Clontarf find extra gear as Con's title hopes fade
THE battle for the All-Ireland League Division 1A title has become a three-horse race following Clontarf's hard-fought success over Cork Constitution at Castle Avenue.
Any chance Cork Con had of making a late run disappeared with this defeat.
Consequently, Clontarf, St Mary's College and Young Munster will fight it out for the top honours in what promises to be an exciting climax.
Clontarf currently lead on points difference from St Mary's, with Young Munster two points adrift. Anything can happen, particularly as the top sides still have to play one another over the last five series of games.
For the moment, Clontarf are just relieved to have survived a really difficult afternoon against Cork Con.
They looked in some trouble at half-time as they were only level at
3-3, despite having played with the advantage of a strong wind.
The visitors, who looked the more composed outfit in the first half, went ahead with a penalty from scrum-half Gerry Hurley. However, former Cork Con man Richie Lane landed an equaliser just before the break.
Clontarf were a much improved outfit playing into the wind, retaining possession much better.
The decisive moment came when Cork Con second-row Brian Hayes was sin-binned 15 minutes into the second-half. During his absence, Con found themselves under severe pressure in the scrum close to their own line and referee Peter Fitzgibbon quickly awarded a penalty try.
Lane's conversion gave Clontarf a 10-3 advantage. As you would expect, Cork Con battled back, Hurley landing two penalties to reduce the deficit to 10-9 going into the closing stages.
Clontarf held out for the type of victory which is going to be crucial if they are going to go on and take the title.
The one concern was a shoulder injury to scrum-half Sam Cronin. His young replacement Dermot O'Meara showed a lot of promise -- as did another of the substitutes, flanker Adrian D'Arcy, when he came on in the second half.
"We made life difficult for ourselves with our first-half performance," admitted Clontarf coach Andy Wood. "Thankfully, we were a lot more accurate after the break.
"We also did well to take advantage when they had a man in the bin in the second half. Any time you can beat Cork Con, it's a good win."
Cork Con coach Brian Walsh was understandably disappointed to have lost such a tight game: "Our title chances have gone now, which is a pity, because it's a much changed young side which has generally done very well," he said.
"We could easily have sneaked it today. But the side has shown a lot of character to have travelled to the league leaders and come so close to winning."
CLONTARF -- R Lane; M McGrath, K Lett, C O'Shea, T McCoy; E Ryan, S Cronin; B Barclay, A Dundon, N Treston, B Reilly, J Chipman, S Crawford, B O'Mahony (capt), F Cogan. Reps used: A D'Arcy, D O'Meara, N Reid.
CORK CONSTITUTION -- S Scanlon; C Quinn, D Lyons, I Dineen, R Clune; J Holland, G Hurley; B Cagney, A Cudmore, C Corkery, B Hayes (capt), P Donnellan, J McSwiney, B O'Hara, J Ryan. Reps used: B Cutriss, M Gatley.
REF -- P Fitzgibbon.