You can’t question Cork Constitution’s consistency, or their strike-rate in major finals, this past half-decade but Brian Hickey’s side approaches tomorrow’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A decider against Clontarf with a very obvious pang of hunger about them.
Five consecutive Bateman Cups and a quintet of successive Munster Senior Cups have been hoarded in Temple Hill now since 2013 but the closest this bunch of players have come to adding an All-Ireland title to that lot was 12 months ago when ‘Tarf pipped them with three points to spare.
Ben Reilly can empathise with the opposition.
The Clontarf captain is 30 now and he has been around long enough to remember the days when the northside Dublin club zeroed in on the centre of the same dartboard without ever hitting the bullseye.
“There’s very few guys actually left on this (Con) team that have won one,” he said. “So they will definitely have a hunger. Up against us in a final, having come so close last year as well, will add to that. They came through a tough game last weekend, particularly holding out in the end, and that will stand to them.”
The game he mentions was the latest Bateman success, a narrow win against Old Belvedere at Anglesea Road that followed on from a knuckler against Lansdowne in the league semi-final the week before. Clontarf, by way of contrast, had last weekend off.
Which lead-in suits better? We’ll know close enough to 4.30pm tomorrow.
Con’s desire should be obvious. Only one of the 19 players who featured in their last league final win - a 17-10 defeat of St Mary’s in 2010 - faced Lansdowne a fortnight ago. Step forward second row Brian Hayes who was a replacement seven years ago.
That was some team.
Simon Zebo, Jeremy Manning, Duncan Williams and Stephen Archer all lined out for the Cork side in Dubarry Park that day as the club sealed a league and cup double while Darren Sweetnam patrolled one wing for them in defeat at the Aviva Stadium in 2016.
That was a game ultimately remembered for Joey Carbery’s input at out-half for Clontarf and, though neither side brings that star wattage to the stage this weekend, this remains a contest with plenty to say for itself as Con look to keep their opponents from a third title in four years.
Just one point separated the clubs in the league table. The two regular season meetings produced a pair of home wins with Clontarf having nine points to spare at Castle Avenue and Con coming through with seven to spare at Temple Hill.
Nobody expects much daylight on the scoreboard this time.
“We started the season worse than we would have liked and lost a few games that we would have won last season, but we haven’t lost a game by more than seven points all year,” said Reilly.
“You guys were asking me about Joey Carbery this time last year, he obviously had a big impact on our season. We missed him a little bit at the start of this season. Our second-choice out-half, who will obviously start this weekend, was Dave Joyce who got injured in pre-season so we had injuries and teams wanted to get us because we were champions.”
Their form picked up progressively as the season wore on. Andy Wood’s side boasts real nous up front with the likes of Reilly himself and men such as Jason Harris-Wright and the Leinster duo of Mick Kearney and Brian Byrne - should the latter two be made available.
The back line brings the glitz of former Ireland U20 Conor O’Brien and Matt D’Arcy.
Players with provincial experience, or others expected to take that path, litter both sides. For Con, Hayes brings two years of work with Aurillac to the party and top try-scorer Conor Kindregan and captain Niall Kennedy had spells with Connacht and Munster respectively.
Out-half Tomas Quinlan passed a year in the Munster academy - the only surprise is it wasn’t more - and full-back Shane Daly, centre Ned Hodson, loosehead Liam O’Connor and tighthead Rory Burke are all on the books in Limerick as things stand.
It’s the beauty of the AIL that it marks a step up the ladder for some, a step down for others and the mezzanine level that caters perfectly for more again, but nothing other than league honours will matter come 2.30pm today when the sun is expected to shine on the Aviva and the humble club game.
R Keogh; M Brown, C O’Brien, M D’Arcy, M McGrath; D Joyce, S Cronin; V Adbaladze, J Harris-Wright, R Burke-Flynn, B Reilly (capt), M Kearney, T Ryan, K Moran, M Noone.
B Byrne, A D’Arcy, I Soroka, M Sutton, R McGrath, J Power, E Browne.
Backs: J Poland, T Quinlan, JJ O’Neill, N Kenneally (capt), N Hodson, L O’Connell, S Daly, J Higgins, R Jermyn, M Clune, B Galvin; Forwards: G Duffy, V O’Brien, G Sweeney, B Hayes, C Kindregan, S O’Leary, J Murphy, L Cahill, L O’Connor, G Roche, G Lawler, R Burke, C Barry, R O’Neill, J O’Callaghan.
Sean Gallagher (IRFU)