LEST Cork Constitution fans be tempted to underestimate the Ballynahinch challenge in the AIB Cup final at Dubarry Park tomorrow (3pm), they should pay attention to how the Ulster side arrived into the decider.
There wouldn’t have been much celebration in overcoming third division sides such as Naas or County Carlow, but Ballynahinch secured victories away from home against both Galwegians and Shannon as well.
Garryowen, the first division leaders, might be accused of taking an eye off the ball when losing the recent semi-final at Ballymacarn Park but that victory, reports Ballynahinch PRO John Dickson, that gave the second division title-challengers their most momentous victory of the season, surpassing even their recent Ulster Senior League title.
In a year when Ballynahinch remain in the hunt for Ulster Senior Cup victory and still hold out the hope of winning promotion — despite galling defeats to Lansdowne and Old Crescent — there’s an ecstatic mood within the club at having secured a place in tomorrow’s big final.
Dickson said: “It certainly was a surprise for us to have reached the final, but we’re in no doubt that we deserve to be there. I suppose we had our fortunate moments, but that’s cup rugby for you, and the lads played very well right throughout the competition.”
Ballynahinch had banked on winning promotion from Division Two but hadn’t expected those disappointing defeats against Lansdowne and Crescent.
Dickson said: “We felt very hard done by when we were beaten by Lansdowne; we felt one of the officials unduly influenced the outcome of that game and we weren’t pleased.
“We had a player sent off after 20 minutes and it was so harsh that he only received a one week suspension when his case was heard. We also had a penalty in front of their posts reversed, again harshly, in the last minute and we lost 13-10.
“Now we have to win our last four games and try to get the maximum return, as well as hoping that one of the leaders (UCC or Lansdowne) slip up.”
In relation to tomorrow’s match, Adam Craig is ruled out but Ballynahinch are fortunate to be able to name former club captain Jonny Cullen at full back.
“He has plenty of experience in the position, and there shouldn’t be any disruption to the team,” said Dickson.
Meanwhile, Constitution coach Brian Walsh is well aware of the difficulties facing his side in what he might term a hiding-to-nothing game.
The Cork side will be field without regular stars such as Richard Lane, Duncan Williams and Darragh Hurley as well as experienced back-up squad members John Stringer and Andrew O’Brien.
Constitution have beaten St. Mary’s, Bruff, Dolphin and Young Munster, all away from home en route to the final.
Walsh said: “We haven’t had a home fixture in this competition over three years, so it won’t be anything unusual to play a final away either.
“But it will not be easy. We have had some tough games but we have to give Ballynahinch credit for what they have achieved.
“Their run has been impressive; they are obviously a good side, they have strengths throughout the pitch; their out-half (Ryan Bambry) has been talked up all over the country at this stage, they seem to have a very good back row, a very good coaching team and everything points to them providing us with pretty formidable opposition.
“Still, it’s a cup final and they will look on this opportunity as being possibly a massive day in their history. We can’t control any of those outside factors or get involved in it; we have to concentrate on our own performance, I know it’s a cliché but that’s what cup finals are about.”
BALLYNAHINCH: J Cullen, A Ferris, S Morrow, D Harris, K Corrigan, R Bambry, H McAleese, C Stevenson, N Hanna, J Cronin, G Rourke, C Napier, M Graham, S Lamb (c) W Faloon.
Replacements: M Kirkwood, D McGregor, R Greer, J Gunson, P McAllister, N Spence, L Johnston.
CORK CON (from): T Kenneally, P Broughan, S Zebo, C Healy, T Gleeson, E Ryan, J Manning, D Lyons, C Nolan; T Ryan, L Gabrial, G Murray, R Wilmott, P. Kelleher, M O’Connell, J Moloney, D Kelly, F Cogan, E Leamy, B Holland, B Cuttriss (captain), B Nagle.
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