Wood hails defence as McGrath magic dents holders' title hopes
Clontarf 16 Lansdowne 13
MICHAEL McGRATH'S ninth try of the season proved crucial in helping Clontarf record an eighth successive victory to stay top of Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League at Castle Avenue on Saturday.
The prolific wing struck in the 64th minute, cutting inside three defenders to go over to the right of the posts. Out-half David Joyce's conversion left Clontarf 16-6 in front.
With Lansdowne down to 14 men following the sin-binning of wing Cian Aherne, there appeared to be no way back for the defending champions, but they responded with a try by centre Mark Roche, converted by Scott Deasy, to reduce the deficit to 16-13.
Once back to their full complement, Lansdowne applied a good deal of pressure, ignoring two difficult late penalty opportunities in favour of going for a match-winning try.
But the Clontarf defence stood firm to gain a crucial victory which keeps them one point ahead of second-placed Old Belvedere at the halfway stage.
Lansdowne coach Mike Ruddock knows Lansdowne now face an uphill battle to retain their title. The result drops them to fourth in the table, 11 points adrift of Clontarf.
The hosts capitalised on their scrummaging superiority to take a 3-0 lead with a penalty from Joyce, before Deasy equalised to leave it 3-3 at the interval.
Clontarf moved 9-6 clear when Joyce kicked two further penalties, with Deasy landing one for Lansdowne. McGrath's ninth try in nine matches put Clontarf 16-6 ahead before Lansdowne's unsuccessful late rally.
A relieved Clontarf coach Andy Wood commented: "It took a big tackle and some smart work around the breakdown to hold them out in the closing stages. It was a really tough game with both defences very strong."
Clontarf -- M McFarland; M McGrath, C O'Shea, E Ryan, K Butler; D Joyce, S Cronin; I Hirst, B Byrne, R Burke-Flynn, B Reilly (Capt), C O'Keeffe, M Garvey, A D'Arcy, T Ryan. Reps: C Culleton, T Byrne, K Donoghue.
Lansdowne - C Kelliher; C Aherne, M Roche, T Daly, F Horan; S Deasy, P O'Driscoll; P Dooley, T Moran, D O'Reilly, W Earle (Capt), B Moylett, C Ross, C Butterworth, B O'Callaghan. Reps: A Boland, D Mannion, G McDonald.
Ref -- S Gallagher.