The Ulster Bank League leaders scored three tries in the closing 15 minutes to secure a deserved victory but head coach Andy Wood admitted it was a big struggle to see off the Young Munster challenge at Clifford Park on Saturday.
“Young Munster were dogged, determined and put us through the ringer at times,” he said. “We’re just delighted to get out of here with the win. We took our chances eventually.We got the win after a heck of a lot of hard work.”
Onwards and upwards for Clontarf then as they stretched their lead at the top to three points — second placed Old Belvedere were held to a draw by St Mary’s College — but Wood still doesn’t see the run-in as a two-horse race.
“There’s a long way to go, still eight games to go. We’ll take any amount of daylight we get but nothing’s done yet. It’s still [only] the end of January but If we work as hard as this and bring some accuracy then hopefully we’ll get into our stride again.”
His Young Munster counterpart John Staunton was clearly disappointed to have conceded the game so easily in the closing minutes. But he wasn’t surprised, given the injury problems and physical superiority enjoyed by the north Dublin side.
“It was 14-9 with 16 minutes to go but we coughed up two handy tries that Clontarf didn’t really have to work for. The penalty try we should have defended better but I suppose energy-wise our guys were a bit sapped. They put an awful lot into the game but credit to Clontarf who are a big powerful side and they sap the energy out of teams, and over the 80 minutes, they deserved their win. We just ran out of gas and options.”
Staunton knows there can be no further setbacks for his side to retain an outside chance of pushing for the title, but he refused to throw in the towel.
“There are eight matches left and Clontarf still have to go to Lansdowne and also have to play Belvedere. They’re massive matches, both eight pointers for Clontarf, and you never know because there’s no road goes in a straight line.
“We’ll wait and see. The main thing is that we stick together. We have Dolphin in Cork next week which is a huge match for us. We’re battered and bruised but we’ll get back on the road on Tuesday night. We want to finish as high as we can. It’s not a dead rubber yet. It’s going to be very, very hard for us to get back into it, but we do want to finish as high as we possibly can so we’re going to give it socks.”
Clontarf built up a 9-3 half-time lead through the boot of David Joyce. Brian Haugh gave Young Munster an early lead with a penalty but Joyce hit back with three before the break, each struck perfectly in the difficult conditions.
Haugh pulled one back for the home side seven minutes into the second half but his side was unable to exert control. Instead, the leaders grabbed the opening try in the 63rd minute from Sam Cronin. Haugh cut the deficit to five with his third penalty but Clontarf responded with a penalty try converted by Joyce before the out half pilfered Young Munster possession to race away for another try a minute from the end.
YOUNG MUNSTER: C O’Hanlon, D O’Connor, M Doyle, K Hifo, A O’Loughlin, W Staunton, B Haugh, A Cotter, G Slattery (captain), H McGrath, M Madden, K Hanley, T Goggin, S Rennison, C Liston.
Rolling replacements: D Montgomery, G Ryan, J Moroney, S Upton, D Ryan.
CLONTARF: D Fitzpatrick, M McGrath, E Ryan, C Keegan, M McFarland, D Joyce, S Cronin, I Hirst, B Byrne, R Burke-Flynn, B Reilly (captain), M Kearney, A Darcy, T Ryan, B Cuttriss.
Rolling replacements: T Byrne, C Culleton, D Hegarty, R Dillon, T McCoy.
Referee. D Phillips (IRFU).