Statements in Manchester and Munster, now it’s over to Meath

Before the cat jumps all the way out of the bag of its own accord, let’s provide the last nudge. I have returned to meaningful involvement with my local GAA club after a 15-year-hiatus. Part of which was enforced, another element thereof is old ground which doesn’t need to be ploughed up again.

There may even may even be a chance of some sort of role being assumed at county level also but what form any of it might, or hopefully will, take is still very much up in the air. What can be confirmed, though, is that even the thought of being involved again at some level has allowed a whole new perspective on things.

Similar sentiments regarding altered viewpoints could and methinks will be in the process of inculcation in other places presently too. Firstly, nowhere more tonight, than at Old Trafford. Gone are the days when Alex Ferguson’s depiction of City as Noisy Neighbours carries credence.

Against that, even allowing for the fact that Pep Guardiola’s charges cantered to a 6-3 victory in the last Manchester derby, there have been indications that if they had a veneer of invincibility about them at one point, it has to a considerable degree dissipated.

In the red corner of Manchester however, any diminishment in the productivity of their greatest rivals would count for sod all unless Erik ten Hag’s team could at least show signs of putting some bit of a dent in the chasm between the sides. Losing the first two league fixtures of the season and the derby 6-3 was hardly that,

Ten Hag’s steady revolution

Though it feels extremely strange saying the following, you’d have to wonder was there a link between Cristiano Ronaldo leaving the club and their upturn in fortune. Personally, I can’t allow myself think that. Losing a player of his calibre cannot be good for any team. Moreover, whoever thought it was a good idea to take down his mural needs a boot between the cheeks.

Anyway, football at this time of year is all about ins and outs. At the time of typing, Burnley reject Woot Weghorst is United’s only acquisition of the current window. Though it’s actually one of the summer imports, Casemiro, who has been central to the transformation which has manifested since the past derby day.

Casemiro reminds me of Roy Keane

At this point, it will be openly admitted that this corner didn’t know a thing about the midfielder before he arrived in England. However, since then, the more I’ve seen of him, the more he reminds me of Roy Keane.

Well, a cross between Roy and Paul Scholes. Not a bad benchmark to be judged by. Of even greater significance, perhaps, has been the very obvious explosion of brilliance which continues to flow from Marcus Rashford.

The greatest exhibit of which arrived in a statement performance. Not just from the player, but the entire team. The real work, backing it up, starts now.

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The last line above also fits nicely with Munster Rugby’s present status. That Graham Rountree’s reign has got away to a shaky start hardly needed any further elaboration. But their need to front up and show that the old fires still burn somewhere within intensified by the week.

Damage limiting, moral victories over the likes of Leinster aren’t worth a sh*te. If you’re not winning, you’re losing. Even the fact that the Red Army recovered from derby defeat with wins over The Bulls and Ulster in the United Rugby Championship wouldn’t signify real progress.

Gavin Coombes has Munster’s revered No. 8 jersey

Heading over to Northampton and doing the business in the opening round of the European Cup wasn’t a bad start. Following up by bossing the return fixture was an even more solid endorsement of the inclination that Munster are ‘back’.

This writer is at pains to take a pull on expectations, even for a while, but there’s no doubt the snippets that have been emerging in recent weeks have been exciting. Mostly because it has been like looking back in time to when the province were at their zenith.

It’s probable more observers than this one noted that the common factor between the two European victories has been the immense performances of Gavin Coombes in the back row.

Like the No. 7 jersey at Manchester United or the full back berth on the Meath GAA team, there’s an unspoken reverence about the No. 8 jersey within Munster.

Given the storied history the province has, it’s quite possible that’s something which pre-dates the recent past, but that became absolutely enshrined following the passing of Anthony Foley seven years ago.

After Axel, CJ Stander was a very fitting disciple to inherit the sacred garment but when he very disappointingly decided to return to South Africa, the sought-after role was up for audition again.

As tends to be the case on most rugby teams, any of Munster’s three incumbents can fit in any of three slots but for now, Coombes has proven himself more than worthy of donning the iconic number for the southern province.

He had to be yesterday against the former English powerhouses. Now, in front of a packed and raucous Thomond Park, the locals got away to a powerful start, with Coombes and Jack O’Donoghue going over for great team tries. All of the latter’s significant imprint early in the game was wiped out in a second when he was rightly red carded for a high tackle.

There would be absolutely no problem with the administration of the red card in this case, it irks me greatly however that, owing to rugby’s pomposity, whether there was intent or not in a collision is, as things currently stand, not even taken into consideration. Rugby is, or at least used to be, a game of manliness and physicality.

Strong hardy collisions are part and parcel of what makes the oval ball code what it is. Strip that away and the sport loses some of its soul.

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Speaking of things losing their soul, it’s hard to arrive at any other conclusion regarding the O’Byrne Cup given the farce which was allowed to ensue in this season’s incarnation. I’ve said my piece in relation to same elsewhere on these pages. For now though, the plan is to evaluate the early season competition from a Meath perspective.

Obviously, the most pertinent point is to say that failure to secure a final berth was particularly disappointing.

Colm O’Rourke’s Meath had a decent January

An extra match certainly wouldn’t have done any harm. Especially in light of uhe fact that Cork – Meath’s first opponents in the Allianz National Football League – have advanced to the McGrath Cup Final.

Still, there were plenty of positives to be taken from a decent January for Colm O’ Rourke’s charges. Not least the emergence – if one was to title it thus – of players such as James O’Hare, Michael Flood, Conor Quigley, Dan O’Neill, Shane Crosby and Aaron Lynch as well as the return of some who had previously deserted the fold.

Encouraging, yes, but Meath will need each and every one of them, and then some, if they are to make a statement of intent in line with where they should at least be aiming in the forthcoming league campaign.

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