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AIB League: Rugby In The Rebel County

AIB League: Rugby In The Rebel County

This coming Saturday at Temple Hill Cork Constitution entertain Dolphin in round 15 of this season’s AIB League Division One. Irish rugby statistician Des Daly takes a look at the history of Cork clubs in the AIB League.

Dolphin can still qualify for the AIB League Division One play-offs on Saturday. They need other results to go their way but first and foremost they must face their Cork neighbours and win.

The occasion will mark the 73rd time that two clubs from the Cork region play each other in the AIB League and the fifth time that the fixture is a first division match.

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Three all-Cork games have already taken place in Division Two this season – Clonakilty won their two games while UCC lost both of theirs. Highfield won one and lost one. In Division Three, Midleton beat Sundays Well 21-11.

Cork Constitution, like Shannon and Garryowen, have been omnipresent in Division One over the 18 seasons since October 1990.  

Dolphin have spent four of their 17 AIB League seasons in the top flight while Sundays Well have played amongst the elite once (in 1994/95) in their 17 campaigns.

UCC have played 15 seasons in the AIB League (three in Division Three, twelve in Division Two) and Highfield have played 14 (one in Division Four, eight in Division Three and five in Division Two).

Midleton have played 10 seasons in the AIB League (one in Division Four, two in Division Three and seven in Division Two) and Clonakilty 7 (five in Division Three and two in Division Two).

The chart below summarises the results of all the AIB League fixtures played by the seven Cork clubs against each other.

 Club  Seasons  Played Won Drawn Lost  Success
 Cork Constitution  18  4  4  0  0  100%
 Dolphin  17  29  19  0  10  66%
 Sundays Well  17  26  7  1  18  29%
 UCC  15  34  18  2  14  56%
 Highfield  14  19  6  2  11  37%
 Midleton  10  21  8  0  13  38%
 Clonakilty  7  9  6  1  2  72%

Cork Constitution have won the Division One title twice – the inaugural competition in 1990/91 and the second play-off championship in 1998/99.

The club has not yet won the title this century but has finished first in the league series four times before this weekend. Con have appeared in six of the ten end of season play-offs to date and have advanced to five finals, losing on four occasions.

The first two occasions that Dolphin appeared in Division One they were unfortunate to be relegated the following season. The club won the Division Two title in 2002/03 and, no matter what happens on Saturday, 2007/08 will represent the club’s best finish ever in the AIB League. 

The aspirations of UCC, who led Division Two over five rounds this season, have once more been frustrated. The student club has graced five of the last six Division Two play-offs but never managed to finish in the top two places in the league series and be promoted.

Highfield won the Division Three league series in 2003/04 and were promoted. The Bishopstown club led the Division Two table after eleven rounds this season but then proceeded to lose their final four matches.
Midleton became Division Four league series winners at the first time of asking in 1998/99 and were promoted to Division Two over two consecutive seasons. The east Cork club has not appeared in any play-offs.

Clonakilty arrived in the AIB League in 2001/02 and three seasons later lost a promotion play-off away to Barnhall. At the end of 2005/06, the west Cork club won both the Division Three league and championship and were duly promoted.

The survivors of  Ireland’s only Grand Slam winning team celebrated 60 years in Belfast recently. There were three players from Cork clubs in that 1948 side – Jim McCarthy and Bertie O’Hanlon from Dolphin and Ernie Keefe from Sundays Well. 

Not a Con man in sight. But fast forward to modern times and Con are seen as a major contributor to Irish international rugby with up to six representatives in recent Ireland squads including Ronan O’Gara (pictured above). Tomas O’Leary from Dolphin gets a look in now and again.

Rugby in the southern capital is unique in the number of players transferring between the senior clubs. Quality UCC student players do not linger long at the Mardyke and are soon snapped up by Con (mostly) and Dolphin.

But the player movement does not stop there. Two former Dolphin players – Paul McCarthy (current Munster scrum coach) and Victor Donnelly – played for Constitution in their inaugural AIB League victory.

Pat McCarthy, Denis O’Dowd and the Mahony brothers, Cian (the Con captain in 2004/05) and Conor, were among those who switched over to Temple Hill in later years. All sought regular Division One rugby and representative honours.

On the other hand, a number of the present Dolphin squad previously played with Con.  Included here are Tomas O’Leary, Rory Kenneally, Barry Keeshan and Kieran Murray.

Movement between Con and Dolphin has also occurred at coaching level. Former Con captain Christy Cantillon was head coach at Temple Hill for the first two AIB League seasons and then continued in the same role at Dolphin for two more seasons before returning to Con.

Former Dolphin captain and coach Terry Kingston is presently the forwards coach at Temple Hill while the current Dolphin coach David O’Mahony captained Con during the 1995/96 season.

And then of course there is Jim Kiernan (brother of the great Tom) who, having captained Cork Con, departed Temple Hill in 1957 and was elected Dolphin president for 1978/79.  

All of which is very complicated to any outsider. Limerick rugby is so much easier to figure out!