Advantage St.Marys. Marys will take a two point advantage in to the last round of games in Division 1A courtesy of their victory over fellow title chasers Clontarf at the weekend.
The game at Castle Avenue was an exciting game between the two pace setters and a tremendous advertisement for the league itself. St.Marys displayed their championship pedigree by becoming the first team to beat Clontarf at fortress Castle Avenue all season.
Barring a Clontarf bonus point win the game itself was never going to crown a champion. However, the result means that Marys can control their own destiny as they go in search of their second Ulster Bank League championship. A win against Young Munster or a Clontarf loss to Lansdowne would see Marys crowned champions.
Earlier this season, St.Marys recorded a comprehensive 36-11 victory away at Young Munster. This Saturday Marys will have the advantage of home field and the incentive to kick off the Championship celebrations live on television, as once again RTE cameras will be present to capture the action. However, third place Young Munster, could provide tricky opposition for the would be champions.
If Young Munster did pull the upset and stop St.Marys from winning the league, then we would have the bizarre prospect of Marys finishing second to a Clontarf side they have beaten twice this season.
If that happened I am sure the calls for the reintroduction of the Playoff system would not be too far behind either.
Indeed, those calls have already surfaced on the twittersphere for the league to revert to its old format. The reasoning behind those peoples argument is that the drama at the top of the league is not as exciting as in previous years. Despite the fact that we go into the final weekend still unaware of who will ultimately walk away with the title.
To me the straight league system is a much fairer way to determine a champion that the playoff system was. Anything can happen in a one game cup match and often times the team that finished top of the heap does not go on to be crowned champion. To some that adds excitement to proceedings,but why should a team that was the fourth best be rewarded with a league title? Surely the team that finished 1st, that displayed a consistent record of winning in the league and accumulated the most points holds a much more impressive claim on the title as opposed to a side that put two weeks of good results together.
That is not to say the league system is without its flaws however, as stated there is a real chance Marys will finish second to a side they have beaten twice by virtue of the bonus point system. Then again that is still a better way to determine a champion than the fiasco of 2009 when Shannon won the league because they scored the first try of the game.
AROUND THE LEAGUES
The Bottom of division 1A is just as tight as the top, with three teams looking to avoid dreaded relegation. Blackrock, Old Belvedere and Shannon all go into the last round of fixtures on the precipice of the drop.
Belvo’s late season resurgence continued as they recorded a crucial victory over Lansdowne at home last Saturday. That result made it three wins on the bounce for the reigning champions who had failed to win a single game up until the start of their winning streak. That run has seen Belvo climb out of the automatic relegation place and overtake Blackrock.
Blackrock who lost a very important game away to fellow stragglers Shannon, are all but destined to either be automatically relegated or to book a place in the Relegation/ Promotion game against the second placed side in division 1B.
Shannon who have a one point advantage over Old Belvedere and a four point cushion ahead of Blackrock, know a win against Dolphin at Musgrave park would see them safe. However a loss combined with an Old Belvo win against Cork Con would see the Munster men fall right back into the pack.
Down in Division 1B three teams are vying for two promotion places as Belfast Harlequins hold a point lead over fellow Ulster men Dungannon in second and a four point gap over third place U.L Bohemians.
Bohs and Quins will play each other on the last day with Bohs needing a win to overtake Quins. Dungannon will play away against UCD side battling against relegation.
At the foot of the table UCC will be playing their rugby in Division 2A next year while Bruff, UCD and Glaswegians will battle it out to avoid Relegation.
While the teams in Divisions 1A and 1B are still fighting it out those in Division 2A and 2B wrapped up their season at the weekend.
In Division 2A League Champions Dublin University will be joined by runners up Malone in Division 1A next year. Instonians and Clonakilty drop down to Division 2B. Those two teams could yet be joined by Thomond who face a promotion/relegation one game playoff against Highfield.
Down in Division 2B Cashel completed a rather remarkable undefeated season. The Tipperary men finish the year as the only side in all the divisions to have not tasted defeat, a truly amazing achievement.
Banbridge will join Cashel in Division 2A next year. At the foot of the table Wanderers drop out of the Ulster Bank League. They will be replaced by Skerries who overcame Monivea to secure their league status for next year. Monivea still have one more chance of getting into the UBL however, as they will play Ards in a promotion relegation playoff.