Cork Constitution ready to reap revenge on Clontarf
Con loosehead prop Gavin Duffy says they are ‘definitely hungrier’ ahead of final
Cork Constitution’s Gavin Duffy with Ben Reilly of Clontarf at the Aviva Stadium prior to Sunday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A final. “It was our mission to get back here,” said Duffy. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The disappointment of last season’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A final defeat against Clontarf has driven Cork Constitution all season. They have nursed that hurt and it has helped to fuel their resolve to get back into Irish club rugby’s showpiece.
It’s an ambition realised as they travel to the Aviva stadium on Sunday hoping to avenge last year’s 28-25 defeat; coincidentally, Clontarf once again bar their path to silverware. It’s another trip to Dublin, eight days after they won the Bateman Cup for a fifth consecutive season, when beating Old Belvedere on the latter’s patch at Anglesea Road.
Momentum in sport is important and Con certainly have that going into Sunday’s final, but, as their loosehead prop Gavin Duffy pointed out, the players would probably have preferred a little more lead-in time to a date that’s been underlined in red in the club calendar.
He explained: “To be honest, we would have preferred an extra week off to prepare for Clontarf. It’s a bit rushed trying to prepare for an AIL final. We didn’t look past Old Belvedere and we didn’t look at Clontarf at all until after we won the Bateman.
“We are where we wanted to be. It was a great win last week against Belvo and getting the five-in-a-row of Batemans.”
The majority of the Con and Clontarf squads from last season’s decider will be back to contest Sunday’s final, the most obvious absentees being man-of-the-match from 12 months ago Joey Carbery (Clontarf) and Darren Sweetnam, who had a terrific match in the Con colours.
The two have made a substantial impact in the professional game in the interim and for a select few this match offers an opportunity to follow a pathway to provincial set-ups. Con’s Shane Daly, John Poland and Vincent O’Brien all played for the Ireland Under-20s last season, while Evan Mintern may miss the final.
Duffy was asked whom he thought might progress through to the full-time professional arm of the sport. At the risk of alienating teammates he ventured: “That’s a hard one. You’ve got the likes of Evan Mintern, Rory Burke, Liam O’Connor, Ned Hodson; you’ll see at the weekend that they are all fantastic players and I would have no fear of them going at it for a professional team like Munster or whoever.”
The players spent the early part of the week looking back over last year’s final. Duffy said: “Con are the same team and Clontarf are very much the same team. It’s an AIL final against the same team so we have studied the video and learned a lot from it and from the experience of playing in it.
“We are definitely hungrier. For a lot of us last year that was our first AIL [final]. Losing it affected us all season. It was our mission to get back here. We are very similar to last year but we know what it takes to compete against the top-level, quality sides like Clontarf.
“Clontarf are an all-round team. They have an extremely strong pack and they have a very dangerous back line. You can’t have any weakness against them, really. You have to stand up to them up front and you have to be able to handle their dangerous back line.”
Duffy offers a very honest appraisal of the sacrifices made by the players when weighted against a backdrop of sparse attendances at matches.
“It’s tough. We train with our team twice a week but we are expected to do a fairly heavy weights session Monday, Wednesday and recovery Sunday, so it is nearly a seven-day week thing.
“After this weekend we will only have a few weekends off and then it is in for pre-season again. It’s kind of unrelenting and tough coming from a full-time job, or from college like a lot of lads are, to train every day. It’s almost like a part-time job, really.”
“We’re not in it for the fans or anything. We are in it for each other but it is shocking to see how small the crowds are for a high level of rugby.”
Hopefully there’ll be a few more around on a sunny afternoon at the Aviva stadium. The players are entitled to that at least.