Holywood stars Cave and McIlroy hoping to avoid each other in final flourish
Published 06/05/2015 | 02:30
On the last weekend of this month, two former school pals from County Down will be desperately hoping to be coming down the final stretch for sporting glory.
While Ulster centre and former Sullivan Upper alumnus Darren Cave wants to be lining out for his side in the Pro12 final at Kingspan Stadium, Rory McIlroy will most probably be engaged in an Irish Open title tussle an hour or so away at Royal County Down.
There is, of course, a nightmare scenario; Cave's side can still conceivably stumble en route to their dream "home" final while McIlroy could miss the cut. What then?
"I'll be there if I'm not playing but I don't want to entertain that too much," smiles the in-form Irish international centre. "I intend being in Belfast that weekend in a Pro12 final."
And what of the prospects of McIlroy being free to shout on his beloved Ulster in a final, should he miss the cut? "Well, he'd want to be playing a hell of a lot worse than he is now!"
The same could be said for Ulster. But then again, unlike 26-year-old Holywood star McIlroy, who once again conquered the world in devastating style last weekend, Cave, 28, has yet to secure any significant titles in his chosen professional pursuit.
"I've got a couple of medals but in my eyes they're the wrong colour," says Cave. "I've won nothing with Ulster. I have great memories from my career and I'd like to think I've achieved a lot of career goals but I've still won nothing.
"I came in the season after we last won a trophy and there have been some tough times since then. I don't want to finish my career with Ulster without winning anything. We've a good chance this season but three other teams will be thinking about that."
Apart from their recent European near-misses, this is the fourth time Ulster have reached the play-offs but like their provincial rivals Munster, whom they meet in Belfast this weekend, they too have only once been seeded at home in a semi-final.
With organisers already having ear-marked Belfast as a final venue - to the consternation of their other semi-final rivals, who also include Ospreys and Glasgow - the reward for pushing on in their final two regular season games is as obvious as the devastating consequence of missing out on the grand finale.
A fiendishly difficult run-in, featuring three interprovincial clashes, could conceivably see them lose out on a home semi-final even if they beat Munster this weekend, considering Anthony Foley's men will eye a five-pointer from their final game against Dragons.
"We're in cup mode now," states Cave as his side eye a series of what they are effectively classing as knock-out games.
"It's so close and you get distracted by all the permutations. It's nice to know we're in the top four and even if the worst happens, we know an away semi-final win will get us to the final.
"But we don't want to rely on that because home advantage is so decisive. We're very proud of our home record and we know we're difficult to beat in Belfast."