Clontarf snatch the All-Ireland League title on a dramatic final day
Victory over Ballynahinch proves enough as Old Belvedere crash to defeat against already-relegated Garryowen
Barbarians coach Mike Ruddock and Clontarf coach Andy Wood. “We will take it any way we get it. Thank goodness for Garryowen. We just knew that we had to win and hope that Garryowen would do us a favour,” said a delighted Wood following his team’s league title win. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
After all of their near misses and bad luck, Clontarf finally got the break they needed to capture the Ulster Bank (All-Ireland) League for the first time at Castle Avenue on Saturday.
They finished a point clear at the top of the Division 1A table after they beat Ballynahinch 27-13 and the leaders Old Belvedere surprisingly lost 23-18 to the bottom side Garryowen at Dooradoyle.
It was an extraordinary conclusion to a competition which has had more than its share of twists and turns over the final few weeks. Everything suggested that Clontarf had blown it following successive defeats to UCD and Lansdowne.
Old Belvedere only had to beat the already-relegated Garryowen in their final game to secure the title for the second time in four years.
In keeping with that expectation, the trophy and the winners medals were all brought down to Dooradoyle. Just in case, there was a replica trophy at Castle Avenue.
But the pressure proved too much for Old Belvedere. They got away to a bad start, conceding a try in the opening few minutes and never really recovered.
Clontarf, meanwhile, were having a battle of their own against second from bottom Ballynahinch. At one stage in the second half the sides were level at 13-13 but Clontarf eventually pulled clear with substitute scrum-half Peter Du Toit getting two tries.
Coach Andy Wood summed the day up: “We will take it any way we get it. Thank goodness for Garryowen. We just knew that we had to win and hope that Garryowen would do us a favour. It wasn’t the ideal situation but we also knew from our own experiences in recent weeks that anything could still happen.
“It’s fantastic for this club that we have finally got our reward. We played well all season, beating Old Belvedere in a fantastic contest recently, but then we suddenly went flat for our games against UCD and Lansdowne.
“Thankfully, the intensity was back today. Ballynahinch really put it up to us but we came good in the second half.”
A dejected Old Belvedere coach Paul Cunningham cut a very different figure at Dooradoyle.
“We put ourselves in a position to win the league but we made too many mistakes, missed too many tackles and conceded too many turnovers.” he lamented.
“You can’t expect to win in those circumstances. From the start, we dropped the first ball and they scored from the scrum. That gave Garryowen huge belief, they played well and and were fully deserving of their victory.
“To be fair, our guys showed tremendous character but it just wasn’t enough. It’s been a fantastic competition, congratulations to Clontarf, they have been very good all season.”
There’s absolutely no doubt that Clontarf are worthy league winners.
Besides Du Toit’s contribution, wing Michael McGrath also scored a try against Ballynahinch with the remainder of their points coming from the accurate boot of out-half David Joyce who landed three conversions and two penalties. Ballynahinch had a try from Aaron Cairns while Richie Lobb kicked a conversion and two penalties.