Cork Constitution 19 Young Munster 9
Cork Constitution were made to fight incredibly hard before eventually seeing off the challenge of Young Munster in the second Ulster Bank League Division 1 semi-final at Temple Hill this afternoon.
While there is no doubt that table toppers Cork Con were the better team and deserve their place in the final against Old Belvedere at Donnybrook on Sunday May 1, their head coach Brian Walsh must be relieved to see the back of Young Munster.
Apart from an early try from promising lock Brian Hayes, Munsters proved to be impossible to break down and kept in the hunt throughout a closely-fought second half.
It was the combination of Young Munster's magnificent defence and the place-kicking ability of scrum half Alan Kingsley that kept them right in this encounter until the closing stages.
Eventually, Kingsley's opposite number Gerry Hurley nailed a penalty and then a drop goal with the last kick of the game to see the defending champions through to another All-Ireland decider.
Quite rightly, Walsh paid tribute to Young Munster afterwards, saying: "They are a good side, defensively very strong. I don't think there was a missed tackle all day."
In the circumstances, it was just as well that Cork Con had an outstanding goal-kicker of their own in Hurley and that they made such a good start to the game. They also, yet again, showed their uncanny ability to adapt when losing one of their many contracted players.
On this occasion, they had to use young flanker Peter O'Mahony on the left wing. But O'Mahony made an outstanding contribution, frequently using his strength to run back at Young Munster and gain crucial yardage.
When Hayes got over for his try in the third minute, and Hurley landed the conversion, there seemed little hope for the Limerick outfit. Even more so when Hurley added a penalty to make it 10-0 with 26 minutes gone.
But Young Munster, coached by Mike Prendergast, simply do not go away, and they cut the deficit to 10-6 with two Kingsley penalties, the second of which was from a yard inside his own half.
Although Hurley replied with a penalty for Constitution, to give them a 13-6 interval advantage, the home side now knew they were in for a real battle.
A further Kingsley penalty made it 13-9 before the Leesiders lay siege to the Young Munster try-line. But there was simply no way through.
So, when Kingsley had another penalty opportunity to reduce the deficit to a point with 20 minutes left, the home fans were entitled to feel worried. For once through, Kingsley made a mess of his kick.
A much-relieved Cork Con duly regained control to eventually settle the nerves with a further penalty from RTE/Ulster Bank man-of-the-match Hurley and a drop goal by the same player settled the issue in the dying minutes.
While Walsh's charges will unquestionably go into the final as favourites, he will not be underestimating the challenge of Old Belvedere.
"I will not be reading too much into their semi-final win over Clontarf. They finished second behind us in the table, which shows they are a good side," he said.
"They needed to show a bit of character to beat Clontarf, and I anticipate that they will be a far better side in the final.”
CORK CONSTITUTION: Sean Scanlon, Richie Lane, Ivan Dineen, Cyprien Jouve, Peter O'Mahony; Scott Deasy, Gerry Hurley; Martin Gately, Denis Fogarty, Darragh Hurley, Brian Hayes, Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Brendan Cuttriss, Frank Cogan (capt).
Replacements used: Aidan Foley for Gately (80 mins).
YOUNG MUNSTER: Ian Cross; Craig O’Hanlon, Matthew Costelloe, Ray Moloney, Aaron Carroll; Willie Staunto, Alan Kingsley; Ger Flaherty, Ger Slattery (capt), Alan Cotter, Neville Melbourne, Shane O'Neill, Liam Og Murphy, James O’Neill, Shane Hassett.
Replacements used: Brendan Guilfoyle for S O'Neill (4 mins), Hugh McGrath for Flaherty (53), Declan Bannon for Staunton (80).
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)
Cork Constitution: Try: Brian Hayes; Con: Gerry Hurley; Pens: Gerry Hurley 3; Drop: Gerry Hurley
Young Munster: Pens: Alan Kingsley 3.