Swing to Leinster domination of AIL a cause for concern

Cork Constitution President Donal Lenihan fears the club game could go the same way as the professional version
Swing to Leinster domination of AIL a cause for concern

5th March 2022... Christy Cantillion, Donal Lenihan and Pat Maher at the Cork Person of the Year 2021 awards ceremony at the Rochestown park hotel, Cork. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

A couple of weeks ago Munster’s best U20 teams appeared in the Fraser McMullen All-Ireland Cup.

They were all blown away by their Leinster rivals, mirroring a worrying trend in the energia All-Ireland League.

Lansdowne put 61 points on Cork Constitution, Trinity College 57 on Young Munster, Old Belvedere 47 on Shannon and UCD 42 on UCC. Today, Trinity meet UCD in the final.

Next weekend, the AIL semi-finals will feature 10 Leinster clubs across the five divisions, ranging from Clontarf, Terenure College and Lansdowne in Division 1A, Old Wesley and Naas in 1B to Greystones and Blackrock College in 2B and Enniscorthy, Skerries and Tullamore in 2C.

It's a development which is exercising the minds of those involved in Munster in particular.

“I’d be fearful of Leinster clubs taking a stranglehold of the AIL in the same way they’ve done in the professional game,” admitted Con President Donal Lenihan.

Sheer numbers automatically hand Dublin clubs an obvious advantage, but there’s much more.

“Many of the clubs are products of the schools’ system and you add in to that lads in their early 20s who have qualified in a trade or with a degree from college and migrated to Dublin.

“We’re losing players in Cork and Limerick so not only have the Dublin clubs got a bountiful number of players leaving school, but they now have mature players joining them, too.

“And that makes a huge difference in the All-Ireland League.

“Clontarf were monstrous the day they played at Temple Hill. It’s what we’re up against.” So, what’s the solution? 

Recently, Munster pulled an Academy player from a crunch AIL game because he was on water carrier duty that evening. What nonsense!

“Munster, I believe, should pay a greater heed to the AIL and Ian Costello going in as head of the Academy is a boost,” Lenihan added.

“There is far better alignment with the Academy and Ian values the exposure and the quality of rugby that these young lads are getting.

“You only have to look back at the famous game against Wasps, when Munster were impacted by Covid in South Africa.

“The lads who stepped in, the likes of Scott Buckley and Daniel Okeke had played All-Ireland League in the weeks building up to that game.

“If they hadn’t, there is no way they would have been in any condition to compete with a side like Wasps.

“I think some of the quality in the AIL is as good as you’d see in the professional game.

“It’s not as vital in Leinster because they have such a quality in the through-put of players and we don’t have the same schools’ production here.

“Bandon Grammar School have come into the Cork scene and that’s to be welcomed.

“There were five lads who joined Con-Jack Crowley being one-from a Bandon side which lost to Pres in a cup semi-final three years ago and four of them played All-Ireland League in their first year out of school.

“That’s an incredible achievement and Bandon keep producing these type of players.

“In a wider sense there’s a lot going on in west Cork and Munster have to look to different areas.

“What works for Leinster doesn’t work for us down here and for me the All-Ireland League’s value isn’t as appreciated as it should.

“It’s an on-going battle. We have a lot of clubs, but not enough players to feed them.

“But, look, you can only do your best and remain competitive.” 

Munster clubs were the envy of the rest of the country, when the All-Ireland League started over 30 years ago. That’s key, according to Lenihan.

“What club rugby provides for someone in an Academy is an identity and what it means to be part of history and tradition.

“That’s what the Munster success was built on in the noughties, when all the lads came out of Shannon, Garryowen, Young Munster and Cork Con.

“That identity shone through, when they played for Munster because it was a natural progression and in my view that’s something we still have to focus on.

“I believe it still has a role to play, particularly within Munster in terms of the development of players,” Lenihan concluded.

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