Sunday 18 February 2018

More than silverware on line in mouth-watering final

Clontarf team-mates Neill Reilly, left, and Conor O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
Clontarf team-mates Neill Reilly, left, and Conor O'Brien. Photo: Sportsfile
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

The arrival on finals day of two teams with a combined winning streak of 13 games since February has the look of perfect timing about it. So, if you're within shouting distance of Lansdowne Road this afternoon (2.30) - on what's forecast to be a decent day at that - you should avail of the opportunity to watch good rugby that, from September to April, mostly flies under the radar.

For the players, it's a dual mission today, or at least the rump of them: first to become an All Ireland League champion; and second to look good in the shop window viewed regularly by the provincial coaches. And while the IRFU struggles to understand the relationship between their professional and amateur ranks, those in the lower tier have a clear vision.

In the case of Clontarf's Leinster wing Mick McGrath, for whom sevens with Ireland is now his best chance of representative rugby, it's about filling the club game with as many provincial players as possible.

"I think especially in the academy the players need to be playing more," he says. "If a couple are held back they should be playing club rugby week in week out and get used to playing at this level, and then push on to the next one. I'm a firm believer in just playing games. If I'm given the choice I'm playing as much as I can. If I didn't play at all (for the club) this season and I got a late call up (to Leinster) I wouldn't be match fit, I wouldn't be ready, I wouldn't be in a good place, whereas if I got a late call-up - through injury - and after playing for 'Tarf for a full season, I'd be very confident that I could do a good job."

They'll want him to do a job today in a game where the power of the Con set-piece threatens to decide the outcome. Last week's Bateman Cup win in Galway was Con's sixth win on the trot, a run predicated largely on a good scrum where the lads coming off the bench add to, rather than subtract from, the equation.

History too is on their side. While they have been runners-up seven times, between regular campaigns and finals, they still have four titles to their credit. Clontarf's only win came two seasons ago when a bizarre last day saw them clinch a title they had contrived to lose.

McGrath maintains that Tarf's history in finals is not an issue for them, and that there is enough fresh blood to play the game rather than the occasion. When the sides met in regulation this season there wasn't a whole lot between them - each one winning the away fixture.

"Each game has been, whether the score had reflected it or not, a three-point game," McGrath says. "One score either way. If you look at the points difference on the table there is very little between us. Both teams are well able to score and defences are quite equally matched. It's going to be quite a game."

The bookies have made Tarf slight favourites at 1/2 and -5 on the handicap, with Con at 13/8 and +5 points.

Clontarf: E Ryan; M Browne, C O'Brien, M D'Arcy, M McGrath; J Carberry, S Cronin; I Soroka, B Byrne, I Hirst; T Byrne, B Reilly (capt); M Noone, T Ryan, K Moran. Replacements: A Dundon, V Abdaladze, E Browne, N Reilly; R McGrath, P Joyce, P du Toit

Cork Con: D Sweetnam; A Spring, N Hofson, N Kenneally, R Jermyn; T Quinlan, R Foley; G Duffy, M Abbot, G Sweeney; C Kindregan, B Hayes; G Lawlor, J Ryan (capt), J Murphy. Replacements: R Burke, L O'Connor, C O'Flaherty, S Dwyer, J Poland, S Daly, D Lyons, L O'Connor

Referee: Andy Brace (IRFU)

Clontarf v Cork Con

RTÉ 2, 2.30

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