AIL final destiny could hinge on battle of two Corkmen

Mike Ruddock believes a head-to-head between two Corkmen will be pivotal in settling the battle of Lansdowne and Cork Constitution in the Ulster Bank League season finale at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday (3pm).

Lansdowne’s head coach Ruddock is well aware his out-half Scott Deasy as well as Constitution No. 10 Tomás Quinlan, both Corkmen, have been blazing respective trails in the scoring charts of late.

“They’re similar in the sense they’re both match-winning out-halves,” Ruddock said yesterday. “I call them quarterbacks a bit these days because they’re the guys that run the ship, like Johnny Sexton with Ireland.

“As much as the coach is going to influence the team, you need guys who are going to organise it and they are pivotal to the success of those strategies on the field.

“Someone like Quinlan is fantastic down at Con, and you just have to look at their (Con’s) record. Their pack is very strong and key guys there have a lot of big-game intellectual property. Then you have half-backs who dictate matters and boys outside who can score and finish. And Con have a big strong defence, last year I think they had the best defensive stats in the league so they’re tough. They’re tough to break down.”

Deasy has broken the 200-point barrier in this league campaign and is crucial to Lansdowne maintaining their free-scoring, free-flowing form. Ruddock is a fan of his 29-year-old talisman, having watched Deasy’s progress ever since he disappointingly fell out of favour as a professional with Munster.

“He has been fantastic for us since he’s signed but having said that, I’m sure he’ll tell you himself, his first season in the club and stepping down a level and perhaps moving away from the professional game and that transition, I think he found that, not just difficult, but it was a genuine transition. He was going back into the workplace, he was studying for a Masters and there was a lot going on.

“I don’t know if immediately he grasped it back then, but what he’s done since that time is, he’s really immersed himself in the club in becoming a genuine leader and a fantastic player for us. I think that transitional year was a little bit tricky for him, but once he got into it then, and settled down, he’s just been a class act.”

Ruddock does expect others to shine on Sunday — it’s not a one-man-show, he insists.

“There are a lot of class players on both sides; the standard is well up there. From our perspective over the last few years we have had players that came through and went on to play professional rugby; they have had no real difficulty in coping either. I think it says a lot about the standards of this league.

“I haven’t been involved with a pro team for a number of years, but when I have seen guys like Tom Farrell, who was with us a couple of years ago and Tom Daly, who was regular with us, doing so well in the pro game. Craig Ronaldson too, who helped us win leagues in my stint at the club and Matt Healy — it’s been a great sort of sales pitch for us.”

All of which is not to divert from the task in hand. Last year, Lansdowne finished top of the league but lost out to Con in the top-four semi-final and the Cork club went on to record the national league and cup double.

Already, the Bateman Cup title has been stripped from their grasp by Lansdowne and Ruddock hopes to deny them the league title this weekend.

Acknowledging his side’s ability to hit the high spots, he is equally conscious that Constitution have a knack of winning the really hard games.

“Last year, they travelled to Dublin three weekends in a row to win two titles and they won this year’s semi-final on the road. It says something about them; it says they know how to win the big games, so we’ve got to be spot-on.”

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