If the game had become a Battle of Clontarf, Buccaneers were fancied to cause an upset. The swirling wind and relentless drizzle meant the pitch was of the soggy type Buccs have excelled on, but Tarf weren’t to be denied.
Two Lee Turner penalties was the simple return for the Connacht side at the end of this, but they were brave in their attempt. Until the final ten minutes, they were within a try of the Dublin side, but that try was never likely to come, when two of their important players lost their heads.
First, team captain Eoin Brennan was sin-binned for stamping and no sooner had he returned to the fray than his team-mate, Rowan Frost, was shown a yellow card.
This double whammy was a hammer-blow to Buccs’ fading chances and with the visitors reduced to 14 men, Niall O’Brien seized on a wayward kick from Buccaneers wing Paddy O’Sullivan, controlled it under pressure and kicked the ball ahead of him three times, sprinting onto the ball and touching down to cue the Clontarf celebrations.
O’Brien’s clever try ensured the closing stages were simply a procession. Darragh O’Shea converted O’Brien’s try. It was the only one of his three conversions that were successful, but it was also the most difficult. Then, Andy Dunne embellished the win with a wonderful drop-goal. No wonder they celebrated at the end like they’d won the Triple Crown.
This was a victory for the focus and hunger Clontarf have shown all season. If the AIL is to get off life-support, more clubs may need to follow Tarf’s lead. Shorn of any big names with their international contracts, the team is constructed of only the committed and ravenous who want to play for the club. This is reflected in the fact they have only lost twice in 16 games. The endeavour of such work-horses as Bernard Jackman and David Moore illustrate their desire. Again on Saturday, Jackman was in the engine room for Tarf, bursting through any sliver of light in the Connacht defence.
Playing against the wind in the first half, Clontarf stuck to their game-plan. Keep things tight. Keep things simple. After only four minutes, the crowd saw how this method would prove fruitful. After a superb line-out catch by Ben Gissing, Clontarf rolled a maul towards the try-line and when the ball was eventually touched down, it was by the arm of Moore.
Clontarf’s cause was helped by the elementary errors that littered Buccanneers’ football. Although Turner scored his first penalty in the 30th minute to keep Buccs in the game, Clontarf’s constant probing meant it always looked like there would be a second try. Two minutes after Turner opened his team’s scoring, it came through Ollie Winchester. Yet again, O’Shea found kicking into the wind too much of an ordeal, but the home side still were well worth their 10-3 lead.
The second half had even less for the faint-hearted. It was basically one big numbing maul, with the occasional moments of magic like O’Brien’s run and try.
That ended the possibility of any nerve-shredding conclusion and ended any interest for the neutral. It wasn’t pretty, but Lansdowne Road next week will lift the gloom of Castle Avenue for Tarf supporters.
CLONTARF: D O’Shea; N O’Brien, D Higgins, J Downey, O Winchester, D Hewitt, M Walls; W O’Kelly, B Jackman, A Clarke, B Gissing, A Woods, D Quinn, S O’Donnell, D Moore Subs: C Power for O’Donnell, A Cullen for Gissing,60 mins D McElligot for O’Shea(78 mins)
BUCCANEERS: W Munn; T Robinson, E Keane, W Wallace, P O’Sullivan, L Turner, C O’Loughlin; R McCormack, J McVeigh, M Cahill, R Frost, N Smullen, G Schoewman, E Brennan, C Rigney Subs: J Meagher for Keane(61 mins)
Ref: A Lewis(IRFU)