Four tries to one and a 14-point winning margin suggests Clontarf had a comfortable passage through to the Division 1A final, but head coach Andy Wood highlighted his side’s defensive work as the key in victory.
It is no coincidence that the two teams with the meanest defences in the top flight this season — Clontarf and Cork Constitution — will contest the May 8 league decider. UCD had plenty of possession and territory at Castle Avenue in Saturday’s semi-final, but ‘Tarf tackled and harried them into submission.
New Zealander Wood said: “UCD had the majority of territory and ball, so we had to defend for huge periods. It was fraught. It was hard earned, so I’m just pleased. I’ve got to credit Simon Broughton, who is our attack coach and skills coach, and Aaron Dundon, who does set piece and the contact work. You can see the fruits of that. I thought the guys over the ball (the likes of Karl Moran and Tom Byrne) kept UCD very honest and gave us time to realign as well.
“Once we held onto the ball, most importantly, we built some phases and when we got opportunities, we were clinical. We’ve guys who can make line breaks and finish.”
Clontarf, runners-up to Lansdowne last year, led the students 10-3 at half-time. UCD out-half Ross Byrne landed a lone penalty in response to early unconverted tries from Bryan Byrne and Mick McGrath.
Although UCD leaked a third try to Clontarf’s powerful flanker Michael Noone, the visitors gave themselves a fighting chance when winger Barry Daly went over with 16 minutes to play. Byrne’s conversion cut the gap to 17-10.
The 68th minute sin-binning of openside Moran left ‘Tarf under pressure, but their defence stood firm and an injury-time try from replacement Evan Ryan, a former league-winning captain with Cork Con, sealed the win.
“Con in the final, that’s an absolute physical challenge in a couple of weeks. We’ve got to get up again, and bring it again. They’ll certainly bring plenty,” said Wood.
Tries: B Byrne, M McGrath, M Noone, E Ryan; Cons: J Carbery 2.
Try: B Daly; Con: R Byrne; Pen: R Byrne.
R Keogh; M Brown, C O’Brien, M D’Arcy, M McGrath; J Carbery, S Cronin; I Soroka, B Byrne, V Abdaladze, T Byrne, B Reilly (capt), M Noone, K Moran, A Ryan.
R McGrath for Keogh (24 mins), I Hirst for Soroka (53), A Dundon for B Byrne (57), Eoghan Browne for T Byrne (64), P du Toit for Cronin (68), E Ryan for R McGrath (73).
B Dardis; A Byrne, J Glynn, B Holland, B Daly; R Byrne, N McCarthy; A Porter, S McNulty, J Loughman, B Cawley, E MacMahon (capt), W Connors, D Leavy, P Timmins.
L Hyland for Loughman (42 mins), T Fletcher for Holland (51).
David Wilkinson (IRFU)