I can’t verify for certain if it was true, but I once heard of a GAA journalist who had the luxury of being able to include a “thinking day” in his week.
On a Tuesday or Wednesday, he would pitch up at a café and sit back and consider what his big column that week would focus on, something to knock everybody’s socks off. The reality for most of the rest of us is that such ruminations are secondary, if not tertiary, to the rest of life’s commitments.
A favourite joke of mine is along the lines of: Q: How do you know that somebody has been exercising? A: They’ll tell you about it.
Apropos of nothing, I was going to say how my inspiration for this week’s column came while cycling, but instead I felt that it might be best to write about why I was on the bike in the first place.
Seven years ago, the Skibbereen Charity Adventure Race (SCAR for short, fittingly) – a mix of running, cycling and kayaking – was first held. In the time since, €155,000 has been raced for charitable causes.
In 2016, one of my greatest friends, James Milner, convinced fellow Bandon men Donough Lucey and Eoghan O’Donovan to take part in it with him. James might have been a bit shy with some of the details, such as why indeed the two biggest cycling climbs were known as The Wall and Calvary, and Donough and Eoghan were cursing him for a while afterwards. That said, the post-race hot-tub therapy at the event centre, Castlehaven GAA grounds, was a big help.
Unfortunately, the 2016 event was James’s only experience of the race as he died on October 4, 2017, only two months after receiving a cancer diagnosis.
A fortnight later, SCAR was held again – not even Storm Ophelia could stop it – and Donough and Eoghan completed the course in James’s memory, posing for a photo with his race number 43 from 2016 and fortified by the scones baked for them by James’s mother, Maureen.
Come 2018 and there was a huge cohort, myself included, representing the James Milner Memorial Team, spread across the three different races – Expert (a gruelling 82.5km haul), Sport and Taster. James’s wife Sharon – carrying the same number 43 – took part, along with James’s brothers, Michael and Richard.
It was tough, there’s no point pretending otherwise, but everybody was better for having completed it and the 2019 event saw a similar showing from James’s friends and relatives.
Of course, like so many other things, SCAR was a victim of restrictions last year but it’s back again, with Saturday, 16 October the date circled in red in the calendar – if there’s no sports column here the following week, you’ll know why.
Belatedly, after two attempts on a mountain-bike (despite swearing after 2018 that a road-bike was an absolute necessity), the equipment I’m using is a bit more suitable and the mileage is being built up in anticipation of a slog.
Still, it’s all worth it in the end and the sense of communality among those of us taking part in James’ honour ensures that his memory is kept alive.
We all know – or used to know, at any rate – those pubs that never seemed to keep the same name for too long. Similarly, rugby union is rife with examples of competitions that are subject to constant rebranding.
Obviously, the Five Nations Championship becoming the Six Nations was logical and understandable; but the Tri Nations (Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) becoming The Rugby Championship upon the addition of Argentina had something of a grandiosity to it. The European Cup becoming the Heineken Cup and pivoting to the European Rugby Champions Cup and then the Heineken Champions Cup spoke to changes in commercialism and ownership wrangles, while the likes of the Autumn Nations Cup and the Rainbow Cup were short-lived, calendar-fillers brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the Irish provinces, the bread and butter competition for the past two decades has been known variously as the Celtic League, the Magners League, the RaboDirect Pro12, Guinness Pro12 and Guinness Pro14 as it expanded and changed sponsors. Now, for 2021-22, with 16 teams involved, it carries the moniker of the United Rugby Championship.
Roc Nation, an entertainment company in which rapper Jay-Z is involved, are the main partners, albeit without their name being in the title.
The change from 12 teams to 14 came in 2017 with the addition of South African sides Southern Kings and the Cheetahs, but while both of those are now departed, the addition of former Super Rugby sides the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers ensures a strong representation from that part of the world. Their addition should make for an increase in quality, and the lack of a huge time-difference between here and South Africa is good from the broadcasters’ point of view too.
In case you’ve missed the adverts featuring Johnny Logan’s Hold Me Now, Irish rights are to be shared between RTÉ and TG4, ensuring that viewers are kept apprised of everything that’s going on. Most importantly of all is the fact that supporters will be back in the grounds.
Connacht and Ulster are first up on Friday, away to Cardiff Blues and at home to Glasgow Warriors respectively. Then, on Saturday, Leinster host the Bulls and Munster welcome the Sharks.
It took less than half a minute for Susie Sapphire to rewrite all kinds of records in the BoyleSports Irish Greyhound Derby at Shelbourne Park last Saturday night.
Not since Spring Time’s victory in 1999 had a female competitor come out on top, on top of that Susie Sapphire also became the first greyhound to go unbeaten through the Derby since College Causeway in 2009. Celebrating her second birthday next month, she was the second-youngest winner of all-time and the youngest since Tina Marina in 1996.
Entering the back straight six lengths clear of Singalong Sally, who showed massive pace around the last two bends to close, Susie Sapphire wouldn’t be stopped. Having already won the Puppy Oaks and the Sporting Press Irish Oaks, she made it a treble with a three-length win in a time of 29.18 – the first bitch to land the Oaks/Derby double.
It was a special night for Kildare-based owner and breeder Peter Comerford and Tipperary trainer Owen McKenna, while Cappawhite trainer Pat Buckley and Gilbert Anderson can be proud of Singalong Sally’s achievements in taking second place.
Jackslittlething put in a fine effort to come in third in what was one of the most memorable Derbies of all time.