Garryowen were once the specialists and still lead the roll of honour, but Shannon have taken over the running. On Saturday at Thomond Park they garnered their 17th title - their sixth in succession - a feat never achieved before, and they celebrated in customary fashion.
Public interest has waned - just 2,500 fans turned up - but this final was as intense as they get.
Shannon fully deserved their win but it certainly didn’t come easy. Opportunism was the key to success and Garryowen will bemoan missed chances against a Shannon side adept at taking theirs.
Garryowen coach Paul Cunningham remarked: “We had our chances in the first 20 minutes and really should have scored. Then Shannon came back at us, scored a good try and that knocked us back a bit.”
Indeed it got worse for Garryowen when they conceded a second try in first-half stoppage time to find themselves 17 points in arrears.
“That second try came at a cruel time for us. We had been playing reasonably well and were in the game with a chance. Ultimately, that score probably killed off our challenge,” added Cunningham.
But they certainly didn’t bow out without a fight, a fact acknowledged by Shannon coach Mick Galwey.
“We won the game in the first half but we always knew Garryowen would come back at us. I wasn’t surprised they threw everything at us and our defence had to be very good for long periods of the second half. They were worth a score and happily it didn’t come until it was too late.”
Garryowen’s 83rd minute try was scored by Alan Purcell after a searing break by Conan Doyle finally split the Shannon defence, Purcell finally sent in by substitute Rob Henderson.
Garryowen’s failure to make 10 minutes of first-half pressure pay, reflected in a badly missed 10th minute penalty by Jerry Hurley, was crucial.
More importantly, David O’Donovan’s 17th minute try, created by Fiach O’Loughlin and Tony Buckley, gave Shannon a firm psychological advantage. David Delaney kicked the conversion and then added a penalty to establish a 10-point lead.
The second try was even better, with Trevor Hogan, Stephen Keogh, O’Loughlin, Fionn McLoughlin, Delaney and Brian Tuohy all handling before O’Donovan was sent in at the corner and Delaney again converted.
Garryowen got a perfect boost within a minute of the re-start when Hurley knocked over a penalty, but Shannon shut up shop.
Galwey’s troops retained a slight edge up front, were well marshalled in defence and it took a special piece of football from Doyle to open up the gap for that consolation try. Alas, too little too late.
Both sides have still much to play for - Garryowen take on Belfast Harlequins, while Shannon play Clontarf in the AIB League semi-finals on Saturday.
In Cunningham’s view it represents an opportunity to have another crack at Shannon: “If that happens we will have another bite at the cherry and we will see what happens.”
: D O’Donovan, I Dowling, B Tuohy, O Cahill, F McLoughlin, D Delaney, F O’Loughlin, F Roche, J Flannery, T Buckley, T Hogan, T Hayes (captain), C McMahon, J O’Connor, S Keogh.
: L Hogan for Roche (44, inj), D Quinlan for O’Connor (75), T Cregan for O’Donovan (80).
: A Finn, D Heaton, R Niland, K Hartigan, A Purcell, C Doyle, J Hurley, R Callaghan, P Humphries, R Laffan, M Melbourne, D Sheehan, E Nihill, P Malone (captain), C Gallagher.
: C Hartigan for Gallagher, C O’Boyle for Heaton (both 51), R Henderson for Niland (63), temporary, R Brosnan for Callaghan (15-19).
: O Trevor (MAR).