AIL: Title is there for the taking as Clontarf take on Young Munster in home semi-final

Defending champions welcome back talismanic captain Matt D’Arcy, but Cookies are bolstered by nine changes

Clontarf's Mick Kearney in action against Terenure at Lakelands Park on January 28th. Photograph: Evan Treacy/Inpho

Defending champions Clontarf may have finished five points clear at the top of the table, but the title remains there for the taking as an intriguing Energia All-Ireland League Division 1A season reaches the playoff stage.

Clontarf welcome back talismanic captain Matt D’Arcy for this home semi-final. They are hoping to surpass last year’s semi-final attendance of 2,500 and take a step closer to becoming the first back-to-back champions since Shannon in the mid-2000s.

Castle Avenue has not been impenetrable this season, though, with Terenure College and Cork Constitution both posting wins there. Young Munster also ran Clontarf close in February, a late surge cutting a 15-point deficit back to 27-24.

Gearoid Prendergast’s Cookies are a match for anyone on their day – they beat ‘Tarf 24-19 at home in November – and will be bolstered by nine changes, including skipper Alan Kennedy and key backs Conor Hayes and Fionn Gibbons.

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Nonetheless, with Steve Crosbie, another of their former professionals, a canny addition to the bench, ‘Tarf should have the firepower to reach their third straight final – especially with 21-try hooker Dylan Donnellan proving lethal from lineout mauls.

Terenure’s eight-match winning run in the early season showed their obvious drive to go one better than last year. They held off Cork Con’s challenge in recent weeks to secure a home semi-final.

Con are much improved of late, compared to their 47-12 early season humbling by ‘Nure. In Jonny Holland’s first season as head coach, they bounced into the semis with four successive wins, including a 27-23 defeat of ‘Nure which saw Harry O’Riordan touch down in the final play.

With a bumper crowd behind them, Terenure are hoping to keep their League and Cup double dreams alive. Winger Craig Adams (13 tries) is part of a dangerous back-three.

These sides boast two of the most potent mauls in the top flight, with Con hooker Billy Scannell scoring eight tries. Whoever gets on top at set-piece time and the breakdown will go a long way to deciding the outcome.

Both semi-finals are available to watch on pay-per-view streams on irishrugbylive.ie. The cost for each game is €7 with revenue going directly to the participating clubs. Sunday’s Women’s Cup final is live on Irish Rugby TV on YouTube.

Energia All-Ireland League fixtures (2.30pm unless stated)

Saturday
Men’s Division 1A semi-finals

Clontarf v Young Munster, Castle Avenue

Terenure College v Cork Constitution, Lakelands Park

Men’s Division 1A promotion/relegation playoff semi-finals

Shannon v Old Wesley, Thomond Park back pitch, Old Belvedere v Highfield, Ollie Campbell Park

Men’s Division 1B promotion/relegation playoff semi-finals

Banbridge v MU Barnhall, Rifle Park

Blackrock College v Nenagh Ormond, Stradbrook

Men’s Division 2A promotion/relegation playoff semi-finals

UL Bohemians v Sligo, Annacotty

Galway Corinthians v Dungannon, Corinthian Park

Men’s Division 2B promotion/relegation playoff semi-finals

Galwegians v Bruff, Crowley Park

Skerries v Tullamore, Holmpatrick

Sunday

Energia All-Ireland Women’s Cup Final

Railway Union v UL Bohemians, St Mary’s College RFC

Energia All-Ireland Women’s Plate Final

Galwegians v Blackrock College, Crowley Park

Energia All-Ireland Women’s Shield Final

Wicklow v Old Belvedere, Ashtown Lane