The May 9 decider between Lansdowne and defending champions Clontarf is set for the main pitch at the Aviva Stadium — the scene of Lansdowne’s epic victory over Munsters where a last-gasp try from hooker Tyrone Moran proved all-important for Mike Ruddock’s men.
It was a heartbreaking finish for the Cookies who came into the play-offs as 10/1 outsiders for the league title, but they coped well with two first half yellow cards and Gearoid Lyons’ reliable boot had them within touching distance of the final both in normal time and extra-time.
Former Munster player Scott Deasy booted Lansdowne ahead from an early scrum penalty, however his radar was off on a couple of occasions as the hosts failed to take advantage of the Cookies’ high penalty count.
Young Munster centre Lyons equalised with his first successful kick on 25 minutes, the slippery conditions playing their part as attacks at both ends were foiled.
After Diarmaid Dee saw yellow for going off his feet at a ruck, Deasy briefly restored Lansdowne’s three-point advantage before his opposite number Willie Staunton replied with a well-struck drop goal. Lansdowne were 13-6 ahead at the break thanks to a well-worked converted try from centre Tom Daly. It owed much to a brilliant break from Leinster prospect Cian Kelleher, and supporting winger Ian Fitzpatrick who fed Daly with the final pass.
Munsters bounced back with an equally brilliant seven-pointer early in the second period. Right winger Diarmaid McCarthy, who threatened throughout, darted onto a Staunton grubber kick and beat the covering defender with Lyons converting. Lyons delighted the vocal travelling support by adding a pinpoint penalty from near the touchline, moving John Staunton’s side ahead for the first time.
Lansdowne then turned the screw in the scrum once more, winning a penalty which young replacement Conor McKeon converted to make it 16-16 and send the tie to extra-time.
It was first blood in extra-time to Munsters as a Lyons’ penalty went over off a post, rewarding scrum half Rob Guerin for a fine initial break and good support work from full-back Kolio Hifo. Now 19-16 down, Lansdowne missed a chance to respond when McKeon was off target with a drop goal attempt. However, Ruddock’s charges found the answers when it mattered most as they wore down a Munsters defence that was missing the sin-binned Craig O’Hanlon. Moran emerged as the match winner in the very final play, using his strength to power over just to the left of the posts. McKeon converted and with that, Lansdowne’s players and supporters could celebrate.
Tries: Tom Daly, Tyrone Moran; Cons: Scott Deasy, Conor McKeon; Pens: Scott Deasy 2, Conor McKeon.
Try: Diarmaid McCarthy; Con: Gearoid Lyons; Pens: Gearoid Lyons 3; Drop: Willie Staunton.
Cian Kelleher; Cian Aherne, Tom Farrell, Tom Daly, Ian Fitzpatrick; Scott Deasy, Adam Griggs; Peter Dooley, Tyrone Moran, Ian Prendiville, Brian Moylett, Stephen Gardiner, Joe McSwiney, Aaron Conneely, Ron Boucher (capt).
Paddy Flood, Adam Boland, Tadhg Beirne, Joe O’Brien, Padd O’Driscoll, Conor McKeon, Mark Roche.
Kolio Hifo; Diarmaid McCarthy, Dan Goggin, Gearoid Lyons, Eamonn Carr; Willie Staunton, Rob Guerin; David Begley, Ger Slattery (capt), Hugh McGrath, Tom Goggin, Sean Duggan, Alan Kennedy, Yasin Browne, Sean Rennison.
Luke O’Halloran, Paul Allen, Darren Gallagher Diarmaid Dee, Evan Mulcahy, Ger Flaherty, Craig O’Hanlon.
David Wilkinson (IRFU)