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AIB League Division One Semi Finals

2nd May 2008 By Munster Rugby

With two thrillig semi finals in the offing on Saturday, rugby fans in Munster are spolied for choice as Cork Constitution take on Clontarf at Temple Hill (2.30pm), and Shannon host near neighbours Garryowen at Coonagh (3pm)

Saturday 3rd May 2008
Coonagh, 3pm

Stephen Kelly’s conversion from being an inter-county Gaelic footballer to a high quality club rugby winger has taken time. A veritable speed merchant, Kelly has scored 11 tries for Shannon in this season’s AIB League and credits the club’s assistant and backs coach Ian Sherwin with having a big hand in his development.

In a recent interview, Stephen Kelly gave an insight into the work of Ian Sherwin, a backs coach of high repute whose quiet work at Thomond Park and Coonagh has helped Shannon to success in the AIB League, AIB Cup and the Munster Senior Cup.
Kelly admitted: "I owe a lot to a lot of people at Shannon. Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t have too much of a rugby background. From that point of view, Ian Sherwin’s coaching and advice has been terrific. He’s extremely knowledgeable and has vast experience in the game – I’ve learned a lot just by listening to what he tells me."

IrishRugby.ie caught up with Sherwin this week to find out more about his input into the Shannon team and his views on Saturday’s AIB League Division One semi-final clash between Shannon and Garryowen.

"It’s been a long campaign that began last July with a serious pre-season. After the schedule came out we knew we had a tough start to the league. It began with Old Belvedere followed up by three of the top four teams from last year – Garryowen, UL Bohemians and Clontarf – in successive weeks.
Immediately prior to the league, we had two cup matches, both on the road. The Munster Senior Cup against Clonakilty and Belfast Harlequins in the AIB Cup up at Deramore Park we’d been beaten twice last season!
It really all stems from a good start to the season. We won tough games, especially the AIB Cup game in Belfast. We led by 13 points at half-time but with two minutes to go we were losing by a point or two. Still, we managed to bounce back and scrape the win and that gave us a belief that we could grind it out.
The AIB Cup semi-final and final were always going to be close games and we tried to work on negating the opposition’s strengths. Galwegians in Galway is always a difficult game but we made less mistakes than they did.
If you allow Blackrock time and space they can run riot – as they did in scoring 31 unanswered points in the first half of their semi-final – so it was important to be disciplined (in the cup final) which stood us well in the end.
We knew that we needed a big game against Greystones in the final round of the league to ensure a home semi-final. We had the benefit of knowing that we were going to be in the play-offs regardless of the result.
But it’s always good to go into the semis on the back of a good performance and the lads played very well. There is competition for places and that’s as good an incentive for performance as anything.
Garryowen proved how good a side they are by winning the treble last year. It’s not really about one team or the other, I think the focus will be on winning the game and getting to the final and then anything can happen!
Due to a variety of reasons, my work with the Munster Academy will mean that I will be stepping down from coaching Shannon at the end of this season."
Looking ahead to the other semi final, Ian said "they are two very good teams who’ve been there or thereabouts for the last few years. In this division it’s all about getting to the play-offs. After that each side is capable of beating any of the others but it’s hard to see Clontarf going to Con and getting a win as this is as strong a side to come out of Cork for a long time.

Probably the most important aspect to note is that access to Coonagh is via the Clonmacken Roundabout and not through the village. This means that people going to the game will travel into the ground on the new road which is under construction adjacent to our grounds. Access through the village is through Garda issued residential permits so there is no point in travelling that route. We would advise attendees to the game to come early.

Saturday 3rd May 2008
Temple Hill
Kick off 2.30pm

In recent years, Cork Constitution have consistently finished in the play-off places in AIB League Division One. More often than not, Con have topped the table, as they have done this season.

But the Leesiders have not won the Division One title since 1999 when the likes of Ronan O’Gara, Donncha O’Callaghan and Frankie Sheahan were part of their team.
Cork Con’s captain this season, second row Merle O’Connell, knows finishing top of the league table means little if your side does not go on to win the play-off.
Con went agonisingly close to lifting the title twelve months ago. They finished a full nine points clear of their nearest rivals in the table, Clontarf, and with perennial champions Shannon failing to make the play-offs, there was a sense that 2006/07 would be Con’s year.
But things came a cropper in the final at Musgrave Park when they were pipped 16-15 by Garryowen in a nail-biting decider.
Last year’s defeat was Con’s fourth league final loss since 2001 and a bitter pill to swallow. However, Brian Walsh’s men have certainly shown their mettle by winning 13 of their league games this season – exactly the same amount of wins as they gained last term.
Setting up a home semi-final, Con are unbeaten in their last 19 league games at Temple Hill and the odds are in their favour to make it through to successive top flight finals.
Their skipper O’Connell, who won an AIB Cup medal with them in 2006, is cautiously optimistic.
"There is a great buzz about the game and while I don’t know if we will get as big a crowd as we did when we played Dolphin last time out, it certainly promises to be a great occasion on Saturday.
"I except it to be very close and whoever takes their chances will win," admitted the AIB Club international-capped forward.
"The likes of Cronan Healy, Richie Lane and Duncan Williams have all made big contributions in helping us go 19 league games unbeaten at home. I hope we can make it 20 on Saturday but Clontarf have a very good and consistent side also."
Con are without injured scrum half Williams and hooker Denis Fogarty for Saturday’s semi-final. O’Connell added: "We’ll miss those two but we’re hoping to have Darragh Hurley, Tim Ryan, Billy Holland, Tom Gleeson and maybe Jeremy Manning available to us."
"Training has been going very well," admitted the former dual status player, who made a name for himself at junior level with Crosshaven.
"In Brian (Walsh), we have a coach we varies the training around to make it more interesting, and we also have great back-up from Terry Kingston and Brian Hickey as part of the management team.
"We’re all really looking forward to the game. From a personal point of view, this will be my third time in a league semi-final. I was on the winning side once (last year against UL Bohemians) and on the losing side against Clontarf (in 2006)."
Asked for his opinion on Saturday’s other semi-final, the Limerick derby between Shannon and Garryowen, O’Connell said: "If the day is dry it could favour Garryowen, but if it is wet it will suit Shannon a bit more."

With thanks to www.irishrugby.ie


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