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Friday 17 August 2018

Rebirth of NBA's king Kobe just tonic for Wayne's pain

Out of form, out of squad and out of the family home, beleaguered Wayne Rooney is a young player under extraordinary pressure.

But the Manchester United dynamo might take some hope from the story of basketball star Kobe Bryant. For the third straight season, Bryant has topped the NBA's list of best-selling shirts. Seven years ago his world was in turmoil. In 2003, Bryant was already a star name when he was arrested and charged with rape.

He admitted to having had sex with the 19-year-old hotel employee but denied sexual assault. Many of his sponsorship deals were cancelled and Bryant was viewed as a pariah. In a dramatic twist, Bryant apologised publicly to his accuser, his wife and the general public. Charges were dropped and a civil case was settled out of court.

Bryant's wife Vanessa, mother of his baby daughter, stood by him. The player signed a new deal and went on to become the NBA's Most Valuable Player winning a remarkable five championships. He's currently the franchise's all-time leading scorer. Last year he was ranked behind Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan as the third-highest paid athlete in the world.

Although he's not as iconic a figure as Magic Johnson, Bryant still has time to become the game's undisputed all-time great. He's involved in a variety of high-profile charitable causes and showed both vulnerability and resilience in the finals against the Boston Celtics in June when he missed 18 of 24 shots in a thrilling final game. Bryant admitted that injury had him "playing on one leg" but his performance helped the Lakers edge a historic last-gasp victory of their most hated rivals.

"I wanted it so bad," said Bryant after his fifth title win. "And sometimes when you want it so bad, it slips away from you. My guys picked me up."

Bryant is recovering from surgery on his knee but expects to get some game time when the Lakers play pre-season matches in London and Barcelona next week.

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As he prepares for Saturday night's test against former Dominican Republic Olympian Johnny Nolasco, Ireland's Andy Murray will be conscious of the advice Ireland's High Performance coach Billy Walsh gives his team, "You're only one punch away from defeat."

The 28-year-old Cavanman has won his 21 professional bouts and appears to be on track for a major European title within the year. But Nolasco, who's based in Phoenix, Arizona, could disrupt his plans. A few years ago Nolasco lost a 10-round contest on a split decision to Jason Litzau in a bout that was rated best of the year by ESPN. With just one bout last year, he may be a bit rusty. But promoter Brian Peters has seen enough boxing upsets in his career to know that Nolasco could prove a problem.

"He's a very dangerous fighter and some of the top pros have been avoiding him," he says. "But I believe Andy is ready to step up now." Murray's bout will be televised live on RTE on Saturday night. As will Paul McCloskey's European light welterweight title defence against Scotland's Barry Morrison. Viewers may also get to see Patrick Hyland in action, or Cuban firecracker Louis "the Lion" Garcia, in a night of explosive action from Letterkenny.

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Curiously, the process of appointing a new manager for Meath seems strangely subdued. So far. Among clubmen at the county final on Sunday, there seemed to be little appetite for the subject of who might take over. The nominees will be officially named at a county board meeting on Monday. Behind the scenes, CVs are being weighed up, financial demands are being examined and development plans are being assessed.

Everyone appears anxious to avoid the protracted, four-month long debate that saw an attempt to appoint Luke Dempsey as successor to Meath legend Colm Coyle two years ago come a cropper and Eamonn O'Brien being elected instead.

Could it be that, having had his knuckles rapped publicly, Meath will turn again to Eamonn O'Brien to do the job? Or will some of those who were in the frame last time get the nod this year? "Usual suspects," is how one interested observer put it on Sunday when the names Damien Sheridan (Seneschalstown), Tommy Carr and Paddy Carr (Kilmacud Crokes) were mentioned.

Making up a speculative triumvirate of passionate former legends, the names of Colm O'Rourke and Gerry McEntee have been joined by Liam Hayes, although Hayes might be scared off by the experience of the last nomination campaign.

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Given Shay Given's predicament at Manchester City, where Ireland's most capped player (along with Kevin Kilbane) is manager Roberto Mancini's second choice 'keeper, it was disconcerting to hear a panel of English football pundits omit his name from the reckoning when discussing Arsenal's woe in the wake of Manuel Almunia's costly errors against West Brom. The pundits reckoned Arsene Wenger needed to sign either Pepe Reina (Liverpool), Maarten Stekelenburg (Ajax) or Mark Schwarzer (Fulham).

There's another international sitting on the bench these days. Scotland's Craig Gordon is unlikely to say no to a move from Sunderland. Which means Arsene Wenger will have options come Christmas. However, Mancini insists that Given "will cost a lot of money for another club".

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