Clontarf grab control early on avenue to final

 

All-Ireland League semi-finalsThe Clontarf players were oblivious to the rain and wind, much as they had been for the entire match. They formed a circle and belted out a rendition of a club song in celebration of Saturday's triumph at Castle Avenue.

They were joined by supporters, enjoying the aftermath of a triumph that confirmed a place in the AIB League Division One final, in which they'll face Ballymena.

The scoreline flattered the home side, but not the victory. Buccaneers tried manfully to overcome the legacy of a poor first-half performance when they were abetted by a strong wind, and for large chunks of the second half did so to great effect.

Unfortunately for the visitors, they had to endure 20 minutes of that second half with only 14 players as captain Eoin Brennan and then second row Rowan Frost, upon the former's return, were dispatched to the sin bin. The offences may have been relatively minor but the consequences certainly were not.

It's difficult to maul the ball against a physically intimidating Clontarf pack at the best of times, but to do so with only seven players was a huge ask. In fairness to the Buccaneers pack, they showed great honesty and character, epitomised by number eight Colm Rigney, who was outstanding. Martin Cahill too, Brennan and Gavin Schoeman were also particularly prominent.

Another stumbling block, and one that ultimately undid their revival, was that one mistake, one misplaced pass or turnover, playing into the strong wind was going to land them right back in their 22. So it transpired. The Buccaneers pack would grind their way up to the threshold or into the Clontarf 22, only for an error or penalty to see them trudge back 50 or 60 metres.

Again they would regroup and grab a foothold in the Clontarf half, but their only reward in the second half was a penalty from outhalf Lee Turner to reduce the deficit to 10-6.

Their fate was decided on 70 minutes when Clontarf right wing Niall O'Brien latched onto a blocked grubber kick, displayed neat soccer skills to hack on a couple of times and won the race for the touchdown. Full back Darragh O'Shea tagged on the conversion, with replacement outhalf Andy Dunne applying the cherry with a late drop goal.

Buccaneers will rue the opening 40 minutes, when their kicking game was sub-standard, too often guilty of hoofing the ball out on the full. It coincided with the best period of rugby Clontarf produced in the match.

The home side controlled the ball intelligently, whether mauling prodigiously or setting their target runners, Bernard Jackman, Dave Moore and Ben Gissing, to punch holes, keeping both possession and forward momentum. James Downey in the centre was also used as Clontarf starved their opponents of ball.

They received the best possible start when number eight Moore was driven over from a lineout. Buccaneers endured sustained pressure and when they managed to eke out the next score, a penalty from Turner, it should have been the signal for a sustained push to the interval. Instead they were undone a minute later.

Full back Wayne Munn spilled a tricky pass inside his 22, and Clontarf exacted maximum retribution when Downey sent left wing Ollie Winchester over in the corner.

Turner had two further penalty opportunities before the interval, but the nearest he managed was striking a post with the first attempt.

Clontarf coach Phil Werahiko was delighted at the end.

"I was a little surprised that we were in front at half-time as I thought the wind would be a huge factor. I thought the team that defended better playing into the wind would win the match. They were a little impatient in the first half, tried to do too much when they were dominating, and it cost them dearly.

"Once we got that try (in the second half) we composed ourselves and controlled the game from there on in. It's a big day for the club."

Buccaneers' efforts didn't receive the reward they warranted on the scoreboard, but this young side should develop from this springboard next season.

Clontarf's big players -Jackman, Gissing, Downey - led by example, but it was others, like tighthead Adrian Clarke and O'Brien, who provided equally telling contributions. They led after the league stages and are now in the final, deservedly so.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 3 mins: Moore try, 5-0; 30 mins: Turner penalty, 5-3; 31 mins: Winchester try, 10-3. Half-time 10-3. 62 mins: Turner penalty, 10-6; 70 mins: O'Brien try, O'Shea conversion, 17-6; 76 mins: Dunne drop goal, 20-6.

CLONTARF: D O'Shea; N O'Brien, D Higgins, J Downey, O Winchester; M Hewitt, M Walls; W O'Kelly (capt), B Jackman, A Clarke, B Gissing, A Wood, D Quinn, D Moore, S O'Donnell. Replacements: A Dunne for Higgins (51 mins), C Power for Gissing (66 mins), A Cullen for O'Donnell (66 mins), D McElligott for O'Shea (80 mins).

BUCCANEERS: W Munn; T Robinson, C Keane, W Wallace, P O'Sullivan; L Turner, C O'Loughlin; R McCormack, J McVeigh, M Cahill, N Smullen, R Frost, G Schoeman, C Rigney, E Brennan (capt). Replacements: J Meagher for Keane (65 mins); D Connellan for Turner (74 mins).

Sin-binned: E Brennan (Buccaneers) 48-58 mins; R Frost (Buccaneers) 65-75 mins.

Referee: A Lewis (IRFU).