Rarely are the north Dubliners shy on endeavour, entertainment and tries, but they’ve also become synonymous with making life difficult for themselves. Witness last season, when they lost at St Mary’s in the penultimate league game when a seven-point win would have secured the title.
Or how about 2011, when they turned a 12-0 lead into a 22-20 reverse in the now-defunct playoffs against rank outsiders Old Belvedere.
They were on the wrong end of the latter scoreline again on Saturday; it was all the more galling that they’d led 17-3 and were unravelled by the game’s final act, a try from Darragh Lyons converted by Gerry Hurley.
“It’s very difficult to lose in the way we did,” admitted ‘Tarf captain Evan Ryan, a Leeside native and former Cork Con man. “We made maybe 40 or 50 tackles in those last 10 minutes, and in the end it was a very good line they ran to beat us. Myself, Richie Lane and Frank Cogan (fellow former Con players) know all too well how difficult it is to beat Con when they’re at home.”
The losing bonus point won’t be of much satisfaction to Ryan, but even in the aftermath of losing on his former stomping ground, it was clear he’s enjoying himself in north Dublin, where he likens the atmosphere to that of a rural GAA club.
It’s a comfort blanket to him and the numerous others who have flocked from home in search of an honest living as well as good rugby.
“It’s almost like a country club, despite being in Dublin,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of lads who can’t find work in Cork and Limerick, and there’s more possibilities for them in Dublin.
If I was to come to Cork, I’d struggle to get a job in my line of work.”
It hasn’t escaped Ryan’s attention that the AIL’s top tier is devoid of clubs from Connacht or Ulster this year, yet more evidence of the effects of emigration. But for all the labour migration, structural changes and ever-increasing detachment from the professional ranks, Ryan is emphatic when asked if the club game is still relevant.
“You can see the commitment people have. I know it’s probably the bottom rung of the ladder compared to the academies and the provinces, but it means a lot to those who play in it,” he offers. That was a good game to watch today, two teams going at each other hammer and tongs, an excellent spectacle. I think it (AIL) still has a place in Irish rugby and it’s important it continues to do so, even if some clubs are struggling. Lots of professional players who have come up through it would say the same. But finding the funding to keep it all going is the key.”
Ryan wasn’t wrong when it came to entertainment. Despite spending most of the game on the back foot, his side led 10-3 at the break thanks to a Cathal O’Flynn try, the visitors’ hooker breaking off the back of a maul to dot down. Shortly after half-time, Dermot O’Meara tapped and went with the Con defence asleep to add a second, and Richie Lane’s conversion pushed the lead out to 14 points, a deserved advantage with Ben Reilly cleaning Con out at the lineout to deny them useful primary possession.
But Con scrum-half and captain Gerry Hurley, who had missed two kickable penalties in the first-half, suddenly made a few crucial interventions to put the hosts back in the mix. His raking penalty gave Con a platform before he pivoted well under pressure to send James Ryan under the posts unopposed from 25 metres out. Hurley converted that one and then nabbed a try of his own after a fine Con breakout from their own red zone, involving Cathal Quinn and Rob Clune, was finished off by the diminutive number nine.
His conversion fell short though, and with Lane tacking on a penalty, ‘Tarf led 20-15 entering the closing stanza. They were held up over the line for the second time in the game as they attempted to snuff out a Con fightback but the hosts seized the initiative and battered their way around the ‘Tarf 22 in search of a winner.
It finally came seven minutes into added time when Brendan Cuttriss found full-back Lyons, who ghosted through a gap and under the posts, with Hurley’s simple conversion securing the points for Con.
CORK CONSTITUTION: D Lyons; R Clune, S Deasy, P Parfrey, C Desmond; J Holland, G Hurley (capt); P Galvin, A O’Driscoll, J Ryan; B Hayes, C O’Flaherty; G Lawlor, B O’Hara, J Ryan.
Rolling subs: A Cudmore, B Cagney, D O’Brien, B Cuttriss, C Quinn.
CLONTARF: T McCoy; R Lane, C Keegan, C O’Shea, M McGrath; E Ryan (capt), D O’Meara; R Burke-Flynn, C O’Flynn, T Furlong; B Reilly, C O’Keeffe; S Crawford, A Darcy, M Garvey.
Rolling subs: J Larbey, T Byrne, B Barclay, S Cronin, D Fitzpatrick.
Referee: P Haycock (LRA)