Saturday’s Division Three final has all the ingredients for a classic encounter. Both teams have already secured promotion, both are playing an attractive brand of rugby and they can call on the sort of renowned playmakers and finishers who thrive on a big occasion.
2007/08 AIB LEAGUE DIVISION THREE FINAL: Saturday, April 19
BRUFF v INSTONIANS, Donnybrook, 2pm
Bruff have been consistenly good this season as the only unbeaten team across all three AIB League divisions.
Indeed, Eugene Murnane’s men are the best defenders in the league’s history – they set a new record when conceding only 56 points (six tries) during the 15-match regulation phase.
So it was no surprise that they kept Banbridge tryless in their 22-9 semi-final win at Kilballyowen Park last Saturday.
They are unbeaten in their last 20 league matches, kept seven teams to ‘nil’ during the campaign and are gunning for their second successive Division Three play-off title.
18-12 winners over Wanderers in last year’s decider at Templeville Road, the Limerick outfit have been able to build on their success, year on year, and backboned by the Cahill brothers, Eoin, Brian and Tony, they are hungry for more silverware.
There in lies the essence of Bruff RFC. They are a family club and very proud of it. The majority of their squad have played with each other from underage level up.
There were three wins in the Community Games, two All-Ireland Under-16 titles and an Under-20 crown along the way, All-Ireland junior success followed and now they are really making a mark at senior level.
If the Cahills provide the attacking inspiration and clinical edge in the backs, hooker and captain Cathal O’Regan is the heartbeat of the current Bruff side.
He is part of a very formidable scrum that has frankly embarrassed some teams this season.
Prop David Horan, lock Diarmuid Murnane and number 8 Martin O’Rourke are just some of the forwards who have caught the eye in recent games.
Flanker Mike Carroll has scored six tries already this season and causes plenty of headaches in the loose, along with lock Alan ‘Crusher’ Bourke.
Brendan Deady, the last-gasp try scorer in last year’s final, is an attack-minded full-back who has bagged eight touchdowns to date.
Winger Finbarr ‘Istabraq’ Hogan needs little introduction given his haul of 30 AIB League tries, eight of which were for Division Two finalists Young Munster.
Scorers against Banbridge, Paul O’Brien and Gary Leonard also know where the try line is and out-half Brian Cahill is a very able kicker and game-breaker with a good turn of pace.
This is Instonians’ first play-off final since 2005 when they lost 39-20 to Greystones at Lansdowne Road.
The famed Belfast club, who spent five seasons in the AIB League’s top flight, will finally be back in Division Two next season after ten frustrating years in the third tier.
Really enjoying their rugby at the moment, Inst were the top points scorers (425 points) and try scorers (64 tries) across all three divisions this term.
So will they be able to penetrate Bruff’s defence on Saturday afternoon? Well, when the sides met in February, Clem Boyd’s men did manage to score a try but they finished as 6-5 losers.
But judging by their recent performances – Inst have won four games on the trot – they are in explosive form and the shackles were well and truly off last Saturday when they hammered Queen’s University 69-17 in their semi-final.
Queen’s did field an understrength side, yet Inst picked off 11 tries and could have had more.
They are particularly strong at their Shaw’s Bridge base and in hooker Wilbur Leacock they have an excellent acting captain.
Their regular skipper Mark Broome is unfortunately injured but there are plenty of leaders in and around the Inst set-up including former Ireland international Niall Malone and grizzled prop Chris Schofield.
Big lock John Gardiner grabbed a couple of tries against Queen’s – including one with an outrageous dummy – and he will be determined to bow out on a winning note, if the rumours of him soon ending his first team involvement are true.
In Kiwi flanker Scott Uren Inst have a player of real quality and he showed his versatility by slotting in at centre last weekend.
Ulster Academy member Owen McMurray, who is still only 20, is a very composed out-half who has kicked some vital points this season. He has struck up a great partnership with fast-breaking number 9 Davy O’Hara.
Outside backs Adam Craig, who played in last year’s Under-19 World Championship, Michael McKeever and Josh Devitt are three excellent strike runners, and 12-try centre-cum-winger Adam Telford is an accomplished finisher.
Boyd, who is in his third season as senior coach, said: “The guys are excited at the prospect of playing Bruff again and it will not be hard to get them up for another crack at the side that finished ahead of them in the table.
“It is also a nice way to finish the season, which is normally over for us by this stage, with a final at Donnybrook.”
The forwards battle will certainly be keenly contested as Inst had Bruff under some pressure last time out and when they spread the ball wide, Boyd’s charges looked particularly dangerous.
However, Bruff were able to dominate both possession and territory in the second half of that game and their knack of grinding out results should see them triumph again on Saturday for back-to-back play-off titles.