All Ireland League 2019

This weekend will see a number of playoff games take place where Clontarf will face Lansdowne on Saturday at 2.30pm in Castle Avenue. On Sunday, Cork Constitution take on Dublin University in Temple Hill at 2.30pm. These are the AIL Division 1A semi finals.

Also this weekend will see a number of other AIL play offs from the Women’s Final that will be played in Energia Park at 3pm next Saturday to other divisional games that will decide the faith of a number of clubs and where they will play there rugby for the season 2019/2020.

The professional game will take everyone’s attention over the closing weeks of the current campaign but the club game will also be in its closing weeks. If you can’t make the Pro 14 games this weekend then head towards Castle Avenue or Temple Hill and cheer on one of the 4 semi finalists or if that won’t work out they are other games that you can go and follow.

The Club game in Ireland flourished in the 80s and 90s but when the game of rugby went professional in 1995 the game in Ireland fell behind in the professional ranks but stayed strong at club level.

Look back on YouTube at the old footage of the AIL finals and you will see how strong the club game once was. In recent times the club game has suffered as the IRFU tries to find a way to get the AIL back close to the glory days of the 80s and 90s. The Professional game has dominated paper, TV, radio and social media.

I have seen at close quarters in the past few years what a good product the AIL is and with large amounts of academy talent and players looking to get game time after injury. The AIL has been a great vehicle to help give young academy talent a taste of senior rugby when some of them may have only played underage rugby before making the step up to the academies in the 4 provinces.

There is real value in giving those academy talents the chance to play at club level rather than at A level for their provinces at certain times of the year. At vital times over the course of the season, players that are affiliated to clubs are made unavailable and travel with their provinces in most cases without the real chance of game time. Many times these guys would have been bettered served to stay at home and play in the AIL.

So many say that the schools game in the reason for so many players making it at some level but the truth is without clubs the schools game would have no players to fill their different teams. The club game has suffered but with the correct planning and exposure it can regain its place in the centre of the game.

Some big choices need to be made in the next few months about the direction of the AIL. A podcast name the Club Scene has been released and has done great work in bringing the club game to a new audience.

Like everything it will take time to get things back on the straight and narrow but there a large numbers of players , coaches , supporters and administrators willing to put in the ground work to re establish the AIL. Here’s hoping that TV, Radio and all social media outlets up there game in the new season.

The AIL is a quality product and will highlight some top players, coaches and clubs throughout Ireland. Next time you see a sign advertising an AIL game make the effort to get to it. It will not disappoint….

Munster Vs Saracens

Bang goes another dream as Munster this afternoon crashed out of the Champions Cup at the Semi Final stage for a third year in a row after losses to Saracens in 2017 and Racing 92 in 2018.

Thankfully this year like 2017 Munster were still in the game at the break as the score stood at 12-9 in favour of Saracens thanks to 4 Owen Farrell penalties and in reply Munster had three penalties from Tyler Bleyendaal and a long range effort from the boot of Conor Murray.

This afternoon again showed Munster that they have still a long way to go to discover the Munster of old. They were ruthlessly exposed in attack. They were brave in defence throughout the game but critically at vital moments they failed to clear their lines and were found wanting in the air where Mike Haley dropped a number of routine balls that on another day he would take cleanly but when the pressure was on today it didn’t happen for him.

Munster will know that today is another failure and there will need to be serious discussions about the direction the Munster attack is going in particular where on occasions today it looked like they didn’t seem to have  a clear idea of how to break Saracens down and kicking for territory is a lost art in Munster at the moment. It seemed to be kick to contest and then take it round the corner and this seemed to be the idea for 80 minutes.

Quick ruck ball was another problem and the mess that was the break down contributed to that but Munster should have been cleaver enough to move the ball at speed and try to kick the corners. Yes they don’t have Ronan O Gara in the armoury anymore but others can use that particular skill it wasn’t patented by O Gara. I also realise that this was difficult down to the aggression and efficiency of the Saracens defence which seemed to be on the edge in terms of being onside but the same can be said for Munster on occasion.

Saracens had a number of off field issues to deal with in the build up and also were beaten last weekend by Bristol but when the heavy hitters were recalled they did a number on Munster and the big names for Munster didn’t fire this afternoon. This just wasn’t Munster’s day but the post-mortem will be hard to stomach as this post mortem is very familiar to this group. They are sick to death of hearing about “learnings” from defeats and this is just another in another in a long list of Semi Final defeats.

Since 2011, it has been near miss after near miss in both the Heineken / Champions Cup along with hitting the post at domestic level also. The time for recriminations will come at season’s end but Munster will need to circle the wagons and prepare for Connacht in the Pro 14 next week.

With questions remaining about the makeup of Johan Van Graan’s back room staff next year the clamour for Ronan O Gara’s return may only intensify as the attacking game plan that Munster seem to be persisting with does not seem to be having the desired effect and it may be time for a new voice in that department. Felix Jones is highly regarded in coaching circles turning down the chance to join the South Africa backroom staff when Rassie Erasmus was appointed in late 2017.

We may only know about the coaching situation at the end of the current campaign. They are scoring tries for fun at Pro 14 level but struggled yet again the knock out phase of Europe only crossing late on when Darren Sweetnam rounded off a slick move.

The soul searching must wait and all the anger must be channelled in the right way and Munster must do everything in their power to end the year in the right manner. The Pro 14 is still there to be won and given their performance today it will be tough but with the correct result next week a home Semi Final is up for grabs , results must go their way also in other games but they can gain home advantage in the Semi’s with victory at home to Connacht…… It was a bitter pill to swallow again today but there is time to put it right so again it’s over to the players to right the wrongs of today…. Let’s leave all questions until the end of the season and just see what happens in the next few weeks….


Semi Final Preview

Munster Vs Saracens

Munster go into this Semi Final with memories of the 2017 Semi when Saracens were extremely clinical in dispatching Munster although it was only 10-6 at half time in that game. Munster will most likely not have the services of Joey Carbery who suffered a hamstring injury in the quarter final win over Edinburgh 3 weeks ago. This is a blow but the return to form of Tyler Bleyendaal along with the recent good form of JJ Hanrahan means Munster will Munster may not have the first choice twn at their disposal but these two men have played well since Carbery went off injured in that quarter final.

The time for talking is almost over and another Semi Final appearance awaits the Munster squad. The faithful will travel in large numbers to the Ricoh Arena this weekend to the scene of the last time Munster won a European Semi Final in 2008 against an Alan Gaffney coached Saracens team. Yes both teams have transformed massively since that game and Munster have lost a number of Semi Finals since that day only winning two trophies, the Magners League in 2009 and 2011.

Europe has also seen consistency in reaching the latter stages but with no trophy since 2011, it is time this Munster squad reached the levels of previous sides by firstly making another final and then winning a trophy. Saracens will be favourites to get to another European show piece to play either Leinster or Toulouse in St James Park in May.

For Johan Van Graan it is a second Semi Final since he took over in late 2017. He will need all his powers of positive thinking and some good fortune to get past a well drilled Saracens side. Yes they were beaten late on this weekend by Bristol but they like Munster will be a full throttle for this game and it will be interesting to see have Munster learned from the past 2 Semi Finals where a fast solid start in required. Last year this was not achieved and after 20 minutes Racing 92 were out of sight. Those lessons need to learned.

Munster won’t want to be looking at another loss in the semi final column and for that to happen they need to play like there is not tomorrow because they have been here too often and left with the wrong result. The heart says Munster will win but the head says Saracens will just have too much for Munster over 80 minutes. I hope I am proven wrong but the smart money will be on Saracens to make yet another European Final. Saracens by 3 or more…

Leinster Vs Toulose

It will be Leinster Vs Toulouse mark 3, with both teams on a win a piece at this point. Toulouse have found there mojo again under Ugo Mola. They are back boned by academy graduates like Romain Etamack and Thomas Ramos with men like Richie Gray, Anton Dupont being brought in to add a physical edge to the old attack minded Toulouse side that won multiple trophies in the 90s and 2000s.

Leinster will go into this game off the back of two poor displays in the Pro 14 where they were defeated but having not played up to scratch in the quarter final either and Leo Cullen has already said that they should have Jonathan Sexton back in harness and that will help to get the stuttering attack back on track even though they still managed to score 4 tries against Glasgow at the weekend.

Toulouse will look to the win away from home for inspiration in trying to beat the defending champions on home soil. They were touched off back in January in the RDS and will know they will need to be squeaky clean in all departments to stand any chance of beating a side that won’t want to lose grip on the crown they worked so hard to win in May 2018.

Like the first semi final , this will be a tight contest and I feel that there will only be a score either way but Leinster should make another Final with home advantage helping to see them over the line….. So I feel it will be a Saracens Vs Leinster in St James Park in May…….

Ronan O Mahony- Munster Man

Ronan O Mahony – Munster Man

Ronan O Mahony has today announced his retirement from professional rugby after 70 appearances and 21 tries in red. He made his senior debut back in 2013 and his European bow in 2015 away to Saracens. He retires just a few weeks short of his 30th birthday.

Today’s announcement set me thinking about the process that young pro’s go through when a decision like retirement is put before a player and yes it is a last resort in most cases, hours of hard work in with medical teams, doctors , strength and conditioning coaches etc…

Ronan O Mahony has like so many before him made that hard decision of taking medical advice and then deciding to step away from the game he has played since childhood. He came through the Munster academy and has played under age rugby with Ireland.

He will now get the support of IRUPA, the players association to help him gather himself for the next step in life. Having being based in UL with Munster over the last few years he would have been close to education and with the processes that are in place through IRUPA , Ronan will be offered real support in the next step in his life.

His announcement has set me thinking, we always wonder how older people will cope with retirement but to have to retire at 29 is a unique situation and of course he will be able to lean on older brother Barry for support who himself had to retire from rugby after a career ending injury in his 20s.

Thankfully there are structures in place to help him adjust to life away from sport. Whatever he decides to do with his life he will do very well. All the very best in retirement Ronan. Thanks for the memories…….

Munster- Semi Final Time Again

Munster are in another Champions Cup Semi Final, It’s a 12th semi final appearance since 1995. This squad with a few additions is the same one that has progressed to three successive semi finals since 2016. The time is now to progress further than the Semi Final as a number of this Munster squad are in the prime of their careers and will want to get to a first European Final since 2008.

Players like Peter O Mahony, Conor Murray and CJ Stander have achieved plenty in the green of Ireland over the last few years but there is still no trophy in club colours for these guys and the Semi Final against Saracens in three weeks time represents another shot at a team that has the Indian sign over Munster in the last few meetings.

Saracens will feel they will walk this Semi Final, all the talk even at this stage is that they will get past Munster with ease down in Coventry at 3.15pm on the 21st of April. Yes the Munster performances in recent times would suggest that they have it all to do in this game but this group has it within them to put all missed opportunities behind them. The talk from certain personalities seemed to suggest that the trophy could nearly have been handed out after their impressive 56-27 win over Glasgow.

They did it well without Owen Farrell who welcomed his 1st child into the world last weekend. Alex Goode stepped into the 10 role as he has done many times in the last few years with Max Malins getting a spot on the bench. They have the strength in depth to win a third Champions Cup but Munster will have a shot at stopping that particular dream and the manner of the loss in 2016 in Dublin will prove that Munster have work to do but having Conor Murray available this time round unlike 2014 and 2016 will help the Munster cause.

Although the availability of Joey Carbery remains to be seen and he will be carefully managed in the next few weeks with an eye on getting him fit and ready for the game in the Ricoh Arena.

Tyler Bleyendaal came on early last weekend and landed two big kicks at goal and rescued a wayward Munster line out to help in setting up the 2nd Keith Earls try. If Joey Carbery does not make the Semi, Tyler looks to be in pole position to get the out half slot if Carbery is ruled out.

It’s seems like Saracens have one foot in the final already and the Munster squad have plenty of material already that they can use the adorn the wall of the dressing room because a large share of people have Saracens pencilled in to play in St James Park on May 18th.

Munster will need to summon up there powers that saw them squeak past Edinburgh last Saturday. Not many will be in the camp, but sport doesn’t all run smoothly and Munster will need an 80 minute performance and not just play for short periods as they have done in the last two Semi Finals.

Johan Van Graan and his coaching team has had their honeymoon period and the time is now to show they have learned those hard worn lessons of the past two seasons. Will Munster make a first European Final since the win in 08, the game in Coventry on the 21st will tell a lot. It will be 11 years after Munster last played there against Saracens on that afternoon they won through 18-16….  A two point win would do the trick in a few weeks. Roll on Saracens in a few weeks time…

Time for this Munster squad to come of age and not just tell us about lessons learned and we will be back in 12 months time… 2019 can be the year that this squad puts those heart breaking losses to bed and start putting wins in the columns alongside these Semi Finals…..