The Leesiders had to dig deep defensively to seal their first Bateman Cup since completing a league and cup double back in 2010, and Con captain Gerry Hurley was thrilled their defence proved to be as effective in the second half as their attack had been in the first.
“We’re absolutely delighted. It was a great defensive display, particularly in the second half. We attacked well in the first half. At times this year we’ve let ourselves down early on in games. We’ve had to battle back into them,” Hurley remarked afterwards.
“Defence was going to be key today, and our attack is always good. We scored two good tries out wide, and in the second half our defence, in particular, was absolutely outstanding.”
After out-half Johnny Holland had given the visitors an early edge with penalties either side of an eighth minute place kick from Mary’s full-back Dunne, Con stepped into their stride in devastating fashion, as an enterprising move from a scrum ended with Cronan Healy putting his fellow wing man Clune through for a converted try in the right corner on 21 minutes.
Dunne had kept the hosts in touch with a brace of three-pointers (with Holland’s third of the contest sandwiched in between), but Con had the final say in the opening period, when outside centre Deasy drove over powerfully with 39 minutes gone. Holland was on hand to supply the bonuses, which gave the Ballintemple outfit a 21-9 cushion at the interval.
Brian Walsh’s charges looked set for victory at this point, but a rejuvenated Mary’s forced themselves back into the reckoning when flanker Gareth Austin crossed over after an incisive ruck on the right-flank on 48 minutes.
Dunne was on target from the subsequent conversion, and his 55th minute penalty from 40 metres reduced their deficit to two.
Con had struggled to impose themselves after an eye-catching first-half, but excellent defensive play kept last year’s Ulster Bank League champions at bay during the final quarter, before a superb drop-goal from distance by the ever-impressive Holland in stoppage time secured their win.
It was a terrific team effort that helped Con to emerge victorious, but Hurley was quick to acknowledge the contribution from man-of-the-match Brian Hayes and eventual match-winner Holland.
“Brian Hayes, the man who’s off to France next year. If he continues to play like that, I’m sure we’ll be calling him back soon enough. He was awesome. Some of the hits were absolutely phenomenal.”
“Johnny [Holland] has been fantastic this year. He has won us games with his kicking. He’s a very promising young player. He’s got a very good all round game. Excellent defender, good attacker, good with the ball in hand and a superb left boot. To step up at the end and kick a drop-goal like that takes a bit of bottle,” Hurley added.
Scorers for St Mary’s College: G Austin try, G Dunne 4 pens, 1 con.
Scorers for Cork Constitution: R Clune, S Deasy try each, J Holland 3 pens, 1 con, 1 d/goal.
ST MARY’S COLLEGE: G Dunne; S Toal-Lennon, M O’Driscoll, R Hudson, D Fanning; P Brophy, M D’Arcy; C McMahon, Richard Sweeney, Rob Sweeney, C Ruddock, G Sexton, K Sheahan, G Austin, D Keller.
Replacements: C Hogan for Lennon (25), A Lyons for Rob Sweeney (54), S Bradshaw for Sexton (59-78), D Fawsitt for Richard Sweeney (68), Richard Sweeney for Keller (71), M Fallon for Austin (76), Robert Sweeney for McMahon (78).
CORK CONSTITUTION: D Lyons; R Clune, S Deasy, A Ryan, C Healy; J Holland, G Hurley; B Carney, A O’Driscoll, C Corkery, B Hayes, J McSwiney, G Lawlor, J Ryan, C O’Flaherty.
Replacements: D O’Brien for Lawlor (65-69), J Ratchford for Carney (69), N O’Driscoll for A Ryan (71).
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU).