After five games Old Belvedere sit atop All-Ireland League Division 1A with last season’s double winners Cork Constitution in hot pursuit, writes Kieran Rooney.
It seems strange for Cork Constitution not to be the main talking point following the opening series of five games in the All-Ireland League.
The Temple Hill outfit, after all, competed the All-Ireland League and Cup double last season and have begun their current Division 1A campaign with four wins out of five. Not a bad start by any standards.
Yet, they find themselves somewhat overshadowed by the new top flight leaders, Old Belvedere. Just like Cork Con, they have won four out of five.
But it is the style of the victories in their last two matches which makes this current Old Belvedere side such an exciting prospect.
A few weeks back they travelled to Tom Clifford Park with everyone expecting a tough, close encounter with Young Munster. But they blew their Limerick opponents away 31-0.
Next up at Anglesea Road, a fortnight ago, was a match against a Shannon team determined to make a statement after a poor run which had seen them drop to bottom of the table.
This, it has to be said, was not the same dispirited Shannon outfit which had lost 53-0 to St. Mary’s College earlier in the season. They were stronger in terms of personnel and most importantly, played with the type of passion you would normally associate with the club.
Ultimately though, they could not live with the pace and finishing skills of the Old Belvedere backs. It was as good a display as any club has produced all season, and that includes St. Mary’s 53-0 humbling of the same opposition.
Some of Old Belvedere’s six tries in their 38-16 victory were quite breathtaking. Significantly, the back-three – wingers David Mongan and Eddie Devitt and full-back Daniel Riordan (2) shared out four tries between them.
Number 8 Leo Auva’a, a member of ‘Belvo’s outstanding back row, contributed two more tries to emphasise his enormous value to the Dublin 4 side.
Throw in the fact that Old Belvedere can call on two former Leinster and Harlequins players at half-back, Simon Keogh and player-coach Andy Dunne, along with Leinster’s Eoin O’Malley, Fergus McFadden or Shaun Berne in the centre.
The difficulty, of course, is just who will be available. In the league’s last round, neither O’Malley or McFadden were released, but in stepped Berne to give an outstanding performance and confirm that he is over his injury problems.
Just like his opposite number at Cork Con, Brian Walsh, the Old Belvedere director of rugby Phil Werahiko recognises that you will not have everyone available every week. He is a pragmatist who is in no doubt that things are bound to get tougher now that his team has moved to the top of the table.
“We are now there to be shot at, starting with our next game against Dolphin,” admitted Werahiko, whose side lost to St. Mary’s at the semi-final stage last season.
“Having taken the scalp of Cork Con, Dolphin will be looking forward to the prospect of doing the same to us.”
That said, Werahiko is understandably delighted with the way things have gone since ‘Belvo gained promotion from Division 1B last term.
“It’s been great. Having talent is one thing, but we also have the experience to marshall it. People like Simon Keogh have arrived and Andy Dunne is, of course, still around.
“The sort of rugby we produced against Shannon in wet conditions was definitely a highlight. To score tries like that was fantastic. Shannon didn’t give us a lot of room, but we managed to create space and finish in real style.”
The key from now on, Werahiko believes, is whether Old Belvedere can cope with the pressure.
“We’ll soon find out if we have the mental toughness to stay at the top,” stressed the New Zealander.
“Playing away at Dolphin should be a real test. Also, you can be easily disrupted by injuries to key players.”
Despite their shock loss to Dolphin, no one is in any doubt that Cork Constitution will bounce back and remain leading contenders for the title. Remember, they are the one side to have beaten Old Belvedere, thanks to a late penalty from Richie Lane.
More than anyone, they have to cope with the potential absence of their contracted players. Last season’s runners-up, St. Mary’s, are certain to be right there again, having won three games on the bounce after losing their first two.
At the moment, it is hard to look beyond those three, although Blackrock College have done well to be up in fourth spot.
The real surprise is that the three Limerick sides – Young Munster, Garryowen and Shannon – fill the bottom three spots in Division 1A.
In Division 1B, Clontarf and Buccaneers are out in front, while another notable aspect is how well some of the Ulster teams are going this season. Dungannon, for example, have moved up to third in the standings, after beating Clontarf and Lansdowne in their last two matches.
What is more, Ballynahinch lead Division 2 after five straight wins, just ahead of UCD, with Ballymena back in thid.
And in Division 3, Instonians and City of Derry are the top two in the table, but mention should also be made of former junior outfit Seapoint who are going tremendously well in third place.
– This article first appeared in the match programme for last weekend’s Ireland v New Zealand GUINNESS Series Test match