Archive for the Sport Category

Grand National Takeaway

Posted in mathematics, Sport with tags , , , on April 11, 2021 by telescoper

Congratulations to Rachael Blackmore for becoming the first female jockey ever to ride the winner Minella Times of the Grand National yesterday. It was a good race for Ireland generally as the top five were all Irish horses.

The race was led for a long time by 80-1 outsider Jett who at one point was about 10 lengths clear of the field but you could see that about three fences from home the horse was very tired, fading badly over the final stages of the race to finish in eighth place.

At 11-1, Minella Times would have netted quite a few people a good return on their investment. I wasn’t so lucky but had a modest success. After studying the form carefully (i.e. sticking a pin in the list of runners), I settled on Any Second Now, also at 11-1, betting €25 each way. I was pleased yesterday to see the odds shortening to 15/2 at the start, which meant quite a lot of people were backing the same horse.

In the event Any Second Now finished 3rd which was a great result given that it was badly hampered by a faller (Double Shuffle) at the 12th fence. A thing like that is normally difficult to recover from but jockey Mark Walsh did well to get back in contention, though he was too far back and too tired to catch the winner, who ran a perfect race.

The Grand National is one race where I think an each-way bet is a sensible strategy. As a handicap with 40 runners (and a very tough race for which the probability of a horse not making it to the finish line is quite high) the odds are usually pretty long even on the favourite, and most bookies pay out for a place down to sixth. I bet €25 each way, which means €25 to win outright at 11-1 and €25 for a place at one-fifth the odds, i.e. 2.2 to 1. I lost the first €25 but won €55 on the place (plus the stake). My net result was therefore €50 staked for an €80, more than enough profit to pay for last night’s takeaway dinner.

The point is that if you want the place to cover the loss on the win the starting price has to be good. If the odds are N:1 they will only cover the loss if N/5 ≥1 with the equality meaning that you break even. In a race in which the odds are much shorter the place bet is usually not worth very much at all. In yesterday’s Grand National the favourite was 5-1.

Early Season Cricket

Posted in Cricket with tags , , on April 10, 2021 by telescoper

It’s Day 3 of Yorkshire versus Glamorgan at Headingley in the first round of this season’s County Championship matches.

Or it was because there won’t be any further play today owing to the inclement weather….

Glamorgan are actually doing well at 161 for 4 in their second innings after bowling out Yorkshire for 193 to establish a first innings lead of 137. That’s very good considering that they were 29 for 4 at one point. Currently 298 ahead with six wickets remaining, can they force a result tomorrow?

UPDATE: Glamorgan batted on for an hour on Sunday morning so both Clarke and Root could get hundreds, eventually declaring on 241-4 a leady of 378. Clarke and Root came together with the score on 29-4 so that was an unbroken partnership of 212 for the 5th wicket. Despite a wobble here and there, Yorkshire batted out the day and eventually a draw was agreed with their score on 223 for 4.

Six Nations Super Saturday

Posted in Rugby with tags , , , , , , on March 21, 2021 by telescoper

Study week is over and next week we return for the second half of Spring Semester. At least we do for about a fortnight, after which there is the Easter break (Good Friday plus the following week). I’ve just about caught up with what I should have done before the Study break started so I spent a big chunk of yesterday watching the Six Nations Rugby. Super Saturday would normally be the last day, with three matches determining the Championship, but that’s not quite how it worked out as France’s game against Scotland was postponed for Covid-related reasons.

The day started off with a 52-10 victory for Scotland over hapless Italy at Murrayfield. The visitors started well enough but soon melted away as Scotland got into gear, eventually scoring eight tries. A lot of people are asking what is going to happen about Italy. Although they have won the odd game in the Six Nations over the years they have never really been contenders and this year they have been consistently woeful. Despite millions being poured into Italian rugby from the competition they have got worse, not better.

One possibility would be to have a second division of the tournament, with promotion and relegation. One problem is finding teams to make up the other places, the European Championship includes such teams as Russia, Portugal, Spain, Romania, Germany and Belgium. One could add Georgia into that mix too. The greater problem is whether there would be enough of an audience to make this financially viable.

Anyway, the second match of the day was Ireland versus England in Dublin. I have to say that I thought England were strong favourites to win that match but what the heck do I know? Ireland put in their best performance of the tournament and ran out relatively comfortable winners against a lacklustre England by 32 points to 18. England, whom many thought would win the tournament, finish in fifth place out of six.

The final stages of that game were marred by atrocious violent conduct by England prop Ellis Genge which was not spotted by the referee at the time but which will be reviewed and should lead to a lengthy ban.

And then the pièce de résistance, France versus Wales. Wales were looking for a victory that would give them a Grand Slam, an outcome that looked very unlikely at the start of the competition. The game started at a frenetic pace with two tries each in the first 20 minutes or so. If they had kept up that rate of scoring the match could have ended 56-56!, but at half-time the score was 17-17.

Wales gradually exerted their dominance and stretched their lead to 20-30. With Paul Willemse for sent off for France sticking his hand in an opponent’s eye with just 12 minutes to go the game looked over. The French disagreed and brought out some of their best attacking rugby against a tiring Welsh side who resorted to persistent infringement at the breakdown. A succession of penalties and two yellow cards ensued. France took full advantage, scoring a converted try to make it 27-30. Wales were still in front, and in possession of the ball in a good attacking position, with less than two minutes to go but then conceded a penalty. France kept the ball alive from the resulting lineout then used their extra player to score wide on the left wing with no time left to play. It finished 32-30.

The winning try, scored by Brice Dullin

Heartbreak for Wales, but a brilliant comeback by France. What a game of rugby!

Apart from everything else I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game of rugby with so many potential tries prevented by defensive players holding the ball up to prevent grounding in the in-goal area. I counted at least six, each of them just inches away from being a try.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of my Welsh friends I think France just deserved to win that game. Wales had the benefit of most of the marginal refereeing decisions and Wales should have had even more yellow cards near the end for persistent infringement. Above all, they deserved it for refusing to give up when all seemed lost. Magnifique!

The Six Nations is not yet over; there’s still France versus Scotland to come on Friday night (26th March). If France win that game heavily and get a bonus point they could still finish as Champions. France need to overturn a 20-point points difference though so they’ll have to win by 21 points or more and score four tries. I think that’s unlikely, but they’ll definitely go for it!

R.I.P. John Pullin (1941-2021)

Posted in Rugby with tags , on February 9, 2021 by telescoper

I was saddened yesterday to hear news of the death at the age of 79 of former England rugby captain John Pullin. The name is familiar to me from my youth – he was England captain when I started to learn how to play rugby at the grammar school I went to, but will also be familiar anyone who remembers that famous match between the Barbarians and the All Blacks in Cardiff way back in 1973. Pullin, one of just three Englishmen* in the side, was the hooker for the Barbarians, so threw in the ball at the line-out that led a few glorious minutes later to that try via a move in which he also played a part, receiving the ball from JPR Williams (whom Bryan Williams was tackling around the neck) and passing it to John Dawes whose dummy led to a scintillating burst out of defence. In fact Pullin’s were the only English hands to touch the ball in that move!

*The English rugby team of the early 1970s wasn’t very strong, even less so when compared with the Welsh!

All-Ireland Hurling Final Day

Posted in GAA with tags , , , , , on December 13, 2020 by telescoper

As the absurd Pantomime of Brexit negotiations continues and I prepare for a very busy final week of an exhausting term I’m taking this afternoon off to watch the final of the All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship from Croke Park in Dublin. The final is between Limerick and Waterford, and is in effect a re-run of the 2020 Munster provincial final, which was won by Limerick. (The winners of the Leinster and Munster Provincial championships go straight into the semi-finals of the All-Ireland Championship, while the runners-up play in the Quarter-Finals).

The All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final usually takes place in August or September, but this year’s competition has been rescheduled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was raining very heavily overnight and into this morning in the Dublin are but the bad weather has cleared so I’m looking forward to a good match. According to the bookies, Limerick are strong favourites at 4/9 with Waterford at 5/2. Throw-in is at 3.30pm. The match will be played in a largely empty Croke Park, which means the atmosphere won’t be the same as in front of a crowd of 80,000 but I hope it will be enjoyable nonetheless. I’m not going to live blog the match but will update at half time and at the end.

As a bonus, the main event is preceded by the final of the Joe McDonagh Cup which is the second tier of the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship. This year’s final is between Antrim and Kerry. Antrim were strong favourites before the match and began the match better of the two teams, but Kerry fought back well from a poor start to lead 1-07 to 0-9 at half time.

UPDATE: Half-time Limerick 0-14 Waterford 0-11. The scoreline doesn’t really reflect Limerick’s dominance, but Waterford are doing well to stay in the game. Only three points in it. I still think Limerick will win.

UPDATE: Full-time Limerick 0-30 Waterford 0-19. Limerick just too strong for Waterford, who had no answer to the relentless accuracy of Limerick’s shooting from long range. Limerick’s defence also impressive, nullifying the threat from Waterford’s full forwards. Congratulations to Limerick.

Yesterday’s Irish Times prediction has aged well…

Another Week Ending

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, GAA, Maynooth, The Universe and Stuff on December 4, 2020 by telescoper

As this term staggers on I once again arrive at a weekend in a state of exhaustion. Still there are just two teaching weeks left for this term so soon it will be the Christmas break. At least there won’t be any teaching then, though there will be other things to do before the examinations start in January.

I’ve managed to keep a reasonable pace up in both sets of lectures. The last one due this term is for Vector Calculus and Fourier Series, on Friday 18th December, but I think I may be able to complete the module content on the Tuesday lecture which means the students will be able to have a bit more time to relax before Christmas or, alternatively, a bit more time for revision. I hope it’s the former, as I imagine the students are at least as tired as we staff are. This has been a difficult year for everyone.

At Maynooth University, lectures for Semester 2 start on February 1st 2020. That will give us a bit of time to see how the Covid-19 pandemic progresses before deciding exactly how we’re going to approach teaching. Other universities that resume earlier have less time to make this decisions. I fear that the number of cases may rise rapidly over the three weeks remaining before Christmas, even before the Christmas break itself, and we therefore might have to go fully online next term. What I don’t want to happen is what happened in September, namely that we made elaborate plans for lecture rotations and tutorial groups that were then ditched because the Coronavirus situation changed. That was quite demoralizing because it involved a great deal of effort that was wasted.

Being a Department of Theoretical Physics we don’t have the problems facing the more experimental subjects that require extensive laboratory classes which are difficult to do under social distancing. Next term however we do have Computational Physics, which has laboratory classes, so I’ll have to decide how much of that we can do in person and how much students will have to do online using their laptops. I hope we can return to full in-person lab sessions, but we can’t be that will be possible right now. In any case computer labs are far easier to run online that practical chemistry or physics labs, so I think we will be able to do a reasonable job whatever the circumstances.

For added fun, next term I’ll be teaching a new module; 4th Year Advanced Electromagnetism. Although there’s always a lot of work required to teach a module for the first time, I am actually looking forward to doing this one as there’s some interesting physics in it (especially relativistic electrodynamics). I may try to squeeze a bit of plasma physics in too. But will it be online or on campus, or a mixture of both? Time alone will tell.

Anyway I’m looking forward to this weekend being as stress-free as possible. There’s a good start tonight, as Newcastle’s game against Aston Villa has been postponed due to Covid-19 so no anxious looking at the score this evening. The rest of the weekend will be dominated, for me, by the two semi-finals of the All Ireland Gaelic Football Championship (Cavan versus Dublin tomorrow and Mayo versus Tipperary on Sunday). It seems to be written in the stars that the final should be Dublin versus Tipperary, the two teams that played on Bloody Sunday, but time will tell on that one too.

Update: Dublin did indeed comfortably beat Cavan on Saturday but Mayo beat Tipperary in a high scoring game in a foggy Croke Park on Sunday (Mayo 5-20 Tipperary 3-13). The final will therefore not be a rerun of the 1920 final.

That’s enough rambling. Have a good weekend.

On the GAA

Posted in Biographical, History, Sport with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2020 by telescoper

Since moving to Ireland almost three years ago I have (somewhat unexpectedly) become a fan of GAA and regularly watch both hurling and Gaelic football on the TV, which is quite often.

Ireland is very keen on sports generally, with big followings for both rugby and soccer but, at least in terms of attendances, hurling and Gaelic football are by far the most popular sports in Ireland. That’s quite remarkable because these are entirely amateur games. One of the great things about the GAA is that it’s a real grass roots organization, where even games between local clubs can attract very big crowds. (I’m talking about the pre-Covid era there, obviously.) The players tend to be local and there’s a strong involvement of the community in the local clubs.

Hurling is my favourite GAA sport – the level of skill on display is truly awesome and it’s played at an amazingly fast tempo – but I do watch the football when I can too and am more gradually getting into it. Incidentally, these two sports are played on the same pitches with the same goals and the same number of players on each side (15) and have basically the same rules – with a player’s hurley (stick) in hurling being in one-to-one correspondence as far as the rules are concerned with a player’s foot in Gaelic football. The ball of course is bigger in football; the small one used in hurling is called a sliotar. Scoring is the same in both: 1 point getting the ball between the two posts over the bar as in rugby and a goal (3 points) for getting the ball into the back of the net below the bar.

I took a break in the early afternoon yesterday to watch the All Ireland Quarter Final match in the hurling between Galway and Tipperary, an entertaining match played in fine weather which was won by Galway 3-23 to 2-24. Later on, I settled down to watch the Leinster provincial final between Dublin and Meath live from Croke Park in the evening. Given that this match was on the same day as Bloody Sunday it was preceded by a solemn commemoration of those that died a hundred years ago which I thought was beautifully done. Here’s a video tribute made by the GAA itself, played at the end of the pre-match commemoration along with specially-composed music.

After the match there was a wreath-laying ceremony involving the players which was unfortunately spoiled on the television broadcast by a commentator who talked all the way over it.

The match itself was a very one-sided affair, which was effectively all over by half time (when the score was Dublin 2-12 Meath 0-2). It ended Dublin 3-21 Meath 0-9, which is a margin of 21 points: quite a thrashing for Meath. I’m not an expert, but the Dublin side were far more mobile and inventive than Meath and thoroughly deserved their win.

There wasn’t a crowd of course. I think the commemorative event would have been even more emotional if there had been. Watching the actual match though it struck me that we’re all getting used to watching sport in an empty stadium. It’s probably going to take some getting used to the noise when (if) live audiences eventually return.

UPDATE: Tipperary beat Cork in Munster final this afternoon to win it for the first time in 85 years. The team were wearing replica jerseys of those worn by the Tipperary team that played Dublin in 1920.

After all the provincial finals, including a surprise win for Cavan over Donegal in Ulster, the four teams in the semi-finals of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship in 2020 is exactly the same as it was in 1920. The final, between Dublin and Tipperary, was not played until 1922.

(The match played on Bloody Sunday was a Challenge Match not part of the Championship.

Domhnach na Fola

Posted in History, Sport with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2020 by telescoper

In the days before lockdown I would often travel past Croke Park on the train from Maynooth into Dublin Connolly station. It’s a magnificent stadium, with a capacity over 80,000, its stands towering up on all sides of the playing field which is used for major sporting events organized by the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA), chiefly hurling and gaelic football. It’s located quite close to Drumcondra Station, the last stop before Connolly on the way into Dublin. I’ve never actually been inside the ground, and you can’t see much of the interior from the train because of the stands, but I do hope to see a match there one day.

Croke Park looked very different a hundred years ago today, on November 21st 1920 (which was a Sunday).

Croke Park, looking towards Hill 16, taken on the day of November 21st 1920.

Incidentally, the low hill you can see in the background is Hill 16. There’s a story that this was built up using rubble from buildings destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, but this seems to be apocryphal.

Anyway, as you can see, there wasn’t much in the way of buildings around the playing field in those days, and not much to give spectators cover if they were trying to flee from gunfire.

A Gaelic football match between Dublin and Tipperary started in Croke Park at 2.45 pm on November 21st. About ten minutes into the game, armed police (including members of the regular Royal Irish Constabulary, Auxiliaries, and some Black and Tans) suddenly arrived at the southern end of the park, panicking some of the spectators who tried to run away. Without warning the police opened fire on the crowd. The first to die was 11 year old William Robinson who was sitting in a tree outside the ground to get a better view. Overall the firing lasted about 90 seconds. Thirteen people were killed outright and another died of his wounds later. Others were injured either by gunfire or in the crush resulting from the panic.

Among the dead was Tipperary’s star player Michael Hogan, who was shot dead on the playing field as he tried to find cover. Information from post-mortems released many years after the event revealed that most of the victims had been shot in the back.

Michael Hogan, star player and Captain for the Tipperary team at Croke Park on Bloody Sunday. He died that day.

The massacre could have been even worse had the British forces at the other end of the ground, who had an armoured car with a machine gun, shown more restraint. The machine gun was fired above the heads of the people running towards this contingent. They didn’t shoot anyone but they did force the crowd back towards the gunfire from the other end of the ground. Had they opened fire at the crowd there would have been a massacre on the scale of Amritsar, where hundreds died.

Witnesses also said that while the security forces let all the Dublin players go, they lined up the entire Tipperary team against a fence and were preparing to shoot them all when a junior officer intervened and ordered them to be released. Tipperary was perceived to be a hotbed of IRA activity. Michael Hogan was in fact a member of the Irish Volunteers.

So what on Earth had happened to trigger this indiscriminate slaughter, on the day known now as Bloody Sunday (Irish: Domhnach na Fola)

The overall context is the Irish War of Independence which started in 1919 and was largely a guerilla campaign waged in rural areas. There had not been large-scale eruptions of violence in Dublin. That changed on November 21st 1920. That morning, members of the Irish Republican Army under the direction of Michael Collins, had carried out an operation across Dublin intended to eliminate the ability of the British forces to gather intelligence on the IRA. Hit squads entered the homes of known or suspected British intelligence operatives across the town and shot them. Fifteen people were killed that morning, including at least two innocent civilians in the process.

The IRA members responsible for the killings on Sunday morning melted away into the city. Once again the police and security services seemed to be fighting an invisible enemy. However, knowing that there was a football match going on that afternoon, and that at least some of those involved with the GAA had strong Republican leanings and may indeed be active IRA members, they decided to search all the spectators at the match of which there were over 10,000. The hope was, presumably, to find in the crowd at least some of those responsible for the morning’s assassinations. Instructions were given that anyone who ran away when the search operation began should be presumed guilty and shot.

News about the morning’s events had spread through Dublin that morning and it was widely anticipated that the British would carry out reprisal killings, probably in their usual indiscriminate fashion they had employed previously. When armed men arrived in vehicles outside the ground, the instinct of many spectators was therefore to run even before the searching began. Nervous and trigger-happy police deployed in a harebrained plan to make the slaughter inevitable. Nobody has ever been brought to justice for the murders at Croke Park.

Later that day two members of the IRA were caught by the security services, taken to Dublin Castle, beaten and then shot under the pretext that they were trying to escape. These killings brought the death toll past thirty. Bloody Sunday indeed.

The events in Croke Park handed a major propaganda victory to the IRA and also sparked an escalation of the violence. Just a week later, at Kilmichael in County Cork, the IRA ambushed two trucks carrying a total of 18 Auxiliaries, killing 17 of them and leaving the other for dead. On December 11th the British burned down a large part of the city of Cork in retaliation against another attack on their forces. And so it went on into 1921 to the point where the British eventually realized that Ireland had become ungovernable (by them) and a process was started that brought about independence (at least for part of Ireland).

As you can imagine there have been many commemorations of the grim events of a century ago. I watched a very interesting documentary on the TV earlier this week and there have been many articles in the newspapers and elsewhere about it, taking different angles. Those I found the most moving were those that dealt with the memory of the innocent lives lost. One very poignant idea was to stage 14 very short plays around Croke Park about each of the victims.

Here is a sort of trailer, featuring the heartbreaking story of Jane Boyle – the only woman to die on Bloody Sunday. Her death was particularly tragic as she was due to marry her fiancé Daniel Byron the following week. The couple went to mass at St Kevin’s Church on Harrington Street on Sunday morning and proceeded to Croke Park afterwards. When the firing started, they fled. In the scramble for safety, Daniel felt Jane’s hand go limp; she had been shot in the back and died instantly. She was buried later that week in her wedding gown.

Stormy Samhain Super Saturday

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Maynooth, Rugby with tags , , on October 31, 2020 by telescoper

So we have arrived at October 31st, Hallowe’en or, in pagan terms, Samhain. This, a cross-quarter day – roughly halfway between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice represents the start of winter (“the dark half of the year“) in the Celtic calendar.

Incidentally, Samhain is pronounced something like “sawin”. The h after the m denotes lenition of the consonant (which in older forms of Irish would have been denoted by a dot on top of the m) so when followed by a broad vowel the m is pronounced like the English “w”; when followed by a slender vowel or none “mh” is pronounced “v” or in other words like the German “w” (which makes it easier to remember). I only mention this because I hope to be starting Irish language lessons soon, something I always wish I’d done with Welsh when I lived in Cardiff.

Anyway, it’s a wild blustery day with the wind howling down the chimney of my house in Maynooth sounding like a ghost. At least thanks to the present Level 5 restrictions I won’t have to endure trick-or-treaters this evening. Or will I? Should I sit quietly at home with the lights off again?

Today’s schedule will revolve around the final round of matches in this year’s Six Nations championship. The settled order of nature having been disturbed by Covid-19 back in March it has only just become possible to finish the competition with three games today. Ireland travel to France for the last game this evening, after England play Italy and Wales play Scotland. Ireland currently head the table, but they have a difficult task in Paris: they need not only to win to secure the Championship but to do so by a bonus point because England will almost certainly get a bonus point against a poor Italian side. The Irish press are talking up the national team’s chances of winning handsomely, but it seems to me rather unlikely especially because France too have a chance of the title if they beat Ireland and get a bonus point. Both sides clearly have to attack, which should make for a good contest.

For what it’s worth, my predictions are: Wales to beat Scotland, England to beat Italy (with a bonus point) and France to beat Ireland (but no bonus point). That combination would make England the champions, with France second and Ireland third.

Update: 16.05. Wales 10 Scotland 14. My predictions are not off to a good start. Scrappy, error-strewn game with Scotland’s try from a maul that shredded the Welsh defence the highlight of the game. Bad result for Wales but it is good to see Scotland back as a force to be reckoned with.

Update: 18.45. England improved dramatically after a poor first half, and eventually ran out winners by 34 points to 5. That means their points difference is +44 compared to Ireland’s +38. Ireland need a win by 7 or more points (or with a bonus point) to win the Championship.

Update: 21.00. Half-time France 17 Ireland 13. France leading without having played particularly well, thanks to two big Irish errors. Ireland need to score 10 points more than France in the 2nd half.

Update 22.00. Final score France 35 Ireland 27. France won with a bonus point but not by a sufficient margin to win the Championship, which goes to England, with France second and Ireland third. It didn’t go exactly as I predicted but I wasn’t far off!

On the Coronavirus and the Cricket

Posted in Covid-19, Cricket with tags , , on July 29, 2020 by telescoper

Yesterday the UK Government reported that there were 119 Covid-19 related deaths in the United Kingdom:

Between

In other news, it was also announced yesterday that Stuart Broad and I have now taken 500 Test wickets between us…