Clontarf added the scalp of the Barbarians to their maiden Ulster Bank League crown, winning out on a 43-42 scoreline after a memorable Danske Bank Challenge match at Castle Avenue to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf.
DANSKE BANK CHALLENGE MATCH: Wednesday, April 23
CLONTARF 43 BARBARIANS 42, Castle Avenue
Scorers: Clontarf: Tries: Max McFarland 2, Darragh Fitzpatrick, Anthony Ryan, Michael McGrath 3; Cons: David Joyce 4
Barbarians: Tries: Haydn Pugh, Bryan Rennie 2, Charlie Butterworth, Ritchie McMaster, Tom Biggs; Cons: Ceri Sweeney 6
The newly-crowned Division 1A champions continued where they off against Ballynahinch last Saturday, scoring some thrilling tries in a game that was refereed by one of the world's leading match officials, Nigel Owens from Wales.
Bright sunshine and a passionate home crowd, who were entertained beforehand by the Artane Boys Band and a parachutist who delivered the match ball, welcomed both teams to the pitch.
Clontarf touched down inside two minutes as winger Max McFarland was freed up to score in the left corner, the first of nine tries in a first half full of flair and running rugby.
The Barbarians, coached by Lansdowne and the Ireland Under-20s' Mike Ruddock, edged into a 7-5 lead after a well-executed maul led to second row Haydn Pugh touching down.
Andy Wood's home side hit back with two tries on the bounce, the first being finished by full-back Darragh Fitzpatrick after a tremendous attack that originated in the Clontarf 22 and influential back rower Anthony Ryan followed him over the whitewash.
The Barbarians closed the gap back to 17-14 thanks to a seven-pointer from replacement Bryan Rennie, but up stepped the third member of 'Tarf's back-three, Michael McGrath, with a memorable brace of scores.
McGrath's hard running and finishing power, which made him a marked man throughout this season's Ulster Bank League, were in evidence as he tore through the Barbarians defence for two tries in the space of a minute.
Clontarf's sudden 31-14 advantage was pared back to just three points by half-time though, as Lansdowne flanker Charlie Butterworth and Rennie scored a try apiece approaching the break.
Wood's charges turned to their two lightning quick wingers to keep them on track early in the second period, with McGrath completing his hat-trick and the equally elusive McFarland claiming his second try of the evening.
Ritchie McMaster from Queen's University, who was sprung from the bench, ran in the Baa Baas' fifth try and they added a sixth in injury-time through right winger Tom Biggs.
Ceri Sweeney, the 35-times capped Wales international, landed all six conversions but the visitors still finished a point behind buoyant 'Tarf who became the first Irish club to beat the Baa Baas since Old Wesley's 37-36 win back in 1991.
Their Twitter hashtag proudly proclaims it as 'the Year of the Bull' and these are certainly heady times for Clontarf FC, with the players receiving their league winners' medals after the historic encounter. A night and week they will never forget.
Speaking afterwards, Clontarf head coach Andy Wood said: "It was a good occasion, you can see by the score there.
"It was a true Barbarian style of play, and I think our lads matched them to be honest. We played some seriously good rugby out there."
CLONTARF: Darragh Fitzpatrick; Michael McGrath, Killian Lett, Evan Ryan, Max McFarland; David Joyce, Sam Cronin; Ian Hirst, Cian Culleton, Royce Burke Flynn, Ben Reilly (capt), Tom Byrne, Karl Moran, Adrian Darcy, Anthony Ryan.
Replacements used: Timmy McCoy for Fitzpatrick (31 mins), Conor O'Keeffe for Byrne (h-t), Peter du Toit for Cronin (40), David Hegarty for Hirst (43), Martin Garvey for Ryan (53), Conor Keegan for McGrath (55), Cathal O'Flynn for Culleton (59), Keith Donoghue for Hegarty (61), Liam Murphy for Darcy (66).
BARBARIANS: Fraser Harkness (Selkirk); Tom Biggs (Bath), Jason Shoemark (Exeter), Tom Cheeseman (Esher), Philip O'Dwyer (Old Belvedere); Ceri Sweeney (Exeter/Wales), James Grindal (Bristol); Lorne Ward (Rosslyn Park), Ger Slattery (Young Munster), Ben Evans (Moseley/Wales) (capt), Mike Powell (Moseley), Haydn Pugh (Carmarthen Quins), Dean Schofield (Worcester/England), Charlie Butterworth (Lansdowne), William Ryan (Cork Constitution).
Replacements used: Bryan Rennie (Bristol) for Harkness (18 mins), Colm McMahon (St. Mary's College) for Ward, Ryan de la Harpe (Fylde/Namibia) for Grindal (both half-time), Ritchie McMaster (Queen's University) for O'Dwyer (41), Mark McCraith (Bedford Blues) for Schofield (46), Peter Synnott (Esher) for Butterworth, Andrew Jones (Llandovery) for Evans (both 53).
Division 2A resumes for a three-week run in to Christmas and things are as tight as ever with a nine-point spread over the top seven clubs. The clash of Banbridge and Cashel at Rifle Park could be a key game this weekend.
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