TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defused a growing confrontation with Britain, announcing the surprise release of 15 captive British sailors Wednesday and then gleefully accepting the crew’s thanks and handshakes in what he called an Easter gift. The 15 Britons arrived at the VIP section of Tehran’s airport early today in a convoy of sedans and boarded a British Airways flight to London. The crew, seated in business class, boarded after the other passengers had taken their seats, according to an Associated Press reporter at the scene. British Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed “profound relief” Wednesday over the peaceful end to the 13-day crisis. “Throughout we have taken a measured approach – firm but calm, not negotiating, but not confronting either,” Blair said in London, adding a message to the Iranian people that “we bear you no ill will.” The announcement in Tehran was a breakthrough in a crisis that had escalated over nearly two weeks, raising oil prices and fears of military conflict in the volatile region. The move to release the sailors suggested that Iran’s hard-line leadership decided it had shown its strength but did not want to push the standoff too far. Iran did not get the main thing it sought – a public apology for entering Iranian waters. Britain, which said its crew was in Iraqi waters when seized, insists it never offered a quid pro quo, either, instead relying on quiet diplomacy. Syria, Iran’s close ally, said it played a role in winning the release. “Syria exercised a sort of quiet diplomacy to solve this problem and encourage dialogue between the two parties,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said in Damascus. Several British newspapers credited Blair’s foreign policy adviser Nigel Sheinwald and Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani with laying the groundwork for an agreement during telephone contacts that began Tuesday night. Larijani had gone on British TV on Monday and signaled that Tehran was looking for a diplomatic solution. British officials were told to pay close attention to Ahmadinejad’s press conference but were unsure the release would come until they heard his words, The Independent newspaper said. Ahmadinejad timed the announcement so as to make a dramatic splash, springing it halfway through a two-hour news conference. The president first gave a medal of honor to the commander of the Iranian coast guards who captured the Britons, and admonished London for sending a mother, Leading Seaman Faye Turney, on such a dangerous mission in the Persian Gulf. He said the British government was “not brave enough” to admit the crew had been in Iranian waters when it was captured. Ahmadinejad then declared that even though Iran had the right to put the Britons on trial, he had “pardoned” them to mark the March 30 birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and the coming Easter holiday. “This pardon is a gift to the British people,” he said. After the news conference, Iranian television showed a beaming Ahmadinejad on the steps of the presidential palace shaking hands with the Britons – some towering over him. The men were decked out in business suits and Turney wore an Islamic head scarf. “Your people have been really kind to us, and we appreciate it very much,” one of the British men told Ahmadinejad in English. Another male service member said: “We are grateful for your forgiveness.” Ahmadinejad responded in Farsi, “You are welcome.” Three members of the crew were later interviewed on Iranian state-run television, apologizing for the alleged incursion into Iran’s waters and again thanking Ahmadinejad for their release. “I can understand why you’re insulted by the intrusion into the waters,” said Lt. Felix Carman, shown seated on a couch. “Thank you for letting us go and we apologize for our actions, but many thanks for having it in your hearts to let us go free,” Turney said. The breakthrough caught the British government by surprise. On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett cautioned reporters not to expect a quick end to the standoff. During the standoff, Iran broadcast footage of Turney and some other crew members “confessing” they had entered Iranian waters. An infuriated Britain froze most bilateral contacts, prompting Tehran to roll back on a pledge to free Turney. Wednesday’s announcement led some analysts to conclude that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, decided the crisis had gone on long enough at a time when Tehran faces mounting pressure over its nuclear program.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!
WalshyHe’s a brave man our Paddy Walsh. He’s only gone and called out Conor McGregor. Having once swatted two bluebottles in the one day in the old People’s Press office on the Port Road in Letterkenny, he comes with a bit of a reputation. But calling out The Notorious One – he’s asking to get his ass whooped!MIXING IT BUT I STILL DON’T GET IT!A few complaints flowing in this way about the column’s failure to mention one Conor McGregor. Massive in the States by all accounts – they’re even hailing him as the Muhammad Ali of the MMA – and a sporting hero to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger who has promised to be at his next fight.Big over here too so much so that fans are already booking flights and tickets for the title fight which is scheduled to go ahead in Las Vegas in the summer. They reckon McGregor will be a multi-millionaire within the space of a few years.Paddy Walsh says Conor McGregor doesn’t scare him. We’re sure Conor is petrified!They call him ‘The Notorious” and he’s got a T.V. series to prove it. All in all something to be shouting from the rooftops and writing about in a sports column.But I ain’t got it yet. Not McGregor himself but the actual discipline he fights in. I can take one martial art at a time but a mixed version? I’m struggling with it just as I imagine I would be if I was in the arena with the Irishman. It’s the toughest of sports to be sure but as for cheering him, or other like minded mixed martial arters, in front of the television, I’m some way off from that scenario.Even if it’s still head and shoulders above curling and indoor bowling.SIX NATIONS; UNDER 20’S; AND A TIDY NUMBER EIGHTWhile the rugby focus will be turning to the Six Nations in the next week, spare some of that attention for the Ireland under-20 squad and their participation in the RBS Junior Championship and particularly one Stephen McVeigh.The number eight, who plays with Buccaneers R.F.C. in Athlone, boasts the strongest of Donegal links and after already having turned out with the Irish under-19 team, looks as close to certain as it’s possible to be to represent his country at full international level. Son of Frances Jackson from Ballybofey, and the late Derek McVeigh, who was born and brought up in Church Street in Letterkenny, Stephen has been earning the proverbial rave reviews following his performances for the Westmeath team and his appearances for the under-19 team.He’s a former student at Clongowes Wood College and was on the side that reached the Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final last season. Apart from his ability on the rugby pitch, he also apparently shows up well on the Gaelic fields where he has played with Tubberclair.Indeed, his Twitter account would not alone suggest the keenest of interest in Gaelic football but also a handful of supporting references to the county of his parents’ birth – ‘Jimmy’s Winning Matches’ and ‘Up Donegal’ being passed on to his social media followers in recent times.Those under-20 matches involving Ireland in the Six Nations tournament generally get decent television coverage so look out for the young man with the number eight on his green shirt. He may be the nearest to a current Donegal rugby international we’ll get for the foreseeable future.RORY STARTS THE ENGINERory GallagherNever mind that thumping defeat at Owenbeg in the opening fixture of the Dr. McKenna Cup – this weekend’s Donegal/Derry clash represents an altogether different ball game and one which should generate a greater interest level among both sets of fans.Local rivalry, not to mention a couple of Allianz National League points, is at stake when the teams take to the field at MacCumhaill Park on Saturday night. And it’s from here on in that Rory Gallagher and his background unit might feel the pressure that the successful McGuinness era has left behind.Four years to claim an All-Ireland Senior Championship crowd and three Ulster Senior titles? Yeah, no pressure. Not that Gallagher strikes me as the sort to endure sleepless nights when it comes to maintaining the good fortunes of a Donegal panel on which he will undoubtedly leave his own mark.Thanks to the McKenna Cup, he’s also had the opportunity to have a look at some of the younger flock emerging from the local club scene (not too long ago that our county players had the reputation of emerging from too many clubs in the shape of the ones that go thump in the night and suffered accordingly on the field of play; I’ve no doubt that the new bainisteoir will instill the same measure of discipline into the current squad as his predecessor did to prevent a step back into those occasionally sozzled times).It will, of course, be too early to judge the Fermanagh native on this weekend’s performance alone or indeed the following week’s trek to Croke Park for another crack at the Dubs but by the end of the League campaign we should have some idea of what to expect from the Rory Gallagher era.His new charges to overcome the team led by the man who propelled Donegal to a 2007 league title and could have gone further had he, Brian McIver, remained on at the time.THE CUP THAT CHEERS – AND JEERSSome collection of online sneering, sniggering and sniding between Friday night and Saturday morning. The teams had hardly got back into the dressing-room at the Abbey Road stadium when it all kicked off. United humiliated. United shamed. A side made up of multi-million euro worth of talent made to look very ordinary at the hands, and feet, of a League One outfit. And quite apart from the glee of the A.B.U.’s, there must have been particular satisfaction for the supporters of, say, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur as they anticipated advances into the next round of the F.A. Cup with home ties against teams they’d expect to dispose of reasonably comfortably.But the online barbs were only hotting up. Oh football, you mad, crazy game you, you still throw them up – and out – just when we’re not anticipating it.Last week, I mentioned here the tidy 17,000 euro picked up by a punter at Ladbroke’s in Letterkenny when he correctly predicted the outcomes of eleven matches between the English Premiership and the Football League. So what odds would have been available on a treble involving Bradford overcoming Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after being two nil down; Middlesborough not alone holding City at one end of the Ethiad Stadium but scoring twice themselves while they were at it; and rock bottom Premier League strugglers, Leicester City, netting twice in the final seven minutes to dismiss the Spurs from the Cup at White Hart Lane?Well, one particular Dublin punter found out to some extent – he, or she, placed a 15 euro treble on Bradford, ‘Boro, and Leicester to win and arrived home with 25,740 euro in their back pocket.I say to some extent because you’d be quite sure that the same punter would have been later questioning their own judgement in only slapping a fiver on it when had they doubled or trebled the stake they could have won enough to bail out a Greek island.On the football itself, Dubliner, Mark Yeates, netted the fourth goal for Bradford taking advantage of a neat slip-through by Jon Stead. Funnily enough, a few weeks ago, I had seen the latter scoring on the Football League Show and wondered just how many clubs he has gone through in his career? Nine is the answer as it happens but few moments to match that of last Saturday when he scored once, had a direct say in two of the other goals and generally caused havoc for Jose’s men.What a weekend in the F.A. Cup. And then there was the Derryman racing through to get in a well struck shot on goal only for a Lifford man to brilliantly claw it around the upright? Eunan O’Kane up against Shay Given, Bournemouth against Aston Villa, but it’s the Donegal representative who has gone through to the next round and getting in some much needed match practice at the same time.SPORTS STAR AWARDSA word of loud praise for the organisers of the Donegal Sports Star Awards which takes place in Letterkenny this Friday night.The awardees will be well received and rightly so. They, whoever they may be, have come through a year of hard slog and dedication to their sport and will reap the rewards – this time away from their chosen arenas. Indeed the same goes for all the nominees who have been given due recognition as a result of their efforts.I was at last year’s awards ceremony in the Mount Errigal Hotel and the work that is put into organizing, not just the night but the whole thing – a series of meetings that stretch back months – can only be admired.They deserve some awards of their own for ensuring that the achievements of our sporting participants don’t go unrecognized at the end of the year.STEVIE WONDEROccasionally a weekend morning can find me at an athletics meeting (though only to watch, not to participate which, as anyone who may have seen me puffing my way down the street – or even down the hallway – is probably self-explanatory) and such was the case on Sunday week last when I was enjoying an open competition – our thirteen year old was running in it – hosted by Olympian A.C. at the Templemore Sports Complex.And there I got chatting to a man who, it turned out, had more than a passing acquaintance with sport in Donegal, and, more specifically, soccer. He was recalling his spell with Finn Harps back in the early days of the club and his regular forays into the old summer cup competitions in this county. Lining out with the likes of Swilly Rovers and Lagan Harps and remembering playing alongside, or against, Joe Logan, Eunan ‘Busty’ Blake, and Richie Kelly and many others besides. Recalling, too, Patsy McGown and Bobby Toland and other great characters of the era.A native of Killea – also Richie Kelly country – he has been resident in Derry City for many a long year where he, sometimes, runs into the great Brendan Bradley – “a real gentleman” – out for his constitutional.And his name? Stevie Wilkinson, a character himself, and one to whom I could have spent a couple of hours listening to had the sprint events not to be about to get underway and had he not to head away in any case. Some, out there, of an older vintage will no doubt remember him.NINETY MINUTES AND NINETY DEGREESAs part of the ‘Save the Church Lane’ campaign in Letterkenny, they’re holding what’s being called a ‘Mood Wall’ tomorrow night which will help generates ideas for the Cathedral Quarter Project and prompt a few journeys down memory (Church) Lane.Not too many will know this but a piece of true sporting history was made in that very same quarter a few decades back. For it was here that surely the world’s only right-angled soccer pitch was located.It was in Danny Caddye’s garage grounds where a few of us would assemble every so often for a three or four-a-side game with one goalmouth situated on a ninety degree angle from the other, adding a whole new meaning to the term ‘taking a corner’. And there we performed as happy as the long summer evenings would permit even if there is one particularly painful memory from it.That came when yours truly attempted to head clear from one of the’ goalmouths’ – an open garage door – missing the ball completely but not the upper frame of the entrance where head collided fiercely with wooden frame and wooden frame won by a knockout. Well, not quite a knockout but close and one hell of a throbbing headache for a few days afterwards.Ah, those were the daze.NEW FIRMHard to believe but Celtic and Rangers are shaping up for their first ninety minute encounter in over three years this weekend. And when you think they used to meet nearly every other weekend.Anyway, I asked Ben at work what did he think of football in Scotland?“I think it would be a great idea,” he replies.Celtic to win and Rangers to ask for all the gate receipts.WHY I’M CALLING OUT CONOR McGREGOR – IT’S WALSHY ON WEDNESDAY was last modified: January 28th, 2015 by StephenShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Tags:Donegal Dailysports columnWalshy on Wednesday