Exam Time 2024

It is exam time again in Ireland with many sitting down today week for both the Junior and Leaving Certificate. I sat my junior cert in 2007 and my leaving in 2009. 15 years on I am still on the road after many challenges but I still achieved what I set out to do in life and continue to do so as I sit here and type.

In my time in secondary school, the leaving cert was the be all and end all but thankfully things have changed and people will be able to avail of different routes to help succeed in life. Give the exams your very best of course but don’t think that results over the next few weeks will define who you are and what you’ll do in life because I can testify, there are many ways to achieve your goals in life…

My time in secondary school was enjoyable and now that I have time reflect on my 5 years as transition year wasn’t available but is now back on the table and if used wisely could help you taste what the “real world” is like. My attitude was “get in and get out” and do my small bit but don’t over stretch myself, a lesson I have continued into adult hood !!!  ( don’t take this too literally or I will have angry parents after my blood)

Everyone is different and school doesn’t suit everyone but the one thing the teachers will do is try there hardest to guide you in the right direction and then of course it is up to each individual to take their chosen path in life.

I probably broke the hearts of many of the teachers by my lack of attention to detail in certain aspects of my school days in the Comp but I still have a strong relationship with them all these years later.

They aren’t there to steer you wrong and will do all they can but it is up to you to drive yourself on. One thing they got spot on is, enjoy those days because when you leave the Comp at the end of your final exam life will take many turns for you all so enjoy the next couple of weeks as well as studying for the exams beginning of course next Wednesday.

Do your best and you’ll get what you deserve next August when the results come out but as I mention don’t stress out too much. Listen to any advice your parents or teachers give you because they know you better than I do…

I wish the Class of 2024 across the country all the very best for the junior and leaving cert exams….

Nicoleta Choirean – Local Election Candidate Carlow Area

Nicoleta Choirean is a local election candidate for the Carlow Electoral area and will this year run on the Sinn Fein ticket for a seat on Carlow County Council. Nicoleta has lived in Ireland for the last 24 years and has been heavily involved in several local community groups and activism over that time.

She has a background in herbal medicine and naturopathic medicine and has her own private practice. Having worked in her local area in various roles and then going to the European Parliament in Brussels and participating in varying summits on health, business and education.

Nicoleta now hopes that you’ll give her your number 1 when you go to the polls for the local and european elections taking place on Friday June 7th.

Tarbert Theatre Players – Separate Beds

Tarbert Theatre players returned to the stage over the past two weekends with a comedy from the pen of Sam Cree, directed by Helen Enright. It was a return to thread the boards after a two year absence after they last put on “nobody is talking to me” back in 2022.

This particular comedy is based on the upcoming nuptials of the daughter of businessman Arthur Marshall (shane wall) who is trying his best to get the house ready for the festivities and to that end he is try manfully to get local painter Andy Crawford (Cormac wall) to try and get the house painted and in tip top shape but Andy seems pre occupied with his upcoming return to fatherhood for an 8th time.

He has a wondering eye and  is more interested in getting over time and time and half for very little work and a lot of fun. It has taken 6 weeks to get to nearly finished. Add to this the housekeeper Ivy (Yvonne O Keeffe) is constantly “merry” after many small ones and will regale you with many musical numbers a favourite being “wandering star”. She almost poisons Andy on more than one occasion after trying to top up the whiskey bottle with what she thinks is water but is in fact weed killer !!

To complicate the wedding, Andy’s wife is returning after a near 3 year period away and Andy’s new admirer Madge (ciara shine) is making it tricky. Clare Marshall (noelle mc gibney)  is an actress who has been on TV and likes a good time and playing games with her soon to be ex husband.

Judy Marshall (katelyn foley) is Arthur’s daughter and his hoping to marry Alan Rea ( james enright) and after a small fight that was almost the end for the new couple, they manage to find common ground and head up the isle. Alan’s mother (niamh wall) is a widow and thinks the Marshalls are still are a married couple

Local Reverand Gribble (jerry o connell) is hard of hearing and is quite forgetful and seems to think that it’s a christening he is officiating for rather than a wedding. He also seems quite good at getting a damp backside while cycling his trusty stead….

It is a well-constructed comedy that has a few hat tips to the local area, mentioning Tarbert Island and an ongoing strike. It was a debut for Helen Enright is the director’s chair and she can be proud of the efforts that herself and the cast and crew put in over the past few months to bring this comedy to life.

All 9 cast members were well matched to the parts they played and it has been well received by all audiences over the 5 nights. The hard work has paid off for cast and crew who can now take a well-earned break and who knows we may see the Tarbert Theatre players before 2024 ends or failing that we may see them back in some way in 2025…

Darkness Into Light 2024

This Saturday will see thousands of people walk from darkness into light. The walk will again take place in Tarbert with many people taking to the route from the Comprehensive school down the Island Road and then returning to the school.

I have written extensively over the past now 10 years of my own personal battles and the 10th anniversary of my first suicide attempt passed a few weeks ago. As I have spoken of, only for intuition and a phone call in March 2014, I would not be sitting here and that is why I write and speak so openly of my experience as I hope if even one person clicks on this and reads it and that may help them find there light bulb moment to seek out people they trust to open the conversation with those they love and trust.

I know I probably come across as cold and awkward on occasion but that is not the reality. I also know it looks I can’t shut my trap but this will come as a shock for many years I couldn’t speak openly or freely but all that has changed in the past 10 years.

Opening up and sharing has been such a saving grace and although doing it isn’t an easy thing to do for most people over fear of ridicule and being made fun of, but trust me when I say this, opening up will make things easier and people will do all they can to help and support you. I am sure there are people struggling with life, work or school at the moment and feel they can’t turn to anyone for help and support. We all feel like that and we all think we can face our issues single handily but again trust me, we can’t.

I did it that way for so long and in the end I almost killed myself with worry and stress over what others were thinking of me and where I was in life. My battles have been in my own head and believing through the voice in my head that I wasn’t good enough for this planet. Being told I was living in cloud cuckoo land from time to time didn’t help the ongoing battle in my mind and head.

But I asked for support, through a letter I wrote openly and let me tell you it caused war at home but It did the trick and after going for counselling a few years later I realised I need to take up the offer of support.

I also began to slowly realise I am worth my place on this planet and subsequent conversations made me think that ending my life would have destroyed more than my life but the lives of many people.

There is light at the end of every tunnel, trust me again when I say this because I have been to the depths of despair and found my feet through genuine love and support from many people. I always felt alone through my teenage years and even though I never let it show I was tearing myself apart from the inside out and like I always say I am so thankful to my late Mother for her intuition and also that family member who picked up the phone and helped talk me down in that fateful moment in 2014.

Fast forward 10 years and that future I felt unworthy of is burning bright in front of me and I really can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I made it from my own Darkness into the Light. Go and do the same and find someone you trust and have that opening conversation.

To anyone struggling at the moment, reach out and grasp the hand that will come out to help and support you….

Leinster – London’s Calling

Leinster will play Toulouse in this season’s Champions Cup Final after a tight semi-final win over Northampton Saints in Croke Park winning 20-17. Leinster had full control of this contest on the scoreboard as well as the pitch as they led 20-3 going into the last 20. Northampton found a way back scoring two tries late on to give Leinster a nervy last few minutes.

Leinster will need to sift through the game and come up with a solution as to why they almost blew a 17 point lead in the final 20 minutes. It was a strong showing from Leinster with James Lowe scoring a hat trick of tries to help see them through.

The thing for Leinster over the next few weeks is about coming up with a game plan that will help stem a flowing Toulouse as they showed yesterday that they will score tries at will and they will also give you chances too which Leinster will have noted.

Leinster will be hopeful that Gary Ringrose and James Ryan will be back with them and fit before the end of the season. Jamie Osbourne and Ross Molony did a good job on Saturday but Leinster will be very hopeful to have a full deck to choose from come final time in three weeks’ time.

Over the next three weeks they will be fully focused on seeing out the last three rounds of the URC and consolidating there position in the table. Top spot has become a target for the teams immediately behind Leinster in this instance Glasgow and Munster currently. Leinster will need to finish strongly to top the URC and taking home advantage into the quarter finals in June.

Looking at where Leinster may need to change, will they keep Ross Byrne at 10 or give his younger brother Harry a chance over the next few weeks to put the pressure on his big brother to maybe force a rethink ahead of the Champions Cup Final. Ciaran Frawley is seen as a full back by Leinster given he filled in for Hugo Keenan on Saturday and in recent times also. Similar to Joey Carbery before his move south to Munster he was picked and played at 15 when involved in any Leinster 23 at that time.

Will they make changes in the second row and go with power with Jason Jenkins or James Ryan alongside Joe Mc Carthy, only time will tell that particular thing. Will Leinster opt for a 6/2 split over the usual 5/3. These are questions that Leo Cullen and his coaches will need to answer.

The battle at scrum half will be worth the entry fee alone with Antoine Dupont likely to face Jamison Gibson Park arguably both men are at the peak of their powers and both can lay claim to currently being the world’s best 9. They both like to play a high tempo, pace game which in turn means both back rows will be asked to create a platform of quick ruck ball.

The match referee will need to be on his toes for the occasion, The RFU will most likely provide the match referee although Nika Amashukeli did well in the Challenge Cup semi-final in Kingsholm and that performance should see him get the whistle in either final.

Toulouse will be looking for 6th trophy while Leinster will be looking to win Europe’s big prize for a 5th time. Both teams are there since day one and like there scrum halves could lay claim to being the world’s premier club team. Saturday May 25th will help us make that argument one way or the other….

The Tottenham Stadium in North London is the ideal location for an out of this world final pairing. Let’s hope that the teams will serve up an attacking brand of rugby that all rugby followers can be happy with. We have three rounds of the Top 14 and URC to navigate before this season’s Champions Cup final at 2.45pm on Saturday May 25th.

The FA Cup Final is also scheduled for that afternoon so that is another interesting side show that people need to be keep an eye on because EPCR may be asked to shift there kick off time from 2.45pm. It may not come to pass that either final will be shifted from there stated kick off times but still one to keep in mind….

Leinster – Day of Destiny

Leinster head for GAA HQ to play Northampton Saints at 5.30pm today. 15 years on from beating Munster on Jones Road.  Leinster have been in South Africa for the past 2 weeks on domestic duty with the majority of today’s 23 being left behind to prepare for today’s battle. 2 defeats on that SA trip won’t matter too much if victory is secured this evening.

Leinster have gone for the tried and trusted this evening with the so called heavy hitters returning to see can they find a way past a well drilled Saints side who look a different prospect this year with Lee Radford looking after their defence, that miserly defence will be need to stop a Leinster attack that has fired well in this year’s Champions Cup.

Leinster have found Europe a tough nut to crack since the 4th title was won in Bilbao in 2018. They have been beaten by La Rochelle in successive finals and looked odds on to beat them 12 months ago only for La Rochelle to come out in the 2nd half of last year’s final and take the fight to Leinster and nick victory from the jaws of defeat.

12 months on and Leinster find themselves in familiar territory of topping the URC and in the last 4 of Europe looking to try and conquer both competitions. They have come up short in the past few years and have made the right noises to say they will right the wrongs of the past few seasons.

Northampton have mentioned this week that the pressure is all on Leinster given where the game will be played but unfortunately for Northampton that particular thread is well worn as it was rolled out back in 2007 with Ireland and in 2009 when Leinster first played in Croke Park vs Munster.

Leinster know they are under pressure to win today because they have been so consistent in performance that they have contested many finals and semi-finals in the past 6 years since Europe was last conquered in 2018.

Pressure has not sat well on Leinster shoulders in recent times and today will be no different and maybe given the venue it will not sit easy today either. But for all that Leinster will relish the opportunity to reach the Champions Cup final in London on May 20th.

Northampton will come here full of life and will know they are well placed to take full advantage of any slip up by Leinster and if they smell blood in the water they have shown already this year they have the fire power and defence to match many sides.

With an English half back pairing of Alex Mitchell and Fin Smith they have the keys that are well capable of unlocking the Leinster door. It will be a full blooded affair with no quarter asked or given. Northampton got a history lesson on the significance of Croke Park in Ireland and what it means to the Irish public it was given by their strength and conditioning coach who is from Ireland.

To that end Leinster have Declan Darcy in their backroom staff and he was with Dublin footballers for the last number of years and was a valuable resource to Leinster in recent weeks in the build up. Leinster will be in the Aviva Stadium and Croke Park next season owing to RDS undergoing a well need facelift so Leinster will split their time between Ballsbridge and Jones Road next year. No better way than to start there short term residency then beating Northampton Saints and going on to face either Harlequins or Toulouse in London on May 20th….

Leinster Croke Park Bound

Leinster are in the Champions Cup semi-finals and will face Northampton Saints in Croke Park on Saturday May 4th. They reached the last 4 after dismantling La Rochelle in The Aviva Stadium. That result did the necessary to dispel any myths surrounding the current Leinster squad. They did that without Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Charlie Ngatai all of whom missed out through injury.

That tells you that the squad is brimming with quality. They will now want to go one step further than the past few seasons and beat an in form Northampton Saints side who dispatched Munster and The Bulls in recent weeks. Leo Cullen and Jacques Nienaber have dovetailed wonderfully in recent months since the South African’s arrival after the RWC.

Leinster are in pole position to put a 5th star on the famed blue jersey even though Northampton, Harlequins and Toulouse will have plenty to say on that matter over the May bank holiday weekend. Leinster will travel to SA for a two week trip in the URC and will most likely mix and match the squad that will go on tour. In previous seasons they have used it as a breathing ground for the new generation who are in and around the squad on a yearly basis.

They lead the URC and have cushion going into the two games and as I mention there will be plenty of young talent given the chance to shine with a small number of senior guys who may require game time coming into the crunch period of this season.

15 years on from defeating Munster in Croke Park 25-6 in the last European semi-final to be played at the home of the GAA, Leinster won’t face Irish opposition this time round  instead they will play a Phil Dowson coached Northampton Saints side who are playing some quality rugby domestically and in Europe.

Croke Park is in use as the Aviva Stadium is now out of bounds until after the Europa League final which is being staged in Dublin. Leinster will have a few weeks to see can they sell Croker out like they did with the Aviva in recent years in European action.

It will be tricky to get a full house I feel as the opposition isn’t an Irish side although it is a European semi-final and plenty of casual rugby and sports fans may make the trip to see what Croke Park is like to host another sporting event. I was there in 2009 to see the previous semi-final and although Munster were beaten on the day it was still an occasion to be savoured and remembered.

Plenty has been spoken in the last couple of weeks regarding Croke Park as a venue for a rugby game give the pitch dimensions and how far back the crowd will find itself and that comes from an ex Leinster player who played that afternoon in 09, Luke Fitzgerald. Leinster were stuck really once the Aviva was ruled out of the equation and given that Croker will be free on that weekend it was a no brainer….

It will be another special occasion for all involved with Leinster Rugby, both playing staff and backroom staff. It is not that often that the gates at Jones Road are thrown open and Leinster will want to make sure that this trip to GAA HQ will be as memorable as it was in 2009.

European Round Up

Leinster, Connacht and Ulster all advanced this weekend in the last 16 of The Champions Cup and in the case of both Connacht and Ulster in the Challenge Cup.  Munster exited after a ten point loss 24-14 at the hands of Northampton Saints. For three of the Irish provinces they will prepare for last 8 ties in Europe, For Munster it is a case of injury and illness happening at the wrong time of yet another season.

That of course will form part of the conversation over the next 2 weeks for Munster who will now have extra time to prepare for two URC games in late April in South Africa. It is another last 16 exit for Munster since the round came into existence a few seasons ago. Graham Rowntree and his coaches have to now try and pick up a deflated squad for the last few weeks of the season.

 The futures of Antoine Frisch and Peter O Mahony will also need to be sorted and decisions communicated to the fans, add to that the talk surrounding both Mike Haley and Simon Zebo. Munster are in a state of flux like Ulster and will need to tie up certain questions and deals either way while trying to keep the URC campaign on an even keel.

A tough few weeks ahead for the men in red after another defeat in Europe. Only scrapping in back in January probably didn’t help the cause but like to lotto if you’re not in you can’t win !! A lack of experienced players and power killed Munster yesterday seeing Stephen Archer being asked to go the full 80 when Northampton were able to switch over to a fresh set of three new front row players certainly didn’t help the cause.

Munster have to be questioned why they let Keynan Knox take up another playing opportunity with Roman Salanoa on the long term injury list leaving Mark Donnelly and Ronan Fox who is in the academy to back up the two other senior tightheads in the squad currently.

At loosehead the same can be said with James Cronin being let go to play in France and now playing weekly with Leicester Tigers. Some of those decisions will need to be rightly questioned because Munster are again looking in from the outside in Europe.

Injuries to key men in the front row and second row saw RG Syman, Jean Kleyn, Edwin Edogbo ruled out and in the front row, injury and suspension saw Dave Kilcoyne, John Ryan and Oli Jager ruled out.

No team can lose 6 players like that and not be affected, they will now need to focus fully on the final weeks of the URC to see can they defend the crown won in dramatic fashion last May.

For Leinster, Ulster and Connacht it is full steam ahead for games vs La Rochelle in Dublin for Leinster with La Rochelle is Cork for the next few days. Connacht will face Benetton in Italy and Ulster are on the road to face Clermont Auvergne.

I mentioned last week, I felt all 4 teams might sneak wins, my head said in all honesty that Leinster might be the only ones with a W in the bag by Sunday but both Ulster and Connacht can now look to European quarter finals admittedly on the road but with a bit of luck we might see more than one Irish team into the last 4 in Europe and who knows what might happen then…..

Last 16 Time

It’s Champions Cup last 16 weekend and that will see all four provinces out with Leinster and Munster playing in the Champions Cup with Ulster and Connacht in Challenge Cup action. Leinster entertain Leicester Tigers in Dublin and Munster face Northampton Saints again in this year’s Champions Cup.

Ulster will play Montpellier while Connacht will take on Pau in the Challenge Cup, All four sides will face tricky games with Leinster the mostly likely Irish side to take victory on current form. Munster will know they will need to dig very deep and now with John Ryan suspended after his sighting after foul play last weekend. They will find it tough with Darragh Mc Sweeney or Kieran Ryan to now back up Stephen Archer on the tight head side of the scrum.

Here’s hoping RG Synman will have recovered from the illness that kept him out of last weekend’s game against Cardiff. Munster will look to other experienced players now and will need to gain at least parity at scrum time to stand any hope of beating an in form Northampton. Top of the Premiership and scoring tries for fun, Northampton will fancy their chances of reaching another Champions Cup quarter final. It will take a lot of good fortune and more than “boot, bite and bollock” to see Munster through the next few weeks.

Munster have their backs to the wall and will come out swinging but have they the ability to produce the knockout blow, that’s the big question, only time will tell of course.

Leinster could be without a number of key players but the strength in depth of their squad will help alleviate those injury worries. Home advantage will help the Leinster cause even though Leinster went to La Rochelle in the group phase and found a win in a tight contest. They will have home comforts in the quarter finals if they navigate Leicester on Saturday evening. Time for Leinster to pull out a big European performance to help advance their title credentials.

Ulster dropped into the Challenge Cup and with Richie Murphy in interim charge until the end of the season and there short tour of South Africa in the League now over they can focus on trying to put into practice any lessons learned from 2 weeks in South Africa. Plenty of off field activity since January has Ulster in a state of flux on and off the field. No better time than this weekend in Montpellier to steady the ship and pull off an unexpected win in France.

For Connacht, the season is slowing grinding to a close but like Ulster they can use a trip to Pau in the Challenge Cup to breathe fire and life back into an ailing campaign. They will have Finlay Bealham and Bundee Aki back and have shown previously in this season they can play rugby and can pull off a result when all logical thinking suggests otherwise. Time then for another big performance and maybe just maybe they could do the business and nick a win on the road…

It’s the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup last 16 and while it seems likely on current form that only 1 Irish side will do the business, all 4 will be hell bent on doing what they can to cause more than one shock this weekend…  

My 6 Nations Team of the Championship

15 George Furbank

14 Calvin Nash

13 Tomas Menenchello

12 Bundee Aki

11 James Lowe

10 Jack Crowley

9 Jamison Gibson Park

8 Ben Earl

7 Tommy Reffell

6 Peter O Mahony

5 Tadgh Beirne

4 Joe Mc Carthy

3 Tadgh Furlong

2 Dan Sheehan

1 Andrew Porter

Here is my team of the 6 nations that saw Ireland win back to back Championships and win a 6th title since the 6 Nations came to be in 2000. Like all team selections it is subjective and will be easily disagreed with. Here is hoping Italy in particular can build on two wins and a draw from this campaign.

Wales need to continue the tough rebuild job from the bottom up as this campaign has shown the cracks from last season haven’t been dealt with and it is imperative that the WRU do what they can to try and get the Welsh game back on an even keel.

Ireland of course won a 6th crown of the 6 Nations era and a 15th outright Championship. These are special moments and yes while the World Cup issues will linger until 2027 at least, winning another title is something to be celebrated and not taking for granted as many ex-players and supporters will tell you, these wins were owe so seldom for large periods through the 80s and 90s so soak it up and enjoy it. What is seldom really is special….