The Longshot: Best value on opening weekend is with Cork and Scotland

Six Nations and National Hurling League begin, with LeBron James about to overtake Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in net gains
The Longshot: Best value on opening weekend is with Cork and Scotland

Wales head coach Warren Gatland and Ireland boss Andy Farrell pose with the Six Nations trophy before tomorrow’s clash.

BOTH hurling and international rugby return this weekend.

The big game in the former is the opening National Hurling League Division 1A meeting of Cork and Limerick tomorrow evening on Leeside.

Pat Ryan’s first big test since taking over from Kieran Kingston and since winning the Munster Hurling League sees them face John Kiely’s all-conquering men in green, who have their sights on a fourth championship in a row this year.

Limerick last won the league in 2020 (after winning in 2019 too) and it might not be a huge priority, even though the shorter inter-county season might have changed things.

They are 2/1 favourites to lift the title, but do not look good value at that price, especially as they remain silent over whether sharpshooter Aaron Gillane will be joining up with the squad as they set out on their journey to possible immortality this season.

Cork are trying to end a 25-year wait for a league title and are 11/2, and likely to be much shorter if the win tomorrow evening at 5/4.

The Six Nations has a bit of a ‘league’ feel to it also, coming in a World Cup year. Winning it of course would be a highlight of a career for any Irish player, but everyone also has one eye on the autumn.

Up first for Andy Farrell’s men is a trip tomorrow to Wales, now again under our long-time nemesis and former boss Warren Gatland, who picked up four championships in 11 years there. Ireland are 4/9 to make a winning start (and 11/8 favourites for the tournament), while Wales are 2/1 (11/1 outright). Here be Dragons, as they say.

Ireland come in as the number one side in the world and were only defeated twice in tests last year, the opener on their tour in New Zealand and against France 30-24 in Paris in the Six Nations Championship.

France are 7/4 to retain their title, outsiders simply because they have to travel to Dublin.

Former red rose captain Steve Borthwick leads a new look England following Eddie Jones’ dismissal in December. They are 2/9 to beat Scotland in their first game tomorrow, but considering Gregor Townsend has had so much longer with his squad, the 10/3 (20/1 outright) on Scotland to win the Calcutta Cup looks inviting.

England visit Lansdowne for the final fixture on St Patrick’s weekend and it is 3/1 that Ireland complete a third Grand Slam in 14 years that weekend.

Both France and Ireland are 13/8 to be the most free-flowing try scorers and considering some of Leinster’s results this season, the boys in green might be worth taking on for that. Damain Penaud is 8/1 to be the top try scorer, while James Lowe and Connacht’s Mack Hansen are both 11/1.

There is always the question of whether we are better going into the World Cup (where France or New Zealand await us in the quarter-finals if we qualify from our group containing South Africa and Scotland) a bit more under the radar or as the form team in the world?

Netflix have signed a deal with all six federations to gain back-room access to the squads so we’ll at least be able to pinpoint where the wheels come off if things don’t go to plan in the competition for Farrell’s side.

Can the transfer money machine go on?

TRANSFER deadline day is one of my favourite days simply because it is one of those where I don’t have to get a card for my wife.

On the other biggie days, like Valentine’s, a birthday, Christmas, the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I am expected to fork out for a piece of folded cardboard with a schmaltzy line and probably a picture of puppies kissing (‘I woof you’), otherwise I can expect to get a phone call from Jim White telling me I’m probably on my way to Coventry for a few days.

And while I may not fancy forking out over and above for my passions in life, Premier League owners seem to have no such compunction. There was a time when the January window was a bit staid and undramatic, more hype than hoopla. If it was an actual window it would have been the one Harry Redknapp rolled down to chat to reporters as he left the training ground of whatever club he was at. Now it’s like more like one of those giant triple-glazed, single-pane ones that Dermot Bannon tells a broke, beleaguered couple they won’t be able to live without unless they want to live like vampires.

Premier League clubs spent €830m during this January transfer window. That’s a long way on from Andy Carroll arriving at Anfield in a chopper. (An aside: My favourite moment from a transfer window was when a reporter outside the then Britannia Stadium was attempting to verify reports that Peter Crouch was about to sign for Stoke. Behind Venetian blinds, the Sky pictures were showing us a man a clear two foot taller than those he was negotiating with, yet the man with the microphone outside said he couldn’t confirm the rumour. It was either Crouch, or the board were conducting intensive negotiations with a new giraffe mascot.) Chelsea, recently jettisoned of Roman Abramovich, contributed €320m of that massive amount over the month, but even Leicester, the Premier League’s ninth biggest spenders, forked out just over €30m, roughly the same as all the La Liga clubs or the Serie A clubs did.

Will the boom go bust in the next few years for clubs across the water. Like a man in a giraffe suit, I’m going to stick my neck out and say yes.

Beyonce: One of the higher profile signings in the transfer window?
Beyonce: One of the higher profile signings in the transfer window?

Le Bron James on cusp of all-time record

LEBRON James was one of those youngsters who, by their early to mid-teens, everyone already knew they were going to be one of the best ever to play their sport. Like a Joe Canning or a David Clifford. There was a US soccer equivalent in Freddie Adu, who was christened the ‘new Pele’ when just 14, but things never worked out for him and now 33, he spent his journeyman career at 15 clubs in nine countries.

LeBron has more than fulfilled his promise. He won Championships in Miami, returned to his hometown club Cleveland to deliver some much-needed glory there and then moved to the storied LA Lakers for more success. MVPs were also earned each winning season.

Now he is on the cusp of immortality: he is mere days away from usurping another iconic Laker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in seizing the NBA’s career-scoring crown by surpassing 38,387 regular-season points.

NBA all-time records don’t fall often. The points record has changed hands just once since 1966 and Abdul-Jabbar has held it since before LeBron was even born. The rebounds record held by Wilt ‘the Stilt’ Chamberlain (who once hit 100 points in a single game) hasn’t budged in half a century. And the assists, steals (both held by John Stockton) and blocks (Hakeem Olajuwon) record holders have been the same since the mid-90s.

When LeBron eventually retires (he is currently averaging 30 points per game) the career points record should be well north of 40,000, and may be as untouchable as any of the others.

At time of writing, he is 89 points behind with two games to play over the weekend.

It is 7/4 LeBron breaks the record next Tuesday against the Oklahoma Thunder next Tuesday and 11/10 he does so against the Milwaukee Bucks next Thursday.

The Bet

THE Late, Late Show tonight will feature six performers hoping to represent Ireland at the Eurovision in May in Liverpool (relocated from Ukraine). We last won the event way back in 1996.

Former Sex Pistols frontman John (Johnny Rotten) Lydon is performing with Public Image Limited, but they are a mid-priced 8/1.

Galway student (Jennifer) Connolly is the 11/8 favourite, while Donegal’s ADGY is 5/2. The contest includes Dublin-based Leila Jane (5/1), four-piece band Wild Youth (8/1) and Longford rap duo K Muni & ND, who are 16/1 outsiders. 

Ireland are rated as 33/1 to recapture singing glory, while Ukraine are 4/1 favourites to retain their crown. Lydon penned his entry as an ode to his ill wife and looks good value at 8/1.

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