Seventh heaven for 14-man Cork Con as they dethrone Terenure to claim AIL glory

Coach Jerry Holland hails gutsy display from his charges who delivered a master class in leading-from-the-front cup final rugby

Jack Kelleher, David Hyland and Matthew Bowen celebrate with the Division 1A trophy following Cork Con's victory over Terenure College at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Ben Brady/Inpho

Cork Constitution may have undergone something of a relative rebuild in recent times but, having been denied a shot at a seventh title by the pandemic when unbeaten after 14 games, the serial contenders are back atop the AIL again after a resilient 33-22 win over last year’s champions Terenure.

Terenure’s supporters made up the bulk of the official attendance of 7,768. But despite being reduced to 14 men by a 20th-minute red card and suffering two yellow cards either side of the break in quick succession, Con gave something of a master class in leading-from-the-front cup final rugby.

“It’s very satisfying,” admitted Jonny Holland, for whom this is his second season as head coach after several as an assistant. “I’ve been saying it to the lads for a while, and Dave Hyland [the captain] has been driving Con back on top.

“You say it so many times that you believe it, but it’s still a massive mountain to climb. We just said ‘why not us and why not this one?’


“I think the players really responded to that, and they drove it themselves. It’s the best group I have worked with. I felt that they absorbed everything, they are very coachable, not overly agreeable but agreeable,” he said, laughing, “but it just felt like we were all going in the right direction.

Their 25-year-old outhalf James Taylor, who has something of an old-school Ollie Campbell-like gait and style about him, metronomically landed seven from seven in an 18-point haul.

“He’s just cool up top, he’s a cool customer, obviously well able to play ball. We didn’t even see the most of his ball skills today, but that’s what happens in finals, they take on a life of their own.”

Holland also hailed the try-saving tackle by leading try scorer Matthew Bowen in the 57th minute to deny Conor Phillips after Terenure had just trimmed their lead to 23-22.

“That was a massive momentum swing because they had just scored. I turned away, to be honest. I just thought ‘This is it’. But Mitch didn’t give up so easily. That’s the character in the group. That’s a moment from Mitch that shows what the rest of the lads were at.”

After seeing their 13-match winning run come to an untimely end, Terenure coach Seán Skehan was magnanimous in defeat.

“It’s pretty devastating to be honest but that’s sport. You know going into this that you’ve no right to get to a final and you’ve no right to win a final. It comes down to performance on the day and ultimately that’s sport and Cork Con were the better team today.

“There’s a little bit more comfort in that. We were just beaten by a better team today and you have to live with that unfortunately. We’ll go back and look at where we could have been better and how we could have been better but for the day that’s in it, full credit to Cork Con. Very deserving champions and you can’t shy away from that.”

UL Bohemians won their 14th women’s AIL title with a 41-22 win over Railway Union in a rollercoaster final that featured 13 tries.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times