Paul Neville will attempt to end his career on a high note when he captains Garryowen in the Ulster Bank Bateman Cup final against Ballymena at Templeville on Saturday. The match, which kicks off at 12.35pm, will be broadcast live on RTE Two.
Paul Neville has for some time being regarded as one of the most effective flankers in the Ulster Bank League. He has represented both Munster and Connacht during his distinguished career.
But leading Garryowen to an Ulster Bank Bateman Cup success would rate very highly in Neville’s achievements.
“It would be a fantastic way to finish, but we appreciate what a tough game it’s going to be against Ballymena,” admitted the 33-year-old.
“They are quite similar to us in that they are a young side not afraid to play running rugby. When we play with pace and tempo, we are a very good side. If we are off the pace, we can become pretty average.”
Garryowen finished their Ulster Bank League Division 1A campaign last weekend with a 33-27 bonus point victory away to Blackrock College.
That left them sixth in the table, a position which Garryowen head coach Paul Cunningham feels was not bad.
“We competed pretty well. For example, we ran the eventual winners St. Mary’s to a point at Templeville Road and only lost by three points to them at Dooradoyle,” explained Cunningham.
“That would suggest we’re not far off. Once we bring tempo to our game, I think we are a match for anyone.”
It helps that Garryowen have some very exciting backs. The back-three provide a major threat with their talented winger Ronan O’Mahony capable of causing major problems.
He is in the Munster Academy as is the strong-running, highly-rated centre Corey Hircock, while hooker James Rael is another top class prospect and scrum half Neil Cronin, the younger brother of Leinster and Ireland hooker Sean Cronin, is also very highly regarded.
But Garryowen have also had their injury problems, losing their captain Conan Doyle and vice-captain Mark Melbourne through injury.
Hence, the vastly experienced Neville has had to step back into the position of skipper. Overall, Cunningham is very happy as they build towards another All-Ireland decider.
“Remember, last season we had to win a relegation/promotion match against Buccaneers to stay in Division 1A, so we have moved on quite a bit.
“It meant a lot to us to win the Munster Senior Cup. If we can add the Bateman Cup, it will be massive. But we fully appreciate that it’s going to be tough.
“Ballymena are very similar to us in age profile and they want to play with the ball in hand as much as we do. I’ve been up to Ballymena many times during my career and it’s always been a battle. If they hit it right on the day, they will be very dangerous.”
Cunningham, in fact, only has to look back to the 2008/09 All-Ireland Cup final to recognise that absolutely nothing can be taken for granted.
On that occasion, Ballynahinch upset Cork Constitution. In doing so, they became the only side from outside Munster to win the trophy, then called the All-Ireland Cup, since it was introduced in 2005.
If Ballynahinch can do it, why not Ballymena? Garryowen, as the Division 1A side, will undoubtedly be favourites but this has the makings of a top class final.