10 Dec, 12:23
Ireland's John Lacey will referee his first ever RBS 6 Nations match in February, while Alain Rolland is also included in the Elite Panel in what is his last season.
It has been billed as a classic. And, according to diehards of both Cork Constitution and Shannon rugby football clubs, a classic it shall be.
A galaxy of Munster stars will be on duty at Lansdowne Road, and though the performance of those great ambassadors for the union game looked united in victory in Beziers last Saturday, this elite band of brothers will disunite and give everything for the cause and spirit of the club.
After all it was the club that has given these Munster players the platform to exhibit their mercurial talents.
Shannon rugby club boast a rich tradition. Its foundation in 1884 was in the Shamrock bar by the old Park Bridge on the Corbally Road, which is in the historic island parish of St. Mary. And it's hard to believe that the famed Shannon club held junior status for nearly seventy years. Historians will tell you that they acted as a nursery for their now great rivals in Dooradoyle, Garryowen RFC.
But in the season 1953-54, they won senior status and six seasons later landed the coveted Munster Senior Cup, which they will be again defending later this month against Thomond in the semi-final. Shannon will be joined by their co-tenants from Thomond Park, UL-Bohemians, at Lansdowne Road tomorrow, and their tradition in this competition has been well documented since the inception of the All-Ireland League in 1991.
Between 1994 through to 1998, no side in the land could come near the high standards they were setting, as they went on to capture a unique four-in-a-row.
Ireland and Munster forward's coach, Niall O' Donovan, was instrumental in those titles as was legendary Mick Galwey. Born in Currow, and having played Junior rugby with Castleisland, Galwey was quickly snapped up by the Shannon club and has been pivotal in putting them on the rugby map in Ireland. The Kerryman's presence on the Shannon team has been reduced to only cameo roles this season, while Shannon's other contracted players have also played only fleeting roles in their march to the final.
However, it's likely Peter Stringer, Alan Quinlan, Marcus Horan, John Hayes and Mick Galwey will have big parts to play in tomorrow's decider. Alan Quinlan's cousin David (23) has been inspirational as club captain this season, and coupled with the kicking abilities of Tom Cregan at out-half, whose accuracy from penalties and drop-goals against Clontarf were instrumental in Shannon's victory. According to Andrew McNamara, club PRO, "David is a very unassuming young guy and he doesn't overpower the team in any way. In fact we they try to share responsibility in the team. Everyone supports each other. But David is a fantastic guy, very young but a great leader and will be doing his best to bring the title back to Limerick."
In their most recent competitive outing against Sunday's Well in the Munster Senior Cup quarter-final coach Geoff Moylan was left with plenty to think about. Granted he was minus his contracted players once again, Moylan will hope for a better performance against Con.
And Constitution will need to have a good hard look at themselves after their loss to second division side Thomond in the same competition.That day they were battered up front, and never failed to compete against a tenacious Thomond side. However given coach Brian Hickey's motivational skills, his side will show a marked improvement against the might of Shannon.
Con topped the Division One table with 52 points to Shannon's 51, have conceded less points than the Coonagh side and share as many high profile players as their rivals.
Derek Dillon has proven himself to be a prolific winger with seven tries and will be hoping for plenty ball from Leinster scrum-half Brian O' Meara - still ignored by the Irish selectors.
O' Gara is definitely out as is Australian Jim Williams, but Hickey can call on Frank Sheahan, Mick O'Driscoll, Beziers hero Donnacha O' Callaghan, his brother and inspirational captain Ultan, and John Kelly and Anthony Horgan - other red heroes from the south of France.
Another milestone will be reached in Lansdowne when full-back Brian Hickey lines out in his 115th club game. Walsh is only the only survivor from the side that beat Garryowen in Dooradoyle in the 1991 decider, when he played as a winger alongside Irish internationals Michael Bradley and Ralph Keyes.
Con last won the AIL in 1999 and were badly beaten in last years' decider by Willie Anderson's Dungannon. That day two key players were missing - Ultan O' Callaghan was sidelined with a hand injury and O' Gara was on Lion's duty. O'Gara's presence will again be missed, but Con will want to exorcise the ghosts of last years' debacle and prove once and for all that they are best and most consistent side in Ireland over the last couple of years.
Meanwhile Shannon will contest their first final since 1998, and with a young side hungry for success, will push their rivals all the way. When they met this year in the League Con had the better of the exchanges and came out 21-13 victors. However tomorrow will be a closer affair. Too close to call, but Con to shade it in what should be an epic spectacle.
Semi-final Results. Cork Constitution 43-17 Garryowen . Shannon 15-12 Clontarf.
Verdict: Cork Con - by a whisker.