One year on from last season’s hotly-contested Division 1A final where Clontarf were 29-23 victors over Terenure College, the teams prepare to do battle again at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday. Will it be a case of repeat or revenge?
For Terenure, they have been patiently waiting for a second crack on the Energia All-Ireland League’s biggest stage after last year’s disappointing finish.
Once again, the whole local community are fully behind Sean Skehan’s men. Terenure scrum half Alan Bennie said it has been hard to escape the hype around Sunday’s decider (kick-off 3pm).
“It’s tough to be able to go for a coffee without being asked, ‘are you ready for Sunday?’,” admitted Bennie. “We’re really starting to look forward to it now and once we get the last training session out of the way, it will be great.”
‘We’ll be back’ was the main message coming from the Terenure camp after last May’s final defeat, and that is exactly what they have done, finishing second in the table and overcoming Cork Constitution 30-12 in their semi-final clash.
“Lads talk about times where they’ve escaped relegation or times they’ve won Division 1B, and I suppose it’s one thing Terenure haven’t done and the chance to be the first team to win Terenure an AIL is probably very special.
“I suppose having come so close last year, there were six points in it in the final, coming back getting to the final was always the aim and we always thought we could do it.
“I suppose getting there ticks a box, but it doesn’t tick ‘the’ box. We’ve got to perform on Sunday and that’s what we’re all about now,” insisted Bennie.
Similar to the 2021/22 campaign, both Clontarf and Terenure have been consistently the two best teams in the top flight. ‘Nure’s convincing victory over Cork Con a fortnight ago gives them plenty of confidence heading into this weekend.
“Con managed to beat us two weeks before down in Temple Hill, so we had to come away and look at ourselves from an analysis point of view.
“We know we can put those performances in and I suppose the last few weeks have just been about changing little things about our game to adapt to the team we’re playing. We’re just delighted to get to the final.”
Last season was undoubtedly a great learning curve for the Terenure group, who had a lot of new faces in their squad along with one of the most promising young coaches in the game in Skehan.
Bennie believes they have had more time to gel together this season and he is hoping they can go one step further this time around.
“We’ll find out if we are better than we were twelve months ago on Sunday, but we’ve had a bit more time with Sean and the rest of the coaches there to get into that system.
“We’ve had a couple of guys come in, which has really added a lot, both in coaching and Callum Smith has come in at 10 to play for us, which has been brilliant.
“So, as I said, we will find out on Sunday if we’re better than what we were twelve months ago, but we’re definitely more settled,” acknowledged the former Ireland Sevens international who has also played for the Ireland Club XV.
Clontarf have threats all over the pitch, none more so than in their power-packed front five. They can do a lot of damage up front, and it was no surprise to see front rowers Ben Griffin and Dylan Donnellan scoring tries in the 2022 final.
Matching the brutish Bulls in the physicality stakes is something Bennie knows his team will have to do, especially as ‘Tarf hooker Donnellan – the division’s leading try scorer with 22 tries this term – is often at the end of a maul score for the north Dubliners.
It is a challenge ‘Nure are looking to face head on. Their wily half-back says they have got great forwards of their own, mixed with some quality coaches to help them come up with an effective game-plan.
“Looking at some of the guys they have there, they either have played or should have played professional rugby,” he noted.
“But looking at our set piece, we have Emmet MacMahon and Simon Malone coaching us who are two top quality guys. We’ll be looking to go after them.
“If Dylan Donnellan doesn’t score a maul try on Sunday, that’s a bonus. Matching them physically includes Dylan Donnellan off a maul and from close range.”
The Dublin 6W club have plenty of weapons of their own, especially a back-line that can be electrifying at times. Adam La Grue, Caolan Dooley and Craig Adams make up arguably the most exciting back-three in the league.
Terenure’s style of play is something they pride themselves on. Their eye-catching rugby adds to the buzzing atmosphere that is a regular feature of their home games at Lakelands Park.
“A lot of that is down to Sean Skehan and backing us to have a go when we get quick ball. Adam La Grue has been brilliant this year, Callum Smith coming in at 10, just adding that control and his kicking game to it.
“Dooley, his kicking from the tee is just spectacular. We’ll be hoping to get some stuff going and use some set-piece moves that we’ve got,” added Bennie, who helped Lansdowne to win the Division 1A crown in 2018.
Being crowned champions on Sunday would mark a historic achievement for the men in purple, back and white. It would cap off an incredible journey that ‘Nure have been on in recent years, including their Energia Bateman Cup success earlier this year.
“There are guys that have helped bring the club up from Division 2A. There are guys like Mick Melia, Harrison Brewer and Stevie O’Neill who have come from the school straight to the club.
“Winning an AIL means a lot to any group. You see what it means to the fans down at clubs in Limerick and Cork.
“It would mean a lot to Terenure and the community as a whole. As you saw in the semi-final, our fans really get behind us. I think everyone is quite invested in this group.”
Encouraging the fans to come out in force on Sunday afternoon, Bennie anticipates: “A great crowd. Very close game. Great atmosphere. Definitely worth the tenner to come in, and we’ll see!”