Clontarf centre Sean O’Brien is determined to follow in his older brother Conor’s footsteps and win an All-Ireland League title at the Aviva Stadium next Sunday.
Mullingar RFC product Conor played in three Division 1A finals for Clontarf, picking up a winner’s medal in 2016, and has now made 17 Leinster appearances. His sibling, an Ireland U20 international last year, has emerged as a key player in Clontarf’s drive for a third league crown in six years.
“It was great to get the win. It’s been boiling up for the last few weeks so we’re delighted to get the result against a very strong Lansdowne side,” said Sean O’Brien after their impressive 23-15 semi-final victory over the defending champions at Castle Avenue.
“It was huge for us to build a score by half-time because it was a really strong wind, so 18 points was a nice buffer. We knew it would be a lot harder to exit in the second half. “It was just about not rushing our exits and just playing the way we have been playing, keeping the ball.”
David Joyce’s half-break after nine minutes took play close to the 22 and centre Matt D’Arcy used the recycled ball to fend off the cover and touch down. Despite Lansdowne’s calls for a forward pass, D’Arcy’s centre partner O’Brien was allowed accelerate through from the visitors’ 10m line for his eighth league try.
Out-half Joyce converted and added two penalties as the hosts surged into an 18-0 half-time lead. Lansdowne’s Scott Deasy clawed back three points in the 45th minute but winger Michael Courtney quickly responded with a try.
Although Mike Ruddock’s men closed the gap thanks to a Daniel McEvoy score and a 77th-minute penalty try, Clontarf were clear winners on the day.
Meanwhile, UCC’s points machine James Taylor scored a try and kicked 12 points as they completed the first part of their mission to avoid relegation from Division 1A.
They will have home advantage in Saturday’s play-off final against Old Wesley who saw off Naas 20-17 after 100 absorbing minutes thanks to replacement Josh Miller’s extra-time penalty.
Notably, three of the weekend’s four promotion/relegation play-off deciders were won by away teams.
Clonmel will join round robin winners Enniscorthy in Division 2C next season following a gritty 15-12 win at Seapoint. Dylan Cadogan’s coolly struck last-minute penalty saw the south Tipperary club secure a historic All-Ireland League place.
Navan’s stunning rise up the divisions continued with their third promotion in as many years, sealed by a 34-19 triumph over Queen’s University. They finished sixth in Division 2C in 2016, but a league title and two play-off final wins have followed under Alan Kingsley, firstly, and now Ray Moloney.
They booked a Division 1B berth thanks to tries from James McInerney (2), Willie Staunton, and Leigh Jackson, as well as a penalty try.
A late Staunton penalty denied Rainey Old Boys promotion to the third tier last year, but the Magherafelt club will compete in Division 2A next season. First-half tries from Oisin Quinn, Brad Roberts, and Michael O’Neill inspired their 35-21 win at Stradbrook, which demoted a Blackrock side which has James Blaney coming on board as their new head coach.
Two years on from gaining senior status, Malahide blitzed Bruff 36-13 at Kilballyowen Park to ensure Division 2B rugby at Estuary Road come the autumn.
Marcus McAllister saved the best for last, intercepting a loose ball on halfway, darting downfield, and throwing an outstanding offload behind his back to send fellow winger Daniel Hayes over for the Dubliners’ fifth and final try.