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Cork Con bullish approaching AIL final with revamped style and 'Stockdale 2.0' in Sean French

Entering their fourth consecutive final, the Cork club look in rude attacking health.

CORK CON ARE not usually in the business of talking their chances down.

So having stormed into their fourth consecutive All-Ireland League final on the back of a campaign in which they ended 11 points clear of the chasing pack, they have every reason to be confident in the hunt for a sixth title this Sunday (kick-off 3pm).

Even a cursory look at the AIL tables shows an increase in attacking intent around Temple Hill, with 12 try-scoring bonus points to their name this season after racking up a grand total of 10 from the 36 games across the previous two years.

As he looks ahead to the AIL’s marquee match on a hard track of the Aviva Stadium, second row Brian Hayes pays a large portion of the credit for the final league position to the coaching of Paul Barr.

Con also have a wealth of back-line talent well worth going wide for, not least Ireland Sevens veteran Shane Daly and U20 Grand Slam-winner Sean French. 

“To take Sean French as an example, you see Jacob Stockdale 2.0, really,” offers Hayes of the powerful back, who made crucial contributions from the centre for Ireland during the Six Nations.

Sean French with Conor Lowndes French making a break during the semi-final win over Dublin University last weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“He’s the same. You give him the ball and you expect a try. That can be on our own 22 or it could be in their 22. Both feet, he has deft kicking. He can kick it along the touchline, he can kick it over people.”

Indeed, Cork Con’s fine form has meant another Grand Slam-winner in Jonathan Wren has struggled to nail down a place in the back three, but in Daly and Alex McHenry they are well-stocked for centre options alongside captain Niall Keneally.

“Alex, a fella who has had Sevens experience, you can see how that’s helped him. Give him a bit of space and he’s able to go. Then defensively, Shane as well, the impact the Sevens programme has had on their defence is unbelievable. The 13 channel when either of them are there is a lot safer and Niall inside. It really helps.”

“I think there’s been a big change in emphasis. We’re kind of getting old up front, not moving as well as we used to be,” jokes the lock.

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Brian Hayes with Michael Sylvester Brian Hayes moves to tackle Trinity's Michael Sylvester. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I suppose that’s a lot of it, but I think Aidan Moynihan has come in at 10 and pulled the strings very well. He’s moving us around the pitch a lot better than we had been and we’ve young fellas on the wing that are finishing tries that they really shouldn’t be finishing. Which helps a lot as well.”

Hayes is acutely aware of the brilliant form Clontarf will carry into the final after their back-to-back wins over reigning champions Lansdowne. However, having done the hard work all season to finish top of the pile, he can’t abide the thought of falling short.

“We’ve been on the other side of it, finishing fourth and won the league, finishing second, third… in the last four years we finished the top-four in four different positions every year.

“It would be a waste of 18 good games to turn around and go back down the road without the cup.”

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Sean Farrell

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