Underdogs Skerries may bite

 

Skerries have captured the affection of rugby supporters previously apathetic to the outcome of the Heineken Leinster Senior Cup, becoming something of an attractive underdog for the neutral, and this should help them in today's final against Lansdowne at Lansdowne Road.

In a competition that appeared as jaded as the limbs that propelled it to a conclusion, Skerries have infused a sense of romance.

The north Dublin club have brought a sense of community to a competition that has traditionally resided within the confines of Dublin 4. Lansdowne would be favoured to maintain that tradition, and indeed they deserve credit for their application and honesty in defence of the title, but it is Skerries to whom the non-affiliated at Lansdowne Road today will gravitate.

While some question the merit of playing a tournament at the end of a long season and in which few want to compete, Skerries have thrived because of a different mindset. They wanted to play in the Leinster Senior Cup and they were prepared, mentally and physically, to try and win it.

Coach Shay McGuinness articulated as much, forcibly, after their semi-final victory over Terenure College, a fourth in a competition in which they forged past Greystones, St Mary's College and Clontarf.

They have reached the final on the strength of an excellent pack, boosted by several sets of fresh legs, players who earlier in the season sat frustratedly on the sidelines through injury. Billy Mulcahy, in his 15th senior season and his fifth as captain, has been an inspirational driving force.

Tony Giles, Leinster interprovincial David O'Sullivan and number eight Brian Higgins excelled in the semi-final victory over Terenure, and will be important figures against Lansdowne.

But arguably the outstanding player in the last victory was outhalf Jimmy Dempsey, who varied the pattern intelligently and with no little ability.

Munster under-20 centre Dermot O'Sullivan and full back Patsy Beggs were others to stand out, but will face a tougher prospect in containing New Zealand-born former Irish international Kurt McQuilkin and promising under-21 international Shane Horgan.

Lansdowne will enjoy an edge in physique up front, but they must first conquer their infuriating inability to put away teams. The opening salvo against DLSP in the semi-final suggested a rout but despite passages of good, cohesive rugby they did not sustain that momentum and could have been beaten.

Representative players Stephen Rooney, Colin McEntee and Cormac Egan will be expected to offer a lead up front while McQuilkin will be hoping to mastermind openings for Melvin McNamara and Willie Clancy.

Skerries need a fast start and if that is achieved then the confidence created could make their first Leinster Senior Cup final a historic one.

Skerries: P Beggs; C Lawless, Dermot O'Sullivan, G Earley, E Caraher; J Dempsey, A O'Sullivan; J Horan, B Mulcahy (capt), J O'Reilly, T Giles, S Gilbride, E Darcy, B Higgins, David O'Sullivan.

Lansdowne: R Kearns; W Clancy, S Horgan, K McQuilkin (capt), M McNamara; B Glennon, D O'Mahony; E Bohan, C Egan, O Ennis, W Aherne, S O'Connor, S Rooney, C McEntee, G Molloy.

London Irish have fielded virtually a second-string side for their final Divison One league match against Leicester at Sunbury tomorrow. On Wednesday night London Irish travel to Yorkshire to take on Rotherham in the first leg of the Divison One/Two play-off, and the second leg is set for tomorrow week.