For 66 minutes, Dolphin led the AIL Division One leaders, playing the rugby of their lives, but despite being under incessant pressure, the holders never imploded and displayed remarkable composure with tries from Ian Dowling and Colm McMahon to collect their seventh cup title in a row.
This was a final worthy of the name. The large attendance enjoyed an encounter full of passion, tension and the tantalising possibility of an underdog overcoming mighty Shannon.
Seven minutes of injury time was not enough for Dolphin to snatch a try, working their way into the Shannon 22 in a tension-filled finale, but the champions displayed commendable defensive strength to repel the onslaught.
That Shannon came good with the introduction of Donnacha Ryan and Andrew Thompson in the 64th minute was no coincidence either. Thompson delivered the killer pass that released Dowling, and Ryan added fresh impetus to a Shannon pack that for long periods was completely out-muscled by their counterparts.
For Dolphin, James Coughlan gave another masterclass at number eight, Donnchadh Murphy clocked up a big tackle count, Rory McGrath was imperious in the line-out and strong in open play, while their front row of Fergus Gately, Kieran Murphy and John O’Sullivan gave their opposite numbers a torrid time.
Dolphin got the dream start after seven minutes when Aidan O’Shea picked up a wild pass from Frankie McNamara in centre-field and sprinted under the posts. Keeshan added the extras before Shannon’s David Delaney landed a penalty almost straight from the restart.
The home side were playing out of their skins and pinned Shannon back inside their half for almost the remainder of this half.
Superb support play and patient phase-building manoeuvred Dolphin into good scoring positions but Shannon’s defence never buckled under the incessant pressure.
The Limerick side did concede a penalty in the 15th minute which Keeshan coolly arced over from the right to make it 10-3. However, they never crossed for a second try, though Ed Mills came close in the 30th minute.
Dolphin continued to bully the favourites up front after the interval and their pressure yielded a sweetly -struck drop goal from Keeshan to make it 13-3, but they followed this up by carelessly conceding a penalty in the 54th minute, Shane O’Halloran pulling down Lawlor from a restart.
Then a beautiful pass from replacement Thompson put Ian Dowling off on a mazy run that saw the Munster player shake off six tacklers for a try in the 66th minute. Delaney’s conversion squared things at 13-13.
Shannon were at last finding good field position and a break from Delaney put McMahon through for a try in the 73rd minute. Delaney converted again and though Keeshan landed a penalty in the 76th minute, it proved their last score as their wait to bridge 50 years without a cup win continues.
SHANNON: M Lawlor; P O’Connor, B Tuohy, I Dowling, D O’Donovan; D Delaney, F McNamara; L Hogan, P Ryan, T Buckley; E Halvey, T Hogan; C McMahon, J O’Connor, S Keogh.
Replacements: P O’Brien for Hogan (inj 32); D Ryan for Halvey (63); A Thompson for O’Connor (64).
DOLPHIN: D O’Mahony; S O’Halloran, A O’Shea, C Healy, E Mills; B Keeshan, T O’Leary; F Gately, K Murray, J O’Sullivan; R McGrath, D Harty; G Finn, D Murphy, J Coughlan (c).
Replacements: G O’Keefe for O’Halloran (inj 53); R McKinney for O’Sullivan (64); K Coughlan for Harty (71).
Referee: O Trevor (MAR).