Saturday was an historic day for the Ulster Bank League as Joy Neville became the first female referee to take charge of a Division 1A fixture.
“This is a day to remember.” Neville beamed after overseeing the clash of Cork Constitution and Clontarf at Temple Hill.
“It was always my goal to referee a 1A game and it was the icing on the cake I got to referee these two teams who were in the final last year.
"The pace was fast, skill-set was very good, and both sides were very respectful and responded very well. I think that’s down to me, I hope, getting decisions right. It’s a two-way system, once you get the accuracy, the respect comes after.”
It was memorable day for Brian Hickey’s side as well, as they survived a late Clontarf onslaught, with Shane Daly, Ned Hodson and James Murphy all crossing for tries in a 24-17 win.
The visitors looked to storm Temple Hill early as the powerful no.8 Tony Ryan burst forward. The ball was then given to star centre Conor O’Brien, who whizzed through a gap in midfield before wrong-footing Daly for the opening try, which Conor Jennings converted.
It didn’t take long for Con to respond, as a steal at the breakdown from Rob Jermyn led to three robust charges from Evan Mintern. This brought the home side within metres of the line and Daly finished it off with a run in from close quarters.
The champions were back within minutes to take the lead, as flanker Adrian D’Arcy wriggled over the line with Jennings adding the extras.
Con’s sharpshooter Quinlan missed a chance to narrow the gap but Con kept pressing and were rewarded when Liam O’Connell fed flanker Murphy in the corner for his second try in as many games. Quinlan converted moments later.
Andy Skehan’s charges rallied and managed to re- establish their lead just before half-time with a well-struck penalty from Jennings.
The ever-present Murphy had a busy second-half as he won a turnover on his own line to lift the Clontarf siege.
Con worked their way upfield until Daly danced past two defenders and fed the impressive Hodson, who raced 20 metres clear for a pivotal score. And this time, Quinlan slotted a beauty from the touchline.
Clontarf’s authority wavered when Peter du Toit was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball. A steady Quinlan made them pay as he pushed the score out to 24-17. Clontarf pushed and pushed to rescue the tie but were denied by resolute Con defending as the hosts held out to record a memorable win on a special day for Irish rugby.
Scorers for Cork Co:
S Daly, J Murphy, N Hodson (1 try each) T Quinlan (3 conversions) T Quinlan (1 pen.)
Scorers for Clontarf:
A D’Arcy, M D’Arcy (1 try each) C Jennings (2 conversions) C Jennings (1 pen).
S Daly; L O’Connell, N Hodson, N Kenneally (capt.), R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Poland; L O’Connor, M Abbott (V O’Brien, 51), R Burke (G Sweeney 68); B Hayes, C Kindregan; G Lawlor (S Dwyer, 40-69), J Murphy, E Mintern.
C Jennings; S Long, M Brown, C O’Brien, M McGrath; E Ryan (M Sutton, 70), S Cronin (P du Toit, 40) V Abdaladze, R Litchfield (J Larbery, 20), R Burke Flynn (D Doyle, 60) ; B Reilly (capt.) (K Moran 17-22), T Byrne; M Noone, A D’Arcy (K Moran, 44), T Ryan.
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