Shannon’s Prince Andrew

ANDREW THOMPSON, one of the three “old men” in the Shannon team, remains one of the most formidable forces in the club game in this country.

He already has five AIB League medals to his credit and now turns his attentions to a sixth for the Limerick club who withstood the challenge of Belfast Harlequins with relative comfort in Saturday’s semi-final at Thomond Park.

Having been gifted an early seven pointer and leading by 15-0 after 19 minutes, Shannon looked to be in trouble when the visitors narrowed the gap to a couple of points 12 minutes into the second-half.

But the men in black and blue regrouped in impressive fashion and three penalties by Tom Cregan and a drop goal by Thompson saw them dominate the closing stages.

Man of the match Thompson was at the heart of the Shannon effort throughout, assisted in his successful efforts to control the proceedings by a fluent service from half-back partner Fiach O’Loughlin.

When points were needed in those dodgy moments midway through the second-half, Thompson provided them with a splendid drop kick from 40 metres. Now it’s on to Lansdowne Road with Shannon only too well aware that Cork Constitution defeated them convincingly a month or so ago at Temple Hill.

Thompson said: “We were happy with our start because we knew they were a good side with a very good front five. We did a lot of work on our scrummaging and on our defence and that came through in the end.

“We forced them to spill a lot of ball. We were up in their faces whereas we held off a bit against Con in the league game. We closed down their space and they ran out of options after that.”

When I suggested that the intercept try superbly taken by Brian Tuohy was something of a present, Thompson countered by saying that “that it also came from the pressure we were imposing.”

If the ’Quins highly rated scrum-half Reece Spee was the culprit on that occasion, the pack as a whole must take the rap when they allowed the lively Shannon flanker John O’Connor to burst away from a maul on half-way and he in turn sent Mossy Lawlor over in the corner with a perfectly delivered pass. A conversion and a penalty by Cregan against a penalty by Ajay Derwin saw Shannon 15-3 ahead at the break.

But the game seemed to be turning the way of the visitors when Derwin kicked another penalty and then added the points to a try scored by Rory Best when he broke away unmarked from a quick throw to the front of a line-out. To their credit, however, Shannon regrouped and had their place in the final assured long before the final whistle.

It is also true to say that if they never saw referee Olan Trevor again, it would be too soon as they found it difficult to understand the regular flow of penalties to ’Quins whereas they themselves had to wait until the 54th minute to get only their second decision of the afternoon.

All that, however, is now in the past and Shannon now turn their attentions to Lansdowne Road on Saturday. Andrew Thompson will be crucial to Shannon’s prospects of a sixth title.

“I’m just happy to be involved. I’ve turned 30 along with Johnny Lacey and Eddie Halvey is 34 so we’re getting on a bit. Cork Con are a very good side and deserved to be up there at number one after the league stages.

“They weren’t there for nothing, they were the most consistent side and showed a lot of character. They had the edge, no doubt about that.

“In the game at Temple Hill, we went at them and were 10 or 15 points up after 20 minutes but they came back and rattled us in the second-half and we laid off them a little bit.

“The team picked by Alan Gaffney for Friday’s game against Connacht will be important. That situation affected us today. Jerry Flannery would have started, but in fairness Nigel Conroy was excellent as his replacement and Frankie Roche, too, did great even though he played half the game in Wales and the same with Trevor Hogan,” Thompson said.

“But I think it will go down to the wire, it will be tight. We respect them and they respect us and it should be a good match no matter what happens.”

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