Cork Constitution extended their lead at the top of AIB League Division One to three points as they held off a stiff challenge from arch rivals Shannon to record a 16-9 win at Temple Hill.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION ONE: Tuesday, March 17
CORK CONSTITUTION 16 SHANNON 9, Temple Hill
Scorers: Cork Constitution: Try: Penalty try; Con: Jeremy Manning; Pens: Jeremy Manning 3
Shannon: Pens: Tadhg Bennett 2, David O’Donovan
Cork Con won the battle of the Munster heavyweights thanks to a flying start – they were 13-0 up within 11 minutes of the kick-off.
They scored the game’s one and only try after just 25 seconds, with referee Alan Lewis awarding them a penalty try.
Shannon failed to gather Jeremy Manning’s kick-off, Manning won the ball back and with the Shannon defence scattered, one of the visitors’ backs was penalised for pulling back Con winger Simon Zebo as he tried to gather a try-scoing pass.
Manning tapped over the simple conversion and added penalty goals after 9 and 11 minutes as the defending champions and current table-toppers moved 13 points clear.
Con had the wind at their backs and started with a number of Munster-capped players in their side, including Manning, Tom Gleeson, Darragh Hurley, Denis Fogarty, Billy Holland and Timmy Ryan.
The Leesiders dominated the pack exchanges in the opening quarter and Gleeson and Evan Ryan also looked sharp in midfield.
But Shannon got themselves onto the scoreboard in the 13th minute when out-half Tadhg Bennett kicked a penalty.
Con suffered a blow soon after when they lost Ed Leamy to a yellow card, after the flanker was penalised for deliberating slapping the ball out of David O’Donovan’s grasp.
Bennett, the top points scorer in the division, was off target with the resulting penalty kick and Manning also missed a subsequent chance.
In what was an attritional game, Shannon captain Fiach O’Loughlin had to be replaced after getting an elbow in the face.
His withdrawal prompted a rejigging of the Limerick side’s back-line, with O’Donovan moving from full-back to scrum half.
Just before half-time, Con went 16-3 ahead. Manning kicked his third successful kick after he was obstructed by John Clogan. The Shannon centre earned time in the sin-bin for the infringement.
Second in the table before kick-off and unbeaten in the league since early December, Shannon began the second half in energetic fashion.
Just four minutes in, they had cut the gap to 10 points thanks to another Bennett penalty.
Shannon coach Geoff Moylan was able to include Munster’s Donnacha Ryan, Niall Ronan and Mike Essex for this top of the table clash.
Ronan spent the majority of the second half at first centre, after Ireland Sevens player Eoghan Grace was introduced into the back row.
The move paid some dividends as Shannon spent a good 20 minutes in the Con 22 as they pressed for an elusive try.
Manning missed his final shot at the posts on 52 minutes and the visitors began to dominate possession. Donnacha Ryan and Stephen Kelly made breaks which could and perhaps should have resulted in tries.
Shannon were camped deep in Con territory as the clock ticked on, winning a 77th minute penalty which O’Donovan sent through the posts.
That was enough to seal a losing bonus point for last season’s AIB Cup champions but they were held up twice over the Con try-line as they looked to force their way over for a late try.
Con’s defence was resolute however and referee Lewis could not spot a grounding as Brian Walsh’s side hung on to claim the four league points.
CORK CONSTITUTION: D Lyons; C Healy, T Gleeson, E Ryan, S Zebo; J Manning, D Williams; D Hurley, D Fogarty, T Ryan; M O’Connell, D Kelly, F Cogan, E Leamy, B Holland.
Replacements used: A O’Brien for Manning (62 mins), J Maloney for Kelly (65), B Cuttriss for Cogan (77).
SHANNON: D O’Donovan: R Mullane, J Clogan, F McLoughlin, S Kelly; T Bennett, F O’Loughlin; K O’Neill, M Essex, K Griffin, P O’Brien, F Walsh, D Ryan, N Ronan, D Quinlan.
Replacements used: E Grace for McLoughlin (50 mins), L Hogan for O’Neill, J O’Connor for O’Loughlin (both 66).
Referee: Alan Lewis (Leinster)