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Archive for January, 2012

Six Nations

The countdown begins:

Analysis: Ireland must claim opening win

Tuesday 31 January 2012

‘Overall, I think the 32-man squad is his way of seeing how people operate in an international environment but I don’t expect huge change when it comes to the match-day squad because it is so important that Ireland get off to a good start’

by Conor O’Shea

Sunday’s clash with Wales is absolutely massive because if Ireland do not get off to a good start, they will travel to France under huge pressure in the second week.

It is a big positive that the Leinster, Munster and Ulster players have had excellent Heineken Cup campaigns but Wales, who have been training in Spala will come in with a feelgood factor of their own after beating Ireland in the Rugby World Cup.

On that basis, I would not expect Declan Kidney to make too many change from the tried and trusted.

He has never been what I would call an ageist coach over his career and does not dump players for the sake of it. That is something I agree with and it is no surprise that there is a very settled look to the core of the group he named on Monday.

Declan Kidney: has made surprise decisions in the past

There are plenty of less experienced options in the 32-man squad and it is true that Kidney has made surprise decisions from time to time. You can look back to Denis Hurley and Tomás O’Leary, who were brought through into starting roles in the Munster team during the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup in the 2007/8 season, and to the decision to bring Conor Murray to the Rugby World Cup ahead of O’Leary.

But when it comes to the final selection this time it may be that none or only one of the younger players will make the cut.

The Ireland coaches will recognise that there are areas that need to be looked at and with Brian O’Driscoll not in the mix, one of those is the outside backs, where there are talented players coming through.

Simon Zebo is one of those and he has struck me as a player with huge X-Factor since I first saw him at the Under-20 Rugby World Cup a couple of years ago and he has really kicked on since he got some opportunities for Munster this year.

Kidney could also take a risk by putting Eoin O’Malley alongside Gordon D’Arcy in the centre on the basis that O’Malley has looked good there for Leinster.

However, established players like Tommy Bowe, Andrew Trimble and Rob Kearney are playing outstanding rugby and the likes of D’Arcy, Keith Earls and Fergus McFadden are also right in the selection shake-up.

Overall, I think the 32-man squad is his way of seeing how people operate in an international environment but I don’t expect huge change when it comes to the match-day squad because it is so important that Ireland get off to a good start.

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Hurling Legends 11

Ger Cunningham first came to prominence on the inter county scene in the late 1970’s as dual player with the Cork minor teams. One Munster minor hurling and two All Ireland minor hurling titles followed (He missed the 1979 Munster minor final). Cunningham added Munster and All Ireland U21 hurling titles in 1982. By this stage Ger had already made his senior inter county debut in 1980. He went on to collect 7 Munster titles, 3 All Ireland titles (including the centenary All Ireland) and 3 National League titles. Individually, Cunningham was awarded 4 All Stars, a Texaco Hurler of the Year in 1986, he was picked on the Cork hurling team of the century in 2000 and the Munster hurling team of the past 25 years in 2009. Ger’s inter county career lasted from 1980 until 1998.

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Government Hypocrisy

There has been further criticism by opposition parties and social commentators of remarks made by Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

Mr Kenny told the forum that Irish people went mad borrowing in a system that spawned greed, and that this led to the crash of the Irish economy.

Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland said the Taoiseach’s remarks were “amazing and extraordinarily lopsided.”

He said Mr Kenny failed to recognise that the generous bank guarantee and subsequent socialising of the debt lie at the root of Ireland’s problems.

Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said there was a stark contrast between the Taoiseach’s comments in Davos and his televised address to the nation last month, in which he told the public that the crisis was not their fault.

He said the Taoiseach is clearly taking one approach at home and another one abroad.

Fianna Fail Deputy John McGuinness said Mr Kenny’s remarks damaged his message and his own credibility.

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said the comments were an appallingly ignorant synopsis of the crisis, which he said fell into the usual clichéd response offered by those who want to protect the economic status quo.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fine Gael TD Damien English defended the Taoiseach, saying he was not being offensive in his remarks and the opposition was trying to make something out of them.

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Hurling Legends 10

Pat Critchley hurled for Laois throughout the counties most compeititve era of recent times the 1980’s. Laois were unlucky not to win a provincial title in a golden era for Leinster hurling. Kilkenny, Offaly and Wexford were vying with Laois to claim the title. Dublin were also very competitive in this era. Although Critchley never captured silverware with his native county, his efforts was recognised nationally. Individually, Pat was awarded an All Star in 1985, the counties only ever hurling All Star. Critchley was also selected on the Laois hurling team of the millennium in 2000.

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Stem Cell Treatment

Stem cell treatment is seen by some as a miracle of science. While others see it as a sin against God and/or nature. ireespective of ones view on this type of medical treatment, research continues. The initial results of trials conducted over a decade ago have been revealed:

First trial results of human embryonic stem cells:

After more than a decade of waiting, the first results of a trial involving human embryonic stem cells have been published in a medical journal.

The Lancet reports how two women in the USA with eye disease were injected with stem cells and both apparently showed some slight improvement in vision. The company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) says the patients are doing well four months on from the trial.

This is a significant moment because there has been so much expectation about human embryonic stem cells – which have the potential to turn into any tissue in the body.

It has been a controversial area of research in the United States. In 2001 President Bush imposed restrictions on federal funding for embryo research on moral grounds.

These were reversed by Barrack Obama in 2009.

Julia Hawkins has Stargardt’s disease
A previous trial involving spinal patients was abandoned by the US biotech firm Geron. The company said the safety trial had gone well and it had to stop the trial because of financial problems.

But the end result was that the data never made it into a peer reviewed journal.

That means the ACT trial is now the first official human embryonic stem cell trial to have reported.

One of the patients suffers from Stargardt’s disease – which leads to progressive deterioration of vision. The other has age-related macular degeneration, the main cause of blindness in the developed world.

Both patients had such poor vision they were registered blind.

They both had retinal cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, injected into the back of the eye.

After the treatment they showed some slight improvement in vision.

This has prompted one extraordinary newspaper headline: Once they were blind, now they see. Patients cured by stem cell ‘miracle’.

I realise there is a lot of excitement about this area of research, but I would urge caution. The authors of the Lancet paper make no special claims about the study which was designed to show whether the treatment was safe.

They say: “So far, the cells seem to have transplanted into both patients without abnormal proliferation, teratoma formation, graft rejection, or other untoward pathological reactions or safety signals.”

In other words the treatment did not appear to do any harm. Of particular concern was the risk of the cells forming tumours, which did not happen. This is enough to give scientists encouragement to continue the trials.

Although the study was simply designed to show safety, the researchers could not ignore the apparent slight improvement in vision of the two women.

But the authors say: “We are uncertain at this point whether any of the visual gains we have recorded were due to the transplanted cells, the use of immunosuppressive drugs, or a placebo effect.”

That is crucial and shows why further larger trials are needed. As I’ve reported before, the European arm of this trial is being conducted at Moorfields Hospital in London.

The first British patient – a man with Stargardt’s disease – was treated last week. Again, this was a safety trial rather than an attempt to improve vision.

So there is a long way to go before there’s talk of miracle treatments and curing blindness.
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Hurling Legends 9

Tony Browne collected two Munster U21 titles and one U21 All Ireland with Waterford before making his senior debut in 1991.In 1998 Browne was awarded his first All Star and was named Hurler of the Year despite being on the losing side in the Munster final. Browne finally collected his first munster title in 2002. Altogether, Browne has collected 4 munster titles and 1 National League, however an All Ireland title has alluded him. Individually, Tony has collected 3 All Stars, a Hurler of the Year and was selected on the best Munster team of the last 25 years in 2009. Browne’s search for All Ireland glory continues at age 39.

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Hurling Legends 8

Johnny Dooley had a very successful underage career with Offaly. Dooley won 2 Leinster minor titles, 2 All Ireland minor titles and 3 Leinster U21 titles. However, he was on the losing side in three U21 All Ireland finals. Dooley made his senior bow in 1990 and won his only National League title that year. He added 2 All Ireland titles and 2 Leinster titles before injury forced him to retire in 2002. Individually, Johnny was awarded 3 All Star awards and was selected on the best Leinster hurling team of the last 25 years in 2009.

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