Monday 8 June 2015

FAI CEO to Faces Committee Call

John Delaney, CEO of the Football Association of Ireland [FAI] could be called before an Irish government committee to explain how Fifa’s controversial €5m loan to the Football Association of Ireland remained under the radar.

Members of the Oireachtas sports and tourism committee, which is due to meet on Wednesday, have suggested the FAI chief executive Delaney should appear before them to answer a series of questions over the matter, which sparked global headlines last week.

Committee chairman, Fine Gael TD John O’Mahony, told the Irish Independent: “There are governance issues arising here and the FAI does receive taxpayers’ funds. This will be considered by the committee members.”

Reports of the payment, which was described in the confidentiality agreement between Fifa and the FAI as an “inducement”, initially emerged last year, but it was confirmed for the first time by Delaney and then Fifa last week.

The governing body handed over the cash to head off the prospect of legal action over the Republic of Ireland’s heartbreaking 2009 World Cup playoff defeat by France, during which Thierry Henry’s blatant handball during the build-up to the decisive goal was not spotted by the match officials.

Another committee member, Labour TD Michael McCarthy, said: “The arrival of five million euros into the FAI coffers in 2010, a time of nationwide financial distress, appears to have gone unremarked.

“How was such a large sum of money handled and transferred, and how does it relate to accounting practices generally? These are just some of the questions which arise and the public are entitled to answers.

“That is why I believe the FAI should provide the committee with the answers it needs.”

The calls echoed that of Sinn Fein TD Dessie Ellis, who said earlier in the week: “It is in the best interests of the FAI and football as a whole that the Oireachtas Committee and Mr Delaney can meet for a frank discussion on this payment rather than allow rumours and doubt to grow over the actions of our national football association on the international stage.”

The story overshadowed preparations for Sunday’s historic friendly against England, the first in the city for 20 years, which ultimately unfolded as a drab 0-0 draw.

The manager Martin O’Neill did his best to side-step the issue at his pre-match press conference on Saturday, and was equally unforthcoming after the game as he turned his attention to this weekend’s vital Euro 2016 qualifier against Scotland.

He said: “I’ll discuss it sometime, OK? I haven’t the time to do it really here. Do you know what? I will when it’s done and dusted.

“Absolutely, I’ll just put my seal of approval or disapproval on it. Seriously.”

Saturday 6 June 2015

No Bale Out for Gareth

Gareth Bale has expressed his desire to remain with Real Madrid and help the club win the Champions League again.

The Wales international has endured a tough second season in Spain as Real finished runners-up to Barcelona in La Liga and failed to retain the Champions League.

But despite speculation linking him with a return to the Premier League, he says he wants to remain at the Bernabeu and fight for more silverware.

“Of course, yes, I’m a Real Madrid player and I’ll carry on as normal,” he toldThe Sun when asked whether he would be at the club next season.

“I am enjoying it and hopefully I can continue to. I feel settled. I’m looking forward now to playing and winning more trophies.

“My goal is to keep improving, performing and to win as many titles as I can.”

The 25-year-old netted in last year’s Champions League final win over Atletico Madrid but missed out on the chance to lift the trophy again as Real were beaten by Juventus in the last four.

“We were devastated not to be in the final this year, but we will go again next year and try to win it like we always do,” said the Welshman.

“We will all be giving 110 per cent next season to win every trophy. Hopefully we can bring a few back.”

After a fantastic debut season in Spain, Bale came in for criticism during the 2014/15 campaign from fans and the press as he struggled for consistency.

But he insists it has been a “good experience” and is determined to get back to his best next year.

"Playing for Real Madrid is a learning curve for me. I'm still getting used to being at such a big club,” he said.

“It has been a great experience in good or bad times… Personally I have enjoyed it. I feel in part I have played well. Maybe I haven’t scored as many as I would have liked. It’s something for me to work on in the off season to get my finishing a bit better.

“The reason I came here was to get a different style of play under my belt and learn different things which I feel I have done and am doing.

“I still have my best years ahead of me - touch wood with injuries. I am looking forward to the future and to see what I can achieve."

Barcelona v Juventus - Preview

Juventus and FC Barcelona are in their eighth European Cup final; Massimiliano Allegri says "we have to be winners", Luis Enrique wants another prize for "a unique generation".

Juventus and Barcelona meet in Berlin, both teams' eighth European Cup final.

Massimiliano Allegri, Juventus coach
We started the season with an important objective – to get to the quarter-finals. Now we've got to the final and we have to be winners. We need to take the last step; that's always hard, especially in a Champions League final.

Messi, Neymar, Suárez, it's the usual question since the semi-final – how do you stop them, how do you stop them? We need to be very skilled but we need to recognise we're not going to draw; we need to score. How do you stop Barcelona? We need to think how to score. We need to be strong technically because they're a technical team and attack is their best weapon so we need to be very, very aware of that.

We need to stay focused for 90 minutes, right until the end. We need to be mentally strong and turn things around because we're second favourites to Barcelona. It's a one-off match, no chance to play again, so we need to be fit. We are physically fine and the same goes for our mental strength. We need to be good against a great team but, like all teams, they do have faults and weaknesses.

One of the two teams will win a treble, either Juventus or Barcelona – hopefully us. We need to recognise this isn't easy. It's not easy to manage great teams, despite how it seems from the outside. Luis Enrique was a great manager at Roma; this is a new league and a new situation but even back then it was clear he was right in his ideas. My role as manager is trying to add value to a team who were already capable, improving them even more.

It should be a great game. As with all Champions League finals, we'll need some luck and we'll need to work for that.

We're very sorry for what happened to Chiellini but I guess it was meant to be. We lost a player who had been great for us from the start of the season. Barzagli and Ogbonna are both fit; if Barzagli feels OK he's going to play, otherwise it's Ogbonna.

Luis Enrique, Barcelona coach
[Getting better] is a normal process throughout a season, especially bearing in mind this is my first season in charge. The team is now where it wants to be – with two trophies and the possibility of a third. We're entering this game with great excitement and hopes of playing a great match so we can be better than our opponents.

Midfield is where the game takes shape, whether that's attack or defence. We have to dominate both the offensive and the defensive side of things. We want to play our game – have the ball, create danger and minimise any opportunities for our opponents.

There is some euphoria among the fans and we're delighted to see that – that feeling has been there for several months. As players and coaches, we're focusing on this match with a great sense of seriousness and responsibility. We have to handle the occasion properly and make sure we have a good day so we can deal with such powerful opponents.

I imagine we'll have more possession, we hope to spend more time in their half. We'll have to play at a high level, it's going to be a difficult match. Juve have a very similar style to ours, they also need the ball. They're very good in defence, they're very resourceful and that's why they're in the same position as us – they can win the treble too. We know Juve will want and they're going to pressure us. Who will win depends on who adapts better to those situations.

Friday 5 June 2015

Harrington Bids for Oaks Win

Jessica Harrington will bid to become the first female trainer to win the Oaks at Epsom on Friday with Jack Naylor among 11 fillies in the Classic.

Fran Berry rides the horse, whose odds have halved in price during the build-up from about 14-1 to 7-1.

Jockey Ryan Moore will hope for more success on Legatissimo afterwinning the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in May.

Trainer John Gosden has declared Star of Seville and Jazzi Top having saddled Taghrooda to victory 12 months ago.

Jack Naylor finished a promising fourth in last month's Irish 1,000 Guineas and Harrington said: "I thought the Guineas would bring her on and it looks like it has.

"You never know with fillies, it just depends how good they are on the day, but we've beaten a couple of the others before and we're looking forward to it."

Aidan O'Brien, a four-time winner, has three chances of success - Together Forever, Diamondsandrubies and Qualify.

Friday is the first day of the two-day Derby meeting and the Oaks, over a mile-and-a-half, also features Crystal Zvezda, Lady Of Dubai, Al Naamah and Bellajeu.

On Saturday, the 236th staging of the Derby, flat racing's premier Classic, sees jockey Frankie Dettori in line-up for the first time since 2010 on favourite Golden Horn.

Jerry Collins 1980 - 2015

Former New Zealand rugby international Jerry Collins was killed Friday along with his wife when a bus crashed into their car in southern France, local officials said.

Collins, 34, who was capped 48 times for the All Blacks, was near the town of Beziers when his car came to an unexplained stop on the A9 highway, before being hit by the bus.

The couple were travelling with their two-month-old daughter, who survived the accident but is in a serious condition, the officials said. The driver of the bus, which was carrying Portuguese tourists, was lightly injured.

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said: "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been advised of a serious vehicle accident in France in which All Black rugby player Jerry Collins was killed."

Collins made his All Blacks debut against Argentina in 2001. His international career ended at just 26 when they lost to France in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup in Cardiff.

The All Blacks official website describes the flanker as one of New Zealand's most feared enforcers.

"Collins was one of the toughest and most uncompromising forwards to ever play for the All Blacks and his ferocious tackling and intimidating presence made him feared by every opponent," it said.

Collins' death prompted tributes from former teammates and opponents, as well as current players, on social media.