The Longshot: Timing might be on Ireland’s side

Worlc Cup finalists France play two big games in just three days to begin Euro qualification
The Longshot: Timing might be on Ireland’s side

Cork’s Chiedozie Ogben celebrates with team-mates Evan Ferguson and Mikey Johnston after scoring the winner in Wednesday’s friendly, which might see him starting on Monday against the French. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

BEFORE we get all doomy and gloomy about our prospects of reaching the Euros in 2024 in Germany, it’s worth bearing in mind that we only failed to reach the last ones because of a penalty shootout defeat to Slovakia, and we reached the two before that.

Yes, we do seem to be in a very tough group this time around, with three previous winners of the competition. But it would be nice to reach a Euros in Deutschland, where we first asserted ourselves on the international stage 35 years ago when Houghton hit the England net in Stuttgart.

The two heavyweights meet in the group’s opener tonight in Paris. That we will meet the group favourites France on Monday is certainly a boon for Stephen Kenny’s men.

That is a very short recovery time for the World Cup finalists.

Didier Deschamps’ side have also been hit by retirements — a touchy subject in France at the moment — and injuries. Goalie and captain Hugo Lloris has hung up his gloves, while Raphael Varane and Karim Benzema also called time on their international careers after the World Cup. Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are long-term injury victims, while Arsenal defender William Saliba and Monaco midfielder Wesley Fofana are also ruled out tonight against the Dutch and Monday.

Fingers crossed another few might pick up knocks tonight.

Kylian Mbappe was named as Les Bleus’ new captain this week, a decision that is supposed to have irked Antoine Griezmann. Rumours of strife in a French camp are nothing new, but will be musique to Irish ears. Mbappe (36 goals in 66 caps) is a decent 11/8 shot to score anytime against the Dutch this evening.

They are still 6/1 joint favourites with the hosts to win the 2024 tournament and are 10/11 to win Group B (Holland are 5/4). They have topped their qualifying group at the last three major tournaments, having been hosts in the one before that.

Our other group opponents Greece, on the other hand, have failed to qualify for four consecutive major tournaments, despite appearing at four out of five beforehand (and memorably winning in 2004 when I was waiting on a €1,400 payout on Portugal!). They are now managed by Gus Poyet and secured promotion out of Nations League C last year, winning five of their six games. Barring some extraordinary performances, it looks like Greece and the Boys in Green will be jockeying for third spot.

The top two go through while the last three spots will be filled from 12 teams that compete in the play-offs based on Nations League performance. We are both 9/2 to make it to the finals in Germany.

Ronald Koeman takes over from Louis van Gaal as Dutch boss, bringing a 20-game undefeated run into the match (they were only defeated on penalties at the World Cup and have scored at least one goal in all 20 of their most recent international matches).

Koeman won 11 of his 20 matches in charge of Holland, scoring 42 goals in the process. He was in the role for the last competitive meeting, which The Oranje won 2-0 five years ago. Memphis Depay is also closing on becoming Dutch all-time top scorer. He needs just seven more to level with Robin van Persie, and is 8/1 to score first. A virus in the Dutch squad (five players including Cody Gakpo and Matthijs de Ligt join Frankie De Jong on the sidelines) has seen them moved out to 9/2 to win, and France narrowed to 8/11 from 10/11.

However, with two home Nations League defeats last year and coming off that World Cup disappointment, 3/1 on the draw looks the best bet. A draw is priced at 14/5 for Monday’s clash at Lansdowne Road. Kenny will have learned quite a bit from Wednesday’s clash with Latvia.

The main thing will be to close down players outside the box, as we have fallen into a habit of leaving in long-range strikes. Gavin Bazunu will almost certainly return to between the sticks, as he has had far much more game time than Caomhin Kelleher this season, albeit as the keeper who has spent a huge amount of time picking balls from his net as Southampton netminder.

Matt Doherty did well going forward against Latvia, but defensive slips will surely see Seamus Coleman back in the side.

Man of the Match Will Smallbone hardly put a foot wrong and should be in consideration for a starting berth alongside debutant Mickey Johnson who had a big impact from the bench, but both will probably have to settle for being introduced as subs on Monday. Chiedozie Ogbene’s winner means he could be allowed start up front with our potential phenom Evan Ferguson.

Time for a presenter from beyond the Pale or is it too late?

RYAN TUBRIDY is running out of Fridays as the host of The Late Late Show after his surprise announcement last week that he is hanging up his tie.

Rumours Roy Hodgson might step in until the end of the season proved off the mark however when he retook the Palace job.

Concentrating on getting better guests than the right host might be better as the focus for RTÉ.

The late (late) Gaybo was obviously the ideal host for the country and for the era, but in his final few years if you tuned in of a Friday you were almost certain to see one of Pierce Brosnan, Tom O’Connor or Brendan O’Carroll.

Tubridy’s unwillingness to do anything more than soft-soap most guests with his questions will mean he isn’t particularly missed, although most will agree he thrived on the Toy Show.

The greatest moment in the programme must surely be when Pat Kenny ripped up Toy Show tickets live on air in 2008 after the winner of them in a competition suggested she didn’t fancy attending it. Otherwise, Pat failed to make Friday evenings essential viewing too.

Who will take over? We’ve had three Dubs so is it time to scan the other counties?

The best person for the job would almost certainly be Bandon man Graham Norton (33/1), although it is safe to assume he is going to stay with the BBC and his weekly A-lister guests.

There are two other Cork presenters in the running: weekend morning radio host and journalist Brendan O’Connor, who is 16/1, and had his own Saturday night RTÉ show from 2010 to 2015. John Creedon is 20/1.

It seems likely a woman will take over the hot seat however.

Laois woman Claire Byrne is the 4/6 favourite after Miriam O’Callaghan ruled herself out of the running. The latter’s Prime Time colleague Sarah McInerney is 3/1, while Angela Scanlon, who has made her name mostly on the BBC, is 9/2.

Byrne might seem too serious, in the vein of Kenny, while Scanlon might be accused of being not serious enough. McInerney might be somewhere in between the two, but may not have a enough profile for the top job.

Tommy Tiernan has received plenty of plaudits for his sometimes overly earnest approach on Saturday nights but at 10/1 he would be too much of a hot potato for those in Montrose.

Big names back for Reds’ final home tie

MUNSTER’s final game at Thomond Park in the regular URC season sees them welcome Glasgow Warriors tomorrow evening.

They are currently fifth in the table with three games to play (they travel to South Africa for the final two) and are well in the hunt for a place in the top eight and the playoffs.

After a far from inspiring start they have now won seven of the last eight games, picking up 34 out of a possible 40 points (six of those seven with a bonus point).

Glasgow are fourth in the table, two points ahead of Munster, and have only been beaten once in their last 12 games, yet are 9/2 to win away, with the Reds 1/6.

Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray could return as conquering Slam heroes while Tadhg Beirne, Craig Casey, Jack Crowley, and Dave Kilcoyne also featured during the successful Ireland campaign.

Ben Healy made his Scotland debut as a replacement last Saturday, helping them to a 26-14 win over Italy at Murrayfield.

Munster are 7/1 to win the URC and capture their first major silverware since 2011. Leinster have won every game so far this season and are 1/2 favourites to win outright.

Following the Glasgow clash, Munster will be away to the Sharks in the Champions Cup round of 16 tomorrow week.

Heaney goes toe-to-toe with Flatley

A MOOTED undisputed title bout between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk at Wembley at the end of next month will now not take place.

The only major heavyweight fight any fight fan wants to see now gets kicked down the road further. The prices on a potential winner remain: Fury 1/2 and Usyk 2/1.

But considering Usyk offered to take a 30-70 split of the purse (even saying he would give $1m to help aid the efforts in defending Ukraine) and that was refused by Fury, we won’t hold our breath.

There is ring action tomorrow evening on BT Sport with what to the uninitiated might seem like a clash between two cultural touchstones of the 90s in Ireland.

Heaney v Flatley II is instead the meeting of British middleweights Nathan and Jack.

We are tempted to say the former has good rhythm and the latter better footwork, so we will.

Their first tussle last year was stopped after just five rounds when Heaney was ahead on all the judges’ scorecards but suffered a nasty cut.

The undefeated Stoke man is offered at 1/5 this time, while Bolton’s Flatley is 4/1 and carries three defeats into the ring. It was probably a bit closer than the cards had it and 4/1 is a decent price on Flatley.

The Bet

KYLIAN MBAPPE obviously has every chance of leaving us with ouef on our visage, but a double on a draw tonight in St Denis and one in Dublin is 15/1.

Those would be great results for us and I also therefore think that 4/1 on Evan Ferguson helping to qualify for the Euros might be worth taking.

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