Quinlan steers Cork Con past Clontarf to AIL glory in exciting Aviva showdown
Cork Con 25 Clontarf 21
Cork Con are AIL champions for the first time since 2010 as they exacted sweet revenge over Clontarf after losing last year's final.
The Cork side were full value for their fifth title as 'Tarf paid the price for their poor discipline. Royce Burke-Flynn and Sam Cronin were both sin binned in an entertaining contest that again highlighted the quality of the club game in Ireland.
Former Leinster winger Mick McGrath was outstanding and didn't deserve to be on the losing side but after an influential first half showing that helped 'Tarf into a 14-12 lead at the break, Con grew in confidence and Rob Jermyn's second half try proved crucial.
Tomas Quinlan was previously in the Munster Academy and his class showed, particularly from the tee where he was 100pc – kicking 20 points.
Quinlan had put Con into a 6-0 lead before McGrath went on a bulldozing run and linked well with Matt D'Arcy, who finished off a brilliant sweeping move.
David Joyce's conversion put the defending champions in front for the first time but further indiscipline saw Quinlan fire over a third penalty.
Con were growing into the game but couldn't find a way through a resolute defence that was eventually punished for repeated infringements as Royce Burke-Flynn went to the bin for 10 minutes.
Even with a man less, 'Tarf were happy to keep running the ball from deep and their fearless approach was rewarded when they crossed for a second try before the break.
McGrath's footwork again bamboozled the Con defence before he stretched out a long arm to score. Referee Sean Gallagher consulted with his TMO but the try was soon awarded.
Joyce was on hand to add the extras but there was still time left in the half for Quinlan to cut the deficit to two points (14-12) at the break.
While Andy Wood would have been glad that his side led at half time, there is no doubt that the number of penalties they were conceding was a concern and a minute after the restart the trend continued when 'Tarf were penalised at scrum time.
The flawless Quinlan, who struck the ball beautifully all afternoon, put Con back in front and it got even better for the Cork side when Jermyn scored in the corner after great work from ex-Munster lock Brian Hayes.
Quinlan's conversion pushed Con into a 22-14 lead with 25 minutes remaining. Suddenly it was Con who were playing the adventurous rugby and when Sam Cronin was shown a yellow card in front of his own posts, Quinlan again duly punished 'Tarf.
But just like they had done with Burke-Flynn in the bin, 'Tarf struck for another try despite their numerical disadvantage.
This time it was Leinster lock Mick Kearney who powered his way over under the sticks after 65 minutes. Rob Keogh added the extras for a four-point (25-21) game.
'Tarf pushed for that crucial score but sloppy errors halted their progress as Con held on for a sweet victory that sees the AIL trophy make its way back to Leeside for the first time in seven years.
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)