Everyone connected with rugby, both players and viewers, should be so glad to have Italy in the competition. Last weekend saw a huge victory for Ireland in all three matches – the main match, the women’s match and the U20s. Big victories all round and well done to everyone concerned.
The very sad aspect to it all was the terrible injury to Robbie Henshaw, our marvellous homegrown hero, Athlone born, bred and schooled, who really was the head player and mover on the Irish team. He suffered what I would imagine was a very painful shoulder injury, not brought about by heavy, rough play, but by the way he landed on the ground. What a huge stroke of bad luck for Ireland and for Robbie personally. The IRFU have announced it will take six months to get him back in the game. And this after he scored two great tries and set Ireland on their merry way to victory against Italy.
Here in Athlone we send all our best wishes to Robbie and to his family who, of course, are very worried. I know the Henshaw family well. In fact, many years ago, I taught his mother Audrey in Summerhill Secondary School, and I have often talked to her since Robbie reached the big-time in rugby. Robbie himself went to the Marist College in Athlone, and from then on to Connacht rugby, and, of course, from then on to Leinster and the international team.
On Tuesday last, when I was in town and coming home past the Sheraton Hotel, the Ireland team bus arrived there and all the players were getting out of the bus. A huge crowd of young people gathered, mostly girls who were squealing with delight and busily taking selfie photographs with each player as they got off the bus. It is great for us to have them in Athlone, but how piquant it is for Robbie Henshaw, having the players for a week in his own home town, playing out in the Buccaneers Rugby Club grounds, and he not able to participate. I am sure he will go out to join them, but it is not the same.
On Thursday next, the dads and mams are taking their young sons and daughters to see the team in action. They have a break next Saturday before they face their next match, so, hopefully, that will give all of them a bit of a rest.
Westmeath and Roscommon enjoyed different fates last weekend, with Westmeath winning down in Wexford and Roscommon losing. The Allianz League is showing great results for some counties. Like the European competitions are for the rugby, the Allianz League is a great training ground for the counties to strut their stuff and for the main counties to shine on.
The Winter Olympics have done what I never thought would happen despite the best efforts of Rex Tillerson and the efforts of President Trump. North Korea and South Korea are best of friends and Vice President of the US, Mike Pence, has joined them for, what has proven to be, an interesting games. However, and more importantly, on the international stage the games are acting as a peace-making venue, which no one dreamed could happen. But it is happening before our eyes. It is marvellous what sport can do even in the iciest of conditions!
Great excitement this week about the National Development Plan, which the government will unveil next Friday in Sligo. A cabinet meeting is being held in the morning and then, in the early afternoon, the plan will be launched. Obviously Sligo will be headlined, particularly as the cabinet is there, and they will not be going with their pockets empty to that fine town in the north west.
We are very happy here in Athlone as, it appears, we are to be designated as ‘The Midlands Growth Centre’. Of course, we are so delighted with the news. I spoke, last week in my column, about the high-powered committee which had been set up, entitled Destination Athlone. No doubt they played a big part in achieving this new status for the town. But, of course, the main reason why we got this Midlands new status is because we have a Minister in the town – Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, who was tireless in his lobbying to the government and whom, I hope, will have the fruit of it all next Friday.
There is no doubt about it, having a minister in the area can yield substantial benefits. Athlone is well placed in its many facets, particularly the IDA HQ, the IT and, of course, the army. So, let us hope it is full steam ahead and good news for next Friday.
Good news too for all involved in the books trade. Last week, Eason’s Ireland had their end of year results which show fine growth in book sales in all of their shops throughout the country. Apparently, there is an upsurge again in book buying and, of course, that makes me very happy because I think there is nothing better for people of all ages, particularly young people, than to have a love of reading.
Allied to that was the news that Sebastian Barry is the new Poet Laureate for the next three years for Ireland, which is really good news. I am sure many of the readers of this column will have read one of Barry’s novels. They are an amazing read and I have no doubt whatsoever that he will do so much for Ireland to push forward its literary credentials in the years ahead.
We are in the middle of February now and yet the cold, cold weather persists. Most of the days are bright and sunny and the rain, sleet and snow seems to come at night. Once the dawn breaks it is bright again, and we do not get the rain that day. It seems the weather is more kindly. Of course, for all the Shannon watchers and, I am sure in other parts of the country as well, the worry about floods continues to be ever prevalent. Frosty weather continues to be good and it stymies the rise of flood water, so at least there is some good in the coldness of that.
A respite, this week, for students in secondary schools. The mocks are over and they have a week free for half term. Not so the younger children in primary schools, who have Thursday and Friday off. They, in turn, are bitterly complaining that they should have the same time off as their older sisters and brothers.
Six weeks of Lent lie ahead and I am sure many of you can remember the time when that meant that people made an effort to give up something they enjoyed, or to take up something they did not enjoy. I think the penance has gone away for a lot of Lent, but we have six weeks ahead of us anyway until Easter.
That is my lot for now.
Talk with you all next week.
In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go Fóill,