Since the All-Ireland League came into existence in the 1990/91 season, sixteen pre-1990 junior clubs, exactly one third of the current complement of 48 AIB League clubs, have been promoted to play in the competition.
Five of these former junior clubs – Clonakilty, Barnhall, Thomond, Suttonians and Ballynahinch – are this season playing in Division Two. Eight of the clubs, County Carlow, Midleton, Banbridge, Bruff, Nenagh Ormond, Connemara, Naas and Rainey Old Boys, are playing in the third division, while Richmond, Creggs and Omagh A have since reverted back to the junior ranks.
At the end of March in 1999, two junior clubs introduced themselves to each other for the first time when they met in the champion junior clubs’ Interprovincial Round Robin series at Liam Fitzgerald Park in Limerick.
Thomond drew 13-13 with Barnhall on that day. A few weeks later, both clubs were promoted to senior level to appear in Division Three of the AIB League the following season.
Thomond, founded in 1944, hail from the Thomondgate parish just south of the river Shannon in Limerick and can be found a few hundred metres north of the hallowed turf that is Thomond Park.
They are very much a community-based club and are most active in the youths sector. Prior to going senior, quite a few of their better players saw service at senior level with the Young Munster club on the northside of Limerick city. Today that bond still exists to some degree even though both clubs are operating in the AIB League’s Division Two.
Barnhall are everything that Thomond are. Founded in 1969, as the Irish Meat Packers, the club is located in north Kildare at Parsonstown, half way between Leixlip and Celbridge.
Founder member Eddie Fitzgerald has been director of rugby at the club for many years and he, amongst others, took great pride in winning the Leinster Under-20 ‘A’ League and Cup competitions last season.
The on-going youth policy at the club is reflected in the fact that a few of the recent presidents have been of the same age, if not younger, as the club captain of the same year. Looking to the future, Barnhall have recently established rugby links with NUI Maynooth a few miles over the road west.
Since the two clubs were elevated into the senior ranks together they have had an uncanny record of tracking each other’s progress through the seasons. Both clubs have been three times promoted together in as many seasons.
Each club has spent one season in Division Four followed by a season in Division Three and then six seasons in Division Two. Barnhall have reached the Division Two championship semi-finals on one occasion (2001/02) and have also had to endure a relegation play-off with Clonakilty at the end of the 2004/05 campaign.
Thomond have finished mid-table on most occasions during their time in Division Two. Seventh place in 2002/03 has been the best finish for the Limerick club. Barnhall have a slightly better AIB League record and are ranked 30th on the all-time AIB League list whereas Thomond can be found nearby in 33rd position.
Since that round robin encounter in 1999 the two clubs have faced each other eight times in the AIB League. Thomond shade the honours here with five wins to Barnhall’s three and, in fact, have been successful in the last three games between the two clubs.
It is interesting to note that in the six Division games between the clubs, the margin of victory has been less than three points on four occasions.
Barnhall, nicknamed the Blue Bulls, and Thomond, ‘the Soda Cakes’, after entering senior ranks together and being promoted twice since in each others company, meet for the tenth time this coming Saturday on the opening day of the 2007/08 AIB League season. This weekend’s Division Two fixture goes ahead at Parsonstown (kick-off 2.30pm).
– With thanks to Des Daly