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‘Hopefully We Can Get That Bit Further’ – Flavin On MU Barnhall’s Promotion Bid

‘Hopefully We Can Get That Bit Further’ – Flavin On MU Barnhall’s Promotion Bid

MU Barnhall lost 20-18 at home to Queen's University last season, but the students ran out comprehensive 57-10 winners of the return match in Belfast ©David Neville

MU Barnhall will get their second bite at the cherry on Saturday when they hope to go one step further than last season by winning the Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 1B promotion/relegation play-off final against Queen’s University.

The Maynooth side got the closest they have ever come to Division 1B rugby last season. However, Blackrock College had too much in the tank, beating them 29-21 in the promotion decider.

They guaranteed themselves a second successive shot at it by producing a resilient performance to come away from Tipperary last weekend with a 25-23 semi-final victory. 20-year-old centre James Gorham kicked a clutch penalty, three minutes from time, to edge out Cashel.

Adrian Flavin’s Blue Bulls has been on the rise over the last few years. They came up from Division 2B at the end of the 2018/19 season, where they achieved something special, winning all 18 of their league 18 games.

In their first season in the third tier, they were sitting nicely at the top of the table and on course for back-to-back promotions when the Covid-19 pandemic ended the campaign prematurely. They have finished sixth, fourth, and third in the last three seasons.

Flavin knows they are not that far off making the jump to the next level, telling IrishRugby.ie: “We are there or there abouts. We’re an ambitious club in the same way that I’m sure the other nine teams in our league are. We have our goals.

“We have things in place for us to be able to compete at the top end of the league. Hopefully we can get that bit further this weekend.

“I came in when they were a 2B club. We were in the play-offs, and then we achieved promotion the next year. We’ve been in 2A ever since. It has been a steady incline, and hopefully that continues on Saturday.”

The former Connacht, London Irish, and Ireland ‘A’ hooker has a well-structured system in place that is supported by a rugby scholarship programme through Maynooth University. His squad is a blend of both young students, and graduates who continue with the club after their studies.

Their youth enables them to play an exciting brand of rugby, but one of the most pleasing aspects for their head coach has been the development of their character and that hard-working attitude that they have shown on the road.

“A couple of our away performances really stood out for me this season,”admitted Flavin, the 2019 All-Ireland League Coach of the Year award winner.

“We went away to Navan, a very good team, very well-coached. We played them back-to-back over the Christmas period, and we got a really good result there (winning 24-19).

“We’ve beaten Cashel twice away from home. I think those games give the younger players in the squad the belief that we can step outside our comfort zone of Parsonstown and travel anywhere in the country to get a result. Hopefully we can replicate that on Saturday.”

The squad profile is vastly different from the team that took to the field during last year’s campaign. They lost seven players who all decided to move on, taking with them plenty of AIL experience. This meant that Flavin had to blood in many new players as they adjusted things a little bit.

Many of the players in Barnhall’s current first team squad are between the ages of 19 and 21. Some have grasped this opportunity with both hands.

Composed second row Ciaran Enright has done a job for the Under-20s as their captain, and for the seniors when he has been called upon. Gorham exudes confidence and looks a player made for the big moments. Winger Sean Sexton will punish defenders if they show him space in the wider channels.

Asked if he had learned anything from being in the same position this time twelve months ago, Flavin replied: “I think we controlled the controllable last year. We didn’t get flustered about the big occasion. We really weren’t too far away last year.

“Queen’s and Blackrock were the two best teams in the league last year and they deserved to go up. Going into Saturday, we can only control what we’re doing by putting our own stamp on the game and playing the game we like to play.

“We’ve done really well to get here. Queen’s are the home team and they’ll have that expectation. We are just going to go up there and do the best that we can.”

Saturday’s opponents at Dub Lane (kick-off 2.30pm) have some familiar faces. Last season’s Division 2A champions earned five wins and registered 13 bonus points during their first ever Division 1B season, but it was not enough to avoid finishing second-from-bottom.

Queen’s made light work of Ulster rivals Banbridge in last week’s promotion/relegation semi-final, posting a runaway 59-17 win with eight tries scored. Derek Suffern’s squad contains some current Ireland Under-20s and Ulster Academy and Sub-Academy players.

Jonny Hunter, who bagged a brace of tries against Bann in a player-of-the-match performance, continues to deputise for the injured James Humphreys at out-half. They are set to start an all-Ulster Academy back row of Joe Hopes, Josh Stevens, and Tom Brigg.

Flavin sees it as just another 80 minutes of rugby, adding: “It’s a final, anything can happen. If we do the things that are in our control to the best of our ability, outside of that, what will be will be.

“We want to be able to say after the game that we performed as well as we could. We prepared to the best of our ability. What will be will be.”

– Photos by Christine Taylor and David Neville


Saturday, April 27

Kick-off 2.30pm unless stated –


Garryowen (3rd, Div 1B) v Old Belvedere (4th, Div 1B), Dooradoyle


Queen’s University (9th, Div 1B) v MU Barnhall (3rd, Div 2A), Dub Lane


UL Bohemian (9th, Div 2A) v Galway Corinthians (2nd, Div 2B), Annacotty


Dolphin (9th, Div 2B) v Galwegians (2nd, Div 2C), Virgin Media Park


Bangor (9th, Div 2C) v Monkstown (All-Ireland Provincial League Championship runners-up), Upritchard Park