Clontarf 21 Cork Constitution 25: Some finals are remembered for great scores or controversial moments. Some not at all. Others live on through the memories of standout individual performances and it is for a number of those efforts that this Ulster Bank Division 1A final will stand the test of time.
So often ignored, at times even undermined, the AIL has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for talent capable of making the step up to the professional ranks. One such candidate could be Con’s Tomás Quinlan.
The out-half kicked all seven of his pots on goal at the Aviva - six penalties and a conversion - and came away with man-of-the-match honours as well as the medal that is his due after the Cork club edged their Dublin opponents to claim a fifth AIL title.
It is just the latest bauble for player and club in a season that ends after 31 games, a fifth successive Bateman Cup title, a fifth straight Munster Senior Cup win, the Charity Cup and a first league success since 2010.
Quinlan’s performance bore some resemblance to that of Joey Carbery on this stage 12 months ago. The Clontarf ten scored a try and kicked four conversions that day and followed it up with a breakout rookie season with Leo Cullen’s Leinster.
Quinlan by then was coming to the end of a short stint with the Munster academy and doesn’t mind admitting that he would love another crack at the professional game after performing as he did in front of a crowd that included Joe Schmidt.
“You saw what happened to Joey last year and Sweets (Darren Sweetnam),” he said. “I have played with both and they are top-class players. They took their opportunity last year and it has put them onto bigger and better things. Maybe this will open up a door. That is out of my control. I have done as much as I can. I absolutely would love to play professionally. I have always wanted to play professionally and I’m only 22, so I hope the door isn’t shut.”
Quinlan wasn’t the only player on view yesterday to serve up the type of display that made you wonder why some professional club, either on these shores or abroad, hasn’t yet thought them worth a shot.
Brian Hayes was immense in the second-row and showed why he was formerly on the books of Munster and Aurillac. Clontarf wing Mick McGrath proved why he had been on the books with Leinster and spent some time on trial in England with the Leicester Tigers.
“I can never understand why a player like Matt D’Arcy isn’t playing at the level he should be at,” said Con coach Brian Hickey who once served as assistant coach with Munster. “He asks so many questions. Mick McGrath: none of these players would be out of place at the very highest level. I’ve seen both levels and I’ve seen the standards of coaching and there is a very, very narrow gap between this and the upper level of the (Pro 12).”
For Hickey, Quinlan and Con this was a result to savour after their three-point loss at the same hurdle, in the same venue and to the same opposition 12 months ago. Three points was the difference that time. Four separated them here.
‘Tarf scored three tries to one from the Munster side but fell foul of the referee. Five penalties were all they earned from the whistle. Con were awarded three times that and played against 14 men for 20 minutes with Royce Burke-Flynn and Sam Cronin binned.
Clontarf actually ‘won’ those two ten-minute periods 14-6 but their indiscipline, some poor execution and a monumental shift from Con conspired against them as they chased down a third league title in just four years.
Con were 6-0 up when they conceded the first try, a brilliant one-two between McGrath and D’Arcy that saw the former blitz through and barrel over Jason Higgins and the latter make the initial break and touch down.
The second was another hit-and-run job with Con coughing up a scrum and a penalty while deep in the Clontarf 22. That allowed the 14 men sweep upfield and, after Quinlan dropped a Garryowen, touch down through McGrath.
Their third came through Leinster lock Mick Kearney with 15 minutes to go when they were 25-14 in arrears but the crucial score had already been and gone with Rob Jermyn claiming the five points after brilliant work on both sides of the ball by Hayes.
“I suppose it is the complete opposite of what happened to us last year,” said Quinlan. “There was a lot of hurt taken onto the pitch and it showed there in the end in our defence. Everyone stepped up individually and that allowed us to pull through.” Bigger stages may yet await him but this was a day, and a season, to savour.
**It was incorrectly stated in Saturday’s edition that Cork Con’s Gavin Duffy graduated from UCC with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Duffy studied and graduated from Cork IT.
R Keogh; M Brown, C O’Brien, M Darcy, M McGrath; D Joyce, S Cronin; V Abdaladze, J Harris-Wright, R Burke-Flynn; B Reilly, M Kearney; A Ryan, K Moran, M Noone.
A D’Arcy for Ryan (4); I Soroka for Keogh (31-40) and Abdaladze (52); B Byrne for Harris-Wright (HT); M Sutton for Joyce (60); E Browne for Kearney (66-71); J Power for Cronin (69); V Abdaladze for Burke-Flynn (77); S Cronin for Keogh (78).
S Daly; L O’Connell, N Hodson, N Kenneally, R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins; L O’Connor, V O’Brien, G Sweeney; B Hayes, C Kindregan; G Lawler, J Murphy, L Cahill.
R Burke for Sweeney (HT); K O’Byrne for O’Brien (46); S O’Leary for Lawler (56); V O’Brien for O’Byrne (56-59); JJ O’Neill for Hodson (65); Hodson for O’Neill (66); G Duffy for O’Connor (71); J Poland for Higgins (71); L O’Connor for Duffy (80).
S Gallagher (IRFU).
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