The 16th AIB League season is fast drawing to a close with the divisional finals down for decision at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, May 13.
Before then, there is still much to be sorted out across Divisions One, Two and Three. At the end of the regular season (on Saturday, April 29), the top four clubs in each division will qualify for the semi-final play-offs, which will see the first-ranked team at home to the fourth, and the second-placed team will entertain the third.
The semi-finals will take place on Saturday, May 6.
The promotion-relegation situation is as follows: the top two clubs will be automatically promoted out of Divisions Two and Three and the bottom two clubs will be automatically relegated from Divisions One and Two. The bottom-placed team in Division Three will be replaced by the winner of the Junior club's Round Robin series. There will be no promotion/relegation play-offs in any division.
Everything seems to be clicking into gear for Clontarf to make their fourth semi-final appearance in the past five seasons. Phil Werahiko's side went top of the Division One table last time out courtesy of a handsome 36-8 defeat of Belfast Harlequins at Castle Avenue.
It was an eighth league win on the trot for the north Dubliners, who lifted their first piece of silverware of the season at the RDS last Sunday. They edged St. Mary's College by 23-16 for the Leddin Finance Leinster Senior Cup. Worse is to follow for Mary's (April 15) and relegation-threatened Galwegians (April 29) as Tarf winger Derek Keane, the top flight's top try scorer (11 tries), returns from injury.
Six teams can still mathematically qualify for the Division One semi-finals, although sixth-placed Belfast Harlequins require bonus point wins in their final two games and UL Bohemians and Cork Constitution to both remain winless - not a likely scenario as both Munster sides are finishing strongly.
Bohs, last season's Division Two final winners, are on a five-game winning streak and must beat Ballymena and Buccaneers to keep their play-off aspirations alive. Fourth-placed Con, who lie two points clear of Bohs, have a game in hand - against Mary's on April 22 - and would go ahead of champions Shannon if they win that. The top two - Clontarf and Garryowen - are both on 51 points and seem safe. The lure of a home draw will inspire them over the final weekends.
At the bottom, County Carlow looked set for the drop. Without a win all season, the midlanders need to take all 15 points available in their final three games to stand a chance of staying up. If second-from-bottom Dublin University can beat Carlow in their re-fixed game, with a bonus point, then the students will close the gap on fellow strugglers Galwegians to just two. Plenty of twists and turns still ahead.
...Action from "The Hinch"...
In Division Two, Terenure College, like Clontarf, are battling away at the head of proceedings with a baying line-up of Munster teams snapping at their heels. Nure are on 56 points, nine clear of Dolphin and Young Munster, who played themselves right back into the hunt for a home semi with a 16-7 win at UCC last week.
UCC themselves are still in line for a play-off spot. The Cork students, ahead of games against Dolphin and Waterpark, are two points clear of fifth-placed Bective (34 points). Winless Waterpark are certain to be relegated. Ballynahinch, amongst others, are scrapping to avoid joining them.
Clonakilty (51 points) are at the summit in Division Three. Suttonians (50), Wanderers, Instonians and Bruff are their chief chasers with two games remaining. Fifth-placed Bruff could yet have a big say in the play-offs as they entertain Suttonians on April 29. Having lost their last six games, Skerries need a result at home to Instonians next weekend to have any hope of avoiding the drop down to the Junior ranks. Connemara (18 points) are four points clear of the Dubliners.
...Captain Peter Boyle and the Rainey Old Boys team celebrate their AIB Junior Cup Win...
Meanwhile the contenders for a spot in Division three are Monkstown, Rainey Old Boys, Westport and Youghal. Rainey Old Boys must be considered favourites following their strong showing in the AIB Junior Cup Final when they beat Youghal 27 - 5.
Monkstown play Youghal in Sydney Parade on Saturday while Rainey will travel to Westport for the opening salvos of the round robin playoffs.
Photos: Inpho, Ballynahinch RFC and David Shaw