Tries from man-of-the-match Ryan Foley (2), Shane Daly, and Max Abbott, allied to another assured goal-kicking display from Tomas Quinlan, steered the Leesiders to an unprecedented fourth Bateman title in a row.
It was the first leg of a potential All-Ireland double for Constitution who face Clontarf in Sunday’s league decider. Number 8 Ryan said: “The Bateman Cup is a special trophy for Con. I’m lucky enough to have won it four years now — I think there’s only three of us that have done that. Roll on Tuesday when we get back training, get back into the office. We’ll start again, put this behind us and try to beat Clontarf.”
While Clontarf will have recharged their batteries over the weekend, battle-hardened Con’s pack provided a strong set piece platform. Their maul was central to the win — including hooker Abbott’s clinching 67th-minute try from a lineout drive.
Ryan said: “We had two tough league games against ‘Wegians and we were lucky enough to come out on top. It was a big performance by the boys. They were probably the one pack we never got the better of in the scrum, and it probably showed again. Our scrum was dominant all year, but Saturday was very even. The boys up front really prevailed. We stole a few (lineouts) and we got a few mauls off it which was the key to winning.”
Relegated Galwegians, featuring in their first Bateman final since 1929, fell behind to a superb 7th-minute penalty from out-half Quinlan. Wind-backed Con went 10-0 up when Brian Hayes’ lineout take set up a maul and although the ball went loose, snappy scrum half Foley managed to cut past Marty Cummins to score.
An improved scrum led to Galwegians’ Kiwi centre Api Pewhairangi bursting past four tacklers and from a subsequent ruck, ex-Connacht back Brian Murphy burrowed over. The left-sided conversion was pushed wide by Aidan Moynihan and ‘Wegians leaked three points following the restart, James Murphy winning a breakdown decision and Quinlan coolly slotting over the kick.
The nip and tuck nature of the final continued as the home forwards pressed from a maul and 5m scrum before Murphy took a line onto a Moynihan pass to score his second, running into a gap left by Ned Hodson who had to go off with a knee injury.
Moynihan converted to close the gap to 13-12, but an intercept and big boot downfield from lock Hayes gave Constitution the territory to create their second try. Armed with a penalty advantage, Quinlan’s well-weighted grubber was dotted down by Hodson’s replacement Daly for a timely seven-pointer and a 20-12 interval lead.
The left-footed Quinlan lofted over a penalty, four minutes into the second period, and good work in contact from replacement Luke Cahill and Niall Kenneally kept Con on the front foot.
Quinlan, who missed two drop goal attempts either side of the break, kept the scoreboard ticking over with his fourth successful penalty, leaving ‘Wegians 14 points adrift. Crucially, the hosts replied by the hour mark, full-back John Cleary crashing over. Replacement Dave Clarke’s conversion brought ‘Wegians back within striking range — 26-19.
‘Wegians lock Cummins paid the price for repeated penalties, his maul infringement in the 22 earning him a yellow card, and Con took advantage immediately, driving through for Abbott to touch down. Quinlan missed the conversion but ‘Wegians were unable to respond. Foley completed his brace in the dying minutes, sniping through from a few metres out, and Quinlan’s conversion made it a 19-point winning margin.
Tries: Brian Murphy 2, John Cleary; Cons: Aidan Moynihan, Dave Clarke
Tries: Ryan Foley 2, Shane Daly, Max Abbott; Cons: Tomas Quinlan 3; Pens: Tomas Quinlan 4 HT: Galwegians 12 Cork Constitution 20
John Cleary; Cormac Brennan, Api Pewhairangi, Brian Murphy, Ed O’Keeffe; Aidan Moynihan, Barry Lee; Ja Naughton (capt), Juan Anaya, Jason East, Marty Cummins, David Nolan, Marc Kelly, Josh Pimm, Anthony Ryan.
Dave Clarke for Moynihan (54 mins), Doron McHugh for Naughton (61), Matthew Towey for Ryan (77), Eamonn Dowling for Lee (80).
Darren Sweetnam; Aaron Spring, Ned Hodson, Niall Kenneally, Rob Jermyn; Tomas Quinlan, Ryan Foley; Gavin Duffy, Max Abbott, Ger Sweeney, Conor Kindregan, Brian Hayes, Graeme Lawler, James Murphy, James Ryan (capt).
Shane Daly for Hodson (32 mins), Liam O’Connor for Duffy (39), Luke Cahill for Lawler (46), Cathal O’Flaherty for Cahill, Rory Burke for Sweeney (both 59), John Poland for Foley (80).
Nigel Correll (IRFU)