Ruddock hails players as Landowne seal deal
ROSS McCARRON hoisted the All-Ireland League trophy skywards and then his team-mates raised him aloft.
Having led from the front all season, Lansdowne were finally able to celebrate under the shadow of the Aviva Stadium, although Clontarf made them work for it all the way.
Leading by 19 points going into this Dublin derby, the southsiders needed only a losing bonus to claim the silverware. But playing at home, with live television coverage and a relatively large crowd at the back pitch at Lansdowne Road, Mike Ruddock's men wanted to do it the right way and thanks largely to centre Mark Roche, who scored two tries, they did.
They peer down from a position of incredible strength, but Lansdowne have not had it all their own way, as captain McCarron – who was celebrating a family affair as his father Dermot is club president – explained.
"A few years ago when the stadium was being redeveloped we didn't have a home, didn't have a pitch, but we got two promotions on the bounce under Willie Clancy and then Mike and Emmet Farrell came in and we've gone from strength to strength," the former UCD man explained.
"I remember being a ball-boy here, bringing sand on to Eric Elwood taking the kicks. To go from those days to here, to lifting the cup with my dad as president, it is fantastic."
While their absolute dominance has some longing for a return of the play-offs, this was fitting reward for an exceptional bunch of players who are deserving champions.
The play-offs had faults, but they did at least give the club game a date on the calendar where it was front and centre. Indeed, the giant stadium cast a shadow on proceedings as the cream of the club game did their bit to grab some rare limelight.
The pitch inside is being reseeded at considerable cost before next month's Heineken Cup final, making it unavailable to the club game. It was a shame that these players didn't get a run on the bigger stage.
Their place in the game is rammed home by the fact that 25 times more people showed up to the RDS two hours later, but no one who celebrated long into the night in the impressive Lansdowne clubhouse cared.
The club's success is indelibly linked to the professional game, with a host of academy players in their ranks, thanks in part to the redevelopment of the stadium closed to them on Saturday.
Their grounds are the envy of clubs around the country and, with Ireland U-20s coach Ruddock at the helm, they have been able to attract the cream of young talent to the banks of the Dodder.
"When I came in two years ago, I said that with the facilities, the location, we have everything going for us, we should be one of the most potent forces in the league and we have worked hard to do that," the former Wales coach explained.
"We have put a gym programme in over the summer, which has paid dividends. The boys come in at 7.0 and train on their nights off. As well as their rugby sessions, they train as professionally as they possibly can. The standard in the league has gone up, so we want to have a good standard in our club."
That standard may go unnoticed by most of the rugby public, but it was firmly evident on Saturday as Clontarf did everything they could to spoil their cross-city rivals' party.
It was intense stuff, with Richie Lane kicking the visitors ahead, only for Connacht Academy player Roche to wreak havoc in a three-minute period that would prove crucial.
Lansdowne had tired the 'Tarf pack with five minutes of scrums and re-sets as their all-Leinster front-row looked to press home their advantage. Nothing came directly from the period, but minutes later a switch between centres Simon Morrissey and Roche paved the way for Sean Carey to get the champions-elect off the mark.
Not content with his role in the opening try, Roche embarked on a superb effort after his own line-break that brought play from inside the hosts' '22' into Clontarf territory, before he was on hand to break Killian Lett's tackle and hold off Matt D'Arcy to score.
Clontarf's Frank Cogan forced his way over from a maul, but Lansdowne fly-half Craig Ronaldson added a drop-goal as the hosts led 17-13 at the interval.
Simon Crawford's try put the northsiders in front, but Ben Barclay had a rush of blood to the head and saw yellow from the kick-off, allowing Ronaldson the opportunity to level at 20-20.
Experienced No 8 Ron Boucher touched down for a pushover try, but Clontarf wouldn't go away and Collie O'Shea crossed with a fine individual effort.
Lane's conversion to level came off the post and Roche had the last say with a try at the death, seconds after hooker Tom Sexton had been denied by the referee's positioning. It gave them their 10th try-bonus in 14 games this season, and they became the third Dublin club in a row to lift the trophy.
Whether they follow Old Belvedere and St Mary's in struggling with the mantle remains to be seen. Their squad will take a hit. Ronaldson looks Connacht-bound, Sexton is off to Melbourne Rebels and their host of Academy players look set for greater things.
"The club game is fundamental," Ruddock concluded. "It is a key block of the game."
LANSDOWNE – R McCarron (capt); C Aherne, M Roche, S Morrissey, S Carey; C Ronaldson, P O'Driscoll; J O'Connell, T Sexton, M Moore; W Earle, T Beirne; C Ross, C Butterworth, R Boucher. Reps (rolling): S Collins, D O'Reilly, M Feely, M Walsh, C Toolin.
CLONTARF – M D'Arcy; M McGrath, K Lett, E Ryan, R Lane; D Fitzpatrick, S Cronin; B Barclay, C O'Flynn, R Burke-Flynn; B Reilly, M Flanagan; S Crawford, A D'Arcy, F Cogan. Reps (rolling): C Kavanagh, J Larbey, C O'Keefe, D Shanahan, C O'Shea.
REF – E Hogan-O'Connell (Munster).