This one has all the ingredients. Shannon and Garryowen, two of the country’s most famous clubs and the two most recent winners of the AIB Cup, will make history on Friday night as they meet in the first ever AIB League match to be held at the redeveloped Thomond Park Stadium.
Their clashes in years gone-by drew thousands to the old Thomond Park and Dooradoyle and club officials are hopeful that Shannon and Garryowen’s latest renewal of rivalries will entice a large attendance to the revamped Thomond on Friday (kick-off 7.30pm).
With the game taking place under floodlights and more than just AIB League points on the line, there is sure to be a great atmosphere in the ground as these two Limerick city tribes go to war.
Neither club has set the world alight so far in this season’s AIB League and that just adds to the importance of Friday’s derby.
Currently 12th in the Division One table, Garryowen shipped defeats to Clontarf and Blackrock College in recent weeks so Dara O’Sullivan’s men, who lost last season’s final to Cork Constitution, know they can ill-afford another slip-up.
One place above Garryowen in the standings, Shannon have managed to post one win in their two league games to date.
Under returning coach Geoff Moylan, the Parish side battled past Buccaneers last weekend but needed 20 points via kicks from man-of-the-match Tadhg Bennett to do so.
Both Shannon (eight-time league winners) and Garryowen, who lifted the title for the third time in 2007, regularly qualify for the end-of-season play-offs but they need to find form quickly with another round of matches next weekend and the AIB Cup after that.
There is also the matter of trying to finish in the division’s top-eight in order to qualify for Section A of next season’s league.
Form wise, the sides clashed in the Limerick Charity Cup final towards the end of September with Shannon emerging from Tom Clifford Park with a 27-9 win. Although the encounter lacked a large chunk of intensity.
Since then, Garryowen have lost tight games to Clontarf (14-13) and Blackrock (30-26) with Munster-contracted players Mark Melbourne, John O’Sullivan, Ciaran O’Boyle and Kieran Lewis all making appearances.
Dara O’Sullivan should have three of them on board for the Thomond trip, but John O’Sullivan will probably be retained in the Munster squad for this weekend’s Heineken Cup encounter with Sale.
Depending on Munster’s requirements, Shannon could have Tony Buckley, Donnacha Ryan and Niall Ronan bolstering their pack, but losing Mossie Lawlor to Wasps on a trial basis is a significant loss.
Both Buckley and Ryan started against Buccaneers, with the latter particularly prominent in a second row partnership with Fergal ‘Stretch’ Walsh.
Andrew Thompson, their record AIB League points scorer, returned from injury to appear as a replacement centre last Saturday and could be pressed into action from the start depending on his fitness.
Shannon’s new captain, scrum half Fiach O’Loughlin, injured himself in in their first league game – a 41-27 loss at Blackrock – and it is unclear whether he will be back to face Garryowen.
Returning from Coonagh to the now 23,500-capacity Thomond Park will give Shannon a huge amount of inspiration.
And there is the little matter of trying to overturn last season’s Division One semi-final defeat to Garryowen – back in May, a Conan Doyle and Keith Earls-inspired Garryowen roared to a 31-6 success.
Memories of that hammering will steel the Shannon side for their Thomond return and if Bennett can continue his fine kicking form, a home win seems likely.
However, the big right boot of Garryowen full-back Conor Kilroy and the Munster Senior Cup quarter-finalists’ inventive back-line will have something to say about that.
Hard to predict a winner, going on recent performances, but expect plenty of fireworks under those lights.