Having barely survived in Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League, few gave Constitution a hope of retaining the trophy they had held for the past two seasons but they won this big game with considerable conviction.
So much so that vanquished Clontarf skipper Sam Cronin had absolutely nothing to complain about: “We completely lost our way in terms of the game plan. We were fully focused but so too were Con, we knew they would put it up to us here in Cork especially given that we beat them just a few weeks ago in Dublin, we knew they would have a chip on their shoulders; in fairness they produced a fantastic performance and fully deserved their win.”
Cork Constitution skipper Jerry Hurley accepted there were those who might have felt it was a surprising result. Not in his book, however: “They were third in the league, we were eighth, but deep down in the squad we believed in ourselves, believed that we have a lot of talented players and when we get it right we are quite hard to beat. It was an All Ireland final and we knew if we were up there mentally that we had the ability and the football to get through.”
As it transpired, Hurley’s decision to play against the wind in the opening half having won the toss was vindicated, although he played down its significance even if Con led 14-9 at the interval.
“We would have had to play against the wind at some stage, but we figured from the start that we had a good mindset to go take them on physically and front up; it allowed us get into the game, we stretched them, scored two really good tries and put it up to them from the beginning. Second half, you know that the wind isn’t going to win you anything and probably suited them, but Darragh (Lyons) settled us with an early drop goal and the tackles the guys put in throughout the second half were amazing.”
Hurley, as usual, played a significant role but others such as Niall Keneally, Rob Jermyn, Darren Sweetnam, Cathal O’Flaherty, Luke Cahill and especially Graeme Lawlor, were constantly to the fore of a very special team performance.
The first half damage was done with tries from Cahill and James Ryan and two magnificent touchline conversions from Lyons. Joyce kicked three penalties before Lyons struck early in the second half for Con.
As Clontarf battered the resolute Constitution defence late on, a turnover helped give the home side the last say, Lawlor snapping up possession, Jermyn breaking a last ditch tackle and finding Sweetnam on his side. The flying full back raced all the way unopposed for a third try that substitute Tomas Quinlan converted.
Not only have Clontarf to recover mentally from this defeat in advance of next week’s Ulster Bank League semi-final with Terenure College, but they will also have to find a replacement for accomplished out half and regular goal kicker Joyce.
The number ten sustained a serious shoulder injury in the closing seconds of Saturday’s game and has already been ruled out of the clash with Terenure.
For Constitutionm though, it was a sweet and bountiful end to a topsy-turvy season.
CORK CONSTITUTION: D Sweetnam, N Hodson, JJ O’Neill, N Kenneally, R Jermyn, D Lyons, G Hurley (captain), G Duffy, M Abbott, G Sweeney, C O’Flaherty, G Lawlor, L Cahill, J Murphy, J Ryan.
Replacements: S Dwyer for Murphy (19, inj); T Quinlan for Jermyn, A Slattery for Duffy (61); L O’Connor for Sweeney (63); R Horgan for Hodson (65); A Dorgan for Hurley (74), A Ross for O’Flaherty
CLONTARF: R Keogh, M Brown, C O’Shea, M Darcy, M McFarland, D Joyce, S Cronin (capt), I Hirst, B Byrne, R Burke-Flynn, T Beirne, B Reilly, K Moran, A Darcy, T Ryan.
Replacements: I Soroka for Hirst (inj, 32), C O’Brien for Brown, D O’Meara for Cronin (both half time), E Ryan for O’Shea (72), C O’Keeffe for Beirne (73).
Referee: D Wilkinson (IRFU)