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Huge Day In AIB League’s Top Flight

Huge Day In AIB League’s Top Flight

It may be St. Patrick’s Day but the parades will be far from the minds of some of Irish club rugby’s top players as the Cork Constitution v Shannon and St. Mary’s College v Garryowen matches, postponed from January, go ahead this afternoon.


CORK CONSTITUTION (1st) v SHANNON (2nd), Temple Hill, 2.30pm

With 11 AIB League titles between them, two of Ireland’s most-decorated club sides will meet in a crucial Division One clash at Temple Hill this afternoon.

A waterlogged pitch meant this game had to be postponed on January 17 and neither club are particularly happy with it being refixed for St. Patrick’s Day.

Preparation time has been limited with Cork Constitution coach Brian Walsh away on club international duty last weekend and Shannon boss Geoff Moylan has had to cut a Spanish holiday short to retake the reins for this trip to Leeside.

But with the Munster giants first and second in the Division One table and everything to play for, you can be sure they will give it their all in pursuit of the league points.

Walsh told the Irish Examiner: “I have been away on club international duty and a number of players have been involved with various teams over the last few weeks, so we’re a bit all over the place, really, in terms of selection.

“Still, I expect we could have Tim Ryan, Darragh Hurley, Billy Holland, Duncan Williams, Tom Gleeson and Evan Ryan available.

“I suppose when it comes to games between Con and Shannon there will always be a bit of quality, no matter what players are available for selection.”

Shannon PRO Andrew McNamara says they have no major injury worries ahead of the game.

Both Cork Con and Shannon are unbeaten in the league since December 6, racking up five wins on the trot between them.

Shannon may have lost their grip on their AIB Cup title but Walsh’s men are still in the hunt for the cup and they face Young Munster at the semi-final stage next Saturday.

A win for Con, with Shannon failing to pick up a bonus point, would move them five points ahead of the chasing pack with three games left in the regulation phase.

Their recent form, scoring process and the availability of some of their Munster-contracted players would suggest that the Corkmen should do just that.

However, Shannon have won two of the sides’ last three league meetings – the other being a draw – and the Limerick club is famous for their never-say-die attitude and how almost every year they manage to step it up a gear come springtime.

With both sides having already secured their places in next season’s restructured ‘top eight’, all the focus is on the title run-in and securing that prized piece of silverware.

Walsh added: “It will be a huge boost if we manage to win this game and we will be under a bit of pressure should we lose.

“This, however, is a great opportunity and it’s a real test of where we are in terms of our development. We need to win these big games and, faced against Shannon, they don’t come much bigger.”

The case for a Shannon win is a strong one, but home advantage tips it in Con’s balance.

Cork Constitution –
AIB League Form (last five matches, latest on the right): W (25-19 away to UL Bohemians), W (49-3 away to Dungannon), W (47-7 at home to Buccaneers), W (41-22 away to Dolphin), W (17-13 at home to Clontarf)

Last Season: Finished 1st in table; Beat Clontarf 17-3 in semi-final and beat Garryowen 18-8 in the final

Recent AIB League Meetings: 2005/06: Shannon 16 Cork Constitution 11; 2006/07: Cork Constitution 17 Shannon 17; 2007/08: Shannon 3 Cork Constitution 0 

Shannon –
AIB League Form (last five matches, latest on the right): W (26-20 at home to St. Mary’s College), W (18-9 away to Galwegians), W (22-10 at home to Dungannon), W (28-10 away to Young Munster), W (7-6 away to Ballymena)

Last Season: Finished 2nd in table; Lost 31-6 to Garryowen in semi-final

Recent AIB League Meetings: 2005/06: Shannon 16 Cork Constitution 11; 2006/07: Cork Constitution 17 Shannon 17; 2007/08: Shannon 3 Cork Constitution 0

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Cork Constitution to win by less than 7 points

ST. MARY’S COLLEGE (8th) v GARRYOWEN (3rd), Templeville Road, 2.30pm

Both of these clubs have plenty to play for as we head towards the final three rounds of matches in the AIB League.

St. Mary’s, not yet certain of their place in next season’s ‘top eight’ division, made an excellent start to the season and hit a bad patch before getting back on track recently.

Wins over Old Belvedere, Blackrock College and Buccaneers have the Dubliners back in form and with a game in hand on the sides above them, the Peter Smyth and Ciaran Potts-coached outfit could yet reach the play-offs.

To do so, they really need to win this game, which was abandoned at half-time when it was originally played in January.

If they can bottle the anger they felt after learning of the referee’s decision that day, Garryowen could well be blown away.

Mary’s, facing into driving wind and rain, managed to reach the break with the scoreline at 0-0 after a tremendous defensive effort.

With the wind advantage to come, they were expected to forage ahead and chalk up an impressive win but the elements left the pitch unplayable.

Garryowen will argue that they could well have won that game in the second half but Dara O’Sullivan’s men very much live in the present and they look capable of winning this tie at the second attempt.

Garryowen have the better form – they have won their last eight league games – and two of the division’s most promising backs at their disposal in Lorcan Bourke and Diarmaid McCarthy.

The right boot of experienced full-back Conor Kilroy has turned many a tie in the Limerick side’s favour and flanker and team captain Paul Neville is having another big season.

The Mary’s pack, with flanker Hugh Hogan fresh from captaining the Ireland club international team, are a fine unit, however, and they will be more than a match for Neville and company.

They have a number of the Irish Under-20 Grand Slam-winning side of 2007 in their pack – front rowers Ruaidhri Murphy and Richie Sweeney, lock Conor McInerney and number 8 Kevin Sheahan.

Following Matt D’Arcy’s departure to Doncaster, former Connacht ace Conor McPhillips has slotted in well at scrum half alongside Australian out-half and backs coach Shaun McCarthy.

McCarthy is a quality distributor who has unlocked a number of very tight defences this season but Garryowen, given their recent displays, seem just a step or two ahead of the hosts. A victory for them, with the top two meeting at Temple Hill, could see them up to second place.

St. Mary’s College –
AIB League Form (last five matches, latest on the right): W (18-6 at home to UL Bohemians), L (26-20 away to Shannon), W (20-9 away to Old Belvedere), W (18-8 at home to Blackrock College), W (21-6 away to Buccaneers)

Last Season: Finished 9th in table

Recent AIB League Meetings: 2005/06: Garryowen 15 St. Mary’s College 3; 2006/07: St. Mary’s College 12 Garryowen 8; 2007/08: Garryowen 20 St. Mary’s College 6

Garryowen –
AIB League Form (last five matches, latest on the right): W (26-19 away to Dungannon), W (22-15 away to Terenure College), W (20-18 at home to UL Bohemians), W (14-7 away to UCD), W (20-13 at home to Young Munster)

Last Season: Finished 3rd in table; Beat Shannon 31-6 in semi-final and lost 18-8 to Cork Constitution in final

Recent AIB League Meetings: 2005/06: Garryowen 15 St. Mary’s College 3; 2006/07: St. Mary’s College 12 Garryowen 8; 2007/08: Garryowen 20 St. Mary’s College 6 

IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Garryowen to win by less than 7 points