Morning Sports Update

SOCCER

Arsenal will be in today’s draw for the last-16 of the Europa League, but they were far from assured in sealing that place.

Arsene Wenger’s side conceded two goals in 69 first half seconds at the Emirates last night to allow Swedish Cup-winners Ostersunds back into their tie.


But Sead Kolasinac’s goal two-minutes into the second half saw it finish 4-2 in Arsenal’s favour on aggregate.

Brendan Rodgers says his Celtic side were too passive in the first half of their 3-nil loss to Zenit last night.

The defeat saw Celtic exit the Europa League 3-1 on aggregate.

Among the other names in today’s draw are Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund Lazio and R-B Leipzig.

The draw gets underway in Switzerland at noon.

Both Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk are seeking first wins of the new SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.

The sides meet at Tallaght Stadium following underwhelming opening night performances, and kick off there is at 8.

Tonight’s other games all kick off at 7.45.

Double-winners Cork City will hope to build on last week’s win over St. Pat’s, but with fewer nerves involved – they welcome Waterford to Turner’s Cross.

Waterford last night announced the departure of Pat Fenlon as their Technical Director.

The former Bohs manager will take up a new role as a consultant to Waterford owner Lee Power on his world-wide projects.

St. Pat’s cross county boundaries to face Bray.

And there’s a north-west derby at the Showgrounds where Sligo Rovers entertain Derry.

It’s opening night in the First Division with two relegated sides meeting at United Park and the clash of Drogheda and Finn Harps.

The other relegated side Galway United take on Athlone.

Elsewhere, Cabinteely entertain Wexford

And UCD face Shelbourne.

Sheffield United could end the night in the Championship playoff places tonight.

They make the trip to struggling Hull.

RUGBY

A small piece of history is made in the Six Nations this evening.

France play their first home game in the competition outside of Paris, as they face Italy in Marseille.

Both sides are seeking first wins in this year’s Six Nations, and kick off at the Stade Velodrome is at 8.

There’s a debut for Ulster centre James Hume in the Ireland Under-20 side tonight.

They face their Welsh counterparts at Donnybrook where there’s a 7.15 start.

England’s women will look to continue their quest for a Grand Slam this evening.

They face Scotland at Scotstoun where kick off is at 7.05.

Garry Ringrose makes his Leinster return tonight as they face Southern Kings in the Pro 14.

Kick off at the RDS is at 7.35.

While at 7, Munster have the likes of Simon Zebo, Andrew Conway and Niall Scannell in their side for the visit of Glasgow to Irish Independent Park.

GOLF

Graeme McDowell leads the Irish challenge heading into the second day of the Honda Classic.

A level par opening round of 70 has left the Ulsterman 4 shots behind the leaders Alex Noren and Webb Simpson.

Shane Lowry has spent the night on 1 over.

Rory McIlroy is a further shot back having hit the water to card a double bogie on the last.

RACING

Chief Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board [IHRB] medical officer Dr Adrian McGoldrick says Paul Townend is on course to return to race riding next week, less than a month after suffering a heavy final fence fall from Killultagh Vic in the Irish Gold Cup.

He said: “I examined Paul yesterday [Wednesday] and the plan is to wean him off his protective boot that he’s been wearing since his fall. I expect him to be back riding out by Monday and he should be able to return to race riding by the end of next week, all going well.”

Jody McGarvey, who fractured his T8 vertebra in a fall in September, was not long back from that injury before he injured his chest and neck in another fall at Limerick over the Christmas period but the County Derry native is due back later next week as well.

McGarvey said: “I was only just back and I got a bad fall at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day when I fractured a vertebra. I’m back riding out now and I feel well. I’ve done plenty in the gym and I’m riding in a few schooling races on Friday. Hopefully I’ll be back next week.”

A field of eight course winners will line up for the Print Express Handicap (6.30) at Dundalk tonight.

Damian English will be hoping that Red Avenger can land his fourth win on the track in the 1m contest having gone close at the track two weeks ago.

It was Reckless Lad who got the better of Red Avenger last time, but Pat Martin’s charge is 4lb worse off with that rival this time and races from 1lb out of the handicap.

Sheila Lavery’s Another Story is very interesting given that she is unbeaten in all three visits to the track while Michael Halford’s Russian Soul will be bidding for his 12th career win.

The field is completed by topweight Elleval, Aussie Valentine making his debut for Ado McGuinness, the Richard O’Brien-trained Beach Bar and recent course winner Jon Ess.

Racing at Dundalk begins at 5,30 and the going is standard.

CYCLING

Six Irish riders will be competing across nine events at the 2018 UCI Track Cycling World Championships, which take place in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, from the 28th February – 4th March. Following a strong track world cup season Cycling Ireland achieved qualification spots in all targeted events, including the Madison, which is a new event on the 2020 Olympic Programme.

The busy schedule at the Track Worlds will see riders competing on each day, with the Madison events taking place at the weekend. While new on the Olympic programme, Ireland has already enjoyed considerable success in this event, with the duo of Lydia Boylan and Lydia Gurley winning a silver medal in this event at the European Championships last October, to add to the gold and silver Track World Cup medals won by Mark Downey and Felix English last year.

Belfast native Robyn Stewart will be in action on Thursday following a solid showing in her first Track World Cup season. The former British National League hockey player has become the first Irish woman to qualify in the Sprint at the World Championships, and will also be competing in the event at the Commonwealth Games in April.

In addition to the Madison with English, Downey will be competing in the points race, an event in which the Team Wiggins rider excels. They won European Track Championship medals in this event at Junior and U23 level, as well as World Cup gold medals in the elite ranks.

The multi-discipline Omnium has been on the Olympic Programme since 2012, and Ireland will be fielding a rider in both the male and female events – Boylan competes on Friday 2nd March, with English in action the following day.

Ireland has always enjoyed success in the Scratch Race – with Martyn Irvine sensationally becoming the World Champion in this event in 2013. Marc Potts will be making his World Championship debut in the Scratch Race in Apeldoorn, and could be one to watch – having scored top five finishes in the event at World Cups this season.

Lydia Gurley is the first rider in action for Ireland, competing in the Scratch Race on Wednesday, 28th February. Gurley has also enjoyed success in this event, winning a bronze in the Cali World Cup last year, and finishing fourth in the event at the European Track Championships this season.

The 2018 UCI Track Cycling World Championships take place in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, from the 28th February – 4th March.