Cork Constitution show true grit to secure league title
Con lift fourth trophy of the season after win over defending champions Clontarf
Cork Constitution captain Niall Kenneally lifts the cup after his side’s league final win over Clontarf. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Cork Constitution 25 Clontarf 21
Sometimes what’s required to win trophies transcends physical qualities or at least demands that they be supplemented by mental toughness. In the 29th match of the season - 31 if a two-match tour of Canada is included - Cork Constitution displayed those virtues in spades as they added an All Ireland League Division 1A title to the Bateman Cup, Munster Senior Cup and Cork Charity Cup.
One season, four trophies, winning every competition they entered and bridging a seven-year gap to claim a fifth All Ireland League success against the defending champions Clontarf, the team that broke their hearts in last year’s final. It’s a breathless resume.
The only figure that told against them on the day was the try count, Clontarf scoring three to Con’s one, but compensation on the scoreboard arrived from the boot of their 22-year-old outhalf, Tomas Quinlan, who kicked magnificently, to rack up 20-points; six penalties and a conversion in a flawless display with the placed ball.
Three were from close to the touchline and one a good 45-metres out on the angle. Quinlan, an underage international, was let go from the Munster academy at the end of last season, but he still hasn’t given up on a professional career. Performances of this ilk may lend some impetus to that ambition.
“You saw what happened to Joey (Carbery) last year and Sweets (Darren Sweetnam). I have played with both and they are top class players. They took their opportunity last year and it has put them onto bigger and better things. Maybe this will open up a door; that is out of my control. I have done as much as I can.
“I would love to play professionally, I have always wanted to play professionally and I’m only 22, so I hope the door isn’t shut. I don’t think I was going out there with the intention of proving Munster wrong. They have their reasons and whether they are right or wrong they have the final say.
“I just have to accept that, keep the head down and work. When you kick your goals and play the way you’re expected (to) it does feel good. Nothing spiteful, you are doing it for the boys around you. I put those balls over the bar for those lads, the 23 or 30 in the panel. It’s just the best feeling I have ever had.
“I suppose it is the complete opposite of what happened to us last year. There was a lot of hurt taken onto the pitch and it showed there in the end in our defence; everyone stepped up individually and that allowed us to pull through.
“They kept coming at us in waves and we just wouldn’t back down. Thankfully we did the job, which was an absolute relief to be honest.”
Clontarf will rue their indiscipline as adjudicated by referee Sean Gallagher and his officiating team. The penalty count against them was so debilitating and they also played a quarter of the match with 14 players, albeit paradoxically that they scored two of their three tries when a man short.
The champions played like that at times, Matt D’Arcy and Conor O’Brien, superb in the centre, while left wing Mick McGrath lived up to his nickname ‘Magic.’ His power through the tackle was phenomenal, swatting aside defenders and creating mayhem. He scored one, created another and was involved in the build-up to the third.
Replacement hooker Bryan Byrne had a superb game upon his introduction, using his footwork and strength to manufacture positive gain-lines and introduce tempo to the game.
Apart from the indiscipline Clontarf will reflect on getting a little narrow at times and a lack of precision on a couple of occasions where the try-line beckoned and might have allowed them to rescue victory.
However Con’s scramble defence was tremendous, as was the physical toughness in the collision; none epitomised this more than the outstanding Brian Hayes, involved in several of his team’s and the game’s seminal moments. Conor Kindregan, Shane Daly, Rob Jermyn and Luke Cahill also conspicuously excellent.
Con coach Brian Hickey admitted: “If we were waking up tomorrow morning and saying it was a great season even though we’d lost today, I don’t think it would have cut any ice with the players. This was the one we really wanted.”
And what of his side’s resilience? “They needed it. They (Clontarf) asked questions in attack. I can never understand why a player like Matt D’Arcy isn’t playing at the level he should be at. Mick McGrath, none of these players would be out of place at the very highest level.”
It may have lacked the quality of last season’s final between the clubs but the nerve-shredding tension once again compensated adequately; two teams unrelenting from first to final whistle.
Scoring sequence: 2 mins: Quinlan penalty, 3-0; 9: Quinlan penalty, 6-0; 13: M D’Arcy try, Joyce conversion, 6-7; 16: Quinlan penalty, 9-7; 34: M McGrath try, Joyce conversion, 9-14; 36: Quinlan penalty, 12-14. Halftime: 12-14. 42: Quinlan penalty, 15-14; 50: Jermyn try, Quinlan conversion, 22-14; 58: Quinlan penalty, 25-14; 64: Kearney try, Sutton conversion, 25-21.
Clontarf: R Keogh; M Brown, C O’Brien, M D’Arcy, M McGrath; D Joyce, S Cronin; V Abdaladze, J Harris-Wright, R Burke-Flynn; B Reilly (capt), M Kearney; T Ryan, K Moran, M Noone. Replacements: A D’Arcy for Ryan 5 mins; I Soroka for Keogh 30-40 mins; B Byrne for Harris-Wright halftime; I Soroka for Abdaladze 51 mins; M Sutton for Joyce 59 mins; E Browne for Kearney 65-70 mins; Abdaladze for Burke-Flynn 76 mins; S Cronin for Keogh 77 mins.
Cork Constitution: S Daly; L O’Connell, N Hodson, N Kenneally, R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins; L O’Connor, V O’Brien, G Sweeney; B Hayes, C Kindregan; G Lawler, J Murphy, L Cahill. Replacements: R Burke for Sweeney halftime; K O’Byrne for O’Brien 45-55 and 58 mins; S O’Leary for Lawler 55 mins; JJ O’Neill for Hodson 64-66 mins; J Power for Cronin 68 mins; G Duffy for O’Connor 70-79 mins; J Poland for Higgins 70 mins.
Referee: S Gallagher (IRFU)
Yellow card: R Burke Flynn (Clontarf) 28 mins; Sam Cronin (Clontarf) 58 mins.