LANSDOWNE and Clontarf – the previous two winners – will go head to head for the title in the Ulster Bank League Division 1A Final this Saturday, May 9.
Having won the Ulster Bank League by a substantial 12 points from Terenure College, Lansdowne – who’ll be playing at their regular home ground of the Aviva Stadium – go into the game as substantial favourites, but Clontarf boss Andy Wood still fancies his north Dublin side’s chances.
“It’s cup rugby, a two-team final, and whilst we respect that Lansdowne were by far and away the most consistent side in the league, it’s all about who performs on the day. If we get a performance, we’re absolutely confident we’ll get a result”, Wellington, New Zealand-born Wood told GazetteSport.
Clontarf kicker David Joyce – among their key players – is a concern, having left the field in an unspectacular 9-0 semi-final win over Young Munster with a shoulder injury. It’s still not clear if he will recover.
Wood has had to rotate through a full 45 players this season – the most of any season he can remember – but still sees plenty of pros in the development of his young squad, highlighting the class of the sides at this level.
“Teams in 1A – if you look at the amount of Leinster Academy and Irish age-group players, there’s a lot of quality across the league.
“The semi-final was a lot down to conditions. It was rough, and made it difficult for both teams”, Wood said. “You can guarantee a firm surface at the Aviva, which will help both teams running game. We expect a tight game, but also a few line breaks for both teams. They beat us pretty well last time in the league, but I don’t think they’ll be much in it.
“We’ve backed our squad in a number of games, and players move on, like Nick McGrath and Noel Reid a couple of years back. They’ll be two more moving up to Leinster next season.”
Number eight Tony O’Reilly in particular stands out to Wood, who has him pegged as “probably the best back row in the league, with a big future ahead of him”, while also pointing to Leinster returnee Brian Byrne, Matt D’Arcy at centre and kicker Joyce. “We want them to move on as much as possible, onwards and upwards.”
Restrained optimism seems to be the ‘Tarf bosses prevalent emotion: “As I’ve been said at the start of the season, it’s great to play at the Aviva unless it’s against Lansdowne, as it’s their home pitch.
“We’re not allowed a team run on it before the game, so they have a huge advantage. We’ll get a hit out of running out at the national stadium though. I think everyone’s looking forward to the occasion. It’s a final.”