In a remarkable twist of fate, the four teams currently occupying the promotion play-off berths face each other in what is set to be a thrilling final round in Energia All-Ireland League Division 2A.
ENERGIA ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE – MEN’S DIVISION 2A:
AS THINGS STAND:
Promotion Play-Off Semi-Finals (April 23): 1st (Queen’s University at home) v 4th (TBC); 2nd (Cashel at home) v 3rd (Buccaneers)
Promotion Play-Off Final (April 30): Home advantage to highest-ranked team
Relegation Play-Off First Leg (April 23): 10th (Rainey Old Boys or Nenagh Ormond at home) v 9th (Nenagh Ormond or Rainey Old Boys)
Relegation Play-Off Second Leg (April 30): 9th (Nenagh Ormond or Rainey Old Boys at home) v 10th (Rainey Old Boys or Nenagh Ormond)
ROUND 18: Saturday, April 9
Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –
DOLPHIN (8th) v UL BOHEMIANS (7th), Musgrave Park, 1.30pm
UL Bohemians venture to Cork still with a mathematical chance of finishing in the top four. Their dream final round scenario is a bonus point win over Dolphin, coupled with home defeats for Ballymena, MU Barnhall and Old Crescent.
Since beating Crescent and Ballymena, Dolphin have lost twice to fall out of contention for the play-offs. They will want to end Brian Scott’s first season in charge strongly, especially on the back of prop Johnny Leahy’s 100th AIL appearance.
When these Munster rivals met on the opening day of the campaign, Harry Byrne kicked two penalties for the Red Robins but converted tries from Brian O’Mahony and Rob Reardon steered Dolphin to a 20-6 victory at the UL Arena.
BALLYMENA (4th) v QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY (1st), Eaton Park
Ballymena are in the last chance saloon now after six straight defeats. They are holding onto fourth spot by a single point. With promotion favourites Queen’s University coming to town, John Nicholl’s men need their best display of the year.
Queen’s are the highest scorers across all five divisions, pocketing 14 try bonus points and averaging a stunning 38.5 points per game. Ulster Academy duo James Humphreys and Conor McKee have had regular run-outs in the backs.
Ballymena forwards coach Darrell O’Kane commented: “Obviously our chances of making the play-offs are at risk, we’ll have to put in a good week this week because it’s a must-win game. We’ve just lacked a wee bit of nous at times when we get ourselves into good positions.”
CASHEL (2nd) v BUCCANEERS (3rd), Spafield
This is a dress rehearsal for the clubs’ upcoming promotion play-off semi-final. Cashel, who are eight points ahead in the table, have earned home advantage and claimed the local bragging rights last week with a 20-10 win at Nenagh Ormond.
Forwards Richard Moran and Fearghail O’Donoghue stood out for Cashel in another hard-hitting Tipperary derby. More of the same is expected against Buccaneers, although both coaches may elect to alter their selections ahead of the semi-final clash.
Full-back Ruaidhri Fallon was Buccaneers’ player-of-the-match against Ballymena last week, and it was also his late try that saw them edge out Cashel 18-16 in Athlone at the start of the season. Danny Qualter remains a key figure at lock.
MU BARNHALL (5th) v NENAGH ORMOND (9th), Parsonstown
Nenagh Ormond’s season will be extended past Easter as they attempt to avoid the drop down to Division 2B, while MU Barnhall are also hoping to have play-offs to plan for at the business end of the table.
Barnhall, the table toppers when Covid-19 struck in 2020, are one of four clubs still fighting to finish fourth overall. The Tom McKeown-led Blue Bulls picked up a losing bonus point last week at UL Bohs which saw them move back up to fifth.
The Nenagh pack matched Cashel physically during the first half, some further encouragement provided by a fine try from centre James Finn. Derek Corcoran and Nicky Irwin will have crucial roles to play at half-back in their relegation shootout.
OLD CRESCENT (6th) v RAINEY OLD BOYS (10th), Takumi Park
Rainey Old Boys are on a collision course with Nenagh, who they could yet pip to ninth place which would give them a home fixture in the relegation play-off second leg. They did beat Old Crescent 24-17 back in October.
Crescent were stung by a 33-13 defeat away to Queen’s last week, but they did have their moments. Val McDermott ran in a first-minute try and John Hurley’s reliable boot kept them in the hunt until they tired during the final quarter.
Ian McKinley’s Rainey side will have fond memories of facing Crescent, as they overturned an early 17-point deficit in that first round encounter. Rainey finished the stronger thanks to tries from Connor Smyth, Rory MacGinty and Jack Bresland.