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AIB League: Shannon, ‘Stones To Reclaim Titles?

AIB League: Shannon, ‘Stones To Reclaim Titles?

The cream of Ireland’s club talent goes head-to-head in three titanic AIB League finals on Saturday, with Shannon and Greystones hoping to retain their Division One and Three crowns, respectively.

The cream of Ireland’s club talent goes head-to-head in three titanic AIB League finals on Saturday, with Shannon and Greystones hoping to retain their Division One and Three crowns, respectively.

AIB League Finals: Lansdowne Road, Saturday, May 7

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Belfast Harlequins v Shannon, 4.00pm

Champions Shannon’s fourth ever AIB League final at headquarters could see them lift a record seventh title – in a season which has already seen them capture the Munster Senior League and Cup double and the Limerick Charity Cup.

Harlequins however, are one of only two teams to have beaten Mick Galwey’s side this season – with a stunning 19-point comeback in the final quarter at Deramore Park last December.

‘Quins, undoubtedly underdogs on their first visit to Lansdowne since 2002’s Division Two final win, have kept faith with the side that edged Garryowen 15-8 in last weekend’s semi-final.

That means another outing for young-and-old half-back duo Ian Humphreys (23) and 1999 Heineken Cup winner Andy Matchett (36).

Having come back strongly after the death of lock Johnny Poole in December, and persevered through the departure of director of rugby Andre Bester to Rotherham, DC Gillespie’s men have won their last five league ties on the bounce.

Add in the fact that Shannon have a number of injury worries, and there could be an upset on the cards.

Galwey – in his first visit to Lansdowne as a coach – has delayed naming his side until tonight, giving the likes of Frankie Roche, Fiach O’Loughlin, Fionn McLoughlin and Brian Tuohy further time to recover from knocks.

The Shannon pack could be unchanged, but former skipper David Quinlan could force his way into contention on the back of an impressive semi-final performance as a replacement.

Shannon: tbc

Harlequins: J Lowe; P McKenzie, G Mitchell, WP Strauss, S Wilson; I Humphreys, A Matchett; J Carey (Capt), N Hanna, J Andress, L McGowan, M Mustchin, S Lamb, D Dougherty, C McCarey.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Leinster)


St Mary’s College v UL Bohemians, 2.00pm

Guided by Englishman Mike Tewkesbury and already assured of promotion, UL Bohs have a strong chance of avenging last season’s 23-22 final loss to Trinity.

Nine of Bohs’ Saturday starters will in place for their last-gasp heartbreak twelve months ago as Pierre Lazies dropped a winning drop goal.

That experience could be key as 2000 Division One winners St Mary’s boost a settled line-up. Bohs, without a win in their two previous Division Two final outings, have made one change from the side which trumped Dolphin 32-10 in last Sunday’s semi-final.

Former Munster Under-21 Cathal Garvey returns at full-back, after shaking off the flu.

Mary’s, who became the sixth club in AIL history to bounce straight back up to the top flight after a season in Division Two, have not played for three weeks due to their walkover semi win against UCC.

Mary’s coach Steven Hennessy, who actually lined out for Bohs in the 1979/80 Munster Senior League and Cup finals, has included Leinster’s John McWeeney at outside centre.

Leinster hooker Gavin Hickie resumes in a backrow which does contain a vacancy.

St Mary’s: D Hughes; P Brophy, J McWeeney, C Fifield, B Lynn (Capt); J Sexton, J Kilbride; C O’Byrne, P Smyth, P Coyle, G Logan, J Ellis, AN Other, G Hickie, A Copeland.

UL Bohemians: C Garvey; I Hanley, C Finn, M McPhail, K Matthews; B Martin, A Rees; M Harty, G Ryan, M Storey, B Madigan, A Hartigan, A O’Gorman (Capt), P Van Esbeck, J O’Neill.

Referee: Simon McDowell (Ulster)


Greystones v Instonians, 12.00pm

Instonians are unchanged for their high noon showdown with reigning Division Three champions Greystones.

The sides met earlier this season at Shaw’s Bridge with the Wicklow men coming out on top 24-12. Indeed, ‘Stones have won 16 of their 17 league outings in a stand-out season for full-back Dave McKechnie and flanker-cum-centre Rob Connolly.

The duo have crossed for 29 of ‘Stones 74 tries between them this year – with McKechnie scoring twice and Connolly grabbing his sixteenth try late on in last weekend’s 26-0 semi-final victory over Suttonians.

The experience of last season’s final win will stand to Liam Murphy’s men, but Inst have everything to play for.

Their director of rugby John McKibbin and coach Bruce Cornelius are both retiring from the Belfast club after Saturday’s decider.

Inst also overcame some nightmare preparations for their 16-14 semi win at Clonakilty last weekend, as heavy fog saw a Cork-bound flight containing four of their players, some props, diverted to Kerry.

A madcap taxi ride ensued and with the kick-off thankfully delayed by 45 minutes, Inst kicked off with their first choice XV on the field at Shannonvale.

Look for English fly-half Sean Flynn, who is returning home to Richmond next month, to keep Inst in touch, and free up their exciting wingers Mike Orchin-McKeever and Gareth McClintock.

Greystones: D McKechnie; N McNaughton, C McNaughton, A Higgs, S O’Connell; W Edwards, D Popplewell; L Murphy (Capt), R Willis, P du Toit, D McGettigan, G Murphy, N Beuck/S McEntee, R Connolly, C McEntee.

Instonians: A McKinney; M Orchin-McKeever (Capt), N Stewart, M Young, G McClintock; S Flynn, A Craig; B Barrett, J Craig, G Mitchell, J Gardiner, K Morton, M Hill, C Simeon, M Smith.

Referee: George Clancy (Munster)

AIB League Semi-Finals Round-Up