The Leinster Blues, expectations and certainties.

It feels like a very long time since I even thought about rugby. For the first time in what feels like forever, we got a small break from the game. A game to refresh, recharge and re-evaluate. Hopefully Leinster took the time to do that too.

A lot happened last season. A new coach in the Great Leo Cullen, an unsettled team and a crowd of supporters unsure how to deal with transition. Leo was always going to coach the province he captained for so long. I just don’t think it was due to happen so soon. Matt O’Connor didn’t see out his contract and he just wasn’t the right fit for Leinster. By all accounts the players really liked him, but the results and style of play just didn’t suit. Leo was fast tracked in a few years ahead of plan. He took the opportunity with both hands and it galvanised the team. Along with recent returns of talisman Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton it looked like a season of bounce back was on the cards.

I am forgetting about Europe last year. That was a step too far for a new coach trying to bring in a new way of doing things in THAT group. The play against Toulon in game 2 was very good and Leinster really should have won that, but aside from the second Toulon match there wasn’t much to write home about. Again, that is not the issue from last season.

Moving into the league, the atmosphere was a bit dour in the usual upbeat RDS. The beginning of last season was a rollercoaster, opening with a loss to Edinburgh and then losing another couple of games that really should have been won. The game plan was taking affect slowly, the players where responding, but it was going to take time.

Moving to the business end of the season, the game plan that had been coming in appeared to disintegrate. The semi-final win against Ulster was a walk for Leinster. Ulster have become Clermont in European rugby, they just don’t believe they can win a semi-final. As long as that is the case, teams like Leinster will walk through them. The 30-18 score line suggested this. At the time I wanted struggle, a game that pushed and tested Leinster because Connacht where going to be monsters in the final.

That is exactly what happened. In the final Leinster where about as passive as I was during my leaving cert. They allowed Connacht run on to them and everything went through J10. No variation in the plan and maybe a bit of arrogance?

But that leads us to this season. There have been some exits, Ian Madigan did what he had to do after being treated terribly by Leinster and there were a few other serious exits. Now the backup for Sexton will be 1 of the two academy 10’s along with new signing James Gibson. This is the time for them to step up.  The signing of Robbie Henshaw is absolutely massive. He can play 12 or 13, and would complement and lead Ringrose further into becoming the player we all think he will be. The break has done the whole organisation a great thing. Reorganisation is key. McQuilkin has gone home which is the main hole in the team. He will be replaces ASAP.

The buzz coming out of the team is sounding great. Some of the long term injuries are coming back to fitness. Cian Healy must be starving for some action after the long layoff. Sean O’Brien is to come back. The international players will be back earlier this year than usual. It is all positive for Leinster.

The team should expect and work towards being in the final in the Aviv….Lansdowne Road. It is time to get back into the thick of it in Europe. An improvement on last year is an absolute necessity, aiming at a quarter final is a good return this year.

As usual @nkeegan for more.

Star making, Eras and WWE arrogance

The internet is a great place. Anything you want to know, or anything you want to see can be found. But the biggest problem with the internet is that it gives people self-importance in their opinion that is sometimes quite sickening.

Hello, I’m Keego from Dublin. And I think my opinion is more important that anyone’s, based on my saying it online 😉

The above is a joke, I was always told to open with a joke.

Now onto the post. Pro wrestling is currently on the way to an upswing. Popularity is finally moving upwards which is a great thing; I thought I would look at why it has taken so long for this to happen.

I am a child of the 80’s. I have been watching wrestling since the age of 4 and remember the first time I saw it on TV. It was from a dingy hall in Stoke on Trent and Big daddy was ruling the airwaves. This was the pantomime stuff. Great to watch as a child. Then in cam the WWF (at the time) and everything was brighter, the wrestlers where bigger and the presentation looked like something that couldn’t be missed. I was hooked. Initially my favourite was Macho Man, mainly because he had a beard like my Dad.

This was the first upswing in popularity for wrestling in my lifetime. Looking back on it now there are 3 reasons for this. The first being that the WWF ran a better show, a bigger show and they just crushed everyone in terms of the show aspect of professional wrestling. The second reason, and the one I think is more important, is that there was a varied roster of wrestlers who believed in what they were doing 100%. No one was pretending, they all believed. From the Honky Tonk Man to the Ultimate Warrior. Each served a different purpose, some for comedy and somewhere serious. But everyone believed in what they were doing.

The third reason was also important. If the people got behind someone, the WWF decided to go with them and give them a push that matched their reaction. Hulk Hogan obviously got the monster push, but that was equal to his reaction. They hitched the wagon to the Hogan rocket and it was the perfect match.

The 80’s gave way to the 90’s and everything changed. TV got edgier, music became grunge and wrestling fans wanted something different. But the way WWF did business didn’t change. They had gone through the Bret Hart and HBK era, gotten through a steroid scandal (although how is it a scandal in a fake, cosmetic ‘sport’?). The WWF needed a change, and through a series of random events (Triple H missing the king of the ring tournament), Steve Austin was given an opportunity. Why was he given the opportunity? Because the people were beginning to respond to him. As the Ringmaster, he was intense but bland. A bit like my lovemaking. When ‘Stone Cold’ began appearing, the people began to respond. This lead to him winning the tournament and cutting that promo. The Austin 3:16 interview was retold in school the next day and we were off to the races. Again the WWF had allowed the fans to choose who is their next star, and they built everything around it to a monster success. Austin had a supporting cast that was stellar. The Rock, Triple H, Mick Foley, The New Age Outlaws along with the tier below them D-lo and Val Venis. Everyone believed what they were doing and the competition was real.

But like everything, the up becomes a down and it brings us to the mid 2000’s. John Cena started as a beige, boring and colourless wrestler who looked great but didn’t have much to him. I was at a show in Belfast where he got booed so much he started to give it back to the crowd. He showed personality. Then he dressed up as Vanilla Ice, started rapping and the WWE (the panda took the F out) and he became the most important cog in the WWE wheel. The problem that started here was that the WWE changed their method of star creation. They decided to start pushing Cena above the reaction he was getting. Assuming that he was Hogan or Austin for this generation they pushed him hard. In the beginning this worked. But it quickly leads to boos from the people. Me remembering his reaction in Belfast to boos made me think he would be ok, and he was.

Now we get to the proof that WWE have completely lost their way in creating stars. Daniel Bryan came along and from day 1 elicited a reaction that in any other era would have led to him being given the keys to the castle. But he was too small, boring and had minimal personality. Instead of working with him, WWE just closed the door on him. Again, in any other era, Bryan would have been pushed to the moon. They picked Roman Reigns instead. This isn’t a piece about being anti-Reigns, because I like the lad. He is very good. Hugely charismatic and is a star. The people made WWE put Bryan in the main event of Wrestlemania and he had a moment that will be on WWE programming forever, but then they chopped him down and he is gone now because of the massive shots to the head.

Reigns is here, they have closed the door on Bryan, Cesaro and even Ziggler back in the day. Aside from changing the way they create stars, they have depleted the supporting cast with nonsense gimmicks and storylines that are lazy. 30 writers and this is what they come up with.

WWE used to be able to create a roster that had huge money in them, but now they depend on TV rights fees and merch to prop up the bottom line.

It is easily fixed, but arrogance and private jets mean we are stuck here for a while.

 

As usual @nkeegan for debate, discussion and derision

Guts, Glory,Vindication and UFC 202

So, it is Monday morning after the weekend that was. A fight that had promised so much, and actually delivered more than even the experts dared to imagine.

Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz went to war. They put everything (and maybe too much) on the line for victory and for our enjoyment.

Let’s take a swing through memory lane and talk about the fight.

The entrances where slightly different to the first fight. Conor was calm like Hannibal Lecter walking out to the beautiful sound of Sinead O’Connor singing the Foggy dew. He looked looser than the first fight, more relaxed and very different to the weigh in. Elite athletes get a look in their eye when they are in the zone and Conor had that. He even threw in a Vince McMahon power walk when he entered the cage. Thus winding up millions of pro wrestling fans, and putting a future wrestlemania payday a certainty.

Diaz was a little less calm looking than usual. This was the big moment for him. No big brother in his corner, he was out there on his own to take on the biggest name in MMA.

The face-off kept the theme up. Diaz was bouncing around, keeping his eyes on McGregor while McGregor was calm, still and unmoving. No hand touching and we were off.

Round 1 couldn’t have gone any better for McGregor. The GPS was locked in to Nate’s lead leg. The one weakness that Nate has is his stance; it’s a boxing stance that doesn’t always work in MMA. It looked like Diaz was either cold, or was expecting a similar game plan from McGregor. That being to throw everything behind every left hand punch until the tank empties. It was clear from the offset that team SBG had been working hard on the Diaz puzzle. Down Diaz goes under pressure and it is a 10-9 round. Some people have said 10-8, but Diaz was never in trouble enough to warrant that score.

Round 2 kicks off following the same lines. McGregor was hitting Diaz at will. Minimal resistance from Nate. His ability to take a punch was his safety blanket here. He knew Conor couldn’t knock him out, down yes but not out. Every second leg kick was connecting very hard. Diaz was put down again by another left hand. Diaz left his left foot out in an attempt to hook McGregor, but Conor was staying away from the ground, keeping the fight on his terms. The fight was looking to be heading to a landslide for Conor, and then with a minute and a half left in the round, Diaz woke up. He walked forward and started throwing the Diaz volume that we all expected. It was seriously impressive to watch because at this stage he was opened up like a Freddie Krueger film. This was the time to find out if the training was going to work for McGregor. The bell ends the round. McGregor took damage, but slipped the main punches. He was never in trouble, but he wasn’t fighting back as much as he should have.  The round was another 10-9 to McGregor on my scorecard. Diaz did make a comeback but he didn’t do enough to win the round.

McGregor up by 2 rounds at this stage. But how was the gas tank?

Round 3 kicked off with Diaz pushing McGregor up against the cage and bossing him. He did attempt numerous takedowns, but wasn’t successful any time. The McGregor team had been working hard on this. Diaz never got close to a takedown but he was in control all the way through. 10-9 Diaz. Again, some gave it 10-8 Diaz but for me there wasn’t a takedown or a knock down here to get that extra point.

We are now 2 rounds to 1 for McGregor, but the momentum had shifted to Diaz completely.

Round 4 kicks off with McGregor getting back to the game plan. Leg kicks came back. Both fighters were obviously tired. Whenever Diaz pushed Conor against the cage it usually ended in a punch coming back at him upon separation. This was the biggest difference in this round. Anytime there was space generated, McGregor managed to get a hand on Diaz, who was opened up like a Christmas turkey by this stage. Still walking forward, but he was bleeding heavily. McGregor finished the round stronger; Diaz was looking like he was fading. 10-9 McGregor. No question.

Final round, both fighters were exhausted. This was different level fighting.

It starts with Diaz walking forward into a big knee. Diaz catches it and pushes Conor into the fence. They both worked hard and McGregor reversed it after some time. Again, upon separation, Conor cracked Diaz with another punch. That one hurt! McGregor walks away, obviously dead tired. Diaz chased wanting a clinch. Anther take down attempt was blocked by Conor. His work in the clinch has been really impressive in this fight. Diaz gets a few strikes in and McGregor is clock watching. 90 seconds left.

McGregor with the takedown, Diaz back up. How are they still going like this? Unreal! Diaz throws a few short punches and manages to get his only take down of the fight. The fight finished with Diaz on top trying to connect with punches. 10-9 Diaz.

I was on my feet at this stage. I originally had it with McGregor winning by 3 rounds to 2, but I had a feeling that a draw being announced.

Both fighters embraced post fight which is what this sport is about. They left everything and more in there.

It seems like forever waiting for the decision.

Judge 1: 48-47 McGregor

Judge 2: 47-47

Judge 3: 48-47 McGregor

There it was. A fair result (even with me trying to take my green tinted glasses off). Diaz is a bigger star and McGregor is now so far ahead of everyone else in the sport in terms of stardom, that he can write his own cheque in 3 different sports.

If I was wearing a hat at 5 am Sunday morning, I would have tipped it to both fighters.

@nkeegan for debate, discussion and derision.

Rematches,Mystique and UFC 202

In the words of our favourite ring announcer…..HERE WE GO!

The countdown is more than on. We are just over 72 hours away from a night of revenge. Or another night of heartbreak.

For Irish combat sports, this can be a big weekend of positive rejuvenation, or it can be another kick in the nuts for those of us who support our countries fighters.

The Olympic dream of our boxers is over. That can be read about everywhere online (and thedailyclothesline.wordpress.com) and the reasons for that are clear.

Which brings us to Las Vegas this weekend and Conor McGregor taking on Nate Diaz in a rematch from the March fight. In that last fight, McGregor had a change of opponent 11 days out and Diaz had to get himself off the beach and into training to take on the in-form fighter in McGregor.

We know how that went. The rollercoaster, the ups and the downs. In short, McGregor was able to hit Diaz but not put the terminator away. Diaz took the best shots and then took over a tired Conor and choked him out.

Since that fateful night on March 5th both fighters have made some changes. The McGregor show has been far quieter than previous events; Diaz too has calmed the pre-fight banter that marked the 11 days leading up to the previous fight.

McGregor knows that if he loses this time, the mystique is completely gone and no one will be scared of the mind games or the in fight games that he plays and uses to his advantage. Diaz also knows that he is on the verge of taking the ‘biggest star in MMA’ mantle from Conor. There is a huge amount of added pressure on both fighters this time.

So, what is going to happen? Who wins the fight?

If you use logic, then Diaz is too good and is the wrong style for Conor. Diaz can take a punch, is unstoppable on the ground and has the mind to handle the McGregor mind games.

Because this is fighting, logic doesn’t always apply. There is something to be said for the fighter who has their back against the wall, with everything to lose this makes McGregor a different animal. He knows he can make Diaz bleed, he knows he can hit him. Conor has brought some top notch sparring partners to add to his great team he already has around him. He is adding to his repertoire and trying to bridge any gaps that may be there. He is now used to the weight difference; he has been in there with Diaz and felt his power and skill. There is no unknown about Diaz. This offers encouragement to McGregor. Diaz won’t come in with anything that he hasn’t come in with before.

So now it is crunch time. Who wins it?

For me, Conor either wins in 3 rounds or Diaz wins the decision. I am firmly sitting on the fence here. My 2 favourite fighters battle it out for my entertainment at 4:30 am. What could be better?

As usual, @nkeegan for debate and discussion.

Armchair experts, Olympics and Bad Management

And so here we are. Everyone (including myself) has become an amateur boxing expert in the aftermath of our most decorated team in history underperforming on the biggest stage.

I am coming at this from a slightly different angle so please bear with me. The first side of this is the team and coaches.  The second is the management of the team. The former I think is not the disaster that everyone is talking about, the latter may be.

Firstly the team and coaches worked hard in training. They adapted to the new coaching structure and tried to implement any new ideas to a strict timeline. No one wanted to have the run up to the Olympics affected by any changes in coaching, but through bad management (more on that later) it was unavoidable.  There is a fair gap in skill from our top 3 fighters to number 4. That is no disrespect to number 4, but the experience just isn’t there. It will be in time. Other countries know that if they beat Barnes, Conlan and especially Taylor they will medal. That is a huge amount of pressure to perform on the athlete. None of the top 3 have been smashed out of the games; you do not lose badly on split decisions. Barnes was at the wrong weight, that is management. Taylor won rounds 1, 3 and 4 but still lost the fight, that is sport, these things happen. And Conlan had that look in his eye that makes him a monster. The problem for him is on top of the above pressure, he now has a team and country on his back. He will be fine. He has his Dad in the corner who will guide him through to the podium. We should be looking at a final for him. I know we said that about everyone, but Conlan looks different to the rest of the team.

The coaches have tried to manage the difficulties of working with a big team along with have a board above them that appear to be struggling with the simplest of things. It will always take time to implement a new way of coaching, which happens in every sport. The coaches operate at a massively high level and have delivered previously. Time is needed here; time and 1 more member of the team to manage the team while the coach’s coach.

Billy Walsh leaving was a(nother) mistake by the IABA. I think they thought that the infrastructure was in place, and that anyone could step in and keep it moving forward. This is not the way real life works. A structure only works when you have the managers to keep the train moving. There is a safety and trust that came with Walsh being at the helm. He was the one point to get a yes or a no to any question. That person is not there. If someone is brought in, it will take more time to build that trust with the team.

Now for the management.  It has been one disaster after another. Someone made the decision to allow O’Reilly get on the plane while out of shape and with a test failure behind him. Someone is involved with the ticketing issue that has made Ireland look like Tony Soprano (not in the good way). And to finish it, Pat Hickey has closed up shop and will not talk to a government minister about the investigation. Saying it will prejudice a court case in Brazil. That’s just not right, himself and the minister could have had a chat and it wouldn’t have gone further until the case was finished, but the Minister would have said ‘everything is grand’, or ‘we are going to conduct our own investigation’. Hickey also says that the IOC will investigate themselves. I’ll give you 2 guesses how that will go. Hickey is becoming a Blatter.

These are only my thoughts; feel free to share and discuss @nkeegan

 

MMA, Porn and acronyms

This week it is a strange one. I got a phone call from Newstalk (an Irish radio station) asking to come on and talk about the Irish Martial Arts Council (IMMC) comparing MMA to pornography and being sadistic. I of course said yes, any chance I have to pretend my opinion is important will be taken.

I found the article that lead to the phone call (http://www.newstalk.com/The-Irish-Martial-Arts-Commission-opposes-regulation-of-MMA-in-Ireland) to be hilarious. I thought the comments were made by a 12 year old, and was surprised that it was a sport’s governing body making them.

To cut through it a small bit, I can understand why the IMMC wouldn’t want MMA to be seen as a legitimate, regulated sport in Ireland. They govern the traditional martial arts (outside of boxing who have their own commission). The traditional martial arts in general avoid fighting. There are a lot of forms etc involved. Which is a great aspect to what they do, and a huge amount of people benefit from them. But when it comes down to popularity, the traditional martial arts are scared of MMA. MMA brings all aspects together instead of strictly separating them. That is why the above article was written. The Fox news like headline is designed to scare mothers and fathers around the country.

But let’s look at the reality. MMA is neither pornography nor sadistic. No Google search I have ever done has resulted in a website having porn and MMA in the same video. Yes, of course MMA should be regulated and legitimised in Ireland. The more legit a sport is, the safer it becomes for everyone.

The answer to all of this is, of course, education. Everyone should know the rules before entering a discussion on a topic they won’t be interested in in the first place. A lot of the comments I have received since the interview have been from people who have never watched MMA and don’t like any sort of combat sport.

In a sport that is alien to most, it is far more regulated in its short history than its sister sport boxing. Medical care only became top of the line after the Eubank v Watson fight, where Watson had minimal care after the fight at ringside. The BBBC lost a court case of care of the boxer. If that had never happened then it would be lagging behind MMA in terms of fighter care.

Regulation is inevitable, as long as nonsense doesn’t get in the way.

http://www.newstalk.com/listen_back/9/29411/08th_August_2016_-_The_Right_Hook_Part_3/ is the link to the interview; I am on from about 5 minutes in.

 

Let me know what you think @nkeegan