AIB All Ireland League Finals
5th May 2005 By Munster Rugby
Shannon are looking to claim their 7th AIL Division 1 title when they face Belfast Harlequins in Lansdowne Road on Saturday afternoon
AIB All Ireland League Finals
Saturday 7th May 2005
Division One Final Shannon v Belfast Harlequins Kick off 4pm
Division Two Final St. Mary s College v UL Bohemian FC Kick off 2pm
Division Three Final Greystones v Instonians Kick off 12 midday
Division One Final The pinnacle of the domestic club games draws ever closer and for the two teams involved it will without doubt be the sole focus of attention for the coming days. For the players of Belfast Harlequins it will not be a totally unfamiliar scene as they played the division two final 3 years ago, but for Shannon, it will seem second nature on this their 4th visit to Lansdowne road for an AIB First Division final. Both sides are fully deserving of their final places after a long and often gruelling 14 match campaign.
In their league meeting it was the Belfast outfits day as they crushed an 18 point Shannon lead in the final 15 minutes to win by a single point. They outscored the parish men by three tries to nil, the only occasion throughout the campaign that Shannon failed to cross the line. Memories of that day are still with Shannon and there is no doubt that they will want to avenge that result. Many may install Shannon as favourites given they topped the league , but make no mistake , there is little between the sides, and indeed with their Ulster contracted players available , the balance of power could be arguably with Harlequins.
After their semi final win over Clontarf, Shannon have been left with a catalogue of injuries and will not name a side until they reach their Dublin base of Friday evening. Frankie Roche who missed the semi final with a calf strain will be given every opportunity to regain his fitness and will undergo intensive treatment as a result. Scrum Half Fiach O Loughlin had to be replaced in the semi due to injury and despite early reports giving his chances of making the final as extremely doubtful, it seems as the week progresses the likelihood is that he will lineout unhampered. Mick Galwey will want to tamper little with the team that progressed to the final but may well have to do without Fionn Mc Loughlin and Brian Tuohy (selected on the Irish Times team of the season) , both of whom suffered the consequences of a tough game and picked up strains which rate both their chances as 50/50.
If Tuohy has to be replaced than the likelihood is that Andrew Thompson, who is seeking his 7th title will be sprung from the bench to partner Eoin Cahill. Tom Cregan is another of last weekend s repayments that may come into the back three. David Delaney, Shannon s top point s scorer with 107 is most likely to partner O Loughlin at half back.
In the pack Shannon have 4 players on the AIB Irish Times team of the season. Tony Buckley continues to improve and is an almost certain starter. As mentioned Frankie Roche will have to wait and see, but Les Hogan has proved himself as a most capable prop in the set piece and in the loose. Such has been the form of hooker Nigel Conroy that he can keep contracted player James Blaney on the bench and there s nothing to suggest that the Team of the season hooker will lose his place. Captain Tom Hayes and Eddie Halvey have partnered each other 11 times in the second row this season and little will change there.
Galwey has a wealth of talent at his disposal in the back row with five players vying for the three places. For the most part of the campaign John O Connor, Colm Mc Mahon and Stephen Keogh have made up the trio, but Garrett Noonan and former captain David Quinlan wouldn t weaken formation in any way. The injury list will be a serious cause for concern for Galwey and his management team but Shannon s success this season in winning the Munster senior cup and league and the limerick Charity cup owes more to the strength of their squad than the XV on the field.
Shannon may well have won the title on 6 previous occasions, but the desire for success remains as strong as ever. Nothing will be taken for granted and they are aware of the threat that Harlequins will pose. The too possess a wealth of talent and are equally adept at playing a tight or expansive game. The outcome of this years AIL title will come down to a score either way. It s new final pairing and should make for a very interesting game. One hopes that the vastness of Lansdowne Road will do justice to these too fine sides.
Andrew McNamara PRO Shannon RFC