Do or die for Corinthians as play-off looms

Mícheal O'Reilly shows his speed to skip past the cover in Corinthians' win over Instonians. (Picture by Joanne Glynn Cullen)

Mícheal O'Reilly shows his speed to skip past the cover in Corinthians' win over Instonians. (Picture by Joanne Glynn Cullen)

Last year's date of Saturday, April 22 may not hold weight for most people. But for the players and coaching staff of Galway Corinthians RFC, it is a day which evokes painful memories.

That was the occasion on which Corinthians fell to Dungannon in the semi-final of Division 2B. Since then, it has motivated this team to drive on in their quest for promotion.

That opportunity will occur again this Saturday - when they face Wanderers in the league semi-final.

This game has the potential to be a thriller, and with sizeable home support, Corinthians could break the disappointment of that defeat and go one step further in the league. Kick-off on Saturday afternoon is at 2.30pm.

The season has been a long one for Michael Harding’s men. They started with a ten-point win over Wanderers in Corinthian Park last September, following up with a vital bonus-point loss to Instonians. Wins over Malahide and Dolphin followed, and as November came and went, the team was in a strong position following further wins over Belfast Harlequins and Skerries.

Momentum was carried to the end of the year, as they won all games including their last game of 2023 against Sligo. They then repeated the result in their first game of 2024 as the reverse fixtures came into play.

However injuries took their toll, and defeats to Magherafelt's Rainey RFC and Dublin's Skerries saw them drop from second to third. From there, Corinthians were involved in a battle as the race for the playoffs truly took off.

What followed were cup finals in all but name. A crucial away win in Belfast was followed by a one-point win over Dolphin.

With three games left in the league, a home semi-final looked a tall order - as they would have to face two of the teams above them. A two-point win over a relegation-battling Malahide was important. But it was what followed next that gave massive belief to this team.

The first boost was a home game against an Instonians team who were almost unbeatable all season. Corinthians bucked that trend with a fantastic two-point win in Corinthian Park. Ironically, both clubs were celebrating at the full-time whistle as the losing bonus point was enough for Instonians to be crowned champions.

A final, regular season game would determine home advantage against the same opposition. In the end, it was a penalty from Sean Naughton from halfway that secured the win and the home semi-final that will take place this Saturday.

Director of Rugby Michael Harding said: “We are looking forward to Saturday and Wanderers coming to Corinthian Park.

“Last weekend was a physical battle and I think they edged us in a few areas, but we will look at them this week in training. In saying that, we played well and we are hoping to bring more of that on Saturday."

The news was also good regarding injuries, something that Corinthians had suffered from this season. “We have a couple of injuries but nothing major. We are heading into the playoffs this year in a mentally and physically better place than we were last year.

“Wanderers are also in a good place. They had a really good season, should have beaten Instonians so they are right up there.

“We know that they are going to bring everything on Saturday and we have to be ready for it, especially up front."

Last season saw Corinthians lose to Dungannon at this stage and it still rankles with the players and the coaches. “That semi-final last season was probably our worst performance of the entire season. We didn’t fire a single shot. So, we want to go out on Saturday, put our best foot forward and perform.

“Home support will also be so important. We want as many Corinthians as possible to be in Corinthian Park. A big home support is needed and if all comes together we could be in a good place on Saturday evening.”

There will be no shortage of effort from the Corinthians players once the game kicks off on Saturday. Hopefully, a big and passionate home support will carry them through to a play-off final, in what is sure to be one of the biggest games in recent club history.

 

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