The AIB League play-off semi-inals are down for decision this weekend adn the rugby action will be hot and heavy at Temple Hill, Coonagh, the Mardyke, Corinthian Park and Donnybrook.
It was the tightest season ever in the top flight of the AIB League. The race for a top eight spot and a position in next season’s Division One Section A meant that the pressure was on the ‘usual suspects.’
It went down to the wire but in the end the experience of Cork Constitution told and they topped the pile, albeit on points difference from Shannon.
Cork Con’s reward is a repeat of last season’s semi-final against perennial Dublin challengers Clontarf.
Saturday’s game at Temple Hill kicks off at 2pm and while it will be televised live on RTE Two, a huge crowd is expected and a warm welcome is promised by the defending champions.
The other Division One semi-final is also a repeat of a semi-final from twelve months afo with Shannon and Garryowen contesting the Limerick spoils at Coonagh (kick-off 2.30pm).
Newly selected Lion Keith Earls lined out Garryowen at this stage last season and played a crucial role in helping the Dooradoyle club to a 31-6 victory over their arch rivals. Who knows what stars of the future could be playing for either club on Saturday?
Several thousand fans watched them play out a 17-17 draw when the sides met earlier in the season under lights at Thomond Park and a traffic management plan is in place to deal with the expected numbers for this absorbing local derby.
In the first of Division Two’s last-four encounters, table toppers UCC will host Old Crescent in an Cork v Limerick clash at the Mardyke.
UCC lost only once in the regulation season and that was to Old Crescent by a single point at the same venue.
The other Division Two semi-final will take place on Monday, May 4 as there is one outstanding game between Ballynahinch and Highfield – a match postponed from earlier in the season.
There is a lot riding on this match – a win for ‘Hinch would see them promoted to Division One Section B for next season and also give them home advantage for a semi-final showdown with Lansdowne.
It would also cap an incredible season that has already seen them pick up the AIB Cup at the expense of Garryowen, Shannon, Galwegians and Cork Con amongst others.
In the Division Three semi-finals, Corinthians, who finished top of the table, are at home to Midleton.
The Cork side were one of only two teams to beat Corinthians in the league this season when they ran out 22-0 winners at home in January, so this promises to be an intriguing tie.
The other semi-final pits Old Wesley against Queen’s University. It is the only semi-final in Dublin this weekend.
Wesley were the only other team to beat Corinthians, but they will be out for revenge over the Ulster students having lost to them in December at Dub Lane by 20-3.
IrishRugby.ie will have full coverage of all the action from the semi-final weekend in the AIB League.
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AIB LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, April 25 (Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated)
Cork Constitution v Clontarf, Temple Hill, 2pm (live on RTE Two)
Shannon v Garryowen, Coonagh
UCC v Old Crescent, The Mardyke
Corinthians v Midleton, Corinthian Park
Old Wesley v Queen’s University, Donnybrook