Saturday’s high noon shootout pits table toppers Queen’s University against an improving Nenagh Ormond side, with the Belfast students by far and away the best team on view during the league phase.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION 3 FINAL: Saturday, May 8
QUEEN’S UNVERSITY v NENAGH ORMOND, Anglesea Road, 12pm
Robbie Moore’s Queen’s charges, aided on the pitch by old hands Jonny Bell and Neil Doak, have won 15 of their 16 AIB League games this season, scoring a mammoth 621 points and conceding just 144.
Half-backs James McKinney, the current Ireland Under-20 out-half, and Ian Porter are the link men in a very promising line-up.
Their 25-19 defeat away to Midleton on the second weekend of the season has proven to be Queen’s only loss of the campaign.
January was a particularly productive month for them, with a home win over Saturday’s opponents sandwiched between bonus point victories at Instonians and Ards.
With coaches Brian Robinson, Kris Donaghy and Alain Douglas keeping their free-scoring charges on top of things, they overhauled long-time leaders Midleton at the summit and had ten points to spare over the Cork side by the league’s finish.
Nenagh Ormond, on the other hand, had to dig deep to climb into third spot, spurred on by a run of five wins in six outings since that 18-13 defeat by Queen’s.
The Tipperary side started their campaign with a bang, beating Connemara 44-13 at home, but pre-Christmas defeats by Portadown and Midleton hampered their promotion bid.
However, with former Shannon ace David Delaney a steadying influence at number 10, Nenagh have really upped their efforts, culminating in their tense 12-11 semi-final victory over pre-match favourites Midleton at Towns Park.
With their bench wielding an influence – Mike Fogarty and Mike Slattery came up with some key plays – the Lisatunny lads pulled through, surviving a last-gasp drop goal attempt from Munster backs coach Jason Holland in his last game for Midleton.
Queen’s accounted for Banbridge at the semi-final stage, running out 41-22 winners at Dub Lane with lock Andrew Linton getting amongst the tries. But director of rugby Moore was disappointed by how ‘ordinary’ Bann made his forwards look in the scrums, and he was admittedly ‘worried about the physicality up front.’
This is undoubtedly an area Nenagh Ormond’s beefy pack will target, with prop Fergal Brislane also admitting that the huge numbers of Nenagh fans who travelled to Midleton played a part in getting them over the finish line.
“(The fans) made for one hell of an atmosphere which the positive outcome of the game only enhanced and for that, I can assure you that the players are truly grateful. It made for an even more memorable day – roll on the final and more of the same,” he told the club website.
In their first final since joining the senior ranks of All-Ireland rugby, Nenagh, with busloads of supporters in tow, will certainly be up for this game – despite the injury-enforced absence of captain Michael Kennedy (neck).
Look for big performances from Delaney, Trevor Connolly and Brian Williams if they are to prevail for what would be a fitting way to celebrate the club’s 125th year.
If Queen’s triumph, it would be a fitting way for them to pay tribute to the much-loved Moore who has given a lifetime of service to the Belfast club, as everything from president down to kit man.
Depending on their exertions in last weekend’s 37-0 Ulster Senior Cup final win over Malone, Queen’s might just have too much firepower in the backs with David McIlwaine and Jonny Shiels two in-form finishers.
Nenagh established a 10-0 half-time when these sides met in January, but the likes of Porter and Bell turned things around in the second half and a similar scenario may well play out here.
IrishRugby.ie Prediction: Queen’s University to win by 10+ points
QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY: David McIlwaine; Stuart Campbell, Michael Hooks, James Reekie, Matthew Arneill; James McKinney, Michael Pyper; Paul Karayiannis, Gareth Megaw, Mark Sampson, Michael Ferguson, Andrew Linton, Gareth Hooks, Mark Robinson (capt), Paddy McGowan.
NENAGH ORMOND: Stephen Harvey; Ger Harmse, James Kingston, Trevor Connolly, Colm McMahon; David Delaney, David Corcoran; Conor Brislane, Damien Dunne, Fergal Brislane, David Walsh, Darren Gallagher, Shane O’Callaghan, Brian Williams, Keith Quigley.
Referee: Alan Rogan (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: John Carvill, John Montayne (both IRFU)
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