Five-star Cork Con bolstered by 'perfect' preparation for final showdown
Old Belvedere 13 Cork Constitution 18
Brian Hayes believes Cork Constitution will be at their battle-hardened best when they renew rivalries with defending champions Clontarf in next Sunday's Ulster Bank League Division 1A final.
The former Munster second-row turned in a man-of-the-match performance as Cork Con collected a record fifth successive Bateman Cup title, overcoming a relegated Old Belvedere in Saturday's decider at Anglesea Road.
First-half tries from Liam O'Connell and Hayes and eight points from out-half Tomas Quinlan proved just enough.
"In the second half we had a few opportunities and didn't close them out at all. If we play like that next week against Clontarf, it'll be a completely different result," admitted Hayes, who is determined to avenge last May's 28-25 defeat to the north Dubliners.
"We like to win matches, it doesn't matter what competition. Five in a row in the Munster Senior Cup was a big thing for the club and this was as well, and we've one more to do next week.
"Definitely that last (defensive) stand will stand to us, Belvedere were coming in wave after wave.
"Clontarf have had a week off, that will benefit them in a way. But this will tighten us up (in defence), especially with the way Clontarf attack. It was the perfect game in terms of preparing for the league final."
Hayes' second-row partner Conor Kindregan is an injury concern for Con's 30th match of the season after going over on his ankle, while flanker Graeme Lawler is another doubt.
Con cruised into an early 10-0 lead. The in-form Quinlan fired over a fifth minute penalty and his skip pass played in winger O'Connell for the opening try three minutes later.
It looked ominous for Belvo but their 20-year-old out-half Paul O'Keefe got them off the mark with a 22nd minute penalty - cancelled out by Quinlan - before hooker Ed Rossiter, an impressive carrier throughout, barged over for a converted try on the half hour mark.
However, Con captain Niall Kenneally claimed the restart and O'Connell's quick feet and excellent offload sent Hayes over in the corner, the lock showing great athleticism to reach out and dot down while avoiding touch.
Quinlan missed two second-half penalty attempts in the swirling wind, the latter after the visitors' do, and Willie Staunton's 66th-minute kick had the gap down to five points.
Nonetheless, Con stood up to Belvo's late siege with Hayes and replacements Liam O'Connor and O'Neill all making crucial interventions.
Relieved Con coach Hickey added: "The defence has been the hallmark of our games, it has improved dramatically as the season has gone on. But I think the best thing today was the spirit we showed to defend."
OLD BELVEDERE - D Riordan; S McDonald, J Kennedy (capt), S Coughlan, D Brandon; P O'Keefe, B Butler; A Howard, E Rossiter, D Lavery, J Kelly, K Miller, T de Jongh, P Pritchard, J Slattery. Reps: C O'Flynn, J McWilliams-Gray, C Owende, M Oyuga, M Ritani, K McCarthy, W Staunton.
CORK CONSTITUTION - S Daly; L O'Connell, N Hodson, N Kenneally (capt), JJ O'Neill; T Quinlan, J Poland; Duffy, V O'Brien, G Sweeney, B Hayes, C Kindregan, S O'Leary, J Murphy, L Cahill. Reps: L O'Connor, G Roche, C Barry, R O'Neill, J Higgins, R Jermyn, M Clune.
Ref - D Wilkinson (IRFU)