Friday 23 August 2019

AIL's big day on the main stage will serve as a reminder of its importance

Clontarf coach Andy Wood. Photo: Sportsfile
Clontarf coach Andy Wood. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The All-Ireland League (AIL) will take centre stage for its annual day at the Aviva Stadium tomorrow and for some, it will be a reminder that rugby exists in this country outside of the professional game.

The future make-up of the club game remains uncertain as the IRFU seek a solution that they hope will suit all parties.

A lot of work lies ahead over the coming months, but tomorrow, the best club players and some stars of the future will get a chance to showcase their talent on the main stage.

The Division 1A final will attract its usual cohort of die-hard supporters and even though the optics from the largely empty stands won't make for particularly good viewing on TV, the talent at Cork Con and Clontarf's disposal should ensure that the action on the pitch throws up another memorable final (3.0).

Clontarf coach Andy Wood is a veteran of the AIL and is eager for the IRFU not to discount its importance in terms of the bigger picture.

"There seems to be a lot of spin about it," Wood admitted.

"In the overall scheme of things, whether it is tacked on, as was proposed earlier in the year, to the bottom end of the professional game or whether it is a standalone, you are still going to get this quality of player coming through and wanting to play.

"But to cut it completely adrift would be a disservice to the players because if you are playing well, surely you want to be playing at the best level you are capable of playing.

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"The AIL, if it stays as it is, you are still going to get players coming through, but if there is that separation from the professional game, will you get guys playing on until their mid-to-late 20s?

"Players want to be in an environment where they can see a pathway, if they have that ambition."

Clontarf and Con play an expansive, exciting brand of rugby with the latter owing a lot to the vision of senior coach Paul Barr, who came in and took the Cork side out of their comfort zone.

That was largely due to the plethora of exciting, young backs with the likes of Sean French, Shane Daly, Alex McHenry and Jonathan Wren adding another dangerous dimension to their attack.

"I watch the professional game and think there's an awful lot at stake for the people who make it up - it's their careers, their lives and their livelihoods," Barr maintained.

"Sometimes we're very fortunate in that the conservatism that is imposed on them (the professionals) - through a fear factor, a livelihood factor, in their approach - that's removed from us.

"We can have a real cut at it without the same financial sword of Damocles hanging over our heads that they would experience."

Con's approach has been backed up by their achievements on the pitch this season.

Their results have been emphatic as they finished top of the table and beat Clontarf twice along the way.

As the Cork outfit know only too well, however, form goes out the window in a final.

Cork Con will be favourites to land their sixth title, but Clontarf have plenty of momentum behind them and can't be discounted.

It promises to be a titanic tussle and one that will serve as a reminder of everything that is good about club rugby in Ireland.

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