12 Dec, 14:42
BALLYNAHINCH v CORK CONSTITUTION, Dubarry Park, Athlone, 3pm (live RTE 2)
Stuart Lamb is aiming to attract the lion's share of Ulster rugby publicity this season by orchestrating an AIB Cup win.
He skippers Ballynahinch on Sunday afternoon quite content in the knowledge that they will kick-off as the underdogs against Cork Constitution.
However, there are those watching the AIB League's Division Two this season and wondering if it is the strongest and most competitive for a decade. Lansdowne, UCC and Ballynahinch are involved in an epic struggle at the top.
At present, Ulster have been knocked out of the Heineken Cup and are mid-table in the Magners League, while at club level they are extremely unlikely to have a club in the AIB League Division One play-offs.
"We may have made Division Two a little bit more difficult to win having lost to Lansdowne and UCC but we have made great strides this season as a team," Lamb admitted.
"Firstly I think we all recognise that the coaching structure put into place for the first team this season has been excellent, we have all bought into it."
That is recognition for the appointment of former Ireland skills coach Brian McLaughlin but, in talking of Ballynahinch, it is always important to mention the deep structure of the club.
"Almost everyone on this team has come through the under-age coaching system here, back as far as mini rugby," explained Lamb, who at the same time was quick to point out he is the exception.
He is actually from Armagh and arrived at the club by being engaged to the manager's daughter.
"Anyone who knows Ballynahinch at all knows the mini rugby is massive and important to the club.
"It has helped produce players such as Willie Faloon who is contracted to Ulster and who is released to play for us. He's an exceptional player. Ithink he should be playing for Ulster."
Also worth watching on Sunday will be the performance of Kiwi import Ryan Bambry.
"Last year we didn't have an out-and-out number 10 but this season we have, in Ryan, a guy who really knows what to do with the ball.
"We also have Gerry Cronin, a prop from Cork. We met him in Belfast, he said he wanted to play a bit, came down, and he has been brilliant."
For Cork Constitution's part, there is the serious matter of helping realise a treble they unashamedly targeted last autumn.
The first leg was the Munster Senior Cup which the club had not won for 20 years and that has since been successfully brought back to Temple Hill.
Secondly, there is the AIB League Division One title and the odds are that Cork Con will be among the four teams in the play-offs - so that is still on schedule.
"The third target is, of course, this AIB Cup," said the Cork Con skipper Brendan Cuttriss.
"There is only one step left here but it has to be said Ballynahinch are coming from a position of strength having won the majority of their games this season and cultivated winning as a habit.
"There is no way we can underestimate a team that has beaten Garryowen in the semi-finals either, especially as we had a small bit of a slip going up and losing to Blackrock last week in the AIB League."
Preparations have not been helped by Munster-contracted scrum half Duncan Williams having to undergo a shoulder operation either.
"We have had a young player Chris Nolan come in and do very well, we are very happy with the way he has been going."
However, Cuttriss sees the performance of the pack on Sunday as the key to victory.
"We have to be able to dominate and provide our back-line with ball. Jeremy Manning has the ability to win games at
out-half while we have also have excellent centres in Tom Gleeson and Evan Ryan.
"Tom has secured a full-time contract with Munster for next year and it is fully deserved. He works very hard at his game, takes it very seriously and it's great to see him get some reward."
Of course when talking of match winnerss, all rugby fans will recognise flying winger Cronan Healy who is also an AIB Club international star.
Moreover, Munster fans will also recognise the name of full-back Richie Lane who was highly-rated during Declan Kidney's first spell in chargeof the province.
- With thanks to Derek Foley
BALLYNAHINCH: Jonny Cullen; Aaron Ferris, Stuart Morrow, David Harris, Kyle Corrigan; Ryan Bambry, Harry McAleese; Chris Stevenson, Neil Hanna, Gerry Cronin, Gareth Rourke, Chris Napier, Michael Graham, Willie Faloon, Stuart Lamb (capt).
Replacements: Michael Kirkwood, David McGregor, Robert Greer, John Gunson, Patrick McAllister, Nevin Spence, Lewis Johnston.
CORK CONSTITUTION: Dara Lyons; Richie Lane, Tom Gleeson, Evan Ryan, Cronan Healy; Jeremy Manning, Chris Nolan; AN Other, Lloyd Gabriel, Tim Ryan, David Kelly, Merle O'Connell, Billy Holland (capt), Peter O'Mahony, Frank Cogan.
Replacements (from): Gareth Murray, Peter Kelleher, Ed Leamy, Brendan Cuttriss, Tim Kenneally, Johnny Moloney, Simon Zebo, Anthony Horgan.
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey, John Carvill (IRFU)
* Teams correct at time of going to press
Paths To The Final -
Ballynahinch: First Round: Beat Naas 41-20 at Forenaughts; Second Round: Beat County Carlow 33-10 at Ballymacarn Park; Third Round: Beat Shannon 15-14 at Coonagh; Quarter-Final: Beat Galwegians 26-22 at Crowley Park; Semi-Final: Beat Garryowen 24-17 at Ballymacarn Park
Cork Constitution: Second Round: Beat St. Mary's College 15-13 at Templeville Road; Third Round: Beat Bruff 22-10 at Kilballyowen Park; Quarter-Final: Beat Dolphin 18-16 at Musgrave Park; Semi-Final: Beat Young Munster 27-13 at Tom Clifford Park
AIB Cup Records -
Ballynahinch: 2005/06: Did not qualify; 2006/07: Did not qualify; 2007/08: Reached second round
Cork Constitution: 2005/06: Champions; 2006/07: Reached first round; 2007/08: Reached third round
AIB League Positions -
Ballynahinch: Third in Division Two
Cork Constitution: Third in Division One
AIB Cup Past Winners -
2005/06: Cork Constitution (37-12 v St. Mary's College, Lansdowne Road)
2006/07: Garryowen (20-7 v Belfast Harlequins, Dubarry Park)
2007/08: Shannon (12-9 v Blackrock College, Dubarry Park)