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Promotion Goal Within Reach For Owende And Old Belvedere

Promotion Goal Within Reach For Owende And Old Belvedere

Connor Owende and his Old Belvedere team-mates are back in Limerick this weekend for the Energia All-Ireland League Men's Division 1A decider ©INPHO/James Crombie

When Old Belvedere suffered relegation from Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 1A in 2017, It was a 26-19 defeat to Garryowen in the penultimate round of the regular season that sealed their fate.

It was a very tough day for the club who have been absent from the top flight since then. A young Connor Owende and Adam Howard lined out for them on that day at Dooradoyle, alongside current defence and forwards coach Karl Miller.

Now, seven years on, that trio could help Old Belvedere gain some revenge at the same venue when they travel to Limerick to play Garryowen in Saturday afternoon’s Division 1A promotion final (kick-off 2.30pm).

Second row Owende, a former captain and an Old Belvedere club legend in his own right, admits that getting ‘Belvo back to Division 1A has always been a big personal goal in the intervening years.

“Adam Howard, Karl Miller, and I were part of the team that got relegated against Garryowen in 2017,” he told IrishRugby.ie. “It’s always been a massive aim of ours to make sure that while we are playing, we want to get the club back to 1A.

“Thinking about it this week, it’s been such a funny journey. I watched the game where we lost the league in Garryowen (in 2014), the year Clontarf won it.

“I also played in that game where we got relegated in Dooradoyle (pictured above). My brother, Michael Oyuga, played in Garryowen for a bit. It’s funny how I’ve gotten to this point.

“Now we have the chance to fulfil something that has been a goal of mine and for the club for years and obviously, the game is in Dooradoyle and against Garryowen again. It’s a really interesting one.”


It has been a strange season for Ben Manion’s Belvedere side. Their form has been mixed, and going into the final round their play-off chances looked very slim.

They needed to get all five points away to Naas, a place where they had not won in a number of years, and hope that fourth-placed Highfield would not pick up anything in their game away to Garryowen. The luck was ‘Belvo, as the results worked out for them to qualify for the play-offs.

They followed that up with an emphatic display against Shannon on Thomond Park’s back pitch last Saturday. They scored four tries, and young out-half David Wilkinson kicked a whopping 23 points, to pull off a terrific 46-8 triumph and set up a return trip to Limerick.

While highlighting the impact that the travelling support had last weekend, Owende remarked: “I don’t think a lot of people expected that result outside of our group, to be honest.

“We know the potential that we have, we consider ourselves one of the best teams in the league on our day. We knew we had that in us. The support on the day was huge.

“In many ways, it felt like a home game running out onto the Thomond Park back pitch. We came out after them and the roar was class. We came out second, and that gave us so much confidence.

“I always think that game is hard for the team coming down from 1A because they must have had a relatively poor season, but in saying that, we knew it was going to be tough. We knew we needed to make a fast start.”

‘Belvo have been on an upward trajectory in the last 18 months. Their thriving Under-20 programme has produced players ready to slot straight in at senior level.

Hooker Calum Dowling is a try-scoring machine, Tom Mulcair is a real workhorse in the back row, and scrum half Saul Fitzpatrick has looked assured since captain Peter O’Beirne’s injury back in January. All young players, quickly learning on the job but making the adjustment without being fazed.

Owende was educated in Belvedere College and represented Leinster at underage level before linking up with Old Belvedere in 2011. He was part of a talented Under-20 team that included future Leinster, Ireland and Lions back rower, Jack Conan.

It has not always been the easiest of rides for the 30-year-old. He had some cruel luck with injuries, suffering a torn Achilles and he also tore his hamstring off the bone. Despite those setbacks, he has still racked up over 120 All-Ireland League appearances in the black and white hooped jersey.

Reflecting on his 13 years at Ollie Campbell Park, Owende spoke about his love for the club, saying: “I have had some extended periods out through injury over the years, but I’ve still managed to play a lot of games for the club.

“My 100th AIL cap was marked in our opening day victory of last season, where we beat St. Mary’s College. That was a great day.

“For me, the most special thing about playing for the club for so long is that I’ve got to play with friends that have become my best friends. I got to play with my brother Michael for a couple of seasons here too.”

He never thought he would play so many times for ‘Belvo, revealing: “My first cap was a loss against Mary’s, and I got a talk from Paul Cunnigham in the dressing room that day – I thought that was where it was going to end!

“But, to be honest, I certainly didn’t think I’d last this long, especially given those injuries. But I think that’s what drives you. When you’re isolated and alone doing rehab, it’s the thoughts of getting back out on the pitch and playing for the team that keep you going.

“It’s such a special group to be involved with, from players to coaches to management, and I think you’ll make any sacrifice to stay part of it.”