Cork Con and Highfield players in the mix for AIL awards with a difference

Cork Con and Highfield players in the mix for AIL awards with a difference
Highfield's Miah Cronin on the break against Naas during the Energia AIL Division 1B game at Woodleigh Park. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

IT’S Oscars time tonight in the All-Ireland League, but with a difference. Instead of the great and the good gathering in the capital for the dishing out of the end-of-season awards, the ceremony will be done remotely. In keeping with the lockdown measures, no big groups are allowed congregate which means social media takes centre stage.

The broadcast of the virtual awards starts at 8pm and it can be followed on Energia’s You Tube and Facebook channels. The awards bring to a conclusion the most disappointing season in the 29-year history of the All-Ireland League and for one reason only. It wasn’t finished.

The IRFU bowed to the inevitable in early March and called off games due to the coronavirus pandemic before declaring the campaign null and void. So, how do you judge the winners of the various categories from coach-of-the-year to player-of-the-year in all five divisions of the men’s game and the women’s equivalent, too in a truncated season?

We’ll have to wait and see who is considered best in category with Cork Constitution and Highfield in the frame to collect major awards.

Niall Kenneally, Cork Con, gets his pass away to Brian Hayes, ahead of the tackle by Josh Wycherley and Alan Kennedy, Young Munster. Picture: Jim Coughlan
Niall Kenneally, Cork Con, gets his pass away to Brian Hayes, ahead of the tackle by Josh Wycherley and Alan Kennedy, Young Munster. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Con second-row Brian Hayes is shortlisted for the division 1A’s top player after playing an important role in his side’s unbeaten season, when the Temple Hill club captured the Munster Senior Cup, topped the league before its untimely conclusion and reached the final of the All-Ireland Bateman Cup.

Hayes crossed for seven tries in Con’s league games, including four-in-row, as they swept to the summit early on and not only stayed there, but stretched further and further ahead of their rivals.

Yet, it only guaranteed Con a home semi-final and history is dotted with teams who were in similar positions only to end up empty-handed.

Hayes’s try sequence started in the 21-17 home win over their Bateman Cup final opponents, Lansdowne, and continued with two in the 53-10 hammering of UCD, again at Temple Hill. Then came his quartet, defeating Young Munster 18-3 at home, UCD 29-25 at Belfield, Ballynahinch 16-5 away and the 16-12 home victory over UCC.

Dynamic Highfield number 8, Miah Cronin, was instrumental in the Woodleigh Park’s ill-fated promotion drive from division 1B and is also shortlisted for the MVP award

He scored three tries in the wins over Banbridge (away) 42-28, Shannon (home) 19-10 and Navan (home) 38-12, but it was his abrasive play with ball-in-hand, solid defence and general support play which made Cronin one of the outstanding players in the division.

Highfield were on the cusp of promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history only to be denied by the league’s cancellation.

Cork Constitution head coach Brian Hickey. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry
Cork Constitution head coach Brian Hickey. Picture: INPHO/Oisin Keniry

Con coach Brian Hickey, a past winner of the coach-of-the-year, is a leading candidate again this season while young out-half Jack Crowley is a contender for the try-of-the-season.

The former Bandon Grammar School player won the December award for his debut try in the champions’ 35-19 win over Ballynahinch at Temple Hill. He started and finished a flowing move which began deep in Con’s 22 with scrum-half Duncan Williams also heavily involved.

Williams set the move in motion with a pass to Crowley, who then flung out a long pass to full-back Greg Higgins, skipping out centres Niall Kenneally and Alex McHenry in the process. Higgins brought play close to half-way before parting to right wing Sean French, who was grounded just outside the 22.

He did well to keep the ball alive by feeding McHenry who off-loaded to Williams. He, then, popped off the scoring pass to Crowley.

Cork Constitution's Jack Crowley is tackled by UCC's Michael Clune, during their AIL Division 1A clash at the Mardyke. Picture: David Keane.
Cork Constitution's Jack Crowley is tackled by UCC's Michael Clune, during their AIL Division 1A clash at the Mardyke. Picture: David Keane.

Mario Rosenstock hosts the awards with Peter O’Mahony and Keith Earls among the special guests.

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