Brought to you by Energia, proud sponsors of the Energia All Ireland League.
We’re just over a month into the new season of Division 1A of the Energia AIL and already, reigning champions Cork Constitution are leading the way at the top of the table with a 100% win record.
The Templehill outfit are five wins from five and currently hold a three-point lead over second-place Terenure College who themselves are having a fantastic start to the season.
If Con want to continue their unbeaten start, they will have to produce a special performance on Friday night as they take on city rivals UCC at the Mardyke (KO 8pm).
What makes the Energia AIL truly special are the staging of derby fixtures. Rivalries which go back decades and have so much history are there to be cherished and for rugby in Cork especially, it’s a welcome return to the country’s top division that two clubs from this rugby hotbed are competing at this level.
The 2018/19 campaign last year was the first time in three years that there was a derby in the Rebel county as UCC gained promotion to Division 1A.
“Yeah, it’s good to have a local game,” Cork Con’s Brian Hayes told Pundit Arena.
“We were a few years without any derby so it definitely adds to the occasion and definitely adds to the atmosphere around the club. UCC are a lot better this year than they were last year, so it will be a much tighter game as well.”
With Highfield on top of Division 1B with five wins from five, there could be three Cork teams in Division 1A next year, a prospect which will most definitely be welcomed according to Hayes.
“The way things are going at the moment, there will be three teams next year with Highfield flying it in 1B. It definitely adds to the atmosphere around the place and all that. If nothing else, it’s good to have a local game. It makes things easier for families to get down and see. It wasn’t too long ago when I think seven of 10 teams were in Dublin so it’s no harm to see it spread out around as well.
“From a Cork point of view, it’s good to see young fellas getting a chance to play at a higher level of rugby at different levels. Over the last few years, it was either go to Con or you’d be playing a level or two down. It brings the best out of us that we have to keep our level up and try to get those good players coming in out of school and put them back into the rivalry amongst all the clubs.
A historical aspect of this rivalry is that you would often have players who previously played for UCC subsequently competing for Cork Con once they have completed their studies with the college.
If players are familiar with one another at club level then the same applies at provincial too.
Both squads are littered with some of the top young talent in the country with both Con and UCC having Munster Academy players at their disposal.
For UCC, they have John Hodnett, James French and Jack O’Sullivan in their ranks who are in Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 of the Munster Academy, respectively.
O’Sullivan has already made two senior appearances for Munster in the Guinness PRO14 this season and has been included in the southern province’s European squad ahead of this season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
Across town at Cork Con, they have the talented Jonathan Wren (Year 2), Sean French (Year 2) and Alex McHenry (Year 3) in their squad.
McHenry already has a senior appearance for Munster under his belt which came in an away win against Benetton last season. The 22-year-old also played a key role in Con’s title win last season.
“The added rivalry is that a lot of lads who were probably in school together, would have played schools all the way up, the nature of me being nearly 30 now is that I wouldn’t know as many of the younger lads,” Hayes said. “I think that brings out the best in the lads when you’re playing against people you would have played with in school. You’re that bit more looking forward to it.
“If you’re playing against a fella that you’re fighting for a position in Munster with, you always want to stand out a little bit more, so, that might bring the best out of people. I think it’s why the derby matches are that little bit better. Not only, because there are more than five people in the crowd but because you’re not playing a random Dublin team.”
Elsewhere, Con have two senior Munster players in their ranks which they have utilised this season – Liam ‘Boomer’ O’Connor and Brian Scott.
There is no shortage of quality in both sets of squads which should make for a fascinating encounter on Friday night.
Energia, one of Ireland’s leading and most competitive suppliers of electricity and gas, is the proud partner and the power behind rugby in Ireland from grassroots through to the national teams.For behind the scenes action and exclusive content follow Energia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their rugby mobile app #PositiveEnergy.
The Energia AIL app is now available to be downloaded through the Google Play and Apple store.