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Cork Con hungry for revenge over holders Clontarf in today's UBL final

The Leesiders were beaten in last year’s decider at the Aviva Stadium.

A STRONG SECOND half of the season has Clontarf on the cusp of their third Ulster Bank League title in four years this afternoon at the Aviva Stadium [KO 2.30pm].

Standing in their way are familiar foes Cork Constitution who return to the capital just a week on from winning a record fifth Bateman Cup in-a-row.

Scott Deasy tackles Brian Hayes Brian Hayes is a key man for Cork Con. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Cork Con are all out for revenge after losing last year’s decider 28-25, a thrilling seven-try encounter in which Joey Carbery starred for ‘Tarf with a man-of-the-match performance and Darren Sweetnam featured prominently at fullback for the Leesiders.

A win this weekend for Brian Hickey’s men would be hugely significant not just for the club but also the Munster domestic scene, as Dublin clubs – Old Belvedere, St. Mary’s, Lansdowne and Clontarf – have dominated the league’s roll of honour since the Temple Hill outfit last lifted the trophy in 2010.

“We are definitely hungrier,” said Cork Con prop Gavin Duffy. “For a lot of us last year that was our first AIL (final). Losing it affected us all season.

“It was our mission to get back here. We’re very similar to last year but we know what it takes to compete against the top level, quality sides like Clontarf.”

To put themselves in a position to claim back-to-back titles, Andy Wood’s Clontarf side won six of their last seven regular season games and triumphed 37-29 in a home semi-final against Young Munster.

The McGrath brothers, Mick and Rob, scored three of their six tries that day, while Michael Noone, Michael Brown and Bristol-bound hooker Jason Harris-Wright have also helped ‘Tarf recapture their best form.

Ben Reilly is congratulated by supporters at the end of the game Clontarf captain Ben Reilly. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

“We struggled a little bit in the first half [of the season] but we found some good form in the second half and managed to get ourselves a home semi-final which obviously helped to get us through,” said Clontarf captain Ben Reilly.

“Ourselves and Con, we’re making a habit of playing each other in these tight games. We lost down there to them this year, we beat them at home.

“I think you’ve the two best teams in the country and hopefully we can put on a similar performance to what we got last year.”

Big second row Conor Kindregan, Con’s top try scorer with six league tries, and Bateman Cup final man-of-the-match Brian Hayes have been two key men for the All-Ireland double hunters along with the division’s leading points scorer, out-half Tomas Quinlan [180 points].

A gruelling schedule across three competitions has seen Hickey’s charges only having two weekends without a match since January 7.

Hickey has been hoping that Kindregan [ankle] and flanker Graeme Lawler [hamstring] recover in time from their respective knocks, while experienced scrum half Sam Cronin is poised to return to the Clontarf team after missing their semi-final victory.

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Gavin Duffy with Ben Reilly Clontarf defend their title against last season's final opponents. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It will be interesting to see what impact last weekend will have, with the north Dubliners resting up while Con were busy retaining their Bateman Cup crown.

With a regular season win apiece – the hosts won on both occasions – and memories of last May’s titanic battle, it is no wonder that the bookmakers’ pre-match odds are particularly tight.

The handicap betting has Cork Con +2 points, with title holders ‘Tarf 4/6 to win the final outright and Con priced at 11/10.

CLONTARF: Rob Keogh; Michael Brown, Conor O’Brien, Matt D’Arcy, Mick McGrath; David Joyce, Sam Cronin; Vakh Adbaladze, Jason Harris-Wright, Royce Burke-Flynn, Ben Reilly (capt), Mick Kearney, Tony Ryan, Karl Moran, Michael Noone.

Replacements: Bryan Byrne, Adrian D’Arcy, Ivan Soroka, Mark Sutton, Rob McGrath, Jack Power, Eoghan Browne.

CORK CONSTITUTION Squad:

Backs: John Poland, Tomas Quinlan, JJ O’Neill, Niall Kenneally (capt), Ned Hodson, Liam O’Connell, Shane Daly, Jason Higgins, Rob Jermyn, Michael Clune, Barry Galvin;

Forwards: Gavin Duffy, Vincent O’Brien, Ger Sweeney, Brian Hayes, Conor Kindregan, Sean O’Leary, James Murphy, Luke Cahill, Liam O’Connor, Greg Roche, Graeme Lawler, Rory Burke, Cian Barry, Ross O’Neill, John O’Callaghan.

Referee: Sean Gallagher [IRFU].

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