Tuesday, August 16, 2005

TWTWTW: And What a Weekend It Was!

Was that the greatest weekend of sport ever? In terms of sheer couch-withering volume, breadth of options and, indeed, epic excitement, it will be hard beaten. Hell, there was so much to fit in that it spilled over into Monday, like some heaving gut in ill- advised speedos. There was so much to enjoy, that the normally suffocating Premiership's return was something of a footnote to the major stories.

So here are TSA's top moments of a top weekend.....

1. Eoin Mulligan's goal of the year
Well wasn't that worth waiting for? Eoin Mulligan hasn't been having the best of years, and indeed has more often than not found himself on the bench this season so far. It's been a handy pundits hook to refer to Peter Canavan and himself as master and apprentice, given that Canavan is a former teacher of Mulligan's and that the parallel seemed so apt as the two dovetailed so effectively in Tyrone's great journey of 2003; but it has almost been as if Canavan's limited contribution, through either injury or the desire of Mickey Harte to have the ultimate impact sub up his sleeve, has dulled Mulligan's famous zest, as if the pupil felt unworthy to occupy his master's robes. (My that is a handy hook to use! I can see why it caught on)

On Saturday Eoin Mulligan grasped the limelight with a vengeance. Croke Park generally throws up a few moments of visceral, eye-popping drama every year, but, in the maelstrom of Saturday's epic tussle, Mulligan's stunning goal was almost seizure inducing.

The ball inside. The burst to beat the defender. The turn, worthy of Nureyev. Look up, the first dummy bounce, away...look up again, the second dummy, this time of a fist pass inside, and through, and, well, you know the rest. The timing, as the match barrelled toward crescendo, was perfect, but what makes this goal so special was the fact of Mulligan's intuitive understanding of his role in such a classic afternoon, and his sense of occasion to pull it off.

His master must have been proud.

2. The Greatest Ashes Test Ever!!!...Vol.2
The English nation is in the grip of one of its regular re-evaluations of itself and its culture. This time the debate, boiled down, is Football v Cricket. Football is being seen to represent all that is bad about English society- greed, boorishness, the breakdown of moral values- and test cricket is increasingly being characterised as Jerusalem itself in England's green and pleasant land- reflecting the values of sportsmanship, hard graft, patience and skill that made Albion great.

All this has largely come to pass as a result of the nation's cricket team's swashbuckling assault on the hitherto invincible Australians. Last weekend's test at Old Trafford appeared to be following the script of the previous weekend's epic encounter at Edgbaston, with the English and their talisman Andrew Flintoff leaving the Australian's looking, at last, mortal and the packed corwd salivating for the victroy. But first the weather, and then Ricky Ponting's captain's innings saved the Aussies, underlining the dogged grit that this champions side are famous for. Ponting spent 6 hours at the crease on Monday, knocking 156, including 16 fours and one six, before gloving tiredly to Geraint Jones. Where Mulligan's goal was inspiration fitting the occasion, Ponting's stand was in spite of it, grimly denying the baying Old Trafford crowd the victory that seemed their right.

3.Philly does it again
Whether Phil Mickelson would have won the US PGA had play not been postponed overnight dur to bad weather is, of course, unknown. The 2004 Masters champion had looked wobbly on Sunday evening, and as the weather drew in and Mickelson led by a shot at four under, the champion could have been anyone from Mickelson, Thomas Bjorn and Steve Elkington a shot back, and Vijay Singh, Davis Love and Tiger Woods on two under- albeit Woods was in the clubhouse, he was in with a chance.

As popular as Mickelson is, many on this side of the Atlantic would have loved for Thomas Bjorn to eradicate memories of that disastrous 11 at the 17th which cost him the Surfit European Open at the K Club, and win this tournament. He very nearly forced at least a play-off when his birdie putt on 18 lippe dout, but it was Miceklson who dispelled any doubts about his character when he chipped from just off the green to two feet to set up the crucial, championship winning birdie.

4. The Great Lohan's (possible) Swansong
It was the clash of the old warhorses. Croke Park, All-Ireland semi-final day, Clare v Cork, Brian Lohan on Brian Corcoran. The talk had been (as it has been when Clare have been involved in recent seasons) that Lohan was finished, his torrid afternoon at the hands of Micheal Webster against Tipperary in Munster was surely the last sucker punch the old fighter could take.

As Clare came strong through the qualifier pool, so did Lohan. By Sunday, all eyes were on the head to head on the edge of the Clare square. Lohan, just when Clare needed him, was immense. Corcoran, in keeping with the rest of his team-mates as Clare swarmed maniacally, had barely room to breathe, never mind turn and strike. You couldn't imagine him pulling off his wonderful drop-shot goal from the Waterford game on Sunday. And every time Lohan dispossessed his man, or swatted the sliotar to safety, or plucked it from the air, Davy Fitzgerald in goal punched the air, and the Clare folk howled with approval. It was all in vain of course, Clare burning out to the wick and Cork (having to substitute Corcoran and Ronan Curran no less), as their deeper talent and younger legs would suggest, coming through thanks to the inspiration of John Gardiner, Joe Deane and Jerry O'Connor, but if it is to be Lohan's last hurrah, then the famous red helmet can be placed on the mantle with pride.

5. Paula Radcliffe makes amends
In Ireland, having witnessed the tribulations and glories of Sonia O'Sullivan's great career, we know all about the fragile and occasionally heartbreaking reality of women's long distance running. Paula Radcliffe's horrendous capitulation in last years Olympics in the heat of Athens was desperately sad, especially as Olympic gold in the marathon appeared to be the world record holder's for the taking.

Radcliffe made amends in the rather less oppressive environment of Helsinki on Sunday with a typically brave run, hitting the front early and breaking her rivals in the last third of the race to win gold, a more fitting image for the great British runner than last year's dispiriting collapse.

And the worst moment of the weekend....

I feel a bit cheated. You see in my Premiership preview I tipped Middlesbrough to be a force this season, possibly finishing as high as sixth, and certainly taking on the bigger names without fear. So when Middlesbrough got a corner kick in the last minutes of Saturday's season opener at home against Liverpool, with the game scoreless despite Middlesbrough being a man down, it looked like a bit of a chance for Steve McClaren's men to get a few mwn in the box and try to snatch an unlikely, but crucial win.

Instead McClaren ordered the kick taken short, kept in the corner and time played out. At home! In the last seconds of injury time! With the game scoreless! In the first game of the season!

And people wonder why the cricket has captured the English back pages since the weekend.


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