But they were undone in the last play of an Ulster Bank All-Ireland League thriller when Garryowen full-back Alex Wootton finished off a fine attacking movement which earned his side not just a win but also a valuable four try bonus point.
Constitution, still awaiting their first league win this season, were left to rue a disastrous start during which two tries by left wing Steve McMahon and another by scrum-half Neil Cronin pushed Garryowen into a powerful position. However the hosts, without a recognised place kicker, and all three conversions were off the mark.
This in turn allowed Con some breathing space. They gradually played their way back, dominating the set scrums where Munster’s John Ryan proved a massive influence and the line-outs through Brian Hayes and Luke Cahill. Garryowen persistently infringed to keep them at bay and referee Seán Gallagher duly dispatched JP Phelan and Aaron McCluskey to the sin bin. Flanker James Murphy forced his way over for a Con try and the accurate left boot of Tomás Quinlan (with a conversion and four penalties) nudged them a point ahead on 72 minutes.
But he also struck an upright with another attempt and after that it was Garryowen’s turn to impose the pressure. Referee Gallagher saw fit to yellow card Con’s Niall Kenneally and Liam O’Connell and even though Garryowen scorned two penalty shots at goal, they still prevailed when trusting their backs after a series of close range assaults were repulsed and Wootton scorched through a gap for the winner.
“Before the game, we spoke about how Con have beaten us narrowly in recent seasons and to come away with a win in the last minute makes up for a lot of that,” enthused Josh Hrstich, Garryowen’s New Zealand number eight and captain. “We have a huge amount of respect for them and they’d probably say the same about us. Our decision to kick for touch at the finish shows the belief we have in our squad. I had a gut feeling that we were good enough to get the try and the bonus point which is huge for us.
“We’re a tight knit group, a tight knit club, and very proud to be back up here in the top division. We also conceded silly yellow cards last year but always kept fighting and fighting and when those guys come back on, they know they have to work extremely hard to make it up to us.”
Cork Con team manager Kenny Murphy admitted that they were “very disappointed at the outcome. We thought we came back well into the game after the three tries but in fairness Garryowen always hang on and they came back superbly to win at the end. We gave away 10 early points with a couple of errors and yet they took their chances and their missed three conversions meant we were in with a shout at 15-0.
“I always say, when you’re away from home in this league and get a point on the road, you can be reasonably happy. We’ll take the point and move on. We have no complaints about our yellow cards, the referee has to make his call, we had two and Garryowen had two as well.”
A Wootton; S McMahon, A O’Byrne, J Purcell, J Frawley; C Doyle, N Cronin; P O’Shea, L McMahon, B Rowley, A McCluskey, P McCarroll, S Buckley, J Coghlan, J Hrstich capt.
L Cronin, JP Phelan, E Fitzgerald, E Barry, J McInerney.
D Lyons; M Keyes, N Hodson, N Kenneally, L O’Connell; T Quinlan, R Foley; J Ryan, M Abbott, G Sweeney, B Hayes, C Kindregan, L Cahill, J Murphy, J Ryan.
B Quinlan, A Slattery, G Lawlor, C O’Flaherty, R Horgan.
S Gallagher (IRFU).