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Kenneally Aiming For Con ‘To Come Back Stronger’ Against Familiar Foes

Kenneally Aiming For Con ‘To Come Back Stronger’ Against Familiar Foes

Niall Kenneally is looking to create history at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday afternoon by becoming the first player to captain Cork Constitution to back-to-back Ulster Bank League Division 1A titles.

With five previous league crowns to their name, the Temple Hill outfit are always one of the front-runners in the top flight. However, despite coming close on a couple of occasions, Cork Con are yet to do a two in-a-row. The last team to do so was Shannon in 2006.

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Although their five-year grip on the Bateman Cup came to an end against Lansdowne on home soil a fortnight ago, Con’s skipper Niall Kenneally is thrilled to be back on the Ulster Bank League’s big stage once again.

“We’re delighted to be back in the final again. It has been another very good season. A great one for the league once again, very exciting to the end. The hunt for the top four play-offs went right to the wire again and then last week, Lansdowne and ourselves beat good opposition to book a place here (at the Aviva),” he said.

“It was disappointing to lose the Bateman Cup. We had a very good run in that competition and I suppose it had to come to an end at some stage. We went out, performed okay, but okay is not really good enough in finals. Especially against strong sides like Lansdowne. We will make a few little adjustments from that game and hopefully we will come back stronger.”

The Cork Con team provisionally named for tomorrow’s final contains 11 players who started last year’s decider which saw Brian Hickey’s men defeat Clontarf 25-21 to win the club’s first league title since 2010. So, they can rely on an experienced spine as well as fresh talents like Kenneally’s centre partner Alex McHenry, son of former professional golfer John McHenry.

“There are guys coming through. Really impressed by some guys. Guys like Liam O’Connell, who has been an absolute rock and ticks all the boxes for a player you would want. Take Alex McHenry, my centre partner,” he explained.

“I think he is the real deal, playing alongside him I see his game has matured beyond his years. I could go on. Alex has picked up where Ned Hodson left off. Ned is now playing in the league in America, which is taking off over there.”

A native of Sligo, Kenneally was previously – like Lansdowne talisman Scott Deasy – involved in the Munster set-up, however he was released from the Academy in 2014. His consistent form in the Con jersey saw him named the Division 1A Player of the Year in 2017 and he earned a call-up to the Ireland Club International squad for two matches against Scotland this spring, featuring alongside several Lansdowne players.

Speaking as someone who is well versed in both the professional and amateur games, Kenneally believes the Ulster Bank League boasts a number of players capable of progressing up the ladder and making their mark in the professional ranks.

“I’m like a broken record in that I’ve been preaching about the standard in this league and about the type of player that’s involved. You could take players out of the UBL and put them into a professional environment. Not only would they survive, but they would thrive. I just know from having played with guys who have gone on and have played so well at the higher level.

“These guys would have been team-mates a year or two ago. Guys like Darren Sweetnam, who went on to have an unbelievable breakthrough year with Munster and was, arguably, their best back last season.

“Then you have Liam O’Connor, who was our loosehead in the UBL final last year. He had a great year, even though his progress was disrupted because of a serious knee injury,” noted Kenneally, mentioning the promising 22-year-old prop, who is advancing to a two-year senior contract with Munster at the start of next season.

Ulster Bank League final tickets are available from ticketmaster.ie and Ticketmaster outlets nationwide, priced at €;10 for adults. Under-18 tickets are free with an adult ticket. We encourage you to purchase tickets in advance of the match to avoid problems or queues on the day of the game.

Purchasers can avail of the TicketFast facility, allowing them to print their own tickets at home or work. TicketFast must be pre-printed – they cannot be scanned directly from a phone.

A Ticketmaster kiosk will be on located on Lansdowne Road outside the stadium for on-the-day sales. All entry to the stadium is through the gates on Lansdowne Road opposite the Elverys store. Any request for disabled access tickets should be made to ticketqueries@irishrugby.ie.