods mars return with prank misstep

No doubt you’ll have heard something about Tiger Woods’ relatively successful return to action on the PGA Tour last weekend.

Playing at the Genesis Invitational – his first event without using a cart since July’s Open Championship – Woods made the cut and had an impressive third round of 67 as he finished in a tie for 45th place.

With the Masters approaching, the presence of Woods is a boon for everybody associated with golf, not least those in charge of the television networks as he adds viewers in a way that nobody else can.

And yet, what should have been a straightforward good news story was overshadowed by something that happened during Woods’ first round.

Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, 47-year-old Woods was able to outdrive the younger pair and, after one such instance, he handed something to Thomas.

Given the way the modern world is, the interaction was caught on a camera that was powerful enough to zoom in and reveal the item to be a tampon – the inference being that, as Thomas couldn’t hit the ball as far as Woods, he was a woman.


Woods wasn’t asked about it after his first round, but in the wake of the episode going viral, he issued a classic ‘apologif’ on the Friday – one of the ones that begins with, “If I offended anybody…”

In the past, Woods has commented negatively on the fact that there are so many lenses trained on him during a round, but that’s the price that comes with earning millions. He must have known that there was a chance that this intended private joke would be caught.

It’s a classic example of the ‘locker room humour’ that Donald Trump apologists have used to defend their man, but when it happens in public it’s no longer a private matter.

There have been enough exhibits for the prosecution to know that Woods is far from perfect and, by the same token, there is merit in the view that it is misguided to think that someone is a role model just because they are gifted in a particular athletic pursuit.

However, at a time when too many ‘online influencers’ earn a living by preying upon the minds of vulnerable young men and promoting toxic masculinity, this act was appalling from somebody who has a teenage daughter.

Naturally, the criticism was met by a staunch defence of Woods, along the lines of, “Lighten up, it’s only a joke!” But, and forgive the crude substitution, what if the stereotype was that, say, Mexicans were weak and Woods gave Thomas a miniature sombrero? A sexist joke is just as bad as a racist one.

When there are enough depressing reasons for girls and women to give up sports or never take one up, having one of the world’s most famous sportsmen shown up in such a way only shows how long and arduous the battle for fairness really is.

Burns elected GAA president

Congratulations to Jarlath Burns, who will spend the next year as President-elect of the GAA before succeeding Larry McCarthy at the 2024 annual Congress.

The Armagh native spoke well in his acceptance speech, highlighting the importance of the support of his family and his ‘GAA family’, from his beginnings with his club Silverbridge.

Tackling issues

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his roots, he tackled the issue of Irish unity from the off and he has strong views around amateurism and the payment of managers, too.

At the end of it, though, he is just one man and the GAA’s sometimes unwieldy form of democracy can make change glacier-like.

As former Mayo player Conor Mortimer remarked on Twitter, “They all say this and that to get in. Let’s see what, if any, changes happen with him.” Wise words indeed.