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AIL Season Review
APRIL 18 2024
Season Finale: The stage is set for playoffs and promotion battles as we reach the end of the 2023/24 Energia All Ireland League season.
With the regular season coming to a close, we now enter the knockout phase of the competition. There is no room for error from here on in, with teams across all six divisions within touching distance of silverware or survival. Let's delve into the highlights from each division after a sensational finish in Round 18.

Men's Division 1A:
Division 1A continued to thrill and went right to the wire at both ends of the table. Terenure, unbeaten since November 2023, finished top of the table to secure a home semi-final against Lansdowne, who have been in highly impressive form themselves. Cork Constitution secured 5 points on the final day of the season to secure a home semi-final against Clontarf, who will be relishing the challenge of heading to Cork and are looking to reach their third consecutive final. Dublin University battled but ultimately succumbed to relegation in Round 17, leaving Shannon in 9th place and facing the relegation playoffs to avoid the drop. City of Armagh finished in 8th place and survived in their first season in the top flight, much to the delight of the Palace Ground's faithful.

Men's Division 1B:
In Division 1B, St. Mary’s College had won the league in late February, but this didn't stop them from winning 17 of 18 regular season games to cap an outstanding season. The final day drama continued in the playoffs, with Old Belvedere sneaking into 4th place at the expense of Highfield with a heroic performance against Naas in Kildare. They will meet Shannon in Limerick in the promotion/relegation semi-final as they bid for a return to Division 1A. A second-place finish sees Old Wesley, also on a lengthy unbeaten run, face a Garryowen side who have picked up impressive results in the last quarter of the season. Queens rallied in the final quarter of the season to finish in the relegation playoff place with Buccaneers relegated to Division 2A.

Men's Division 2A:
Division 2A saw Nenagh crowned champions in Round 17, and they will play in Division 1B next season. The party tour of Tipperary with the trophy is well underway and shows no signs of slowing down! Familiar foes Cashel and Barnhall will face off in Spafield in an intriguing semi-final clash, with Barnhall looking to reach the playoff final for a second consecutive season. Old Crescent and Banbridge were neck and neck until the final whistle of the regular season, which saw the Rifle Park men take the 4th and final place. That sets up a cracking Ulster derby semi-final as Banbridge look to return to Division 1B at the first time of asking. The bottom half of the table saw some twists and turns with Navan, Greystones, and Ballymena showing gritty performances to ensure they remained in Division 2A. UL Bohs dropped to 9th and find themselves in the relegation playoffs for the second consecutive season, with Malone automatically relegated after a gallant effort to survive the drop came up short.

Men's Division 2B:
As we venture into Division 2B, record-breaking Instonians confirmed back-to-back promotions in Round 17, much to the delight of all at Shaws Bridge. Corinthians will play Wanderers in Galway in a winner-takes-all semi-final clash, with both sides playing some outstanding rugby throughout the regular season. Sligo will face UL Bohemian in a repeat of last year's promotion/relegation semi-final, with the Hamilton Park side showing some fine form in the second half of the season. It was a case of fine margins at the other end of this division, with Malahide & Rainey doing enough on the final day to ensure survival. Dolphin managed to beat the automatic drop and finish in the playoff place with their final day win, meaning Belfast Harlequins were relegated to Division 2C.

Men's Division 2C:
In Division 2C, Clogher Valley were crowned champions in Round 18 to continue their remarkable rise from junior rugby to senior promotion at the first time of asking. Galwegians have set up a semi-final repeat with Bruff in Galway in what is sure to produce fireworks given this season's regular round results. Enniscorthy will play Dolphin in Cork in the second promotion/relegation semi-final. Omagh, Bangor, & Ballina were in a three-way shootout to avoid the relegation places until the final day of the season, with Omagh pulling off the great escape. Bangor will face Monkstown on April 27th in the All Ireland promotion/relegation final, with Ballina relegated to Junior Rugby. Ulster's Ballyclare RFC will take their place in Senior Rugby and Division 2C next season for the very first time after their round-robin success.

Women's Division:
The women's division of the Energia AIL saw the regular season finish in mid-April after 18 hard-fought rounds. UL Bohemians and Railway Union will clash in the historic showpiece final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, April 27th (Live on TG4). Old Belvedere and last season's champions Blackrock showed glimpses of their potential with some fine performances, but they will have to wait another season for a shot at silverware. Ballincollig, Galwegians & Cooke have continued to show improvements in the latter stages of the regular season and can be content as they build towards next season.

As we reach the knockout stages of the 2023/24 Energia AIL season, one thing is clear: Club rugby in Ireland is the very heartbeat of the game. The sense of anticipation is palpable, and another chapter in the Energia All  Ireland League is almost complete.