On-song Clontarf looking to end AIB League heartbreak

CLONTARF’S flirtation with AIB League glory has been consigned to failure in recent years; five semi-finals and two final appearances being just the sum total of the club’s success.

The north Dublin side got to the final in 2003 and 2006 only to lose out to two teams that were either packed with provincial representatives (Ballymena) or with so much experience (Shannon) as to be too much to cope with.

Today, at Temple Hill, in a televised encounter (2pm), Clontarf seek to turn the tide of recent events, and manager Pat McHale is optimistic that retribution for defeat at the same stage of the competition, and at the same venue against the same opposition, will be gained.

“It’s always hard to come out of Temple Hill with a win; we have had our share of problems before, but I believe we’re in a much stronger position this season than we were last year.

“Twelve months ago our form had slumped coming into the semi-final; this year it has picked up We have won the last two games without conceding a point, and scored 74 We beat Ballymena away and Dungannon at home pretty well We would have to be happy with the way we played, particularly last weekend when we needed to get our points difference up against a team that never actually stopped playing.

“We would be pretty excited with our back-line at the moment, particularly with wingers Michael Keating and Niall O’Brien; they’re really good try scorers and will do the business given half a chance I’d say we’re happier going down to Con this year more than last, for sure.”

But if Clontarf hit the high spots by reaching a half century of points last week, Constitution, the champions, were in similar scoring mood against Ballymena, and appeared to turn the corner after a recent mini-slump that threatened participation in the play-offs and contributed to their downfall in the AIB Cup final against Ballynahinch.

The team is likely to be along usual lines, but Billy Holland, having been released by Munster, is expected to start in the second row with Merle O’Connell, in a side captained by Brendan Cuttriss and with back-row partners in Frank Cogan and Ed Leamy.

The second semi-final at Coonagh (230pm) provides an equal opportunity for last year’s defeated team, Shannon, to gain revenge over city rivals Garryowen.

The Light Blues produced a big performance to romp to a 31-6 win a year ago but Shannon can be expected to provide much more strenuous opposition The sides met earlier in the season and played out a thrilling 17-17 draw under lights at Thomond Park, and will be boosted by the significant victory over Dolphin last week that gave them a play-off place at the death.

Fiach O’Loughlin could be back after injury to captain the team, while Donnacha Ryan, on the bench for Munster last night, hopes to make a contribution at some stage.

With home advantage, Shannon will start ever so slight favourites against a Garryowen team that has yet to be finalised.

CORK CONSTITUTION (from): D Lyons, R Lane, T Gleeson, E Ryan, C Healy, J Manning, J Stringer, C Nolan, P Broughan, T Kenneally, T Ryan, G Murray, D Murray, M O’Connell, B Holland, B Cuttriss (captain), F Cogan, E Leamy,L Gabriel, R Wilmott, D Kelly, J Moloney, P O’Mahony, B Nagle.

CLONTARF: P Howard, M Keating, D O’Shea (captain), B O’Donnell, N O’Brien, M Dufficy, S Treacy/P O’Donoghue, A Clarke, A Dundon, N Treston, N Reilly, S Crawford, H Stride, N Carson, M Garvey.

SHANNON (from): D O’Donovan, R Mullane, F McLoughlin, J Clogan, S Kelly, T Bennett, F O’Loughlin/F McNamara, C O’Neill, M Essex, K Griffin/L Hogan, P O’Brien, F Walsh, D Ryan/E McLoughlin, E Grace, D Quinlan.

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