Garryowen fancied to see off hot Quins

MUNSTER Senior and Junior Cup champions Garryowen are favourites to add the AIB All-Ireland Senior Cup to their trophy cabinet against Belfast Harlequins at Dubarry Park, Athlone this afternoon(4pm).

A meeting of these teams in the early part of the season would have been regarded as a formality for Garryowen but a lot has changed over the past few months. Most significant was the appointment of South African Alan Solomons, the former Ulster coach, as the Harlequins director of rugby. He quickly brought an end to the nine successive defeats that the club suffered in the AIB League.

Instead, they have won six of their last seven matches in all competitions and all but secured their division one status for next season. After beating Shannon by four points in the semi-final of the cup, have every reason to believe they can create another upset. Solomons readily admits that his team’s prospects will be all the rosier should centre Darren Cave and winger Paul McKenzie make it back unscathed from Ulster’s Magners League visit to Glasgow last night.

They are also boosted by the return of long-term injury victims John Andress and Lewis Stephenson and with the veteran Andy Ward, the former Ireland flanker, another key man up front, they will take a lot of beating.

Garryowen have reached the decider courtesy of a flattering semi-final win over Clonakilty but last week showed their mettle by travelling to Clontarf and returning with an impressive away league win. London Irish-bound out-half Eoghan Hickey is likely to start having been omitted from Munster’s squad for tonight’s Magners League game against Llanelli.

Scrum-half Gerry Hurley is one of the cleverest footballers in the club game in Ireland and can be a big danger to any side with his sallies from the base of scrum and ruck. Garryowen have an outstanding captain and blind side flanker in Paul Neville and their youthful pack also contains promising players like Mark Melbourne, Anthony Kavanagh and Damien Varley while the experience of prop Eugene McGovern and number eight Peter Malone should also prove invaluable. It promises to be a very tight affair with Garryowen likely to have a slight edge at the finish.

The senior final is preceded at 2pm by the junior decider involving Seapoint and Coleraine.

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