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Appreciation for Mark Lawrenson and Liverpool insights; our favourite sportswriting this week

Flick on the kettle…

The great Mark Lawrenson.
The great Mark Lawrenson.
Image: PA

1. A forklift driver at Sean Ward’s fish export factory in Killybegs, Kara was good friends with the owner’s son.

He’d started off working at their petrol pumps, before going on to work in both the bar and fish factory, all owned by the Wards.

Kara tragically died that day after he became trapped in a piece of machinery.

“It’s life-changing. It was just the two of us growing up. You go to being an only child.

“It’s a big difference when you’ve four sitting at the dinner table compared to three…Nobody coming in at two o’clock in the morning to waken you,” Brendan says, his face momentarily lighting up in a half-smile at the memory.

“Your life’s never gonna be the same. It’s a big hole to fill.

“You learn to live with it. You don’t get over it, you just learn to cope more than anything.”

Donegal defender Brendan McCole talks about his background growing up in New York, his family and the death of his brother, Kara, in a brilliant interview with Cahair O’Kane in the Irish News.

2. Lawrenson’s talent – and it really was a talent – was simply to drift unobtrusively into our living rooms, say a few words about marking and drift out again largely unnoticed.

You didn’t need to listen to what Lawrenson was saying. He wasn’t really saying much anyway. Were it not for the occasional twitch and quiver of his moustache you would occasionally forget he was talking at all. He didn’t fume or rant or “destroy” anybody. Indeed in 25 years of watching and listening to Lawrenson I am unable to recall a single distinct opinion he ever expressed, beyond an occasional distaste for diving and the occasional belief – strongly worded and sincerely held – that the striker’s got time to take an extra touch there.

A love letter from The Guardian’s Jonathan Liew to football TV pundit Mark Lawrenson following his retirement.

rory-gallagher-celebrates Derry manager Rory Gallagher. Source: John McVitty/INPHO

3.  Gallagher talks in sharpened conversational jabs, no word wasted, punctuating sentences with colloquial footholds like ‘so it does’ and ‘so it is’, before firing out the next pointed hypothesis. He has at his disposal an extraordinary recall of games, not just dates and outcomes, but the micro-moments that decide them.

His knowledge of boot size, PIN number, and mother’s maiden name of every player in Ireland has won over any dressing room he has walked into as a coach and manager.

But it is the combative, serrated edge of Gallagher’s character that has fuelled his two decades of active duty on Gaelic football’s front lines. His playing career was punctuated by rows with Fermanagh managers he deemed incapable of preparing the team to his standards.

The brief alchemy with McGuinness was the nuclear fusion of two jagged, uncompromising souls, as if their unified powers were needed to infuse easygoing Donegal natures with the bile and desire to accomplish what they did. The split with McGuinness was brutal and final, over control and influence. It could be no other way. So far, so Roy Keane, except maybe colder.

Writing for the Irish Examiner, Tommy Martin describes the genius of Derry manager Rory Gallagher.

4.  RODDY: When did you realise I could definitely be a world champion?

SPIKE: “I suppose when I won that fight in Quebec in Canada against Antoine Douglas, he was touted to be the next Sugar Ray Leonard or something like that.

“Hunger is a great sauce. I was still living in my mother-in-law’s and I trained so hard for that fight.”

RODDY: When you knock someone flush on the chin and they are counted out, what’s the feeling?

SPIKE: “Relief. The fight is over, you’ve won, you just want them to get back up and be okay.”

RODDY: Was there ever a time you were worried an opponent wasn’t going to get up?

SPIKE: “Yep, there was. One time I hit a guy, Melvin Betancourt, in Boston, left hook, knocked him out really badly. He fell like a log.

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“The referee was shocking. It was a disgrace. He wasn’t going to wake up if the referee had counted to 100. But he counted him, while all the time looking at the officials at ringside.

“He had been criticised for stopping another fight prematurely, so he was making a point.

“That guy could have needed medical attention straight away. He was alright, thank God. But yeah, I was worried.

“Some fella sent me a great top recently, it says, ‘Loneliest sport’. It’s very true. When you are not winning and you are getting beaten up, it is lonely and it is hell on earth.”

A really interesting conversation between Roddy Collins and Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan in the Irish Mirror.

5. At Liverpool, the individualisation of training relates to positions. In a different era, five-a-side matches would involve players moving all over the pitch but now players are encouraged to stick to what they do on a matchday. Even in small-sided games, the right-back trains as a right-back. This, it is thought, not only increases their understanding of the role but helps their body adjust to its demands — potentially leading to fewer injuries because the body appreciates how it needs to function to reach optimum performance.

Matt Konopinski, formerly a senior physiotherapist on Klopp’s staff, now runs a sports injury clinic and training centre called Rehab 4 Performance in the south end of Liverpool after spells with the England national team and Rangers. He describes football as a “team sport based on individuals”.

Astute managers such as Klopp now realise they need to have a tailored approach for each player. “It’s more of an individual’s sport than it ever has been,” Konopinski says.

In The Athletic, Simon Hughes presents a fascinating deep dive into Liverpool’s training regime under Jurgen Klopp.

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