Joey Carbery and Darren Sweetnam have both moved on since starring for Clontarf and Cork Constitution in last year’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A final, but Andy Wood insists there will still be plenty of talent to savour as the sides contemplate another decider this Sunday.
’Tarf edged a thrilling encounter at the Aviva Stadium last May by just three points. Carbery scored a try and landed four conversions that day. Sweetnam claimed one of Con’s five-pointers. Both followed that up with breakout seasons for Leinster and Munster respectively.
“Joey was outstanding last year but then, if you look at the numbers, Mick Browne made an exceptional number of yards, Conor O’Brien was excellent, Matt D’Arcy was excellent. We had some good strike players across the park,” said Wood, the Clontarf coach.
“Joey stood a little bit above that but there were some excellent performances from lads in our squad who are here again this year. Con were the same. Darren Sweetnam had a fantastic match and then they had contributors across the park.
“(Con are) very physical, particularly in the back row area and around the breakdown. Joey’s not there but there are others guys who put their hands up last year. Hopefully the conditions are good and a number of players will put their hands up again.”
The match-up is an intriguing one and not just because of last year’s backdrop. There have been only two occasions in the last 16 years when at least one of these two teams did not win the league or finish runner-up. This is a meeting of heavyweights, even if every week asks questions over the exact fighting weight of sides at this level.
Both teams contain a mix of players with provincial experience of some kind, club stalwarts and up-and-comers who will be hoping to ape the example of Carbery and Sweetnam last year and catch the eye of Ireland coach Joe Schmidt.
Cork Con last week added a fifth straight Bateman Cup to the fifth consecutive Munster Senior Cup title claimed earlier in the season but coach Brian Hickey expressed concern for the fitness of lock Conor Kindregan and flanker Graeme Lawler afterwards.
Tighthead prop Rory Burke should be available after appearing as a replacement for Munster away to Benetton Treviso last weekend while Clontarf will be hopeful of having their Leinster contingent on board.
Wood has been able to call on hooker Brian Byrne and lock Mick Kearney from Leo Cullen’s senior squad this season while academy players Conor O’Brien and Jack Power have also contributed significantly to the Dublin club’s latest campaign.
“We know each other pretty well,” said Wood. “I expect it to be a very physical game, won and lost around the contact area. We know Con will put a lot of pressure on us and it’s a matter of how we negotiate our way through it and get ourselves in scoring positions. They will try and choke us across the park.”
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