Quinlan hoping for second shot at pro game
Clontarf 21 Cork Con 25
The last year hasn't been easy for Tomás Quinlan in particular but yesterday, he and his Cork Con team-mates used the collective hurt to end their seven-year wait for an AIL title.
Last June, the 22-year-old out-half was released just a year after he joined the Munster Academy and almost 12 months on, here he was kicking 20 points (seven from seven) to help Con avenge last season's final defeat to Clontarf.
Quinlan announced himself at the 2015 U-20 World Cup when he came off the bench to kick a superb match-winning penalty from wide on the right touchline against Argentina.
The future looked bright but getting let go from the Academy was a blow and his self-confidence understandably took a hit.
In last year's AIL decider, Quinlan's opposite number Joey Carbery stole the show with a mercurial display and while the Cork native's performance wasn't quite on the same level, it was nevertheless assured.
Quinlan possesses a sweet left foot and strikes the ball as good as anyone at this level. On the big stage, his latest nerveless goal-kicking display won't have gone unnoticed by potential suitors and French clubs are understood to be monitoring him closely. Amazingly, Con have won all four competitions that they played in this season - The Charity Cup, Munster Senior Cup, Bateman Cup and the AIL - and Quinlan has been ever-present.
"I see our job as trying to promote players into that shop window," a delighted Con coach Brian Hickey said afterwards.
"What we lose we hopefully gain further down the line, maybe when they go back into coaching when they finish their careers. It was great last year to see Carbery and (Darren) Sweetnam make it. That's the showcase we want.
"He (Quinlan) is good enough. He lacks a small bit of self-belief at times but he works so hard at his game. We are driving out of the club at 10.30 at night, an hour and a half after finishing training, and there are still balls going over the bar. That's the nature of him, still there, doing it.
"I think he has played every single match, himself and Brian Hayes. I think he has played in every one of the 31 games, the two in Canada (pre-season) and every other one since. He does his kicking and also finds time for the gym."
Quinlan's four penalties kept his side in touch after tries from 'Tarf's danger men Matt D'Arcy and Mick McGrath left the defending champions 14-12 in front at the break.
An early second-half penalty put Con back into the lead before ex-Munster lock Brian Hayes, who had a fine game, did well to set up the crucial try for Rob Jermyn, which Quinlan converted.
Andy Wood's side paid the price for their indiscipline as Sam Cronin followed Royce Burke-Flynn into the bin.
But when Leinster's Mick Kearney got over the whitewash with 15 minutes left on the clock, Con were forced to dig deep. With Quinlan pulling the strings, however, they got the job done.
"You saw what happened to Joey (Carbery) last year and Sweets (Sweetnam)," man-of-the-match Quinlan enthused.
"I have played with both of them and they are top-class players. They took their opportunity last year and it has put them onto bigger and better things. Maybe this will open up a door; that is out of my control. I have done as much as I can.
"I absolutely would love to play professionally, I have always wanted to play professionally and I'm only 22, so I hope the door isn't shut.
"I don't think I was going out there with the intention of proving Munster wrong. They have their reasons and whether they are right or wrong they have the final say. I just have to accept that, keep the head down and work.
"When you kick your goals and play the way you're expected (to) it does feel good. Nothing spiteful, you are doing it for the boys around you. I put those balls over the bar for those lads, the 23 or 30 in the panel. It's just the best feeling I have ever had."
Wood was naturally disappointed with his side's indiscipline but their uncharacteristic error count repeatedly cost them valuable field position.
D'Arcy and McGrath have both recently spent time with Munster and Leinster respectively and they gave another reminder of their class at this level, but there was no doubt who the day belonged to.
"He's certainly a good player," Wood said of Quinlan's potential.
"He runs their territory game really well. He's deadly from the boot. He's a very, very accomplished player.
"Let's not forget two years ago he was playing Ireland 20s and looked set for big things. I certainly like him as a player, there is no question. He delivered today when it counted, absolutely."
Con's victory ends a run of six straight years in which Leinster clubs have dominated the top flight and while their elation was obvious, there was also major relief after this group of players eventually got over the final hurdle.
"It's the Charity Cup, the Senior Cup which is hugely important to us, the Bateman Cup which is hugely important to us," Hickey added.
"But, really, if we were waking up tomorrow morning and saying it was a great season even though we'd lost today, I don't think it would have cut any ice with the players.
"At times we weren't even looking like getting into the top four but this was the one we really, really wanted."
Clontarf - R Keogh (I Soroka 30-40 (Keogh 77); M Brown, C O'Brien, M D'Arcy, M McGrath; D Joyce (M Sutton 59), S Cronin (J Power 68); V Abdaladze (Soroka 51), J Harris-Wright (B Byrne h-t), R Burke-Flynn (Abdaladze 76); B Reilly (capt), M Kearney (E Browne 65-71); T Ryan (A D'Arcy 5), K Moran, M Noone.
Cork Constitution - S Daly; L O'Connell, N Hodson (JJ O'Neill, 64-66), N Kenneally, R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins (J Poland 71); L O'Connor (G Duffy 71), V O'Brien ( K O'Byrne 46-55, 58), G Sweeney (R Burke, h-t); B Hayes, C Kindregan; G Lawler (S O'Leary 55), J Murphy, L Cahill.
REF - S Gallagher (IRFU)
Clontarf: R Keogh (I Soroka 30-40 (Keogh 77)); M Brown, C O'Brien, M D'Arcy, M McGrath; D Joyce (M Sutton 59), S Cronin (J Power 68); V Abdaladze (Soroka 51), J Harris-Wright (B Byrne h-t), R Burke-Flynn (Abdaladze 76); B Reilly (capt), M Kearney (E Browne 65-71); T Ryan (A D'Arcy 5), K Moran, M Noone.
Cork Constitution: S Daly; L O'Connell, N Hodson (JJ O'Neill, 64-66), N Kenneally, R Jermyn; T Quinlan, J Higgins (J Poland 71); L O'Connor (G Duffy 71), V O'Brien ( K O'Byrne 46-55, 58), G Sweeney (R Burke, h-t); B Hayes, C Kindregan; G Lawler (S O'Leary 55), J Murphy, L Cahill.
REF: S Gallagher (IRFU)