CORK CONSTITUTION coach Brian Walsh insists Ballymena will be anything but cannon fodder as his side look to win a desperately tight race for a semi-final playoff place in the AIB All-Ireland League.
Con slipped back over a couple of bad weeks before recovering last weekend to regain top spot, on points difference from Dolphin and Shannon.
Seven clubs are still in the shake-up for a top four spot, but Walsh is hopeful of securing the right result at Temple Hill this afternoon (2.30pm).
Con’s injury problems at scrum-half have eased somewhat with the return to fitness of John Stringer. Chris Nolan is also back in contention for a place inside Jeremy Manning, whose presence in the team for today’s game could be vital, especially given that Billy Holland is on Munster duty.
Although Ballymena have little but pride to play for, Walsh doesn’t believe they will take the fixture lightly.
“They travelled down to Cork yesterday and asked to have a run-out at Temple Hill last night to get a feel for the pitch, rather than come in the morning of the match and stay around for a few beers on Saturday night.
“I have no doubt that they are treating this game as seriously as they would if they were still involved in the shake-up for the title.
“We’re in the lucky position then that if we win, we will be in the top four and don’t have to be looking at bonus points or trying to play any differently.”
Dolphin coach Dave O’Mahony will settle for the narrowest of wins against tournament specialists Shannon at Coonagh this afternoon — anything as long as his side get through to the business end of the competition.
This clash, between second and third, will be seen as the biggest match of what should be a pulsating and worrying afternoon for the top seven.
O’Mahony doesn’t anticipate favours being handed out by anyone else, so he is well aware that a victory over Shannon is surely required.
“You would have to fancy Con to win, particularly because Ballymena don’t have anything to gain or lose.
“Garryowen will be favourites to beat Galwegians at home, and so I reckon there is a big threat to our position in the top four. Clontarf would fancy their chances against Dungannon, while St Mary’s are at home to Terenure; again I’d fancy them to win given Terenure are already relegated.
“The good thing, from our perspective, is that it mightn’t quite work out like that. It is a local derby and Terenure wouldn’t be unhappy to get the result that might keep Mary’s out of the play-offs.
“Although they’re a couple of points off the pace, Blackrock can still qualify and, no doubt, they’ll be going all-out for a win and to try to secure a bonus point against UL Bohs.’’
In Division Two, the battle continues for the title continues between UCC and Lansdowne, both of whom play away today, to DLSP and Dublin University respectively.
One way or another, one can expect both to be promoted, even though Ballynahinch cling to the hope that the IRFU will award them five points for the failure of Highfield to fulfil last weekend’s fixture due to an injury crisis in the club. But that wouldn’t even matter once the table topping sides either draw or win today.
Corinthians, heading up Division Three, will be well aware that Old Wesley could pip them for the top spot. Wesley may be four points adrift but they will expect to pick up a bonus point win over Sunday’s Well, who seem certain to have to face into a play-off to secure their place in the division next season.
Corinthians have the harder task with an away fixture to Naas and it is one they could well lose. Midleton, in third place, might pick up the points away to Queens University but, with Wesley expected to coast home, that wouldn’t be enough.
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