Coach Declan Kidney is impressed by the way Jamie Heaslip has approached the Ireland captaincy amid difficult circumstances, insisting he is making “strong decisions”. Heaslip has come under close scrutiny so far this RBS 6 Nations, with the Leinster number eight receiving criticism for providing a lack of leadership during the defeats by England and Scotland. But Kidney accepts Heaslip has inherited the post at a challenging time, and said: “When things aren’t going as well as you want them to, you push the comments that are out there to one side and get on with your job. Jamie has done that and done it very well.” He added: “There’s a bit of adversity around the place and it’s the measure of a man as to how he deals with that. “Jamie’s making strong decisions for us and all we need to do is execute on those decisions.” Kidney denies Heaslip is struggling to stamp his authority on the team due to the presence of predecessor Brian O’Driscoll, who has been relieved of the captaincy but continues to play at outside centre “I would say quite the opposite actually, Brian being there has been a huge help. Now we have a couple of leaders speaking up,” Kidney said. “There have been times in the past when I’ve been prompting other players to speak up. Now Jamie and Brian do that role.” Kidney’s own position is the subject of doubt and his chances of earning a contract extension beyond the summer appear to have died alongside Ireland’s chances of winning the Six Nations. “In rugby terms this has been the most challenging Six Nations I’ve experienced,” Kidney said. “There have been a lot of things happening outside our control that we’ve had to deal with. But I couldn’t ask any more from the players. “The frustrating thing is that we’ve put ourselves in positions to win matches. As a result of not taking one or two chances, we are where we are.” Press Association
Manchester United have cut their interest bill by £10million a year after a major refinancing through Bank of America. Press Association Through the new loan with Bank of America, club sources estimate they will save approximately £10million per year. United’s present debt is £370million, the sum remaining from a highly leveraged takeover by the Glazer family in 2005. Despite dire warnings of United’s financial position since that time, the Old Trafford outfit have won five Premier League titles and played in three Champions League finals. With their commercial income rising rapidly, it now seems that United are able to compete in the transfer market, hence the £24million arrival of Robin van Persie last summer. It is also thought new manager David Moyes will have funds to spend should he wish this summer. United have refinanced £177.78million of outstanding sterling bonds, on which they are currently paying a rate of 8.75 per cent. In addition they have refinanced approximately £17million of dollar bonds on which they are currently paying 8.375 per cent.
Press Association Clare came good in the second half at Thurles to defeat Waterford by 2-20 to 1-15 in the Munster SHC. Jake Dillon marked his Waterford debut with a first-half goal that helped his side to a 1-9 to 0-8 interval lead. But Clare dominated after the break, with Shane O’Donnell and Conor McGrath hitting goals. Colin Ryan chipped in with a seven points tally as Davy Fitzgerald’s side cruised home to set up a semi-final clash with Cork. Meanwhile, Down came from behind to defeat Derry by 2-17 to 1-15 in the Ulster SFC at Celtic Park. Second half goals from Mark Poland and Donal O’Hare saw James McCartan’s side come from four points behind to win by five and set up a semi-final clash with All-Ireland champions Donegal. Mark Lynch smacked in a first half goal to give the Oak Leafers an edge, but Down had the edge in finishing power to finish strongly with inspirational scores from midfielder Kevin McKernan.
Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero will not feature in this weekend’s Barclays Premier League game at Aston Villa. Manager Manuel Pellegrini has decided not to risk the Argentinian ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash against Bayern Munich after he suffered a knock in the Manchester derby last weekend. Aguero scored twice before being withdrawn after 86 minutes as City thrashed Manchester United 4-1 at the Etihad Stadium. No injury was indicated at the time and nothing seemed untoward when he was then rested for the midweek Capital One Cup win over Wigan. But Pellegrini has now revealed a problem and does not want to take the chance of playing Aguero at Villa Park on Saturday. Pellegrini said: “Aguero finished the last derby in the last play with a small pain, I think it was nothing important but I think it was a risk for him to play three games in the same week. “We will leave him for next Wednesday but he will be absolutely fine.” Playmaker David Silva, who has missed the last four games with a thigh strain is also not fit to return at the weekend but will be assessed ahead of the Munich game. The European champions visit the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday in the second round of games in Champions League Group D. Pellegrini said: “We will see in the week.” Pellegrini insisted the looming game against Pep Guardiola’s Munich would not affect the players’ thinking for the trip to Villa. Press Association City laboured in a goalless draw at Stoke immediately prior to their last Champions League outing against Viktoria Plzen a fortnight ago. Pellegrini had made six changes for that game and Potters boss Mark Hughes suggested City may have paid the price for prioritising the wrong game. Pellegrini said: “I am sure nobody is thinking about Bayern Munich. We are all thinking about Aston Villa. “We know it is a strong team playing at home. We need to play a very good game if we want to win and we need to win away now. “We have lost one away and drawn the other, for different reasons. “It is in the past so I don’t continue talking about those games but tomorrow we have the opportunity to win against Aston Villa. “It is very important for us to reach the first position of the table.” City have enjoyed an outstanding spell since that Stoke result, opening their Champions League campaign with a comfortable win over Plzen and then thrashing United and Wigan. In the process they scored 12 goals and the fluid attacking style Pellegrini promised when appointed, even after 10 changes against Wigan, was much in evidence. Pellegrini feels the team are getting close to playing in the manner he wants. He said: “If we repeat what we did against Manchester United, very near. “But all the games are different, performances are different, the squads are different. “The important thing is we see the same team but with different names.” Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, James Milner and Stevan Jovetic were among those to impress after coming into the side for the 5-0 win over Wigan on Tuesday. They may now have to make way again but Pellegrini expects all of his players to be able to slot in seamlessly when called upon and does not anticipate problems keeping everyone happy. He said: “For me that is the least problem. The problem for managers is when you don’t have players to make rotation or to play every week. That is not a problem for me. “All the players understand it is mature players that we need, an important amount of players. “I always said two in each position because we have a lot of games to play from now until the end of the year.” City’s performances in their last three games, most notably against United, have earned considerable plaudits but Pellegrini is unwilling say whether he has the Premier League’s best squad or not. He said: “We are just starting the year so it is difficult in this moment to say who is the strongest squad. “I think we have a very good squad and we will try to win all we play.”
Townsend ended last term on loan at relegated QPR but his rise to prominence since has been dramatic and he continued his fine form with a starring role in Spurs’ 2-0 win at Aston Villa on Sunday. All eyes were on the new national hero at Villa Park, but he was not fazed by the attention, opening the scoring and then running Villa ragged with a devastating and inspirational attacking display. Dawson said: “He has not changed, he is still the same player he was two weeks ago. “He has just been in the media spotlight and he has taken it well. “It was a top performance. He was man of the match and scored a goal. He is playing well and is full of confidence. “He’s carried on where he left off for England.” The win, capped by a breakaway second goal finished by Roberto Soldado, lifted Spurs to fifth in the Barclays Premier League. It was a good response after excitement over their promising start to the season was tempered by a 3-0 defeat to West Ham a fortnight ago. Central defender Dawson said: “We’re glad to leave with three points and bounce back from the defeat against West Ham a couple of weeks ago. “It was a long two weeks. It is always in the back of your mind.” Townsend’s 31st-minute strike was actually fortuitous as it was intended as a cross but neither Lewis Holtby nor Soldado could get a touch and it bounced past Brad Guzan. Yet for the display that followed, Townsend arguably deserved to get a goal next to his name – his first for the club in the Premier League. Townsend tested Guzan with a fine low strike just before half-time and later sent another fierce drive inches over. He ran at the Villa defence throughout and was unfortunate nobody could turn in any of his deliveries. Villa had their moments, not least after fit-again Christian Benteke came off the bench on the hour and immediately threatened an equaliser, but Spurs held the upper hand. Soldado made victory secure when he finished a swift counter-attack in the 69th minute, rewarding the visitors for a performance full of verve. But Dawson said: “People weren’t saying that a few weeks ago when we got beat at home. Football can change. “We need to keep working hard. Let’s not get carried away, but it was a great performance and we’ll enjoy the day.” Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor felt the result was harsh on the hosts. Agbonlahor had the first half-chance of the game with a shot on the turn that flew over, while Ashley Westwood, Andreas Weimann and Leandro Bacuna went close before Townsend struck. Benteke’s introduction also threatened to change the game and the Belgian had two good opportunities – one a header that went narrowly over – before Soldado’s goal ended any hopes of a fightback. Agbonlahor said: “We are disappointed as a team. We were just getting on top in the game, pushing for an equaliser, when we conceded a sloppy goal. It settled the game. “It was tight. We had to defend at times but we played well and had our chances throughout the game. “It is one of those things. We just conceded at the wrong time. “We are disappointed with the game but whatever had happened – it is gone. We are back in on Tuesday to start preparing for Everton.” Benteke had missed the two previous games with a hip injury but the key forward’s return to fitness is a boost for Villa. Agbonlahor said: “It was good to see him come on. Having him coming back is good for the team.” Spurs winger Townsend catapulted himself to stardom this month with stunning performances in England’s climactic World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. The 22-year-old had been a surprise selection by England boss Roy Hodgson after only breaking into the Spurs side this season. Tottenham captain Michael Dawson is impressed by how team-mate Andros Townsend has taken his whirlwind past fortnight in his stride. Press Association
Andy Reid has withdrawn from the Ireland squad with a hamstring injury. Reid was among a series of players being assessed on Saturday with West Ham defender Joey O’Brien due to have a scan on a hamstring problem and Sean St Ledger also a doubt for Tuesday night’s trip to Poland. Press Association The Nottingham Forest midfielder suffered the problem in training on Saturday morning after coming on as a substitute in the previous night’s 3-0 friendly victory over Latvia. A spokesman for the Football Association of Ireland said: “The Football Association of Ireland this evening (November 16) confirmed that Andy Reid has withdrawn from the squad and has returned to his club due to a hamstring strain suffered this morning in training.”
Wales boss Warren Gatland will have a few tricks up his sleeve that could catch Ireland’s crop of Lions unawares on Saturday, warns Jamie Heaslip. Lions coach Gatland led the likes of Heaslip and Ireland captain Paul O’Connell to Test series victory over Australia in the summer. The fallout from omitting Brian O’Driscoll for the decisive final Test still overshadows Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash between Ireland and Wales. Assistant coach Les Kiss said Ireland will not hold anything back in chasing turnovers at the tackle area. But the defensive specialist said Schmidt’s outfit will be at pains to show referee Wayne Barnes they are staying the right side of the laws when contesting the breakdown. “You can still go hard at the breakdown, and fight hard,” said Kiss. “But you must do it accurately and show good pictures to the referee and your team-mates. “If the contest is on we’ll go for it, but if not we’ll trust in our other plans.” “And it’s over to us, ultimately. We’re under no illusions what we’re up against. “They’ve won the championship two years on the hop now. We’re going up against a quality side, we’ve played against them often and with them from the summer. “They are good players and good blokes, and we expect a tough battle on our hands in that regard. It’s definitely going to be a physical game.” Vice-captain Heaslip believes Ireland carry “absolutely” no hang-ups from the summer into this weekend. Ireland’s Lions contingent worked closely and at length with Gatland, unearthing his most trusted coaching methods and styles of play. But the Leinster loose forward is adamant Gatland has kept some secrets close to his chest, to be unleashed for his Wales side in this year’s Six Nations, as they chase a record third straight championship titles. “I’m sure ‘Gats’ hasn’t shown his full hand, across the summer and even into the tournament now,” said Heaslip. “Their lads have played enough against (Ireland coach) Joe (Schmidt) through club rugby when he was Leinster boss I suppose, to get a taste of what he could be like. “But they are not playing against Joe as such, they are playing against our lads. “You’ve got to take it with a pinch of salt I suppose. “It will have a bearing, and perhaps they could gain an advantage from it. But we’ve just got to be mindful of them producing something different. Press Association
The curtain came down on Jenna McCorkell’s Sochi 2014 campaign and, it would seem, her Olympic career on Wednesday after the Briton’s short programme effort proved not quite enough to see her through to the women’s free skate, with her finishing one place and 0.22 points short of the cut. Press Association “Having the team event (in which GB failed to make it to the free skate as well), it was really great for me to be able to get out there on the Olympic ice under that pressure and really put down what I had to do. “Then again today, a little cloud was coming back a little bit this morning, and it took a bit of work to push it away again.” Defending Olympic champion Kim Yu Na came first with a score of 74.92. McCorkell said just prior to the start of the Sochi Winter Games that she would make a decision on her future after next month’s World Championships, and she looks set to call time on a career in which she has accumulated 11 British titles. She will look back on this competition with a degree of disappointment at not securing the chance to perform her free routine, but McCorkell insisted she was pleased with her display on Wednesday, feeling satisfied that the demons of her Olympic debut at Vancouver 2010, where she fell during her short programme and finished 29th, had continued to be exorcised. McCorkell was “over the moon” with her first taste of Olympic action since those Games, her short programme display in the new team event early in the Sochi schedule which earned her a season’s best score of 50.09. And with regard to Wednesday’s exploits, she said: “I skated the best I could and I performed all the elements, so I’m not disappointed. “I think the points were a little bit affected just by the second mark, but I had a feeling they would be because I had a pretty bad draw, starting in the first group. “The triple toe wasn’t as perfect as it possibly could have been, but it was there, it was done – I didn’t fall. I did my best, so I was pleased with it.” She added: “I have proved it twice now, so that Vancouver cloud can go away and leave me alone! “It is always one of those that is going to hang over you and it has been playing on my mind a little bit. Fifth up of 30 competitors at the Iceberg Skating Palace, McCorkell produced a performance that drew a score of 48.34 points – higher than the mark awarded to two of those who had been on before her and the very next skater. It also bettered the score awarded to two further athletes, but otherwise, the 27-year-old from Northern Ireland continued to slip down the standings and eventually finished in 25th, directly below the top-24 qualification cut-off point.
Wayne Rooney wants to continue doing his talking on the pitch after he scored his 12th goal of the season in Manchester United’s win at Crystal Palace – less than 24 hours after signing a new deal at the club. “I’ve been trying to do well for the team and trying to help us win,” he told Sky Sports 1. “Whether I’m signing a new deal or not I always give 110 per cent on the pitch and that’s what I’ve done today. “Obviously I’ve been letting my football do the talking but I’m happy and settled.” Palace kept their visitors honest in the opening 45 minutes but, after a spell in the ascendancy, conceded a penalty just after the hour as Marouane Chamakh fouled Patrice Evra just inside the area. Van Persie stepped up to put United in front before Rooney added his fantastic second six minutes later and the England international was pleased with the manner of the win. “It was a good victory,” he added. “I thought we played well and it was a good win. We moved the ball well, maybe could have created more chances but overall we were in control of the game and once we got one goal we knew we’d get another and see the game out. “It’s tough getting that first goal but thankfully Robin put the penalty away and I think it was a great three points.” Press Association The 28-year-old was the centre of attention going into the game having penned a new £300,000-a-week deal and he thrashed home a magnificent second goal to add to Robin van Persie’s penalty and secure a 2-0 win for David Moyes’ side. With Rooney’s future in doubt going into the season he has now committed himself to United and wants to continue pushing the champions towards the Barclays Premier League top four. Moyes also praised the work-rate of Rooney, whose new contract will be good news for the United boss following a first campaign that has never really taken off. “Sometimes when Wayne has not got time to think, he does things naturally,” said Moyes. “He has natural talent and the technique and ability to get his weight behind the ball and strike it cleanly was good. “He works really hard for the team and some of his passing was fantastic. His finish was great. “He is a really important player and you think about the amount of clubs who wanted to sign him. “He would have been too difficult to replace. There aren’t enough top players out there that you can get cheaply or easily. “Wayne’s one of them, one of the top players. He shows it week in, week out for us and you can see the change in him – his leadership, what he’s trying to bring to the team.” Moyes will now take the Red Devils to face Olympiacos on Tuesday for the opening leg of their Champions League tie, with the former Everton manager looking to string together some positive results following their win in south London. “We have a really big European tie coming up on Tuesday night and our focus goes onto that,” he said. “We wanted to win the game to make sure we go into that game in good form and confidence. It’s such a big game for us. “We haven’t played for ten days so I wanted to make sure all the players were ready and focused for the game and ready to perform again.” Tony Pulis saw his side slip to only their second home defeat since he replaced Ian Holloway at Selhurst Park in November but the Welshman still acknowledges his side are in the fight for a survival. “Every game whether it’s home or away matters,” he said. “We have to start collecting the points. We’re in it with 12 other teams. It will go right to the end. Whether it’s against the top four or five, there’s always three points. We have to scrap and fight for everything against every team. “Today was disappointing. That [the penalty] gave United the leg up they were looking for.”
Ireland thought they had taken the lead with less than two minutes gone when Hoolahan played the ball out to McClean and then made it into the middle to latch on to skipper-for-the-night Glenn Whelan’s volley towards the far post. Had the Norwich man not touched the ball, it would probably ended up in the back of the net anyway, but his celebrations were cut short by an offside flag despite replays suggesting midfielder Dusan Basta had played him on. Ireland, however, did not have to wait too much longer to go ahead, although it was a rare slip by Ivanovic which gave them their opportunity. Long chased down a long clearance and managed to hold off defender Milan Bisevac as Ivanovic attempted to feed the ball back to Stojkovic. However, the defender left his back-pass well short and Long calmly side-footed over the keeper to open the scoring. Serbia might have been level with 21 minutes played had McCarthy not managed to clear Ivanovic’s header off the line, but Long should have doubled his tally on the half-hour after Hoolahan carved the visitors open once again. His astute pass put the Hull man in on goal, but he was unable to beat Stojkovic with either of two attempts. Forde had to be equally resilient five minutes before the break to claw away Dusan Tadic’s swinging effort, but Ireland did not heed the warning and were pegged back within three minutes of the restart. Aleksandar Kolarov was the architect and he and Tadic exchanged passes on the edge of the box before the Manchester City man crossed for Dordevic, only for McCarthy to get there first and bundle the ball into his own net. Long passed up another glorious opportunity five minutes later after Hoolahan had caught the Serb defence square once again, but this time he tried to chip Stojkovic and only succeeded in steering his effort wide. Ireland were made to pay for their profligacy on the hour when substitute Zoran Tosic’s mishit shot fell perfectly for Dordevic, who stabbed it past Forde to give his side the lead for the first time. The home side struggled to regain the upper hand as O’Neill shuffled his pack, and it was Kolarov who came closest to altering the scoreline with a late strike from distance which was well-saved by Forde. Shane Long passed up an opportunity to prove he could succeed Robbie Keane as Serbia came from behind for a 2-1 win and condemned Ireland manager Martin O’Neill to a first defeat. Long twice shot straight at keeper Vladimir Stojkovic on the half-hour and then fired harmlessly wide eight minutes after the restart to let Serbia off the hook, and they were to take full advantage. Ljubinko Drulovic’s men had levelled three minutes into the second half when Ireland midfielder James McCarthy bundled the ball into his own net with his defence in tatters. But there was worse to come for the home side on the hour when striker Filip Dordevic found himself in the right place at the right time to win it from close range. Dordevic’s effort ensured O’Neill’s unbeaten run came to an end at the third time of asking on a night when he took the opportunity to have a look at the depth of his squad. He cannot have failed to be impressed by Hoolahan, whose 61 minutes on the pitch were packed with the kind of intelligence and a craft which prompted such consternation at former manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s repeated refusal to select him. There was a lively contribution from winger James McClean too while keeper David Forde pulled off three fine saves to deny Serbia further joy. In truth, the visitors were good value for their victory after a shaky start, and it was they who looked the more likely to add to their tally as time ran down. O’Neill had charged his players with the task of taking the game to Serbia while paying attention to their defensive duties, and he must have been delighted with what he saw in the opening exchanges. The 27-year-old Hull striker marked his 44th senior international cap with his 11th goal for Ireland in record goalscorer Keane’s absence, but should really have been leaving the Aviva Stadium with the match ball. Long capitalised on an uncharacteristic eighth-minute error by Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic to give the home side a deserved lead, but then passed up two glorious opportunities to add to his tally with playmaker Wes Hoolahan terrorising the visitors’ defence. Press Association