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O’Connell And Con Chase Elusive League Title

O’Connell And Con Chase Elusive League Title

In recent years, Cork Constitution have consistently finished in the play-off places in AIB League Division One. More often than not, Con have topped the table, as they have done this season.

But the Leesiders have not won the Division One title since 1999 when the likes of Ronan O’Gara, Donncha O’Callaghan and Frankie Sheahan were part of their team.

Cork Con’s captain this season, second row Merle O’Connell, knows finishing top of the league table means little if your side does not go on to win the play-off.

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Con went agonisingly close to lifting the title twelve months ago. They finished a full nine points clear of their nearest rivals in the table, Clontarf, and with perennial champions Shannon failing to make the play-offs, there was a sense that 2006/07 would be Con’s year.

But things came a cropper in the final at Musgrave Park when they were pipped 16-15 by Garryowen in a nail-biting decider.

Last year’s defeat was Con’s fourth league final loss since 2001 and a bitter pill to swallow. However, Brian Walsh’s men have certainly shown their mettle by winning 13 of their league games this season – exactly the same amount of wins as they gained last term.

Setting up a home semi-final, Con are unbeaten in their last 19 league games at Temple Hill and the odds are in their favour to make it through to successive top flight finals.

Their skipper O’Connell, who won an AIB Cup medal with them in 2006, is cautiously optimistic.

“There is a great buzz about the game and while I don’t know if we will get as big a crowd as we did when we played Dolphin last time out, it certainly promises to be a great occasion on Saturday.

“I except it to be very close and whoever takes their chances will win,” admitted the AIB Club international-capped forward.

“The likes of Cronan Healy, Richie Lane and Duncan Williams have all made big contributions in helping us go 19 league games unbeaten at home. I hope we can make it 20 on Saturday but Clontarf have a very good and consistent side also.”

Con are without injured scrum half Williams and hooker Denis Fogarty for Saturday’s semi-final. O’Connell added: “We’ll miss those two but we’re hoping to have Darragh Hurley, Tim Ryan, Billy Holland, Tom Gleeson and maybe Jeremy Manning available to us.”

“Training has been going very well,” admitted the former dual status player, who made a name for himself at junior level with Crosshaven.

“In Brian (Walsh), we have a coach we varies the training around to make it more interesting, and we also have great back-up from Terry Kingston and Brian Hickey as part of the management team.

“We’re all really looking forward to the game. From a personal point of view, this will be my third time in a league semi-final. I was on the winning side once (last year against UL Bohemians) and on the losing side against Clontarf (in 2006).”

Asked for his opinion on Saturday’s other semi-final, the Limerick derby between Shannon and Garryowen, O’Connell said: “If the day is dry it could favour Garryowen, but if it is wet it will suit Shannon a bit more.”