Clontarf eke past Cork Con in classic Ulster Bank League finale
Clontarf 28 25 Cork Constitution
Clontarf won a pulsating Ulster Bank League final, edging out Cork Constitution in a seven-try thriller to lift the trophy for the second time in three years.
Aided by a man-of-the-match performance from 20-year-old out-half Joey Carbery, 'Tarf made up for last year's chastening final defeat to Lansdowne by prevailing at a sun-splashed Aviva Stadium.
But they had to fight tooth and nail for their victory in the end, as Constitution's stirring second half fightback clawed the deficit back from 18 points to just three.
Three tries in the space of 12 minutes, towards the end of the first half, had given Andy Wood's men a commanding 21-3 lead at half-time. Ireland Club international captain Matt D'Arcy and Leinster-capped duo Carbery and Tony Ryan all touched down.
A 10-point surge, including a Max Abbott score from a maul, had Cork Con firing again, and although Mick McGrath's 15th try of the campaign steadied 'Tarf, back-to-back converted efforts from Rob Jermyn and Darren Sweetnam set up a grandstand finish.
Tension gripped the stadium during the concluding quarter of an hour, but neither side could add to their tally as the north Dubliners ground out a narrow, nail-biting win.
Battle-hardened from last week's Bateman Cup final success, Constitution were quickest to settle, their captain James Ryan stealing a lineout and Sweetnam's neat offload releasing winger Jermyn in the 'Tarf 22.
Although Clontarf lost full-back Evan Ryan to an arm injury in the sixth minute, their defence held firm under prolonged pressure with Tomas Quinlan missing his first penalty attempt.
Carbery was also wide with a well-struck long range effort, four minutes later, and Con had to scramble back to thwart a couple of fine breaks from Tony Ryan and Carbery, with Mick McGrath eventually turned over.
Leinster Academy starlet Carbery pushed a second place-kick to the right and wide and the Leesiders managed to bundle D'Arcy into touch five metres, with both sides struggling to win their own lineout ball.
But the deadlock was finally broken on the half hour mark, Carbery initially slipping past a couple of tackles and then with possession won back by Sam Cronin, Carbery's flat pass allowed D'Arcy to shrug off Ger Sweeney's tackle and score in the right corner.
Carbery pulled in the conversion from left to right and the same two players had pivotal roles in the second try, D'Arcy breaking from deep and offloading to Michael Brown who found Carbery on his shoulder and he outpaced Ryan Foley to dive in under the posts for a superbly-worked seven-pointer.
A scrum penalty allowed Quinlan to drill over a central penalty from 43 metres out, but there was still time for 'Tarf to run in try number three just before the interval.
Another free-flowing attack, with six pairs of hands on the ball, saw workhorse number 8 Ryan crash over in the right corner. TV replays showed there was a knock-on between Brown and Karl Moran, but the try stood and Carbery's crisp conversion left Con 18 points adrift.
Brian Hickey's side hit back just four minutes into the second half when Brian Hayes' athletic lineout take set up a maul off the back of which hooker Abbott sprung through for a try that Quinlan expertly converted from wide on the right.
It was a double blow for 'Tarf with back rower Ryan sin-binned for infringing at the maul, and some excellent competing at the breakdown by Graeme Lawler saw Quinlan make it 10 points in quick succession.
But Con's momentum was broken up by 'Tarf's fourth try, some lovely interplay between centres Conor O'Brien and D'Arcy finishing with McGrath raiding in behind the posts, and Carbery's boot made it 28-13.
Jermyn responded for Con barely three minutes later, bouncing off Ian Hirst's attempted tackle to make it over the line. Quinlan's conversion hit the woodwork, leaving ten points between the league's top two finishers.
The post also denied Carbery at the other end following two muscular runs from McGrath and Brown, but Con were clinical when James Murphy snapped up loose possession on the deck, Ryan Foley chipped over the top and the ball bounced up in timely fashion for Sweetnam to hare through and score.
Quinlan's conversion suddenly had the margin down to three points with 18 minutes remaining and the Constitution pack - beefed up by Rory Burke and Liam O'Connor - winning a couple of important scrums, including one against the head.
'Tarf elected to go for the corner after Niall Kenneally's high tackle on Ryan. A loose lineout allowed Con to clear and 'Tarf managed to see out the tight result, Carbery claiming a vital high ball in his own half and a last-minute knock-on, near halfway, costing Con as their All-Ireland double bid fell agonisingly short.
CLONTARF: Evan Ryan; Michael Brown, Conor O'Brien, Matt D'Arcy, Mick McGrath; Joey Carbery, Sam Cronin; Ivan Soroka, Bryan Byrne, Ian Hirst, Tom Byrne, Ben Reilly (capt), Michael Noone, Karl Moran, Tony Ryan.
Replacements used: Rob McGrath for Ryan (6 mins), Neil Reilly for Moran (18-26, blood sub), Aaron Dundon for B Byrne, Peter du Toit for Cronin (both 49), Vakhtang Abdaladze for Hirst (61), Eoghan Browne for (66-75), Reilly for Moran (80+1).
CORK CONSTITUTION: Darren Sweetnam; Aaron Spring, Shane Daly, Niall Kenneally, Rob Jermyn; Tomas Quinlan, Ryan Foley; Gavin Duffy, Max Abbott, Ger Sweeney, Brian Hayes, Conor Kindregan, Graeme Lawler, James Murphy, James Ryan (capt).
Replacements used: Rory Burke for Abbott, Liam O'Connor for Duffy (both half-time), Cathal O'Flaherty for Lawler (53-65 mins), John Poland for Foley (78), Sonny Dwyer for Murphy (80+2).
Referee: Andy Brace (IRFU)