Belvedere's cutting edge proves the sharper


ULSTER BANK ALL-IRELAND LEAGUE FINAL Old Belvedere 20 Constitution 17:GOOD FORTUNE and bravery are only periodically intertwined in sporting theatre but yesterday at Donnybrook was one of those occasions as Old Belvedere became only the second Leinster team in the history of the tournament and the first since St Mary’s College in 2000 to win the Ulster Bank League Division One title.

The formbook suggested a victory for Cork Constitution but when the reckoning was transferred from paper to pitch, it was the underdogs who held sway. Belvedere outscored their opponents by three tries to one and in doing so displayed a more honed cutting edge.

They exacted hefty remuneration from considerably less opportunity and did so with an élan that applied a shiny gloss to their success. In examining their triumph it is impossible to ignore three beautifully crafted tries, the integrity of their commitment up front and a willingness to haul tired limbs off the Donnybrook “beach” to replenish the thick black and white line. It was far from a flawless display. The lineout occasionally misfired, ball was spilled in contact, some of the punting was indiscriminate while backs’ coach and outhalf Andy Dunne struggled with the place-kicking duties: but despite those shortcomings they deserved their victory.

They did have to hang on, fortuitously at times, as Con butchered a succession of gilt-edged opportunities that perished largely on foot of decision making rather than execution: a preoccupation with charging into contact rather than seeking less populated avenues proved a recurring and fatal flaw.

The Cork club might still have snatched a draw but trailing 20-17 with four minutes remaining, scrumhalf Gerry Hurley – at this point playing outhalf – pulled a penalty wide of the left upright. It was an aberration, both in terms of his general game play and his otherwise excellent place-kicking in a tricky, swirling wind.

Old Belvedere began the game brightly and despite spurning a penalty as Dunne’s kick drifted past a post, the outhalf quickly atoned, his beautifully-flighted pass sending centre John Kennedy scampering clear in the outside centre channel. He released fullback Daniel Riordan, who accelerated, straightened and timed his pass perfectly to send left wing David Mongan over in the corner.

Dunne kicked the touchline conversion before Con managed a foothold in the game. Hurley posted a brace of penalties to narrow the deficit to 7-6 and Con captain and number eight Frank Cogan chose to kick to the corner rather than at goal on two more occasions.

The Cork club were becoming increasingly dominant but failed to appreciate the space out wide after their forwards engineered a platform inside the Belvedere 22. Too often they tried to take it up one more time when there were numbers out wide, an affliction that was compounded by the possession in right wing Simon Zebo of the game’s most elusive runner.

Belvedere prop Stewart Maguire was only semi-conscious when penalised on 32 minutes following a collision of heads with Denis Fogarty, and might have rolled away if he had an idea of where he was: to add insult to injury he received a yellow card, a ludicrous outcome. Con went to the corner, Belvedere survived and it took Hurley’s third penalty on 38 minutes to give the Cork side a 9-7 interval lead.

Belvedere showcased the cutting edge they possessed behind the scrum as wing Eddie Devitt was put away and although Zebo got back to make a brilliant tackle on Riordan a yard from his line, Kennedy was on hand to forced his way over from the ruck. It was a fitting reward because of the Belvedere backs willingness to hustle back in numbers and offer counter-attacking options.

The entire three-quarter line had excellent games with fullback Riordan’s beautifully-balanced running a constant threat. Con eventually summoned reinforcements from the bench, flanker Peter O’Mahony enjoying a huge influence on his arrival, while that of scrumhalf Duncan Williams gave the reshuffled Con backline a more menacing threat.

The Cork side reclaimed the lead with a try from fullback Seán Scanlon, their opponents responded with a penalty from Conal Keane and a second try from Kennedy, the latter of dubious origin given Riordan looked to have knocked on a high ball. He was allowed to play on and again Belvedere negotiated a passage through the Con midfield defence. Hurley’s penalty reduced the deficit to 20-17 but could not manage to land that final opportunity. Cogan led by deed, ably assisted by Brian Hayes, Stephen Archer and Billy Holland up front while Zebo, Scanlon and Deasy after he moved to centre were all difficult to contain.

Belvedere relied on the collective ethic but openside Jason Risdon was the game’s best player, notwithstanding that the trophy went to two-try centre, the excellent John Kennedy. Jonathan Slattery, Stewart Maguire and Ben Marshall were conspicuous in every facet of the game, Leo Auva’s coruscating carrying a lucrative yardage earner.

While defeat may be unpalatable for a day or three, Con might care to reflect on the argument they were the best team over the season but just not on a day. That belonged to Old Belvedere.

Scoring sequence 7 mins: Mongan try, Dunne conversion, 7-0; 9: Hurley penalty, 7-3; 19: Hurley penalty, 7-6; 38: Hurley penalty, 7-9. Half-time: 7-9. 42: Kennedy try, 12-9; 59: Scanlon try, 12-14; 62: Conal Keane penalty, 15-14; 69: Kennedy try, 20-14; 71: Hurley penalty, 20-17.

OLD BELVEDERE: D Riordan; E Devitt, J Kennedy, B Woods, D Mongan; A Dunne (capt), S Keogh; V Soden, D Gilchrist, S Maguire; R Leyden, B Marshall; J Slattery, J Risdon, L Auva. Replacements: Chris Keane for Woods 25-37 mins; B Byrne Diaper for Slattery 34-42 mins; Chris Keane for Keogh 60 mins; Conal Keane for Dunne 60 mins; K Buckley for Gilchrist 60 mins; D Moore for Marshall 63 mins. Yellow card: S Maguire 32 mins.

CORK CONSTITUTION: S Scanlon; R Lane, C Jouve, I Dineen, S Zebo; S Deasy, G Hurley; M Gateley, D Fogarty, S Archer; B Hayes, I Nagle; B Holland, B Cutriss, F Cogan (capt). Replacements: R Quinn for Fogarty 32-40 mins and 43 mins; D Williams for Jouve 43 mins; P O’Mahony for Cutriss 45 mins.

Referee: D Philips(ARLB).