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AIB League Match In Focus: UCC v Young Munster

AIB League Match In Focus: UCC v Young Munster

Given the rich history of both clubs, it seems unusual that both UCC and Young Munster are appearing in a Division Two play-off final for the first time on Saturday.

2007/08 AIB LEAGUE DIVISION TWO FINAL: Saturday, April 19

UCC v YOUNG MUNSTER, Donnybrook, 4pm

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Last Sunday UCC became the first team to win away from home in seven seasons of the Division Two play-offs, when they beat Buccaneers 15-13 at Dubarry Park.

The Cork students have been the ‘nearly men’ in this division in recent years. Before last weekend’s game, they had played in four Division Two semi-finals in five years and won none of them.

Although they frustratingly missed out on promotion again this season, Conor Twomey’s first year as head coach has been a rewarding one.

UCC strode confidently out of the blocks in October and managed to win their opening eight games in the AIB League.

Players like centre and captain Alex Kelleher, AIB Club International-capped scrum half Sam Cronin and Ireland Under-20 lock Ian Nagle have really come to the fore for ‘College.

In the coaching hotseat, Twomey is able assisted by former Munster and Ireland winger John Kelly, John O’Mahony and Bryan Hyland.

Top-scoring number 10 Gavin Dunne is a prolific place-kicker who is well able to get his back-line moving and he has gelled really well with Cronin.

Dunne missed two early penalties against Buccs but he was able to steady the ship and guide his side through to the decider.

Against Buccs, UCC threw the ball about with plenty of vigour and lock Neilus Keogh, brother of Leinster and Ireland ‘A’ player Stephen, and try-scoring centre Ivan Dineen were two of their stand-out players.

Twomey’s charges topped the Division Two table for five rounds this season and looked solid candidates for promotion before faltering – losing to Munster trio Highfield, Clonakilty and today’s opponents Young Munster.

This match-up with Munsters could really go either way. UCC are a well-drilled outfit who can see out a gameplan to a tee or put together some brilliant off-the-cuff rugby.

Their youthfulness and inexperience in play-off finals will count against them but it could be the deciding factor too, particularly as they strive to make up for missing out on promotion.

In the black and amber corner stand Young Munster, undoubtedly this season’s renaissance club. Mike Lynch’s crop of largely local talent are top flight-bound and beginning to come of age.

Pipped for promotion by Dolphin last season, a change of coach and a renewed effort from every involved has seen the crowds return to Greenfields.

For their last game of the regulation phase against Old Crescent, Munsters bolstered their local rivals’ gate to 3,000 and plenty of Limerick accents will be heard around Dublin 4 this weekend.

Last Saturday, Lynch’s side accounted for Belfast Harlequins in their semi-final at Tom Clifford Park, running out 42-22 winners with scrum half Conor Murray scoring 27 points.

A lot of hard graft has got them to where they are now, Murray is one an exciting bunch of promising players including hooker Ger Slattery, back rowers Mark Shorley and Liam Og Murphy and New Zealand-born number 10 Tom Wells.

Former Nenagh Ormond winger Derek Corcoran captains the side and is their top try scorer this season with seven.

Experienced full-back Mark Connolly is their top scorer to date with 79 points and he played a crucial role in helping Munsters gain promotion after six years in Division Two.

When these sides meet at the Mardyke last month, Munsters claimed a 3-0 victory and another tight contest could be in the offing, depending on the approach taken in the opening quarter.

Although UCC did excellently to overcome tabler toppers Buccs, there is a sense that, with that win, they may have played their ‘final’ already.

Young Munster have really come to the boil in recent weeks, establishing a club record seven league wins in-a-row and they should be toasting an eighth come full-time on Saturday evening.