Saturday 24 August 2019

Trinity aim to create history among the AIL's big boys

Ryan Baird is ruled out for Trinity as he has been called up for Leinster duty. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Ryan Baird is ruled out for Trinity as he has been called up for Leinster duty. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

All roads lead to the Aviva Stadium on May 5 as the top flight of the All-Ireland League (AIL) is down to the final four.

Both semi-finals will take place this weekend with defending champions Lansdowne travelling across the city to take on the 2016 winners Clontarf in a mouthwatering Dublin derby this afternoon (2.30).

Tomorrow (2.30) Cork Con, who finished top of the table at the end of the regular season, will look to assume their dominance over a Trinity side who have been the surprise package this season.

The AIL title has been shared between Clontarf, Lansdowne and Cork Con for the last six years, but Tony Smeeth's students will feel like they are in with a chance of upsetting the odds on Leeside.

Trinity have enjoyed a stunning campaign as Smeeth continues to do a remarkable job in encouraging his young players to play an exciting brand of rugby.

Trinity could really have done with a full deck to choose from, but with Ireland U-20s lock Ryan Baird in line to make his Leinster debut against Ulster this evening, he is unavailable for his club.

It is a significant blow as Baird is one of the most exciting young talents in the country, but Trinity will have to put that to the side against what is a very strong Con outfit.

This is the first semi-final that Trinity will have played in and Smeeth warned of the scale of the challenge that lies ahead.

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"We've had exams all week which is not ideal," Trinity's director of rugby said.

"Hopefully we can give a good account of ourselves. Con are a great team and we know it's going to be tough down there.

"I don't think we did ourselves any favours beating them a few weeks ago when they were down a few players. But it's semi-final rugby and anything can happen."

The backlash is likely to be fearsome with Brian Hickey's charges focused on winning back the title they gave up to Lansdowne last year.

Trinity upset Con 37-13 at College Park a month ago, the standout result of their impressive seven wins out of nine post-Christmas.

Two of their Ireland U-20 contingent, Rob Russell and Giuseppe Coyne, touched down that day along with a brace from former Ireland U-18 sevens captain Ronan Quinn, who is their top try scorer with six.

Con, however, are littered with explosive threats of their own. Out-half Aidan Moynihan has been in excellent form and has contributed 144 points, while prolific winger JJ O'Neill has scored seven tries in what is a lethal back-line.

Trinity will be buoyed by that win over Con recently, but are well aware that an altogether different challenge lies ahead tomorrow afternoon.

If Trinity upset the odds and make it through, they will be the first club outside of the 'big three' - Cork Con, Clontarf and Lansdowne - to contest the decider since Old Belvedere in 2011. It would be a remarkable story if they managed to pull it off.

Today, in the capital, 'Tarf will be aiming to ensure that home advantage counts in their favour in what promises to be a titanic battle between two old rivals.

Andy Wood's men thumped Lansdowne in the final round of the season and will be looking to draw on those experiences.

The battle between two vastly experienced out-halves could well decide which team advances to the decider as David Joyce and Scott Deasy lock horns.

Joyce has scored 116 points for 'Tarf, while former Munster pivot Deasy is on 112 points.

Ireland sevens internationals Adam Leavy and Foster Horan will bolster Lansdowne's attacking threat out wide, while Mick McGrath will do the same for 'Tarf.

Lansdowne prop Ian Prendiville will look to get the edge on the opposition front-row that has shown it is a match for anyone this season, even if Vakh Abdaladze is away with Leinster.

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