Having weathered a late Dolphin fightback to knock them out of the AIB Cup last weekend, champions Con are back on top of the All-Ireland League after they outsmarted their neighbours yesterday.
Con have seemingly blown off the cobwebs and put an indifferent pre-Christmas period behind them, passing the 40-point mark for the third league game in succession. Rarely have they put up such a total while playing so indifferently, but that it came against their local rivals will be of immense pleasure to all at Temple Hill.
David O’Mahony’s Dolphin will be left to rue the mistakes that saw them hand Con three of their tries on a plate. Local derbies are generally nip and tuck affairs, but the hosts were unusually generous in a fractured encounter.
Dolphin came flying out of the blocks, while Con were doing a poor job of looking even vaguely interested in the first half.
The hosts pounded Con around the fringes for the opening quarter, while the boot of Barry Keeshan gave them the field position they required to score two ugly but effective tries, with forwards Chris Rowe and Robbie Allen barging their way over on 12 and 21 minutes.
But in between they gifted Con seven points, with the visitors’ out-half Darragh Lyons was first to react to a dropped pass in midfield by hacking the ball on. The bounce favoured the Clonmel man, allowing him to gather without breaking stride, and he had the gas to see off the Dolphin cover.
Despite some tidy interventions from wing Paul Hurley and a searing Gary O’Keeffe break, Dolphin fared better with the bludgeon than the rapier, and there was a suspicion that Con’s backs could do more damage — provided they got some ball first.
Full-back Peter Broughan — who had a perfect goal-kicking return of seven from seven — banged over a 33rd-minute penalty to keep them in touch at 14-10 down at half-time, a significant psychological boost given Dolphin had owned the ball for the first half.
And seven minutes after the break, Con’s flyers finally clicked into gear. Duncan Williams, a constant sniping presence throughout, set off into midfield and fed Lyons, whose deft offload released Cronan Healy.
The cultured wing turned O’Keeffe inside out to score at the posts, with Broughan adding the extras.
Keeshan landed a fine penalty from wide on the left two minutes later to leave things finely poised at 17-17, but those anticipating a tense final half-hour were left disappointed.
That was largely down to a couple of key Dolphin errors. First, hooker Timmy O’Callaghan — whose darts had been on the money all day — overthrew a lineout five metres from his own line.
Brendan Cuttriss gleefully gathered for Con, but slow ball prevented them from exploiting a yawning gap on the blindside, and the chance seemed to have gone as Dolphin regrouped.
However, some slick hands from Ed Leamy sent Healy over in the right corner, and Broughan blasted the touchline conversion to add insult to injury.
Then, when Warren De Bruin was sin-binned by George Clancy on 61 minutes, Con simply buried Dolphin, scoring 17 unanswered points while the centre kicked his heels on the sideline.
Another lineout turnover in the Dolphin red zone gifted Con centre Andrew O’Brien the chance to expose the hosts’ lack of cover in midfield on 66 minutes, before Simon Zebo got in at the left corner seven minutes later, after Evan Ryan had eaten up 50 metres and cleverly waited for cavalry to arrive.
De Bruin made amends of sorts for Dolphin when he squeezed his way over on the stroke of full-time, after Hurley had twice broken the gain-line in the build-up, but by that stage Con’s minds were already wandering to their crucial showdown with Clontarf in a fortnight’s time.
Scorers for Dolphin: C Rowe, R Allen, W De Bruin try each; B Keeshan 2 cons, pen.
Scorers for Cork Constitution: C Healy 2 tries; D Lyons, S Zebo, A O’Brien try each; P Broughan 5 cons, 2 pens.
DOLPHIN: J Power; R Kenneally, W De Bruin, K Lynch, P Hurley; B Keeshan, G O’Keeffe; D Ryan, T O’Callaghan, C Condon; C Rowe, D Harty (capt); G Finn, B O’Mahony, R Allen.
Replacements: H O’Flynn for Harty (30, inj), A O’Driscoll for O’Callaghan (65), M Purcell for Lynch (70), A Long for Kenneally, F Gately for Condon (both 75).
CORK CONSTITUTION: P Broughan; C Healy, A O’Brien, E Ryan, S Zebo; D Lyons, D Williams; D Hurley, L Gabriel, T Ryan; M O’Connell, D Kelly; E Leamy, B Cuttriss (capt), B Holland.
Replacements: G Murray for Hurley (50), F Cogan for Holland (58), J Moloney for Kelly (62), D Murray for Gabriel (69), C Nolan for Williams (74).
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU)