Does anybody else remember 7/11 Supermarkets? Whoever was behind the business was certainly well tuned in from a marketing perspective. Not only do the numbers rhyme, in a sporting context at least, they are and for a long time have been seminal digits. Most notably at Manchester United, where the almost inevitable – and merited – comparisons between George Best and Ryan Giggs ensured the numbers will always retain a special significance.
At Old Trafford, the reverence in which the No. 7 shirt is held goes even deeper than that. As far as can be recalled, it was also the preserve of Denis Law. Not to mention the greatest of them all, Mr Cantona, and, in more recent times, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani.
Over the course of a recent sporting Saturday, the two numbers were to the fore of a couple of big sporting stories. For admittedly contrasting reasons. High noon saw more high drama at Old Trafford as dithering Manchester United cocked up another assignment they should’ve routinely taken care of. That is not in any way to degrade Aston Villa. One of the most improved and resilient teams in the Premier League.
Rather, it serves as a glaring indictment of United’s inefficiency in dealing with talks which in Alex Ferguson’s time would’ve been planned for meticulously and executed ruthlessly. Minding the house late on in games and clarity over who has responsibility for taking penalties and other such banalities was sacrosanct.
Contrast to whatever is going on at the moment. Ronaldo has smashed nearly every goal scoring record on the planet, and had scored three goals in his first two games back at Theatre Of Dreams. Yet for some inexplicable reason he in the venerated jersey number was shunned for spot-kick duty in favour of his compatriot Bruno Fernandez.
For this writer, though, the real point of interest, is whether the players made the decision themselves or whether the direction came from the dugout. Indeed, it’d be hard to imagine the directive coming from the dugout to change kicking arrangements. If it didn’t, the onus is on management to call the shots and failure to do so is nothing short of managerial weakness. Which, much as it pains me to say it – genuinely – is starting to look more like the root cause of United’s intermittent abjectness than anything else
If No. 7 was in the news for slightly downbeat reasons in Manchester on Saturday, then, in contrast, a magnificent No. 11 illuminated the Saturday evening sky in Limerick as the mercurial Simon Zebo made a triumphant return to the red of Munster as they chewed up The Sharks of South Africa in the opening round of what is now called the United Rugby Championship. The competition has had more names than Selma Bouveir in The Simpsons but that’s a tale for another day.
With an extra large slice of humble pie it will admitted that I was gloriously wrong about the utility back. When he departed for France, there was utmost upset and his loyalty was questioned. Because there is very little that aggravates me more than people who put money before loyalty. A lesson acquired the hard way.
Anyway, the fleet-of-foot star topped and tailed the season opener in the grand Limerick field going over in the early and late minutes as 10,000 of the Red Army made their return. The burgeoning Gavin Coombes also bagged a brace while emerging half-back duo Craig Casey and Ben Healy also contributed handsomely. The victors held a 20-3 lead at the break.
Meanwhile, at the Aviva Stadium, it was a case of picking up where they left off for Leinster as they put 31 points on The Bulls for the concession of just a solitary place kick. It would be difficult to take the display as anything other than a statement of intent, with Johnny Sexton appearing this early in the campaign.
Josh Van Der Flier and James Treacy registered first half five-pointers as Leo Cullen’s side constructed a cushion of 17-3 for themselves before replacement fly half Ross Byrne also carressed the whitewash as it concluded 31-3 to the locals.
Naturally both the red and blue corners will have been delighted to get off to winning starts, but it was unquestionably more important for Munster to make something of a sales pitch for their prospects going forward.
Given the paucity of the opposition, you wouldn’t exactly be earmarking them to be pulling up any trees, but Saturday was all about the hometown hero coming back in a blaze of glory.
In another sporting sphere, it can be confidently predicted Lando Norris will attain stardom sooner rather than later. To my mind, he’s the next big thing waiting to spark in Formula One. If you haven’t guessed by now, watching Drive To Survive on Netflix has got me vastly more tuned in to life in the pit lane.
Yet, this week it was a case of from Russia with regret for the young British-Belgian driver. Owing to yet another instance of plain old human error. All the technology in the world is not worth squat if the operator’s judgement is even minutely off. On a stage where fractions of seconds can make incalculable difference, botching one of the most basic calls drivers have to make for themselves can have catastrophic consequences.
In this case, not knowing the difference between wet and dry. For even though rain was well signposted for Sochi, Norris opted not to switch to slick tyres during his pitstop. Only to, rapidly thereafter, be left with a considerable amount of egg to clean off his face once he dramatically spun off the track with the race – and a maiden success at the highest level – at his mercy.
Instead, it was once again Lewis Hamilton who dominated the headlines as he recorded a landmark 100th chequered flag of his glittering career. Achieving a century of anything in sport is highly commendable. However, if you consider the length of time it took AP McCoy to clock up 1000 wins in a sport which takes place nearly every day, for Hamilton to check in 100 times with plenty of his career left in front of him is some achievement.
My late father often mused that you never see a bookie on a bicycle. In other words, they tend not to cost themselves money by making poor decisions. So they undoubtedly had their reasons for making the US team short-priced favourites to win the 43rd Ryder Cup.
For once, in my view, it was as simple as the Americans having the more in-form, confident players. Not better players, just players in a better place. Like Xander Schauffle and Collin Morikawa and Jordan Spieth and – though it turns my stomach to say it – Bryson De Chambeau.
It never takes much cordite to ignite tensions during Ryder weekend, but invariably if things do bubble up, it ends up benefitting the stars and stripes. Remember 1999?
However, no team captained by an Irish man and with two more out on the battle field were going to roll over that easily. Did Padraig Harrington get some of his match-ups wrong? Possibly, but, I’m not sure if he had Jack Nicklaus, Arnie Palmer or Gary Player available to him it would have made any difference.
Yes, I see what I did there and it was done deliberately to emphasise the enormity of the gulf separating the two sides. Whether or not a Captain is allowed to get a second chance is unclear, but it is clear that the players are determined to put things right when the opportunity arises again.
In fact, one only had to see the emotions of Shane and Rory McIlroy during and after the event to see what it meant to them. In the case of the latter, again these wheels must go for the whipped cream to throw over more humble pie. Simply because, occasionally at the very least, his head didn’t seem to be in a great place with his game.
Then again, such is the aura of the Ryder Cup that it can drum emotions up in players that at other times might never surface. Therefore, the cringeworthy apologies issued by several mainstream media outlets after both Lowry and McIlroy used a bit of flowery language over the course of the weekend were as odious as they were unnecessary.
It’s not the 1950’s, the pulpit pontificaters can’t condemn us to the pits of hell anymore. It’s passion like that of the two lads that make sport what it is, for f*** sake!