The Longshot: Kenny’s side might still take top spot

Robert O'Shea: Seniors take on Scotland tomorrow while tonight our U21s chase a spot at Euros next summer 
The Longshot: Kenny’s side might still take top spot

At just 17 Evan Ferguson is emerging as a bright hope for Ireland’s attacking capabilities in the future. He is likely to lead the line for the U21s at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin when they face Israel tonight. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

IF someone told you a few years back that Ireland would be playing in Ta’ Qali on the opening day of the World Cup, your heart may have done a little leap and you might have assumed we had qualified for Qatar.

Alas, Ta’ Qali is the home stadium of Malta and Stephen Kenny’s men will be heading there for a friendly on the same day as the action gets underway in the Middle East.

Four days before that, Norway will visit Dublin and the most dangerous man within a stone’s throw of a goalpost will be in Dublin.

Before all that, there’s the small matter of the Nations League, which we somehow have a chance of topping our group in, despite losing our first two games (the opener in Armenia and at home to Ukraine).

If Kenny’s men win in Scotland and back it up at home to Armenia next Tuesday, top spot is possible if Ukraine drop points in Yerevan and then draw with the Scots in their concluding game.

If Ukraine avoid defeat in Armenia tomorrow we will enter tomorrow night’s match knowing a win is essential to keep hopes of a top-two finish alive.

On Wednesday night, the Tartans hammered Ukraine 3-0, gaining some measure of revenge for their World Cup playoff defeat at the hands of the war-torn nation and rebounding from our 3-0 defeat of them in the wake of that disappointment.

Alan Browne, Troy Parrott and Michael Obafemi all scored last June as we overran the subdued Scots in our biggest competitive home win since 2014.

We have a winning record against our closest neighbours, with five victories, four losses and three draws — and are 3/1 generally to do the double over them, while they are even money to come out on top in Hampden Park.

Before all that our U21s have a chance of reaching the European Championships, which will be held on either side of the Black Sea next summer, in Romania and Georgia.

Our youngsters have to overcome Israel if they are to become one of the 16 in the tournament for the first time since its inception in 1978 (although we didn’t attempt to qualify until 1992).

The men from the Middle East visit Tallaght tonight before a second leg in Tel Aviv next Tuesday.

What might have surprised many was that Aaron Connolly, eight times capped for the senior team and 23 in January, has been included in the playoff squad.

The Galway man burned bright for Brighton a few seasons back but now finds himself trying to reignite his career at Venezia in Serie B.

The funny thing is that any player born after January 1, 2000 is eligible to play in the tournament next year. That means Gavin Bazunu, Nathan Collins, Jason Knight, Troy Parrott, Michael Obafemi and Adam Idah are among the current senior squad members who could be called up if we were to qualify.

However, U21 boss Jim Crawford has insisted he will not be calling on any of those currently in the senior squad for the tournament, firstly to be fair to those who would have mainly contributed to the team reaching a maiden U21 finals appearance, and also because he imagines Stephen Kenny may have other plans for them with possible international tours next summer.

Another young man making a name for himself at Brighton is Evan Ferguson. The Meath man has already made five senior appearances at the tender age of 17 and will lead the line tonight.

Israel finished eight points behind Germany in their qualification, while we were five points behind Italy.

We are 13/10 to beat them tonight, while they are 19/10 and there is no odds yet on a two-leg result, but fair to say the bookies are favouring them to get through. 

Ireland have scored at least one goal for five consecutive matches and those included seeing of our nearest challengers in the group Sweden twice. We did lose 4-1 away to Italy in June but that was not exactly something to be too ashamed about against the joint most successful side in the history of the competition.

Irish Duo can help Geelong down the Swans

THE International/Compromise Rules series has been evenly balanced at 10-10 (we’re 21-19 up in test matches played) since Australia won the last one Down Under in 2017.

However the Series never really recovered from the decision to send an all-Aborigine team to compete in Ireland in 2013. While some tried to spin that as a progressive move at the time, it was hard to avoid the strong whiff of racial overtones, nevermind undertones, to the decision.

Would it have made any more sense for us for us to send a team of redheads Down Under the following year?

And now a series of allegations have rocked the sport of Aussie Rules in the week of the Grand Final.

A former Hawthorn player from an indigenous background has alleged that he was told by a former club’s coach to terminate his partner’s pregnancy if he wanted to advance his career. Three further indigenous families involved at Hawthorn during the same period as that coach from 2005-21 have said they were bullied and told to choose between their football and their families.

If true, it will be a scandal for a sport that already has serious issues with aborigines being abused from the stands.

It all takes a shine off a decider that could see two Irishmen join Tadhg Kennelly as Gaelic exports to bag a winners’ medal.

Zach Tuohy from Portlaoise and Dingle’s Mark O’Connor will be hoping to help Geelong (8/15) beat the Sydney Swans at the MCG tomorrow (5.30am Irish time).

I asked my wife’s cousin who lives in Sydney if she had any inside info I could use and she texted me back: “What is a Geelong?” 

Victoria is the heartland of Rules (rugby league dominates in New South Wales) and I fancy the Irish lads to be celebrating by the time we wake up tomorrow.

Blue Alert

IN the last 10 gaelic football meetings between Kerry and Dublin, the Blues have won two, drawn four and lost four. Little surprise Dessie Farrell is delighted to recall two of their greats, Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion to his squad next year. The Dubs shortened to 2/1 to lift Sam, just behind their great rivals on 6/4.

Dessie Dolan’s appointment as Westmeath boss isn’t causing the bookies much concern and the Dubs are 2/7 to win the province for 18th time in 19 years. That’s a nailed-on bet if ever there was one.

Federer farewell (or 1750 ways to leave at Laver)

SO farewell then Roger Federer. The best male tennis payer of his generation, who was also simultaneously the third best.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner will bow out at the Laver Cup, an event that since 2017 has seen Europe pitted against the Rest of the World. Unsurprisingly, Europe have dominated. In the past 18 years only one player not from this continent has one a Grand Slam event — Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open in 2009.

Coincidentally, the 2021 Laver Cup and Ryder Cup were both held on the same September weekend and so it follows it shares a date with the President’s Cup in golf this year. The one-sided nature of the event has meant that like the latter, it has failed to grab the imagination.

The Rest of the World only managed to take a single point in a 14-1 defeat last year, but are just 3/1 to take a maiden win. Europe are priced at 2/9.

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe remain the captains, as they have from the cup’s inception.

Federer will play his 1750th and last professional match on a tennis court in the doubles, partnering great rival Rafael Nadal today in London. His absence from the singles games means his last one was in the 2021 Wimbledon quarters, when he lost in three sets to unheralded Pole Hubert Hurkacz.

The Swiss racqueteer’s early nickname the Federer-Express never really caught on and he once expressed a preference for simply Rog, presumably unaware it had already been taken. He is considered by most fans as the greatest player of all time despite having an inferior Slam record and head-to-head to Nadal and Djokovic. They have been incredible too but Federer’s record of getting to 18 major finals in 19 from Wimbledon 2005 through Australia 2010 must remain one of the most startling feats of consistency in the history of sport. His dash of panache places him slightly above his famously gritty rivals.

The most likely emerging challenger to the top three who might hope of dominating like them is Spain’s recent winner of the US Open, Carlos Alcaraz. He is 7/2 to win the next Slam in Australia in the new year. Novak Djokovic is 13/8 favourite to lift his 10th title there after it last week emerged his ban on entering the country is likely to be lifted before January.

The Bet

IRELAND will be facing a backlash form the Scots tomorrow but a draw (21/10) is a reasonable result to help us ensure we aren’t in with a fair chance of being relegated in the Nations League.

The U21s will be hoping for a big crowd in Tallaght tonight and can bring an advantage to the second leg in Israel. 

Geelong all the way in the AFL decider. That treble will net you 10/1.

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