Ulster Bank League profiles: Clontarf off to a flying start in their title defence

Tony Ryan is a hugely destructive force, I’m amazed he hasn’t been given a contract but we’re happy to keep him.
Ulster Bank League profiles: Clontarf off to a flying start in their title defence

The champions have a huge task ahead of them in defending their title but look to be in good stead to do so, despite some potential absentees.

Is emulating last year’s heroics a pressure point for Andy Wood and his side?

“No it’s not an added pressure. We try to take things week by week for ourselves.” Wood explained “Last year is done we were excited by it, it was great but now we start fresh.“

Although Clontarf retained the core members from last year’s side, they could be without may be without their try-scoring machine Mick McGrath this season should his move to Leicester Tigers ever materialise. The winger brings an attacking verve to the side and is a quality that will be sorely missed should he ever move to the East Midlands.

Another hero from ‘Tarf’s run to the final, Joey Carberry, has been making waves in the Pro12 thus far, meaning the Dublin outfit could be without his attacking ability for large chunks of the season.

Also on the expected list of absentees are David Joyce and Connacht’s Ivan Soroka, who are nursing a broken leg and foot respectively. On the other side, Royce Burke-Flynn is declared fit.

Wood says the injuries aren’t ideal but believes they are “an opportunity for the young guys to step up.” Going on to say “I’m confident they can do a job. We managed to hold onto most players.”

No sense of panic in the champions camp though. And why would there be? You just have to look the quality in the side.

In the centres, Ireland U20 star Conor O’Brien poses a threat in attack and was hugely impressive in the run to the final last season. The same can be said for his centre partner Matt D’Arcy, who won the UBL Player of the Year.

Both players could light up the league and will be play significant roles in Clontarf’s title defence.

Mick Kearney, 68- time Connacht player now with Leinster, lined out last week alongside skipper Ben Reilly in the ‘Tarf engine room. They have another notable enforcer in former Leicester Tiger Michael Noone, who played at blindside flanker last weekend.

Coach: Andy Wood

Captain: Ben Reilly

Last year’s finish: 1st

Last title: 2016

First four fixtures: UCD (A) St.Mary’s (H) Young Munster (A) Garryowen (H)

Betting: 9/4

Players In: Jack Power (UCD) Kevin McGrath (Skerries) Cian O’Donoghue (Lansdowne) Gary O’Brien (Old Wesley)

Players Out:

Hopes and Expectations

"Much like every other club you want to be in the mix come play-off time in the top four in April. It would be great for a home semi-final. But top four would certainly be the aspiration. We have a few new faces so it’s about gelling together very quickly and picking up some results."

One to watch

"Joey Carberry and Mick McGrath are important but the guy to watch out for is Conor O’Brien in the centre. Obviously, we have Matt D’Arcy too. They are two good attacking threats.

Tony Ryan is a hugely destructive force, I’m amazed he hasn’t been given a contract but we’re happy to keep him.

Then you have Kyle Moran, Adrian D’Arcy, Mick Noone- who played a lot of professional rugby. We’re pretty well served in the backrow as well with Ben (Reilly)."

Biggest Obstacle

"It’s going to be a close competition so we need to respect the opposition. They will target us as a consistent top four team. So it’s about being consistent and making sure we’re on top of our game like every team. Injuries will play their part but we’ll try to keep her lit."

"You saw Trinity win last Friday, everyone is alive and up for it. There’s not going to be any easy games especially this year."

A word on the club scene

“It’s sort of going that way in Leinster already but there should be no limit on the number of contracted or academy players that can play in the AIL.

“If the players are available, let them play and it’ll sort itself out. The more regular rugby these guys get the better it is for the health of Irish rugby overall. It could quicken their development rather than just not playing.” Wood explained before responding to how the British & Irish Cup is perceived.

“I don’t know much but speaking to some players, I’m not sure how highly it rates in terms of intensity. We’ve been lucky with our contracted guys who want to play for Clontarf. We’re a community club and they recognise that. If they’re not playing for Leinster they’ll be playing for Clontarf, we get a lot of buy-in.”

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