There are certain acres of ground which are held sacred by followers of sport in this country. For those involved with the GAA it is a few acres of land off Jones Road in Dublin 3. For those who support soccer and rugby, it is a patch of land adjacent to Lansdowne Road in the south of the city. On these fields heroes are made. Men and women gain reputations that last a lifetime and beyond for their endeavours on these pitches.
Horse racing, and particularly National Hunt Racing, also has its sacred piece of ground where man and beast combine in pursuit of their holy grail. The irony for Irish National Hunt fans is that these few acres are in a town in the Cotswolds that simply couldn't be more English. All that changes next week, when an estimated 15,000 Irish people descend on the town. For this is Festival week at Cheltenham, and in a matter of minutes at various times throughout the week, heroes will emerge to claim their place on a roll of honour that stretches back many generations.
Athlone Town’s 18 year wait for top flight football will end at the Showgrounds on Saturday evening.
It will be a daunting task for Athlone to compete with a Sligo Rovers squad that is expected to mount a serious title tilt. Ian Baraclough’s side have been performing adequately in pre-season with new arrival Eric Odhiambo catching the eye in the Bit O’Red’s fine Setanta Cup win over Crusaders.
The margin for error is now slim for Westmeath, who know that only a victory will suffice against Mayo in Mullingar on Sunday if relegation is to be avoided.
Mayo’s stirring success over Kerry at Castlebar combined with Westmeath’s loss in Celtic Park means this match has added significance for Paul Bealin’s midlanders’. The concession of soft goals up north in the early stages had Westmeath in bother and the visitors never subsequently recovered.