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Conor Murray set for 100th cap; Chelsea and Man City finish group stages with wins

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

The Ireland A side that was announced on Wednesday gave plenty of clues as to how the senior Ireland side will line up against the Springboks. It is all but certain that Conor Murray will earn his 100th cap, the only question is will he start or come off the bench? Gerry Thornley believes he will be given centre stage with a starting berth as Jamison Gibson-Park - who has yet to feature for Leinster this season - will revert to an impact role among the replacements. During the last Six Nations, many fans complained at the culture of constantly leaving your seat to go to the bar at the Aviva Stadium. The IRFU are aware of the need to improve both the matchday experience and the atmosphere at their home ground, but chief commercial officer Padraig Power has said that they are not considering banning the taking of drink into the seating area, as is the case at Croke Park, for example. On Wednesday morning, as had widely been expected, Ireland captain Nichola Fryday was confirmed as having turned down one of the IRFU’s new high performance contracts in favour of staying with her club in England. In a bit of a damp announcement of the list of 29 contracted players, the low value of the deals and the lack of high quality domestic matches looks to have kept a number of players abroad, though Linda Djougang has returned from France to take up a deal.

In last night’s Champions League action, Chelsea responded to their weekend drubbing by Brighton to narrowly see off Dinamo Zagreb at Stamford Bridge. Denis Zakaria’s debut winner ensured Graham Potter’s side finished top of their group. Elsewhere, 17-year-old Rico Lewis was on target as Manchester City saw off Sevilla, while Celtic were hammered 5-1 away by Real Madrid. Looking ahead to the FAI Cup final, Madie Gibson’s trip from New Jersey to Athlone via Lithuania, with a brief stopover in the Czech Republic, is quirkier than most. The Athlone star had a stellar year as her side finished runner-up to Shelbourne in the league but she still has silverware hopes in the form of that cup final. The American-born hat-trick hero from the semi-final spoke to Mary Hannigan in advance of Sunday’s clash with Shelbourne who are hunting a double.

Dessie Hutchinson is not going to shy away from it, the objective for Waterford under Davy Fitzgerald is clear – to finally end the county’s All-Ireland wait: “I still think Waterford are All-Ireland contenders,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t think we became a bad team overnight or anything like that. Last summer is after happening, look we’ve a bit of freshness to look forward to now. But I still think we’ll be All-Ireland contenders. That’s the main aim in Waterford – to win the All-Ireland.”

In America, 50,000 high school football referees have quit since 2019. As much as there is a rising problem of reported abuse of GAA officials in this country, across the Atlantic sports as young as under-eight level are seeing swathes of abusive parents risking the future of grassroots games as referees decide the threat to their safety is no longer worth their time. Dave Hannigan chronicles a particularly galling list of examples, including one where a 74-year-old man saw his jaw broken by an irate parent.


Friday morning sees Ireland’s T20 World Cup campaign come to an end against New Zealand. The Kiwis need a win to guarantee a semi-final spot while Ireland are looking for one last landmark win of the tournament. Plenty of match-ups will define the encounter, none more so than Irish trump card Josh Little’s battle with destructive opening batter Finn Allen.