CLONTARF 15 GARRYOWEN 28, Castle Avenue
Scorers: Clontarf: Tries: Derek Keane 2; Con: Conal Keane; Pen: Conal Keane
Garryowen: Tries: Paul Neville, Damien Varley, Gerry Hurley; Cons: Eoghan Hickey 2; Pens: Eoghan Hickey 3
While ending the north Dubliners' league campaign, the defeat also sadly marked coach Phil Werahiko's last match in charge of 'Tarf after six years at the helm. The hosts looked nicely poised to make the final, leading 15-3 heading towards half-time. Two Derek Keane tries had put 'Tarf in control.
But Garryowen captain Paul Neville then pounced for an unconverted try to reduce the arrears, and further Garryowen tries followed in the second period with hooker Damien Varley and scrum half Gerry Hurley both scoring.
Munster out-half Eoghan Hickey kicked 13 points for the victors, who will take on table-toppers Cork Constitution in next Saturday's final at Musgrave Park.
Having made the play-offs for the fifth time in the past six seasons, 'Tarf had an ideal chance to avenge their recent league defeat to the Limerick side at the same venue. But Garryowen are quickly becoming a bogey team for 'Tarf - today's reversal is the north Dublin club's third straight loss at home to Paul Cunningham's charges.
Still, with a winger boasting the finishing skills of Derek Keane, the home side always stood a chance. The burly Keane notched his first try after 12 minutes. The unrelated Conal Keane missed the conversion attempt but he did tag on a 26th-minute penalty, cancelling out Hickey's first penalty, to move Werahiko's men 8-3 clear.
An excellent reverse pass from Daragh O'Shea put winger Keane charging over for his second try, four minutes before the break, with Conal Keane converting. At 15-3 in front against the recently crowned AIB Cup champions, 'Tarf, whose back row were in impressive form, were looking strong but their challenge suddenly faltered in a ten-minute spell, either side of half-time.
First, Garryowen, who had lost Hurley to the sin bin, made full use of the yellow card flashed to 'Tarf number eight Martin Garvey. They bounced straight back to maul their skipper Neville over for a try in first half injury-time, which Hickey just failed to convert. Five minutes after the resumption, persistent pressure paid off for the Garryowen pack as hooker Varley crossed the hosts' whitewash, after a Hurley snipe. Hickey made no mistake with his conversion attempt to draw the sides level at 15-15.
'Tarf tried desperately to bounce back but the fact that they failed to score in the entire second half owes much to Garryowen's superb defence and sheer ownership of the ball. Hickey sent over his second penalty of the afternoon and then wily scrum half Hurley sniped over on the blindside off a five-metre scrum for what proved to be the clinching try. Hickey's conversion had Garryowen ten points clear and cruising.
Another penalty from the recent London Irish signing eased the Dooradoyle residents to what was only their third win in seven play-off games - they were beaten finalists back in 1998 and 1999.
CLONTARF: C Keane; M Nethery, M Hewitt, D O'Shea, D Keane; P O'Brien, F O'Loughlin (capt); K Dorian, N Carson, A O'Donnell, A Trenier, J Duffy, S Crawford, D O'Brien, M Garvey.
Replacements used: D Quinn for Crawford, C Healy for O'Donnell, J Wickham for Dorian (all 47 mins), N McNamara for C Keane (66), R Dillon for O'Loughlin (70), C Keegan for Hewitt (74).
GARRYOWEN: C Kilroy; A O'Loughlin, K Hartigan, C Doyle, Ciaran O'Boyle; E Hickey, G Hurley; R Brosnan, D Varley, J Staunton, M Melbourne, E Mackey, P Neville (capt), P Malone, A Kavanagh, P Malone.
Replacements used: Cillian O'Boyle for Hartigan (18 mins), D Sheahan for Mackey, D Sherry for Neville (both 60).
Sin Bin: Hurley (Garryowen) (27 mins), Garvey (Clontarf) (40).
Referee: Alan Lewis (Leinster)