Football/Soccer

In The Irish News - Jan 22 1998: Williams sisters and Michael Laverty among young stars attracting attention

Michael Laverty made an important move towards motorcycling success as a 16-year-old 20 years ago.

A TALENTED 16-year-old schoolboy has signed his first motor racing contract with Team Millar Honda Britain.

Michael Laverty from Toomebridge, one of three riders with the north’s arm of Honda Britain, will begin his racing career in the British national championships at Brands Hatch on March 29.

Team Millar spokesman Fleming Kerry said the team, which is headed by retired Randalstown haulage contractor Joe Millar, were very enthusiastic about Laverty’s future.

“Unless we encourage and guide our riders in a professional manner it will be virtually impossible to have another Irish or British world champion in Grand Prix racing,” he said. “We have seen so much wasted talent down the years and that is why young Michael will be starting from scratch.”

Laverty will learn his trade this season in the 125cc class at the British Nationals and it is hoped he will progress right through to the premier 500cc Grand Prix class. His Belfast teammate Simon Turner will be competing in the 250 class.

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The possible future of women’s tennis was seen on centre court at the Australian Open as the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, faced each other for the first time.

Venus, elder than her 16-year-old sibling by just 15 months, used her greater tournament experience to emerge triumphant by 7-6 (7-4) 6-1.

But Venus, one of the dangerous unseeded players in the draw, predicted that the Florida duo would be battling for the number one in the world spot in coming years.

“This was definitely the first of many matches between us,” said Venus who, like her sister, wears a flock of coloured beads in her hair.

“After the match I told her I was sorry to take her out, but I had to. I told her ‘Let’s just make sure we meet in finals from now because then we won’t have to care about the title’. We will be number one and number two seeds interchangeably.

“Serena hates to lose and her reputation is that she doesn’t lose to anyone twice, so I’m definitely going to be practising secretly if I want to win the next one.”

Serena, who had beaten sixth seed Irina Spirlea on her grand slam debut, said: “I was more nervous before my first match. Playing Venus, it was a no-lose situation for both of us. I tried to treat it as a normal match and in the end it was.”

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MICHAEL OWEN fired Liverpool slap bang into the title race while giving a timely reminder of his talents to England boss Glenn Hoddle.

The 18-year-old from Chester has struck 12 goals this season and now Hoddle must decide whether to call him into England’s squad to play Chile at Wembley on February 11.

“Hopefully I’ll be in, maybe. All I can do is keep playing well at club level and if my chance comes along, great,” said Owen. “At the moment I just want to do well for Liverpool.”

Owen got the seal of approval from former Anfield scoring legend Kenny Dalglish, who witnessed the teenager’s brilliant strike clinch a 1-0 win for Liverpool against his Newcastle team last night. “The lad had no right to finish like that, it was a special goal,” said Dalglish.

Owen added: “The goal was very important for us, it puts us right up there behind Manchester United. “It was a great boost for us to pick up three points and keep our run going.”

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