Battling Clontarf dent Munsters title hopes

Barry O’Mahony, the one-time Ireland Schools and Dolphin wing-forward, was one of five former Munster players to take a leading role as Clontarf pulled off a hugely important victory over Young Munster in the Ulster Bank League at Clifford Park on Saturday.

The result means the title almost certainly rests between Clontarf and St Mary’s, who are locked together on 54 points, six ahead of Young Munster, who still retain a mathematical chance.

Young Munster would still be closer in the hunt had Willie Staunton, who has kicked them to victories throughout the season, not missed five penalty shots at goal, most within his range. But coach Mike Prendergast was quick to his defence.

“We probably wouldn’t have been in this position at all without Willie,” he said. He has scored something like 170 points this season and is by the far the league’s leading scorer.”

However, it was vital for Munsters that Staunton brought along his kicking boots for this all-important occasion which attracted a large crowd to the Greenfields venue.

Two early misses from close range set the trend and their significance was quickly emphasised when former Cork Con full-back Richie Lane knocked over a Clontarf penalty before O’Mahony emerged from a ruck with the ball and raced clear from 50 metres without a hand laid on him.

“It just opened up for me, there was no defence around the ruck, no pillars, and there was nothing in front of me,” said the 25 year-old.

He is club captain in only his second season in ’Tarf colours while Richie Lane, out-half Evan Ryan, scrum-half Sam Cronin and flanker Frank Cogan are in their first year with the north Dublin club. All had a major influence here, none more so than Cronin, who has missed much of the campaign through injury.

To their credit, Munsters did come back from those body blows. Centre Andrew Burke showed the visiting defence a clean pair of heels as he raced up the right for a well-taken try, which Staunton converted, via the crossbar.

Staunton dropped an equalising goal straight after the interval only to miss his fifth straight penalty attempt shortly afterwards.

The responsibility switched to Andrew Burke but he also failed, albeit from long range, and Clontarf took the game by the scruff of the neck. Prop Niall Treston and centre Killian Lett went in for tries both of which Lane, who enjoyed a near flawless afternoon, converted.

Munsters hit back for a Mark Doyle try converted by Burke but a mere bonus point will hardly be enough to see the trophy make its way back to Clifford Park. Instead, it’s Clontarf in pole position on points difference from Mary’s and nobody would begrudge them the honour.

“Places like Young Munster are the hardest for teams like us to come to and get a result and it was a very big game for us,” said O’Mahony.

“This was a cup final for us today. Playing in Dublin is a change but I’m enjoying it. There’s a different kind of buzz and banter but I feel as much at home there as I would anywhere else.”

CLONTARF: R Lane; M McGrath, K Lett, C O’Shea, T McCoy; E Ryan, D O’Meara; B Barclay, A Dundon, N Treston, B Riley, J Chipman, A Darcy, B O’Mahony (capt), F Cogan. Replacements used: K Dorian, C O’Keeffe, S Cronin, J Larbey.

YOUNG MUNSTER: R Moloney; M Doyle, A Burke, A Carroll, D O’Neill; W Staunton, M Prendergast; A Cotter, G Slattery, H McGrath, D Gallagher, S O’Neill (capt), L Óg Murphy, J O’Neill, N Melbourne. Replacements used: G Burke, G Flaherty, J Moroney, M Rowley.

Referee: D Wilkinson (Ulster).

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