Past masters Con battling odds in final showdown
You wouldn't be sure if minus five points on the handicap will be the picture at close of play in the Aviva this afternoon. Having suffered the pain of topping the table last season - albeit only on points difference - only to lose to Cork Con in the semi-final, there is a good deal more clarity about Lansdowne's dominance this season.
They topped the table by 10 points; they won four games more than any other club; their points difference was 119 ahead of the nearest chaser. And of the three games this season against today's final opponents, Con, they won two.
The most recent of those was just a fortnight ago when they went down to Temple Hill and wrenched the Bateman Cup free from a trophy cabinet where it had become a fixture. The manner of the win didn't leave Con with too many positives to take away from the experience.
At least, unlike last season at this stage of the season, their Bateman opponents are also their AIL opponents so perhaps Lansdowne will be as tired as they are. And that counts on sunny, warm days at HQ where the track is fast but limbs have already been through a lot.
In the build-up you may have heard Lansdowne lads talking of how Con are past masters at winning cup games. Well, this is their third final in a row and after six back-to-back titles going to Leinster clubs, they feel it's their duty to rekindle the days when Munster owned this competition.
So if they upset the favourites today it will be two out of the last three going to Temple Hill. But it would be an upset.
Interestingly, a good deal of the danger to that challenge will come from Corkmen: fullback Eamonn Mills - scorer of one of the tries of the season, against St Mary's last September - and Scott Deasy at outhalf. Deasy has been to Lansdowne what Danny Riordan was to Old Belvedere for so long: a former pro who brought real quality to the club game week after week. Most importantly, his rep days are behind him so you don't have a province dictating when he should blow his nose, and how hard.
By 2019/'20 that picture between provinces and clubs will, hopefully, have the dots joined up.
It's expected that in the next couple of weeks agreement will be reached between the IRFU, WRU and SRU over an early-season competition between our provincial 'A' sides and an equivalent from Scotland and Wales. If the competition runs off over September and October then it would leave the AIL free to run uninterrupted through to the end of the season. We'll see.
For this afternoon, Con's star fullback Shane Daly - playing in his third straight final - is relying on experience of knockout rugby getting his team over the line.
"It's a big stage," he says. "But one of the best things about playing with Con is that we have been in league and cup finals. There's nobody in the team new to that set-up."
They'll need that experience today.
Lansdowne: E Mills; F Horan, H Brennan, M O'Keefe, A Leavy; S Deasy, A Bennie; P Dooley, T Moran, I Prendiville (capt), J O'Rourke, J Dwan, J O'Sullivan, W Earle, A Conneely. Replacements: J Rael, N Mpiko. B Fitzpatrick; C Rock, C McMickan, I Fitzpatrick, G McGrath.
Cork Con: S Daly; L O'Connell, A McHenry, N Kenneally (capt), R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins; B Quinlan, V O'Brien, G Sweeney, B Hayes, C Kindregan, E Mintern J McSwiney, L Cahill. Replacements: D McCormack, G Duffy, D Murphy, R O'Neill, JJ O'Neill, S Duffy, J Hurley
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)
- Lansdowne v Cork Constitution RTé 2, 3.0
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