Clontarf and Cork Con ready to rumble again
Cork outfit possess the more imposing pack but holders ’Tarf pose a real threat out wide
Clontarf celebrate as Matt D’Arcy goes over for a try against Cork Con during last year’s final. Photograph: Colm O’Neill/Inpho
UBL Division 1A final: Clontarf v Cork Constitution, Aviva Stadium (2.30)
The bare statistics suggest Clontarf are the best club side in Ireland when condensed into a timeframe of the last five seasons. Twice Ulster Bank League Division 1A champions, once beaten finalists and on Sunday, the opportunity to take the trophy back to Castle Avenue for a third time in four years.
To do so they’ll have to find a way past Cork Constitution for a second consecutive occasion at the Aviva Stadium, the north Dublin club having squeezed home 28-25 in last season’s final.
It was a remarkable game, Clontarf led 21-3 at halftime, only for Con to score three tries after the interval and with 20-minutes remaining the difference on the scoreboard was the exact three-point buffer that remained at the final whistle; the flurry of points evaporated in a scoreless final quarter.
Two of that final’s principal characters, man-of-the-match Joey Carbery (Clontarf) and Darren Sweetnam (Cork Con) have graduated to grace the professional stage without losing that natural brio and flair that commandeered rave reviews in the club game.
Con can muster some impressive rugby credentials, having contested 12 All Ireland League finals, winning four, the last of which was seven years ago. Last weekend though they won a fifth consecutive Bateman Cup, when beating Old Belvedere at Anglesea Road.
Even though they finished fourth in the league format, they won more matches (13) than any of the other teams in the top four and in the semi-finals saw off number one seeds Lansdowne on the back pitch at today’s venue.
The league meetings between Sunday’s finalists were shared 1-1, each winning at home, Cork Con in November, Clontarf in February. To conclude the numbers’ game, it’s revealing in style terms that the Dublin club picked up 14 bonus points, seven of which were try ones, while Con managed just five in the regular season.
Clontarf have that cutting edge out wide, irrespective of what way the team eventually lines out. Their captain, secondrow Ben Reilly, who lifted the trophy last year, elaborated, when asked how his side might win: “I think if we play to our strengths, the way we’ve been playing the last few months.
“We’re going to play quite an expansive brand, try to move them around. We have a serious backline from nine out, but particularly at 12,13,11,14,15. We have quality on both wings, quality at fullback and two brilliant centres.
“If we can get outside Con and stretch them in the way we did in the first half last year, that’s going to help. Con are very much a powerful unit, a strong set-piece, strong forward pack and they’ll try to take us on. Effectively, our forward pack has to take them on; then we have to move them around. If we can do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
The reference to last year is germane; though Clontarf led 21-3 at half-time they were clinging on at the final whistle. Central casting for Sunday is largely the same. There are some excellent players on both teams. Shane Daly, John Poland and Vincent O’Brien all played for the Ireland Under-20s last year.
Centre Ned Hodson and props Rory Burke and Liam O’Connor are in the Munster academy, while Conor Kindregan and Brian Hayes are outstanding forwards.
Clontarf were awaiting final word from Leinster on the availability of a quartet of players but the likelihood is that former Irish U-20 centre Conor O’Brien, Jack Power and Bryan Byrne will all be released to the club.
O’Brien has had a rough time with injuries but when not hampered is a player of rich promise. Mick McGrath, Michael Noone, Royce Burke Flynn and Jason Harris Wright have all enjoyed extended spells in the professional arm of the sport. Matt D’Arcy has been and still is one of the best backs in the club game.
The teams offer diverse styles; both are well coached, with Con possessing arguably the more imposing pack, while their opponents have plenty of poke in the wide channels.
The non-aligned will hope for a game every bit as entertaining as last year’s final and come what may after that.