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Gerry Thornley: Anti-fun brigade detracted from occasion of the AIL final

Why are microphones allowed into schools’ matches at Energia Park and not for the AIL final at the Aviva? What’s wrong with additional colour?

Energia All-Ireland League Division 1A Final, Aviva Stadium, Dublin 28/4/2024 Terenure vs Cork Constitution Cork Con's Louis Kahn celebrates after the final whistle with Jack Kelleher Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Cometh the hour and all that. Terenure had just trimmed Constitution’s lead to a point after Aran Egan had converted Adam La Grue’s try when the former jinked and broke clear on receiving the restart and sent winger Conor Phillips away. He looked sure to score but Matthew Bowen not only ate up the ground but somehow contrived to twist Phillips around in preventing him from grounding the ball.

It was a contender for tackle of the season, not just in the Energia All-Ireland, but in any competition. Ironically, it was Bowen’s first try-less game in seven outings after ten in his previous six games and 14 this season helped propel Con to a second-placed finish and a home semi-final.

But it was also his most important intervention of the campaign, and one can easily imagine Bowen being serenaded long into the night in Temple Hill. With Con down to 14 men since the 20th minute, it’s also not hard to imagine that having taken the lead for the first time in the game, Terenure would have gone on to win.

Bowen spent the first couple of months of last season with Terenure, but it didn’t really work out for him, on or off the pitch, before he returned to Cork and joined Con.


Although the Terenure coach Sean Skehan sent him a winners medal after last year’s final, Bowen’s hunger typified the desire within Con to reclaim a title that they had last won for a sixth time five years previously. For Terenure to come up just short after 13 successive wins also demonstrates why retaining the title, which Shannon last did in 2006, is so difficult.

Bowen, try-scoring fullback Rob Hedderman and man-of-the-match James Taylor are all former UCC players who added some stardust to Jonny Holland’s well-coached side. When interviewing Taylor last week, the outhalf spoke about the high expectations within the high-achieving Cork club. It’s part of their DNA.

As the inaugural winners in the 1990-91 season, they have always been one of the AIL’s standard bearers, and with a young side they can now realistically target Shannon’s unrivalled haul of nine titles.

Clontarf and Lansdowne had completed the big three for a decade before Terenure broke up the cartel last season. The margins and quality of the games between the big four were superior to many a URC game, with all but three of the 14 clashes before Sunday’s final being try-laden, one-score affairs.

After a couple of vintage semi-finals, last Sunday’s decider didn’t quite scale those heights. John Forde’s 20th minute red card was a pity, for he is not a dirty player at all. Coupled with Con’s two yellow cards either side of the break, it seemed to affect the referee Andrew Cole and the procession of penalties (the count was a whopping 15-13 against Terenure) prevented it from being the belter of a final it could have been.

But, helped by the demise of the unlamented B&I Cup, and the greater availability of provincially contracted players, the AIL has been rejuvenated. Another example was the starring roles played by Irish Under-20 outhalf Sean Naughton and last season’s Under-20 centre John Devine.

Cork Con's Jack Kelleher, Billy Crowley and Eoin Quilter celebrate with the trophy. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

The AIL not only survived the pandemic but has come back even stronger, Terenure being a classic case of a club which has become the heartbeat of their village and community.

In that respect, it’s better to have reached a final and lost than never to have reached a final at all, and they did retain the Bateman Cup by beating Young Munster last January while also reaching the Leinster Senior Cup final, when beaten 42-41 by Lansdowne after extra-time last September. Throw in their three-match summer tour to Argentina and finishing with five must-win games in six weeks, and it’s no surprise they ran out of juice.

The team will break up a little as several players travel abroad but they seem better placed than ever to cope. The schools rugby programme is revived and more closely aligned with the club.

The Terenure seconds won the Metro Plate, the Collegians reached the Albert O’Connell Cup, losing to Coolmine, while their fourths and fifths won Metro leagues.

Their under-20s won the McCorry Cup by beating UCD in last Saturday’s final, emulating the sides captained by Harrison Brewer in 2014 and 2015, and in 2019 by Adam Melia.

Cork Con's Danny Sheahan celebrates after scoring a try. Photograph: Nick Elliott/Inpho

Their Under-15s reached the Premier League final, the Under-18 girls (a Metro Panthers combined clubs team) won the Leinster league, while the under-16s girls vipers team (also a combined clubs team) lost to Longford in their final but won the Leinster Metro league cup.

All of which is indicative of the voluntary work that goes on in all 50 senior clubs and more than 200 clubs across the country.

The other pity about last Sunday’s men’s final was that in addition to Cole’s concerto, eye witness accounts emerged of what seemed a needlessly over-fussy approach from An Garda Síochana, along with the stewards and Aviva Stadium employees now under a new regime.

It was bad enough that Cork Constitution and Terenure each had the finalists’ customary allocation of 60 tickets players, coaches and backroom reduced 25 per cent to 45, which made for some difficult decisions in both clubs.

Worse was how the Terenure supporters were treated as they marched down to the Aviva Stadium. Their microphones were removed as well as the sticks attached to banners, which meant they could not be held aloft inside the stadium.

Young Terenure fans ahead of the game. Photograph: Nick Elliott/Inpho

Who decides these silly arbitrary rules? Why are microphones allowed into schools’ matches at Energia Park and not for the AIL final at the Aviva? What’s wrong with a bit of additional noise and colour? How come Leinster and Bank of Ireland can distribute 20,000 blue flags on sticks for games at the Aviva?

The combined authorities seemed to be on ridiculously high alert around the Aviva Stadium after Terenure were fined and ordered to play their first home match against Ballynahinch at Lakelands Park last September after letting off flares and breaking some seats.

Okay, that was a bit naughty, but you’d swear Boca Juniors and River Plate were coming to town. The anti-fun police were out in force and the net effect was actually to detract from the occasion. Pathetic really.