Lansdowne fight back to be crowned Division 1A champions

Holders Clontarf left to rue missed opportunities as they are reeled in at the Aviva

Clontarf 17 Lansdowne 18

The topsy-turvy manner in which the Ulster Bank League Division 1A final panned out guaranteed a level of tension that was ever present for the 80-plus minutes. It made for a compelling if imperfect spectacle but given the occasion, there were always going to be mistakes.

Lansdowne emerged as champions, demonstrating grit and determination, to come back from a 17-8 deficit to snatch the narrowest of victories. Both teams deserve credit for the manner in which they gave everything in a contest replete with some outstanding individual displays.

Lansdowne flanker Joe McSwiney received the official man-of-the-match award for his sterling work but there were other candidates on both sides, the Clontarf pack to a man, centre Matt D'Arcy while for Lansdowne Tyrone Moran, Aaron Conneely, Thomas Farrell and Cian Kelleher enjoyed some high quality cameos.

Scott Deasy recovered from his intercepted pass to ultimately provide a match-winning contribution with the boot; his final two successful place-kicks, posted from close to the touchline.

Clontarf enjoyed a 7-2 penalty count at scrum time that emphasised their dominance, pinched a handful of lineouts against the throw and for large tranches of the match their pack got them a good gain-line and some field position.

Lansdowne though never buckled and crucially found a way to clamber back into a game that if not lost, appeared perilously close to drifting beyond their reach.

‘Tarf, the defending champions, will wonder how they were trailing at half-time, having created two gilt edged try scoring opportunities that with just a tad more composure or precision would have been a deserved reward for some excellent creativity.

On the first occasion, a cleverly worked attack down the touchline saw Collie O'Shea scamper clear but with two team-mates in support and one defender, he gave the pass to Tom Byrne a little early. The secondrow, who did brilliantly to be in support, offloaded in the tackle back in O'Shea's direction but the latter lost the ball forward in contact.

On 36 minutes Matt D’Arcy glided through a gap and raced towards the Lansdowne 22. His pass to the supporting Conor O’Brien was well timed but unfortunately for the young wing, as he went to tuck the ball, it came loose and was lost forward, possibly influenced by Scott Deasy’s fingertip scrag tackle. The Lansdowne outhalf did very well to get back.

Clontarf edged the scrum penalty count 4-2 in the opening 40 minutes and managed to disrupt the Lansdowne throw on a couple of occasions, forcing turnovers. However it was the 'home side' that scored the only try of the half on 21 minutes through Mark Roche.

Deasy’s beautifully weighted cross-kick was caught by centre Thomas Farrell. He got the pass away -it may have been a smidge forward - brilliantly under pressure and Roche demonstrated strength and dexterity to touch down in the corner.

The outhalf missed the touchline conversion, having earlier kicked a penalty while 'Tarf's response was two penalties from fullback Rob Keogh. Lansdowne continued transgression at scrum time cost them again four minutes after the interval, losing Adam Boland to a yellow card and conceding three points, through Keogh's boot.

It got worse for Lansdowne within 70 seconds, Deasy’s pass on the Clontarf 22, cleverly anticipated by Matt D’Arcy who faced 75 metres to score in the corner. Keogh couldn’t add the conversion but his fourth penalty on 53 minutes took his side into a 17-8 lead.

Lansdowne’s response was both impressive and immediate. They started to get some traction on the gain-line managing to force their way into their opponents’ 22 and when Clontarf transgressed at a ruck, Lansdowne kicked the resultant penalty into the corner.

What ensued was a homily to the raining ground as the man-of-the-match Joe McSwiney was mauled over for a try. Deasy kicked a superb touchline conversion via a post and for almost as acute an angle landed a 35-metre penalty on 66 minutes to nudge Lansdowne into an 18-17 lead.

The end game was fraught, exciting, the tension of the occasion ratcheted up by two late penalties. Deasy’s dropped just short, while ‘Tarf had to run their one from a yard inside the Lansdowne half - Keogh was off the pitch at that point because of injury - and the game finished when the outstanding Tyrone Moran forced a turnover.

The team that finished top during the league format, Lansdowne, maintained the tradition for the fourth year in succession of being the team that claimed the trophy.

Scoring sequence

4: Keogh penalty, 3-0; 14: Deasy penalty, 3-3; 17: Keogh penalty, 6-3; 21: Roche try, 6-8. Half-time: 6-8. 46: Keogh penalty, 9-8; 47: M D’Arcy try, 14-8; 53: Keogh penalty, 17-8; 58: McSwiney try, Deasy conversion, 17-15; 67: Deasy penalty, 17-18.

Clontarf: R Keogh; C O'Brien, C O'Shea, M D'Arcy, M McFarland; E Ryan, S Cronin (capt); I Soroka, B Byrne, R Burke Flynn; B Reilly, T Byrne; K Moran, A D'Arcy, T Ryan. Replacements: T McCoy for Ryan 39 mins; A Robles for McCoy (half-time); I Hirst for Soroka 57 mins; C O'Keeffe for T Byrne 60 mins; McCoy for Keogh 67 mins; L Og Murphy for Ryan 72 mins; D O'Meara for Cronin 75 mins; R Litchfield for B Byrne 78 mins.

Lansdowne: C Kelleher; M Roche, T Farrell, T Daly, I Fitzpatrick; S Deasy, A Griggs; P Dooley, T Moran, I Prendiville; B Moylett, S Gardiner; J McSwiney, A Conneely, R Boucher (capt). Replacements: J O'Brien for Kelleher 15-24 mins; A Boland for Prendiville 27 mins; T Beirne for Moylett 49 mins; Prendiville for McSwiney 51 mins; McSwiney for Prediville 53 mins; P O'Driscoll for Boucher 58 mins; T Kiersey for Griggs 61 mins; Boucher for O'Driscoll 75 mins.

Yellow card: A Boland (Lansdowne) 44 mins; A Robles (Clontarf) 70 mins.

Referee: S Gallagher (IRFU)