The history books show Shannon way out in front in the Ulster Bank League’s roll of honour — they’ve annexed nine of the 20 titles, Garryowen have three to their name and Young Munster have one under their belt.
But since Shannon’s last win in 2009, standards have slipped a little; there was no Limerick side in the semi-finals last term, and only Young Munster have a better than even chance of making it this time around.
Furthermore, Munster coach Tony McGahan recently admitted his concern at the province’s dearth of representatives in Irish underage international sides; a fortnight ago an Ireland U20 squad of 22 was picked to play Italy without a single Munster man.
In this vein, a startling statistic to emerge recently showed that of Munster’s 17 representatives in the 94-strong IRFU national talent squads, none learned their trade in the Treaty City.
Time for doom and gloom? Not at all, says Shannon’s experienced number eight David Quinlan, who is also a teacher in famed Limerick rugby nursery St Munchin’s.
“There’s definitely some good kids coming through, but they’re just not getting into the system,” he says. “There’s a bigger pool of players going through two schools in Cork than there are going through five in Limerick — that dilutes it a bit.
“But we have some good players, and I think just because they’re not getting picked up through school (doesn’t mean) they aren’t coming through a year or two later — maybe Munster should be having a look at those guys.”
Regarding the flattening of the performance curve in the All-Ireland League, Quinlan said: “To be fair, there are three Limerick teams up there (in Division 1A).
“The Leinster clubs have got their act together and there’s a good pool of young talent there. But there’s a push on within the Limerick clubs to up the standards. All three have good young guys coming through and it’s going to take a breakthrough for one of them to take the extra step.”
Indeed, even in defeat a number of Shannon players put their hands up as potentially pivotal Munster players of the future. Paddy Butler gave his customary destructive performance in the back-row, while Gareth Quinn-McDonogh was an authoritative figure at out-half and kicked beautifully for territory.
Cork Con, of course, have plenty of young stars of their own — many of whom were on Munster duty in Italy, however, rendering their victory all the more impressive, as Shannon’s Irish international prop Marcus Horan acknowledged.
“Con are a good team, they’ve got great strength in depth considering the depletion they had this weekend with players involved with Munster, so it’s a credit to them,” he said.
“There’s huge disappointment in our dressing room. We’d a massive win last week against a well fancied St Mary’s team in terrible conditions, so everyone’s just gutted as this was another big one for us.”
After Brendan Cuttriss had all-too-easily sneaked around an unguarded ruck fringe for an early Con try, converted by Gerry Hurley, Shannon had the hosts on the back foot more often than not.
But Colm Tucker’s men were met with a sterling defensive effort from the hosts — typified by Con full-back Sean Scanlon’s spectacular try-saving tackle on Stephen Kelly during Shannon’s best period in the second half.
Both sides let themselves down at times with their handling and execution despite a dry track, but Hurley knocked over his sole penalty opportunity — Quinn-McDonogh had earlier missed his from a similar position — from 35 metres to put Con 10 points up with 14 minutes to go.
And as Shannon went hell for leather in pursuit of at least a bonus point, disaster struck. A pass went to ground in midfield with an overlap out wide, and Con centre Ivan Dineen skilfully scooped up the loose ball to run in unopposed from 40 metres. Hurley converted to send Con back to the top of the table.
S Scanlon; R Lane, C Jouve, I Dineen, C Desmond; D Lyons, G Hurley; M Gately, D Fogarty, A Foley; J McSwiney, B Hayes; C O’Flaherty, B Cuttriss, F Cogan (capt).
Replacements: M O’Leary for Fogarty (65), A Ryan for Desmond (72), G Murray for Gately (74-79, inj to Murray), T Dukelow for McSwiney (78), T Kenneally for Lyons (80+1).
D O’Donovan; L O’Dea, M Lawlor, R Mullane, S Kelly; G Quinn-McDonogh, P Rowley; M Horan, D Casey, K Griffin; D Heffernan, F Walsh (capt), P Butler, E McLoughlin, D Quinlan.
Replacements: C McMahon for Heffernan (60), L Hogan for Horan (65), R Guerin for Rowley (67), J Cronin for Casey, J Cloghan for Mullane (both 75).
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU)