THE old debate about the energia All-Ireland League’s place in Irish rugby surfaced again following Munster’s unique set of circumstances heading into Europe last weekend.
Thirteen of the 23 on duty in Coventry had played in the league this season, highlighting the league’s role vis-a-viz the professional game.
Cork Constitution senior coach, Johnny Holland, is well placed to comment on amateur versus professional.
“From having played it both and talking to others who’ve come back to it, there’s no doubt you’re better off playing week in and week out,” he said, after his side’s 19-12 loss to Terenure College.
“I know there’s time management and all that, but if everyone is playing in this league it becomes an even stronger league, almost like semi-professional.
There is a lot of quality coming from the AIL and guys are asking to play in it.
“The emphasis is shifting a bit, in that they’re being asked to play in a couple and the respect for the league appears to be coming back. It’s a massive platform to get more game-time, especially now as there are so few A games.”
Con’s John Forde came off the bench and another Corkman, Patrick Campbell, who plays with Young Munster, starred at full-back.
Holland was disappointed by his side’s narrow defeat in a game that fizzed with controversy near the end.
Con were denied what appeared an obvious penalty try, which would have won the game and extended their winning sequence to six, as the league breaks until mid-January.
“From what I saw, Dave Hyland blocked a kick, gathered it, and passed to Paddy Casey, who was on his shoulder.
“In the past, the ball was slapped down. The referee saw a knock in the tackle and a subsequent off-side. I was further away from him, but to me it looked like a penalty try and a yellow card.
“Yet, I said to the players afterwards that we didn’t do enough over the full 80 minutes, either, to have to rely on a referee’s decision near the end of the game.
“We had some set-piece issues, as well as not holding onto the ball long enough, though we defended well in soaking up a lot of pressure.
“I thought we defended the set-piece very well, but in attack we didn’t give ourselves enough ball to put pressure on them. If you look back on that aspect, you’re not going to have a very long video session.
“Where my frustration is that we didn’t have enough of the ball, which is something very much inside our control.
“Everyone can have their own opinion on the referee’s decision and maybe when we look back at it we’ll have a similar opinion.
“We’ve enough to be working on from the whole 80 minutes, outside that late call.”
Holland, though, acknowledged just how formidable Terenure were as they closed to within a point of Con, who are fourth in the Division 1A table.
“They deserve a lot of credit because they played with a lot of fight. They also came down the night before, which is something you normally don’t do for a Dublin-Cork trip.
I don’t know whether they targeted the game or not, but they’re very similar to us, in that they play a lot of rugby and probably played more than we did, which is disappointing because we pride ourselves on the rugby we can play.
“I was talking to their coaches afterwards and was saying that, on balance, they probably deserved the four points. Still, we did enough late on to win the game ourselves and that’s the frustrating part of it.
“Terenure had a really good platform with a very good scrum and upset our line-out, as well.”
Con’s plans were disrupted with injuries and unavailability, losing full-back Billy Crowley in the warm-up and then Rob Jermyn inside 10 minutes.
“Young Scott McKeown came up to watch the game, but we had to pull him from the stand after Billy’s injury.
“I don’t know where he got the boots from, but Scott had a great game and he’s a credit to himself,” Holland said.