Blackrock College will contest their first ever AIB Cup final at Dubarry Park on Saturday and, in the lead-up to the game, their captain Des Dillon has praised some of the men who have got them there.
Blackrock are about much more than free-scoring full-back Fionn Carr, who has accumulated 163 points to date in this season’s AIB League and Cup, but Des Dillon was quick to acknowledge the brilliant form of the Leinster Academy player.
“Fionn has had a fantastic season. He’s a great player, he’s got a lot of the skills, he’s got the speed and the stepping and he’s very strong through tackles,” Dillon said.
“As well as that he’s our kicker this season and he’s done incredibly well in that aspect. I think he’s one of the top points scorer in the league this season.
“He’s had a fantastic year and he is a massive prospect for the future.”
Carr scored 29 points in ‘Rock’s 34-17 AIB Cup semi-final victory over their Leinster rivals Clontarf and his points-scoring has also helped them challenge for a league play-off place.
This is the second season that the coaching tandem of Barry Gibney and Emmet Farrell have been in charge of the Stradbrook club.
The pair helped ‘Rock finish seventh in AIB League Division One last season and they are currently sixth in the top flight standings ahead of the final round on matches on Saturday week.
Dillon, the former Connacht and Leinster second row, is delighted with the current spirit in the ‘Rock squad and the guidance the coaches have provided.
“It’s a very good young team and there’s a couple of experienced players involved. The main thing is everyone’s having fun, it’s good craic and winning games obviously makes it easier.
“With coaches like Barry Gibney and Emmett Farrell, they’re very experienced and they know exactly how to guide us through the tough games.
“Hopefully things will get better and better for us in the future,” added the 28-year-old.
Gibney and Farrell are both former Blackrock College pupils and ex-Leinster players and Dillon certainly enjoys working with them.
“The best thing about the two guys is that they’ve been there and done that. Both of them have a lot of experience, having played a lot of rugby themselves before getting different injuries,” he said.
“Even Emmet still played with us until the start of this season.
“A lot of it (the team’s progress) has to do with them and the coaches. They take a lot of gratitude for it and how the team has gone this season. It’s a very difficult job to have and they’ve done very well.”
Vastly experienced hooker Shane Byrne is another ex-Leinster player involved in the side and the 34-year-old Wicklow man is thriving in his first year back on Ireland’s club pitches.
Dillon revealed: “Shane is another player who is having a fantastic year. He makes my job easier as captain.
“He’s able to get the young lads going and he’s an inspirational character, particularly up front in the front row. His lineout throwing is superb and it makes my job easier catching the ball.
“Off the park as well, the lads really look up to him, he’s a great character. Fair play to him and hopefully he plays with us again next season.”
‘Rock started their AIB Cup run back on October 13 when they thumped Instonians 42-6 at home.
Reflecting on that game, Dillon said: “As all cup games are, you’re just trying to go out there and play for a win so whether you get your points through tries or have to rely on kicks, it doesn’t matter.
“I think at the time we were on a good roll, we were going well in the league. We had a very good game that day and there were a lot of young guys who played very well at the time.”
‘Rock made a real mark in the third round, beating current Division One leaders Cork Constitution 14-10 at Stradbrook.
“That was a real cup game, we fought hard for it and won in the end by a few points. Con were leading for most of the game and we came back in the end and took the spoils.
“We were delighted, it was a great team effort by everyone involved that day.”
With the luck of the draw, Blackrock gained home advantage again in the quarter-finals and semi-finals and posted wins over UCD and Clontarf respectively, scoring 30 points-plus in both games.
Now only Shannon stand in their way and Dillon, who has also played for UCD and County Carlow in the AIB League, is confident his side can finish their cup campaign on a high on Saturday.
“Shannon, over the last couple of years, have been one of the best teams at performing in cup finals. They’re very good at playing in cup finals.
“It’s going to be a very difficult job for us, but we’re looking forward to giving them a good challenge and putting up a good fight and hopefully we’ll turn them over,” he said.