As predicted, the Ulster Bank League final at the Aviva Stadium went down to the wire. The game was on a knife edge right to the end and Lansdowne finally realised the dream of a national league and cup double at the expense of Cork Constitution.
Ulster Bank League Division 1A final
A small crowd meant a lack of atmosphere but it mattered little to two industrious and totally focused teams. The excitement mounted from the opening minutes of a match that was in the balance for every one of the absorbing 80-plus minute contest.
Victory gave Lansdowne the spoils but this decider was a much closer run affair than the Bateman Cup final a fortnight ago. It was, as Lansdowne head coach Mike Ruddock predicted last week, decided on the bounce, or the kick of a ball.
Ultimately, the result was decided on the ratio of goal-kickers — Scott Deasy, five from five and Tomás Quinlan, four from six for Con, each of the misses agonisingly close to target.
Vanquished Constitution captain Niall Kenneally wasn’t far off when he remarked: “Losing aside, there are some winners inside of that dressing room. It’s a tough one to take, close game that could have gone either way; we did as much as we could and it came down to a kick of a ball at the end. In fairness to Lansdowne, they’re a very good side.
“Still, I’m really proud of the boys, there are guys in that changing room, there are winners there and even though we lost, guys stood up. To a man, I’m very proud of all of them.”
Ruddock, meanwhile, accepted his side rode their luck somewhat: “But look, these games are often decided on small margins; I know it’s repeating myself but I said before the game it was going to be very tight, that it would come down to the wire, and it was just that.
“We’re just happy to have got out of it and I think it proved ultimately we can dig deep to win when we need to.”
It took Constitution just 100 seconds to post the first score, a penalty from Quinlan, Lansdowne another five minutes to equalise through the boot of Deasy.
But Constitution enjoyed the biggest share of possession and territory thanks to a dominant opening by the pack, with Joe McSwiney and Luke Cahill particularly to the fore.
They were worth the 9-3 lead they established when Quinlan kicked two more penalties, although they were pegged back to a three points advantage when Deasy kicked his second penalty after 26 minutes.
Still, Constitution poured forward and they enjoyed the better of the game moving on; Shane Daly made one superb break as he stormed onto a pass from Jason Higgins, and Alex McHenry had a chance only to lose possession as he looked to make a decisive break 20 metres out.
Lansdowne lived somewhat on their nerves, but for the most part their defence helped keep them within striking distance and Con, given the statistics in their favour, would have been better pleased with a more comprehensive advantage as time ticked on to the break.
Lansdowne grew more into the game in the closing stages. With the last kick of the half and the most difficult one, Deasy brought his side level to 9-9 with a penalty from out wide on the right, leaving it all to play for in the second 40 before giving his side the lead for the first time six minutes after the break with a fourth penalty.
But Constitution launched an immediate offensive to claw back a score.
They grabbed the opening try from Brian Hayes after 50 minutes to go back into a 14-12 lead. Quinlan missed the difficult conversion but then kicked a penalty after 56 minutes.
The game took another twist just four minutes later when Tyrone Moran bagged a Lansdowne try and Deasy converted to push his side into a 19-17 lead.
They held it despite conceding a penalty to Quinlan whose 40 metre effort drifted left and wide.
While the 2017 champions never gave up, they turned over possession in a decent attacking position and then conceded two scrum penalties to let Lansdowne work their way out of the defensive and into the comfort zone long enough to secure their third title.
E Mills; F Horan, H Brennan, M O’Keeffe, A Leavy; S Deasy, A Bennie; P Dooley, T Moran, I Prendiville (captain); J O’Rourke, J Dwan; J O’Sullivan, A Connelley, W Earle.
I Fitzpatrick for Horan (30), C Rock for Bennie (40).
S Daly; L O’Connell, A McHenry, N Kenneally (captain), R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins; B Quinlan, V O’Brien, G Sweeney; B Hayes, C Kindregan; E Mintern, J McSwiney, L Cahill.
R O’Neill for Mintern (40), G Duffy for Quinlan (60), JJ O’Neill for Jermyn (65), G Hurley for Higgins (66), D Murphy for Sweeney, Mintern for O’Neill (both 76).
D Wilkinson (IRFU).
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