Cork Constitution have been crowned AIB League Division One champions for the third time, thanks to Sunday’s 18-8 win over Garryowen at Musgrave Park. Journalists Coilin Duffy and Shaun Cronin look back on the game and get post-match reaction from Jeremy Manning, Brian Walsh and Dara O’Sullivan.
Commenting on Cork Con’s ten-point win and his role in the club’s success, man-of-the-match Jeremy Manning said: “It’s fantastic (to win the final). It’s been a great journey all this year. The boys dug deep today. I’m delighted, really happy and it tops off a great day.
“It’s very hard to put it into words, it’s just an awesome achievement for Con. It’s a great honour to play for this club.
“(The final) it’s the one time of the year when things have to go right and if they don’t that’s your season down the drain. It’s good to see Con coming out on top, I’m very proud of the boys.”
The 22-year-old out-half kicked five penalties and a drop goal to complete Con’s points tally and with his touch-kicking and distribution also top notch, he really stood out as the AIB man-of-the-match.
“I wouldn’t really be going out to get man-of-the-match. If things go well for me I’m happy for myself,” Manning admitted.
“But I’m more of a team player, I’d rather put the team in front of myself. A lot of the guys are happy, they’ve got an All-Ireland medal and that’s all that matters.”
It was announced in February that Manning would be leaving the Munster set-up at the end of this season, in order to return home to his native New Zealand and play with North Harbour, however the player himself said it is not a done deal just yet.
Asked if he might stay, Manning revealed: “It could be possible, there is another contract on the table at the moment. I have to have a big think about it in the next few days. Obviously I’d love to stick around, I’ll just have to see what the circumstances are first.”
Cork Constitution coach Brian Walsh said he would be ‘hopeful enough’ that Manning would remain on in Ireland.
“He’s a real talent and I think he’ll go a long way in the future. I think Jeremy would be the first to admit it was the platform given to him by a pack working its socks off that enabled him to put in that kind of performance.
I don’t know (if he’ll be around next season). That’s up to Jeremy but I’d be hopeful enough,” Walsh said.
The former Con full-back, in his third season as head coach at Temple Hill, was modest when reflecting on the victory over Garryowen and what has been a memorable season for his side.
“I’m only the coach, it’s the players that deserve the plaudits. I just point them in the right direction! They worked hugely hard for it and I’m delighted they got what they deserved. I’m proud, hugely proud,” he added.
“It’s a bit of a marathon of the season, it’s a ten-month season. In the recent past we’ve won the AIB Cup and we’ve topped the league in five of the last seven seasons but we really wanted to go on and win the play-offs and do the whole thing.
“It’s something we set out our stall to do at the start of the season and to have achieved it now is fantastic.”
Walsh hailed Merle O’Connell and his team-mates as ‘a special group of players’ for the way they saw out the league phase and performed in the play-offs.
“You’re building to a crescendo as you get closer to the end of the season, every game is a hard game and you take nothing for granted. You realise week after week, you’re going to have to work harder and harder. And they took that on board and they’re a special group of players to be able to do that.
“Now I must say Garryowen are similar and we would have huge respect for Garryowen in that regard and we came up against a side like that last year.”
Garryowen coach Dara O’Sullivan felt that his side, the defending champions, had paid the price for conceding some costly penalties either side of half-time – especially as one of Conor Kilroy’s kicks at the other end had been incorrectly ruled as a miss.
“We started off very well, the first 20 minutes we were very much in the game. Then a couple of decision kinda went against us which led to us going in at half-time at 9-3.
“If that penalty (from KIlroy) had been given, it probably would have been 6-6 so it was a real psychological thing then to be six points behind for the second half,” explained the former club flanker.
“We gave away an early penalty for 12-3 and that was a fairly big mountain to climb after that. I think the physicality of the Con pack in slowing the ball down in the right areas of the field told as the game progressed.”
O’Sullivan also felt Manning had a huge influence on the game, adding: “I though he was outstanding, he really pinned us back in the corners. That was the difference, any time we got down the field he was able to relieve the pressure off them and put it back into the corners.”
But the Garryowen boss insisted the outlook is bright for his squad of players, with a number of them having come through the underage system at Dooradoyle.
“To get back into the final was great. we’re learn a bit from today and we’ll move on to next year (as a better team). There’s a good few lads there that have developed through this season, a bit of competition is pushing fellas for places so it’s very good from my point of view.”
To listen to IrishRugby.ie’s audio wrap-up of Sunday’s final, please click here.