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Dublin: 6 °C Tuesday 20 November, 2018

Finding Ali Dia, Ireland's new hero Conor McGregor and all the week's best sportswriting

Plus, Sports Illustrated’s True Crime series investigates Randall Woodfield, the I-5 Killer.

1. You can’t blame either Katie Taylor or Conor McGregor for the attenuated nature of their sport. They can, as the old adage goes, only beat what’s in front of them, and the exceptional talent of both fighters is most evident in the way that they became not just the biggest thing in their sports but bigger than those sports. Rather than Katie Taylor gaining credibility by winning world titles, she lent credibility to those titles by winning them. In the same way MMA needs Conor McGregor more than Conor McGregor needs MMA. He probably makes the sport look better than it is.

During the week a lad who declared on Twitter that McGregor was the greatest Irish sportsman of all time and that no one else came within 10 per cent of him was roundly mocked for his troubles. Yet he fought his corner and presented as Exhibit A in evidence of his hero’s superiority, the fact McGregor is much more famous in America than any of the proffered alternatives.

UFC 205 Mixed Martial Arts Source: Julio Cortez

The Sunday Independent’s Eamonn Sweeney examines Conor McGregor, Ireland’s new hero in a new sport for a new age.

2. Le Tissier, though, had cottoned on immediately and it was not long before his team-mates realised something was amiss. “His performance was almost comical. He kind of took my place, but he didn’t really have a position. He was just wandering everywhere. I don’t think he realised what position he was supposed to be in. I don’t even know if he spoke English – I don’t think I ever said a word to him. In the end he got himself subbed because he was that bad.

Soccer - Premier League -  Coventry City v Southampton - 1996 Source: EMPICS Sport

“The mood was pretty sombre in the dressing-room afterwards, so we didn’t really discuss him then. I think on Monday morning it was probably more of a topic. By then he was gone, never to be seen again. Apparently he came in for treatment on the Sunday morning, according to the physio. He was told to report again on Monday, and he just did a runner. I don’t think he paid for his hotel bill or anything.”

Alan Smith of The Guardian looks back at Ali Dia, the most famous phoney in the history of British football.

3. With the 428th pick in the 1974 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers selected. . . one of the most violent killers in U.S. history. No one is saying football led Randall Woodfield down his dark path—but did it perhaps deter him from it, at least for a while? 

Even as crime scenes go this one was sensationally gruesome. Shari Hull, age 20, lay splayed naked on the floor, blood pooling near her matted hair, brain matter seeping from her skull and spackling the carpet. She was surrounded by her discarded clothes. Gradually her moans and her deep, labored breathing diminished until her body was drained of life.

fdsac Source: Sports Illustrated

Some time around nine o’clock on the evening of Jan. 18, 1981, Hull had been nearing the end of her Sunday-night shift, cleaning the TransAmerica office building in the central Oregon town of Keizer. She was preparing to leave when she was grabbed by a man who’d somehow managed to enter the building. He was strikingly handsome, maybe six feet tall, blessed with a torrent of thick, curly brown hair and eyes to match. He was wearing jeans and a leather jacket. Corralling Hull with one hand and holding a gun in the other, he walked her down a hall. Soon he saw another cleaner, 20-year-old Lisa Garcia.

A truly outstanding piece by Jon Wertheim as part of Sports Illustrated’s True Crime series investigates Randall Woodfield, the I-5 Killer.

4. Having been labelled perhaps the greatest sporting con artist of them all, Ali Dia became a highly sought-after target for media outlets who wanted his story. Newspapers, magazines and filmmakers have tried their hardest, but no one could find him.

Was he, as some suggested, holed up in rural France?

Had he migrated to Saudi Arabia, as others claimed?

Perhaps he was a career criminal, one source told Bleacher Report, living in the shadows.

Or maybe he was dead, as the chatroom community hypothesized—leaving questions about his murky legacy to linger for eternity.

As it turns out, it’s none of the above. The reports of Dia’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Bleacher Report can reveal Ali Dia, who debuted so famously for Southampton 20 years ago, is alive and well. We’ve met his family. We’ve spoken to him. And the place he has chosen to call home these days may surprise you.

Bleacher Report’s Kelly Naqi takes an in-depth look into what became of Ali Dia. 

5. Simply put, the Irishman scores so highly because he is involved in so much of his side’s play. A real all-action midfielder, the 25-year old played a key role in Barnsley’s promotion last season in terms of contributing in the final third, scoring 10 times, but it’s his work off the ball that has really shone this time around.

Leeds United v Barnsley - Sky Bet Championship - Elland Road Source: Dave Howarth

Hourihane is top of the league in terms of tackles, with 54, and his tireless running has been pivotal to the Tykes’ solid start to life back in the Championship. Often seeming to let runners get beyond him, the Barnsley skipper has tracked back on countless occasions this season to slide in and rob opponents of possession just when they appear to be mounting a meaningful attack. 

WhoScored have published an interesting statistics piece on Sky Sports, which suggests Barnsley’s Irish midfielder Conor Hourihane is the Championships’ star player.

6. Back to 1996, though, and this was a football world struggling to come to terms with the prospect of a man in a TV studio rewinding all the errors and playing them back in slow motion until everyone had been taught a thorough retrospective lesson. The Monday Night Football slot – as it still does today – had the luxury of a whole hour to dissect the weekend’s pivotal moments, with an unprecedented focus on tactics, systems and gameplans.

Richard Keys Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Simply knowing who and (just about) when his team were playing next in the Premier League wasn’t going to cut it for Big Ron after another defeat, because Andy Gray was going to get his big electronic pen out and draw all over a screen. Gray recalls:

“The huge great touch screen we used that drew and highlighted everything was a fantastic device. My basic experience with that machine was that I walked in on Monday at two o’clock, the producer said, ‘That’s it. We’re using it tonight’, and I had an hour fiddling about with it before I was using it in front of millions of viewers.”

Adam Hurrey with the enteraining look at the Anti-Heroes of the 90s: Ron Atkinson vs Richard Keys and His Silly Machines.

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Kevin O'Brien

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