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AIB League Finals: A Ninth Title For Shannon?

AIB League Finals: A Ninth Title For Shannon?

Mention the AIB League to a rugby follower and see how quickly ‘Shannon’ pop up in the conversation. Quite simply, the Limerick club have been the standard bearers in Irish club rugby’s top competition for the past 14 years.

Shannon have won a record eight AIB League Division One titles, including five by way of a play-off final, and Saturday’s decider against Clontarf at Thomond Park (kick-off 4pm) represents a serious chance for a ninth such crown.

Their league wins were in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

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The renowned Limerick club are one of only three clubs to be ever present in the first division of the All-Ireland competition since its inception in 1990/91. Garryowen and Cork Constitution, the last two winners of the title, are the others.

Shannon’s 2006 win saw them beat Clontarf, their opponents again on Saturday, 30-3 in the last ever Division One final to be played at the old Lansdowne Road.

With their team captain Fiach O’Loughlin nursing a broken jaw, experienced scrum half Frankie McNamara came out of retirement this season to feature again in the number 9 jersey.

He is one of two players in the Shannon squad for Saturday’s game that have won four league titles, flanker John O’Connor being the other.

David O’Donovan, David Quinlan, the aforementioned O’Loughlin and Padraic O’Brien, son of former Munster and Ireland team manager Brian O’Brien, all boast three league winner’s medals, while Les Hogan has two and Donnacha Ryan, Fionn McLoughlin and John Clogan have one each.

Shannon’s centre-cum-out-half Andrew Thompson, who is injured, is a veritable AIB League legend and is in line to collect his ninth medal should Shannon win.

Incredibly, the Parish club have lost only one final – the Limerick Charity Cup against UL Bohemians in 2007 – that they have competed in since 1989, including five AIB League play-off finals. That equates to just one defeat in 29 finals!

The list of finals won during that time also includes one AIB Cup final, 11 Munster Senior Cup finals, 4 Munster Senior League finals, 6 Limerick Charity Cup finals and one All-Ireland Sevens final.

The average age of the current Shannon squad, coached by Geoff Moylan, is just over 24-years-old and with a conveyor belt of talent coming through they have introduced six players to Division One rugby this season.

Frankie McNamara and number 8 David Quinlan are the only playing link back to the first ever AIB League Division One play-off final in 1998, which Shannon beat Garryowen 15-12 in.

Seven players remain from that 2006 victory over Clontarf – McNamara, Padraic O’Brien, Donnacha Ryan, Les Hogan, John O’Connor and David O’Donovan and John Clogan, who were both replacements for the game.

Geoff Moylan’s record as Shannon coach reads: 2 AIB League Division One titles (2001/02 and 2003/04), 3 Munster Senior Cups (2001/02, 2002/03 and 2003/04), 3 Munster Senior League crowns (2001/02, 2002/03 and 2003/04) and 2 Limerick Charity Cups (2003/04 and 2007/08).

Moylan’s coaching staff includes backs coach Ger Casey, who has played Youths, Under-20 and junior rugby for Munster, and forwards coach Colm Tucker jnr, a former Ireland Schools captain who was a regular in the Shannon senior side until injury halted his promising career.

Casey and the 26-year-old Tucker coached the Shannon Under-20s for three years prior to taking up these senior positions.

Brian O’Brien takes care of team liaison, while Ger Mullally (team manager/kit man), Martin Flannery (team masseur), Damian Morden (team physio) and Andrew McNamara (club PRO) also hold important positions within the senior set-up.