Cork Constitution head coach Brian Hickey says his side are “underdogs” heading into Sunday’s Ulster Bank League final, despite the fact the defending champions are approaching their third successive Division 1A decider.
Cork Con will renew rivalries with Lansdowne after defeating Terenure College 22-15 at Lakelands Park on Saturday. Out-half Tomas Quinlan impressed again with a 17-point tally from the tee, while Munster ‘A’ back-rower Evan Mintern, who was sprung from the bench, crossed for a second-half try. The result sets up a repeat of the recent Bateman Cup final, which Lansdowne won convincingly (32-12) at Temple Hill.
Their hopes of a second successive All-Ireland double may be over, but Hickey’s troops could still make history next weekend, as they target a two-in-a-row, something which has not been achieved in the league since 2006.
“It’s great to be back in the final,”said Hickey. “I’m very proud of the fact we got to the top four and are now back in the final. It’s a very hard league to win and I’ve always said to the players that I think the importance of being a champion is how well you defend your trophy. That’s something I think good champions do. They put up a good defence. It was suggested that we were a bit tame [in the Bateman Cup final] and that hurt. I don’t think that gave credit to the performance of Lansdowne. We’re going to be very much underdogs. They’re a seriously good side, playing on their home patch [at the Aviva], but we’re delighted to be back there.”
Con leaked two tries to Terenure’s much-vaunted attack, as backs Robbie Carroll and Jake Swaine touched down in either half, but Hickey felt his charges did well to “limit Terenure’s opportunities, weather the storm and close out the game quite well”.
It was Terenure’s second home semi-final defeat in four seasons, and a bitter pill to swallow given their fight to finish second in the table.
Constitution’s main injury concern for the final is experienced scrum-half Gerry Hurley, who suffered an injury in the warm-up. Hickey says the Midleton man has “a fighting chance”, but noted that Jason Higgins “played very well” against Terenure. Michael Bradley’s son Gary was brought onto the bench as the reserve number nine.
Meanwhile, four second-half tries fired Lansdowne into their first league final since 2015. They are 80 minutes away from a coveted All-Ireland double after overcoming Garryowen 36-19 in the other semi. Lightning-quick winger Adam Leavy started and finished the try-scoring, with the hosts adding a penalty try and efforts from Alan Bennie and Tyrone Moran.
Conan Doyle’s Light Blues deserved to be closer on the scoreboard, brothers Neil and Liam Cronin combining for their only points, including the latter’s 75th-minute try. It was still a fine season for the Munster Senior Cup champions, given they were in relegation trouble 12 months ago.
Scorers for Terenure College:
R Carroll, J Swaine try each; M O’Neill pen, con.
Scorers for Cork Constitution:
E Mintern try; T Quinlan 5 pens, con.
M Byrne; J Swaine, R Carroll, M Hiney, S Coghlan Murray; M O’Neill, T Schmidt; C Madden, R Smyth, O Heffernan; M Melia, A Thompson; C Deans, R Duke, E Joyce.
K Konrad for Carroll (31-40, blood), F Schalk Jooste for Madden (46), K O’Neill for Schmidt (52), P Thornton for Duke (56), Konrad for Carroll, R Byrne for Smyth (both 62), J O’Donoghue for Coghlan Murray (79).
L O’Connell; JJ O’Neill, A McHenry, N Kenneally, R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins; B Quinlan, V O’Brien, G Sweeney; C Kindregan, B Hayes; J McSwiney, R O’Neill, L Cahill.
E Mintern for R O’Neill (52), G Duffy for B Quinlan (61), R O’Neill for McSwiney (72), D Murphy for R O’Neill (84).
S Gallagher (IRFU).
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