Tag Archives: fitzgerald

Munster appoint Rob Penney as head coach

Munster turn to Kiwi Penney to replace McGahan as head coach



13:13 GMT, 2 May 2012

Munster have announced the appointment of New Zealander Rob Penney as their new head coach.

The 48-year-old will move to Limerick
from Canterbury, where he has been head coach since 2006, and replace
Tony McGahan, who is taking up a coaching co-ordinator's role with the
Australian Rugby Union.

Impressive record: Rob Penney

Impressive record: Rob Penney

Penney will take charge of the New Zealand Under-20 squad for this summer's World Cup in South Africa, before starting his Munster duties during July.

Penney guided Canterbury to their fourth straight national provincial title last season, and he has previously served as Canterbury Crusaders assistant coach during a successful Super 12 campaign.

'We conducted a thorough search to find a replacement for Tony McGahan and were delighted with the calibre of the candidates,' Munster chief executive Garrett Fitzgerald said.

'Rob Penney's record speaks for itself, and we look forward to welcoming him to Munster.'

MASTERS 2012: Rory McIlroy: Friends and family remember Augusta meltdown

EXCLUSIVE: A year on, friends and family remember… the major meltdown that made McIlroy!

Derek Lawrenson


22:00 GMT, 30 March 2012



22:00 GMT, 30 March 2012

It was one of the most dramatic days in the history of major championship golf. A day when Rory McIlroy, leading by four strokes after 54 holes and bidding to become the second youngest winner of the Masters, collapsed with stage fright and ended up shooting 80 in the final round.

In the process he created a series of indelible images that, a year on, remain in the mind's eye. From going where no golfer had gone before with his drive off the 10th, to slumping on the head of his driver after another wayward blow at the 13th.

The following day, a poignant photograph was taken of him on a private jet with the man who ended up winning the green jacket, South African Charl Schwartzel, his management stablemate at the time.

Showing the strain: Rory McIlroy collapsed on the back nine at Augusta last year

Showing the strain: Rory McIlroy collapsed on the back nine at Augusta last year

In an interview with Sportsmail in December, McIlroy talked in unsparing detail about his meltdown, including the moving image of being so embarrassed he struggled to ring home afterwards.

But what was it like for those closest to the young Northern Irishman On the eve of Rory's return to the Masters, we've tracked down some of his nearest and dearest and asked them to share their own painful experiences of that incredible day. His caddie, JP Fitzgerald, is commenting publicly for the first time.

McIlroy somehow put that Sunday in April behind him to win the US Open in June. Which is just as well, otherwise the memory of that Masters for some might have been too excruciating to recall.

His caddie: JP Fitzgerald

It was clear our chemistry was wrong that day and I take my full share of the blame for that. We shot 80 so I am not going to feel happy about my part.

We could go through what was wrong but I'd much prefer to dwell on the positives and what came out of the whole experience.

About an hour or two afterwards Rory and I met in the car park and we had a great chat about the day. There were no recriminations as we talked it through and planned for the future.

Still smiling: McIlroy walks off the 18th green with caddie JP Fitzgerald last April

Still smiling: McIlroy walks off the 18th green with caddie JP Fitzgerald last April

I suggested to Rory that he seek out America's former Ryder Cup captain Dave Stockton who has become a great short-game coach and I think Rory is on record as saying how much Dave has helped him with his putting.

We finished up giving each other a hug. All you can do is learn from such experiences and I'd like to think we've both shown that we've done so.

His father: Gerry McIlroy

I watched it alone at home. My wife Rosie was over at Rory's house looking after his two dogs. They were having a big night at Holywood Golf Club but I decided not to go. I knew they were all going to be really hyper and that's not me.

Golf blog

Rosie and I spoke on the phone a few times through the evening. I knew everything was not quite right on the first tee. It was his body language.

It was difficult to watch the 10th but I was never really concerned about Rory. He's always been good at taking away the positives from a situation – and that's all that was, a situation.

What can I say, he had a bad break on the 10th and it all unravelled. No, it wasn't any fun to watch but that's just golf. I am quite laid-back, as is Rory, and I knew he'd take it well, as he showed when speaking to the media straight afterwards.

Faith: Rory's father, Gerry McIlroy (centre right) knew he would recover

Faith: Rory's father, Gerry McIlroy (centre right) knew he would recover

I spoke to him later that night and then Rosie spoke to him the next morning. He was OK but a bit down, maybe a bit embarrassed. It would have been good if I was there. And that's why I decided to go over with him for the week of the US Open.

His management rep: Stuart Cage

You could tell he was more jumpy than the first three days. There was less chat and he was clearly nervous. He had his mates with him in the car going up to the club and there wasn't a lot of banter.

With hindsight I wished I'd grabbed his attention and helped him relax but he had been slightly nervous on Saturday and dealt with it well.

It was the second hole where I started to worry. He hit the lip of the fairway bunker with his recovery shot and, as a golfer, that told me he was pushing a little too hard, trying to get the ball as far down that par five as possible because he was nervous. His thinking was clearly not 100 per cent.

Everyone goes on about the 10th but bad luck made his tee shot appear miles worse than it was. After his drive at the 13th I knew it was over and what was going through his head. It just hurts and having spent so much time with him it hurt for me like I was watching my own son.

Nerves: McIlroy hits the lip of the bunker on the second hole of the final round

Nerves: McIlroy hits the lip of the bunker on the second hole of the final round

That night was difficult. We had Charl at the house as well and you're congratulating one while commiserating with the other. But Rory was amazing with Charl and handling the press. I think in his head he'd already moved on and that's why he could go to the US Open and win it by a mile.

The Masters this year I'm not a gambler but I'd put money on him.

His golfing mate: Graeme McDowell

I went with a pal to the Tap Room, a sports bar near my home in Lake Nona. I thought at least there was one upside in having missed the cut at the Masters and that was that I could enjoy watching the final day. I don't usually like watching golf but with my close friend leading this seemed like a special day.

I was worried for Rors. He's a different golfer now but back then he was always prone to a hook if he was under pressure. I could sense something wasn't right on the first. He and JP (Fitzgerald) weren't communicating as they should have.

Home club woe: Members at Holywood Golf Club react as Rory blows it

Home club woe: Members at Holywood Golf Club react as Rory blows it

And when he went left with his second shot on the first I thought: 'What are you doing, you know you don't hit it there.' It stayed on the green but he three-putted. 'I don't like this,' I told my pal.

People don't understand how unlucky his break was on the 10th and, of course, then it went from bad to worse. It was awful to watch; I just wanted to turn off the television. But I couldn't. I was in a pub!

Of course I felt for Rors – who didn't – and I sent him a text that night. I can't remember exactly what it said, something along the lines of: 'Don't worry, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.' Typical Rory, he came back straight away. 'I'm fine,' he said. He's that sort of bloke. As he proved a few months later.

His mentor: Darren Clarke

If I'm not playing in the Masters you can guarantee I'll be watching every shot.

One way or another, it's one of those events I never miss and after the way Rory played for the first three days I was looking forward to watching the final round.

I was at home and it quickly became clear it was not going to be a comfortable experience. As the afternoon wore on I started to get conflicting emotions, because Charl is a great friend as well.

Happy ending: McIlroy went on to win his very next major, the US Open

Happy ending: McIlroy went on to win his very next major, the US Open

Of course it was sad watching what happened to Rory but I didn't go to bed feeling it was the end of the world for him. Remember, I've known him since he was 13 and I've seen him grow and learn from every setback.

The type of personality he is, you always know he is going to bounce back and so while I was desperately sad for him I took comfort in the fact I knew he would be stronger for the experience.

I must admit I didn't think it would be so quick for him to win his next major but that's Rory. He's the most gifted player of his time, the Tiger Woods of his generation.

The hometown pro: Stephen Crooks
(Head pro – Holywood Golf Club)

There were 110 of us at the club. There was only one telly so we were all crammed around it.

By the time Rory started the atmosphere was great, really buzzing, as if we were going to have one big party. When it all was going wrong on the 10th I remember seeing everyone with their heads in their hands.

We all just wanted to put our arms around him. We've known him since he was young and knew he'd return stronger and make us proud.

Just champion: Ascot thriller and Frankel and Kauto Star spark TV bonanza

Just champion: Ascot thriller plus Frankel and Kauto Star popularity spark TV bonanza

The success of the inaugural British Champions Day has reinvigorated interest in racing from mainstream broadcasters, according to the man heading negotiations on the sale of future TV rights.

Richard Fitzgerald, chief executive of Racecourse Media Group which represents the media interests of 30 of Britain’s racecourses, says reinforcing weekend fixtures has also been crucial as well as billboard acts like Frankel and Kauto Star.

Over one million BBC viewers watched Frankel head the cast at Ascot on Champions Day in October.

The host broadcaster’s two-year deal ends after this year’s fixture and Racemail understands renewal talks have also involved C4, ITV and Sky.

Top draw: Frankel winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October

Top draw: Frankel winning the Queen
Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in October

Fitzgerald refused to comment directly on negotiations but said: ‘We had a particularly good 12 months and it did have an effect. What we have done with the sport, and British Champions day is a part of it, has opened it up to being more than just racing. There is also an entertainment and celebrity angle which has got broadcasters thinking wider.

‘For the commercial broadcasters, the changes in bookmaker advertising rules has also made a difference. We are looking to announce something at the end of the first quarter.’

Money generated by RMG, which operates specialist Racing UK pay-to-view channel with its 43,000 subscribers, is returned to shareholders including Cheltenham, Goodwood and Newbury. It rose from 4.4m in 2009 to close to 13m last year.

Fitzgerald, former chief executive of Aston Villa who spent 18 years with sports, media and entertainment conglomerate IMG working on the Premier League, Test Cricket and European Tour golf, has been labelled with a spiky reputation, particularly through brushes with the trade newspaper the Racing Post over data use and filming rights. But he argues he has brought an objective view to the sport.

He said: ‘I’m a live sport guy. I wouldn’t call myself a racing person, although I enjoy it and the people in it. Nor would you want me to be, because you can take a slightly step-back position.

‘We have a fantastic media landscape – the most terrestrial coverage of any sport in the UK which is quite staggering when you read about the demise of racing.

'We have partnered with C4 very closely in last two years and the benefits are showing. The audiences are up five per cent on Saturdays in the last five months. The one thing we are beginning to do is understand the customer better.

‘Strengthening Saturday fixtures has been really important, as well as re-launching The Morning Line.’

RMG’s overseas arm GBI, a partnership with the channel Attheraces, already sells British racing to countries as diverse as Azerbaijan and Uruguay and is about to sign a deal with Israel, which Fitzgerald says has the potential to be the ‘biggest market yet’.

However, he denies RMG’s recent acquisition of a stake in the Racing Plus newspaper is an attempt to muscle in on Racing Post territory.

With mobile and websites to follow, Racing Plus will re-launch later this month.

Fitzgerald added: ‘Racing UK is all about live racing, which we do well, but it is not a betting brand. Long term this is about creating a betting path.

‘We are a weekly paper. We can build the circulation and editorial but we are not going to rival the Racing Post with all its resources.’

What is wrong with the Villa? How Randy Lerner"s dream is turning into a nightmare

What is wrong with the Villa How Randy Lerner”s dream is turning into a nightmare

The commentary which accompanies the greatest moment in Aston Villa”s history echoes around Villa Park at every game.

Brian Moore”s words are written across a huge banner that spans the length of the top tier of the North Stand.

“Williams, prepared to venture down the left, there”s a good ball in to Tony Morley… oh, it must be… it is, Peter Withe…”

Uncertain future: Villa take to the field ahead of this month

Uncertain future: Villa take to the field ahead of this month”s home defeat by Liverpool

Whether they were present in Rotterdam or not, what happened next is etched upon the memory of every Aston Villa supporter.

And when the clock ticks over into 2012 in a few hours, the new year will herald the 30th anniversary of the club”s European Cup triumph over Bayern Munich.

Until six years ago, it was a moment that few of a claret and blue persuasion felt would ever be repeated.

Until, that is, American billionaire Randy Lerner announced his arrival into English football at Aston Villa with all the razzmatazz associated with a money man from across the pond.

“Randy knows it will cost to achieve Champions League football,” said Villa”s chief executive officer Richard Fitzgerald at the time.

Committed: US owner Randy Lerner

Committed: US owner Randy Lerner

Splashing the cash showed the former lawyer meant business. Lerner”s commitment stretched to more than the Lion Rampant – Villa”s crest – which is tattooed on his ankle.

For starters, incoming manager Martin O”Neill was handed a 100million transfer budget.

Free coach travel to away matches, free scarves, a 1m spend on the gold mosaic which now adorns the Holte End.

Lerner even paid for every member of that victorious 1982 team to gather once more at Villa Park on the 25th anniversary of their glorious May evening. It all left fans dreaming.


There has been little change at Aston Villa since Randy Lerner took over the club in the summer of 2006 and promised a return to the glory days . . .

Aston Villa”s goals per game
in the Premier League:

Before the takeover – 1.23

After the takeover – 1.38

Villa”s goals conceded in the
Premier League:

Before the takeover – 1.16

After the takeover – 1.25

Villa”s win percentage in the Premier League:

Before the takeover – 37.3 per cent

After the takeover – 37 per cent

Villa”s points per game:

Before the takeover – 1.41

After the takeover – 1.46

Villa”s best League finish:

Before the takeover – second (1992-1993)

After the takeover – sixth (2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10)

Back in the day, Dave Woodhall, editor of Villa fanzine Heroes and Villans, gushed: “The fans worship the ground Randy Lerner walks on.”

It is, however, a very different Villa at Chelsea. For a start, Lerner is a different sort of owner.

It would be difficult to see how he has not become embittered following a relationship with O”Neill which turned sour.

Having parted company in August 2010, it ended in acrimonious terms last summer when arbitration was needed to sort out a contractual dispute.

Tens of millions of pounds have been frittered away in the transfer market and the decision to bring in Gerard Houllier as the Irishman”s successor was an unmitigated disaster.

It even cost Lerner millions to compensate Houllier following his heart scare in April.

The unpopular appointment of former Birmingham City boss Alex McLeish last summer, which flew in the face ofthe fans” wishes, plus rumours of cutbacks, a transfer budget of negligible proportions and a squad dangerously thin in terms of quality and quantity have left supporters asking one question: Where do we go from here

Lerner, once a regular, has been seenjust twice at Villa Park all season. Supporters” website message boardsare awash with rumours that the American wants out.

That Villa is once more up for grabs.

Unpopular appointment: Alex McLeish was not welcomed by all Villa

Unpopular appointment: Alex McLeish was not welcomed by all Villa”s fans

And that the club with the seventh largest stadium and the seventh largest turnover in the Barclays Premier League harbours ambitions to match.

At best.

Howard Hodgson, who wrote a report into the failings at the club in 2003 during former chairman Doug Ellis”s regime, echoed the thoughts of many when he said: “I”m sorry to say we are now back where we were when Randy came in. We are also-rans. It”s almost as if the club are saying to us: “Well, we”ve given it a go, now we”ll just go back to mediocrity”.

Costly: Gerard Houllier Costly: Martin O

Costly: Houllier (left) and O”Neill (right) had money to spend

“Surely the powers-that-be must have something more about them than that Thankfully, there”s enough in the side to keep us up. But where”s the plan Where”s the vision

“It”s depressing being a Villa supporter at the moment. It would be a lot easier to stomach if the football was good.

Glory days: Villa hero Peter Withe holds the European Cup aloft in 1982

Glory days: Villa hero Peter Withe holds the European Cup aloft in 1982

“Personally, I couldn”t care less where McLeish used to work. But the style is simply awful. There”s no panache. It”s difficult to stomach.”

Lerner has been damned by his own largesse. His spending throughout the reigns of O”Neill and Houllier has been understated.

But it raised expectations and he is now dealing with the fall-out.

Players have routinely trousered contracts in excess of 2m per year. Some at the club earn in excess of 3m.

Perhaps that has contributed to the notion that Villa”s dressing-room has been a law unto itself on occasion.

O”Neill ended up holding Nigel Reo-Coker by the scruff of the neck following a row that turned physical on the training pitch.

Defender Richard Dunne was involved in a heated exchange with Houllier”s assistant Gary McAllister.

McLeish has encountered problems with Scotland midfielder Barry Bannan, who has been convicted of drink-driving, and 8m signing Stephen Ireland since his arrival six months ago.

Record signing: Darren Bent

Record signing: Darren Bent

Lerner should have understood that running a sports business is a thankless task.

His ownership of American football franchise the Cleveland Browns means he is well used to the criticism which accompanies such a high-profile position.

He took the decision to smash Villa”s transfer record with the 24m purchase of Darren Bent 12 months ago.

He was afraid that Houllier was leading the club into the Championship and sanctioned the outlay. But fans are growing increasingly frustrated. They are not the only ones.

After the game against Stoke City on Boxing Day, McLeish made reference to a players” wage bill that has been allowed to “run riot”.

“I”m very much juggling the balls at the moment,” he said. “I”ve always said since the start of the season that we have got to trade carefully. I can”t just go into the market place without there being balance.”

But Villa”s fans have their eyes set towards higher benchmarks.

When they travelled to north London to play Tottenham, they wanted to see more than an uninspiring defensive display – as they did in November.

They want to see Villa on the front foot, as they were in 2008 when O”Neill”s vintage won 2-1 at White Hart Lane.

So far, McLeish”s side have lost to five of the so-called “Big Six” this season. The Scot needs a marquee victory to cement his position.

After failing to score in five of their past seven games, it is difficult to see that record being improved in west London on Saturday against Chelsea.

However, soundings taken from inside the club indicate that Lerner has no interest in selling. There is no external debt.

The billionaire pays the club”s dues by extending his equity and the use of loan notes in a 50-50 split.

Basement boys: Lerner

Basement boys: Lerner”s Cleveland Browns perennially prop up the AFC North behind Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati

Lerner”s own circumstances have changed considerably, though.

He is now a divorced father of four and has to spend at least six months in Ohio, Cleveland, for personal reasons.

Moreover, along with a number of owners, he is perplexed as to why his devotion is called into question.

He may have attended only two matches at Villa Park but, according to one source, “Isn”t spending 200m on the club pretty good evidence as to his commitment”

Along with other absentee owners, like Nottingham Forest”s Nigel Doughty, for example, Lerner watches live television feeds of Villa”s matches wherever he is in the world.

Moreover, back in America, Lerner comes under fire from supporters of the Browns, who are themselves somewhat critical of the time he invests in his “soccer team”.

He is being pulled in a number of directions, but a highly placed member of Villa”s staff said this week: “We are righting the ship. It”s not sexy. In fact, it”s a bit dull. But that”s where we are. If anything, Randy let his emotions get the better of him when he took over.

“We gambled and possibly extended ourselves a little too far. But the training facilities will last generations. Our corporate facilities are excellent. We are going to adopt a low-risk strategy but it will be one of steady and continual growth. We are in a transitional period but Aston Villa will be better and stronger for it. Success may not be just around the corner but we are building towards it.”

The lions may not be rampant for a while but the message from Villa Park is this: “Don”t turn your backs on us just yet. We will roar once more.”

Sadly, for McLeish and the supporters, it doesn”t look like happening soon.