Wood toasts Garryowen as 'Tarf snatch first title in dramatic style
AFTER all of their near misses and bad luck, Clontarf finally got the break they needed to capture the Ulster Bank All-Ireland League for the first time at Castle Avenue on Saturday.
They finished a point clear at the top of the Division 1A table after beating Ballynahinch 27-13 and the leaders Old Belvedere surprisingly lost 23-18 to bottom side Garryowen at Dooradoyle. It was an extraordinary conclusion to a league which has had many twists and turns over the last few weeks.
It seemed Clontarf had blown it after successive defeats to UCD and Lansdowne. Old Belvedere only had to overcome the already relegated Garryowen to secure the title for the second time in four years.
In keeping with that expectation, the trophy and the winners' medals were all brought down to Dooradoyle. Just in case, there was a replica trophy at Castle Avenue.
But the pressure proved too much for Old Belvedere. They got off to a bad start and never really recovered.
Clontarf, meanwhile, were having a battle of their own against second-from-bottom Ballynahinch. At one stage in the second half the sides were level at 13-13 but Clontarf pulled clear, with Peter du Toit getting two tries.
Coach Andy Wood summed the day up: "We will take it any way we get it. Thank goodness for Garryowen."
A dejected Old Belvedere coach Paul Cunningham cut a very different figure at Dooradoyle. "We made too many mistakes and conceded too many turnovers," he lamented.
There's absolutely no doubt that Clontarf are worthy league winners. Besides Du Toit's contribution, Michael McGrath also scored a try against Ballynahinch with the remainder of their points coming from the boot of out-half David Joyce, who landed three conversions and two penalties.
Ballynahinch had a try from Aaron Cairns while Richie Lobb kicked a conversion and two penalties. They go into a promotion/relegation match against the second-placed team in Division 1B, Buccaneers.
What would Garryowen give to be in that situation? To beat Old Belvedere was an outstanding achievement, particularly as they were down to 13 players, with two men in the sin-bin at one stage in the final quarter.
They scored two tries through Mark McNulty and Anthony Kavanagh, while out-half Andrew O'Byrne landed two conversions, two penalties and a drop-goal. Old Belvedere, who badly missed injured skipper Danny Riordan, replied with tries from Kieran O'Gorman and Philip O'Dwyer, with Josh Glynn kicking a conversion and two penalties.
Unfortunately, Garryowen left themselves with far too much to do in the league after a disastrous opening half to the season. The arrival of Eddie O'Sullivan in an advisory role brought about a distinct improvement but it has come too late to avoid relegation.
O'Sullivan described Saturday's victory as "bittersweet", as did coach Tom Tierney.
Tierney now plans to move to another position, while O'Sullivan is uncertain what his commitments are for next season.