There's a bit of a sporting dilemma looming on the horizon, a sort of double booking if you like, that is pulling on the heartstrings right now. In three Saturdays the great Bernard Dunne will fight a man from Panama called Ricardo Cordoba at the fantastic new O2 Arena in the heart of Dublin’s ailing financial district. Just over a year after his career was rocked by a killer punch from Spain’s Kiko Martinez in the same stadium, then known as the Point, Dunne gets a shot at redemption. It’s an enthralling prospect, not just for the Neilstown scrapper but also for those who have stayed loyal to his cause in the doubting months since Martinez made off with Dunne’s European title belt. There are many at home who currently question Bernard’s ability to take a coveted world title off a fighter who has come up the hard way, and shows every sign of it when he steps into the ring. Others, myself included, believe and indeed hope that Dunne’s first professional defeat was a one off, a mere blip on an otherwise unblemished professional record. We’ll find out on March 21 when the Dubliner faces the toughest test yet in his bid to regain lost ground and win over the doubters. I’d love to be there. In fact I’d even pay to be there, which is quite a statement as those who know me will verify coming from someone who normally gets paid to watch such events and is always grateful for that privilege. The problem I have is a simple one — they haven’t yet discovered a means to be in two places at the same time. It is impossible, a bit like expecting Fianna Fail to win the next general election. Trouble is, you see, Ireland play Wales in a rugby international on March 21 in the magnificent sporting venue that is the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. In the normal course of events my employers at Star Sunday would rate a world title fight in his home city for a Dublin-born thoroughbred like Dunne ahead of a rugby match on the other side of the Irish Sea. Boxing, after all, is a Star sport. Rugby is more the preserve of The Irish Times and its really long words. That’s how things would work if this was a normal year. The Star would send one of their men to the old Point — i.e., me — and another by the name of John to the Welsh capital. This ain’t no normal year for Irish rugby, however. If anything, it promises to be a very special year that threatens to be crowned in glory on the very day that Dunne’s world title dream can come true. Ireland’s rugby heroes can win a first Grand Slam in 61 years, and the first of the Six Nations era, if they beat Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday, March 14, and Wales in Cardiff just seven days later. That much became a reality when they survived a nail biting final five minutes to record a one point win over England at Croker on Saturday. That win, albeit a fortunate one for all their second half dominance after a positively dreadful first half, leaves Ireland just two wins away from an historic Slam in Declan Kidney’s first season in charge. Just 18 months after Eddie O’Sullivan’s team crashed and burned at the 2007 World Cup finals in France — when some even foolishly tipped them to win the tournament — Ireland’s rugby team are on the verge of something very special. Naturally the interest in the men on the brink of unprecedented achievement is huge and growing by the day. Croke Park was jammed to the gills on Saturday. Tickets were like gold dust, even if they were on the expensive side at over $100 for the average entrance. As with any Irish team doing well on the international stage, the rugby team is coming off the pages of The Irish Times and becoming public property all over again. The World Cup disappointment has been forgotten thanks to Kidney’s rejuvenation program. History beckons, and the man in the street here at home wants to know what’s going on and how they are going to achieve the breakthrough Slam at Kidney’s first time of asking. Hence the reality right now is that I will spend the third Saturday in March on Welsh soil, covering an Irish team that can go all the way now with skill and fortune on their side if Saturday’s sweet win over England was anything to go by. Instead of Bernard Dunne I will have to satisfy my sporting hunger with Brian O’Driscoll and, you know something, that’s not such a bad thing. At the start of this current RBS Six Nations season I did wonder if Dricco’s goose had been cooked as one of the world’s greatest players as he approached his 30th birthday. That landmark birth date has passed now, and so have the doubts about his ability to play under Kidney and flourish under the new Ireland coach. If anything, Kidney’s arrival as the voice of authority in the Irish dressingroom has brought out the best in O’Driscoll. We saw as much on the opening day against France when he was flamboyant. Second time out in Rome he was dogmatic and pragmatic when Ireland needed to pull the game out of the fire. On Saturday, in a game devoid of imagination for so long, O’Driscoll was the soul of invention, scoring Ireland’s only try and a drop goal that was as effective as it was cheeky in a one point win for the home side. O’Driscoll has scored a try in each of his three championship games this season, and if right is right he will score again in both Edinburgh and Cardiff in the coming weeks. He also deserves, on current form, to become the next Irish captain to lift the championship trophy and, hopefully, the Grand Slam in Cardiff on March 21. If he achieves all that then it will be a pleasure to be ringside in the Millennium Stadium, so to speak, when Dricco rewrites the history books, even if it means missing out on Bernard Dunne’s shot at world glory. Problem solved!
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