4 Dec, 10:19
Grand Slam winners Fiona Coghlan and Nora Stapelton have returned the Women's RBS 6 Nations trophy to Chief Executive John Feehan at the Six Nations offices in Dublin.
With all but the most partisan of supporters agreeing that the four semi-finalists (Con v Garryowen, Shannon v Clontarf) are there on merit, Con are generally regarded as being first among equals and a win for Garryowen on Saturday would represent a massive upset.
Brian Hickey's Con are the form team in Division One and have put together an unbeaten run stretching since last November. Last year's beaten finalists -when they were surprisingly turned over by Dungannon - appear strong all over the pitch and boast a formidable half-back partnership in Ronan O'Gara and Brian O'Meara.
With other contracted players such as John Kelly, Anthony Horgan and Frankie Sheahan available for selection it is hard to envisage anything but a win for the home side. Mick O'Driscoll is among four players carrying knocks but Hickey is hopeful of naming a full-strength team come Saturday.
Appearing in their third semi-final in the last five years, Garryowen have drawn the short straw in meeting Cork and will travel to Temple Hill with some trepidation. There is little doubt the Limerick men will bring plenty of spirit and drive to the table and the Dooradoyle club do have a full compliment of players to pick from.
John Langford trained with the squad on Monday evening and the return to fitness of Killian Keane is a boost for Andy Earl's side. It is unclear, as yet, whether Earl will choose to start with David Wallace but the Ireland and Munster flanker is available for selection.
The physical presence of Peter Malone up front, combined with the contributions of players like John O'Sullivan, Paul Neville, and Colin Varley will not make it easy for the hosts and with a backline that includes Staunton, Keane and Treacy, tries are always on the cards. Nevertheless, Cork should prove stronger in key areas and will expect to book a final place for the second year running.
The day's other semi-final will see Shannon host play-off newcomers Clontarf at Thomond. Clontarf, Leinster's only representatives in the semis and this year's surprise package, will make the journey to Limerick buoyed by their league exploits and certainly won't be in awe of their opponents.
Coach Phil Werahiko, a year into the job, has fashioned a well-drilled, powerful side that works hard for each other and are more than capable of taking on all-comers, especially in the pack where their main strengths lie. Declan Quinn, Donal Sheehan and Ben Gissing will lead the charge in close quarters while the visitors will look to the try-scoring prowess of wing Ollie Winchester to put points on the board.
But Shannon will prove a tough nut to crack, particularly given home advantage, and should have more to offer overall. John Hayes and Anthoney Foley return from international duty to bolster the front row and Mick Galwey, an unused replacement against Lansdowne a fortnight ago, is again available for selection.
If Galwey doesn't start, the Shannon management have been reluctant to tinker with a winning formula, Brian Buckley and Tom Hayes will keep their place in the second row. The Shannon backline will hope to cause the Clontarf defence all sort of problems with John Lacey, enjoying one of his best seasons to date at full-back, looking dangerous with the ball in hand.