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Clontarf End Cork Con’s Reign As Champions

Clontarf End Cork Con’s Reign As Champions

South African powerhouse Heinrich Stride helped himself to two tries and played his part in setting up a third as Clontarf scored a runaway AIB League Division One semi-final win over table toppers Cork Constitution.

AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION ONE SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, April 25

CORK CONSTITUTION 6 CLONTARF 25, Temple Hill

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Scorers: Cork Constitution: Pens: Jeremy Manning 2
Clontarf: Tries: Heinrich Stride 2, Max Rantz-McDonald; Cons: Martin Dufficy 2; Pens: Daragh O’Shea, Martin Dufficy

The north Dubliners, who finished fourth in the table, looked up against it when they turned around level at 3-3 at half-time having had the advantage of a forceful wind.

But with Cork Con struggling for momentum and Jeremy Manning having an off-day with the boot, Clontarf took control of matters up front and eked out the hard yards for powerfully-built flanker Heinrich Stride to pounce for tries after 59 and 74 minutes.

The icing on the cake came two minutes from the finish when Stride surged up the right wing and linked with scrum half Paul O’Donohoe who did well to stay with his support and send replacement Max Rantz-McDonald over for the clinching try.

The win, ‘Tarf’s first ever defeat of Cork Con at Temple Hill, has earned them a shot at Shannon in the May 9 decider at Thomond Park. It is a repeat of the 2006 final which Shannon won 30-3 for their eighth league title.

Despite some heavy downpours, the pitch passed a 12.30pm inspection and both sides tried admirably to build through the phases in an error-strewn opening quarter-hour.

An early up-and-under from Manning caused trouble for ‘Tarf, with his Munster colleague Timmy Ryan barging his way forward.

A subsequent punt out to the right from Manning was well-fielded by Cronan Healy but the supporting Dara Lyons was hauled down just short of the try-line.

Clontarf, coached once again this season by New Zealander Andy Wood, then unleashed Michael Keating on the right, after a good turnover by his fellow winger Niall O’Brien, and the Ireland Under-20 starlet brought his side into the hosts’ 22 with a jinking run.

With Leinster-capped scrum half O’Donohoe delivering well at ruck time, there was good control at close quarters from the Dublin side and team captain Daragh O’Shea stepped forward to convert a tenth-minute penalty for the first points.

Manning missed a 13th-minute chance to reply and the Leesiders, lacking their usual precision, lost the ball forward after a searing break from centre Evan Ryan.

Midfield duo Ryan and Tom Gleeson had little chance to show their attacking skills in this encounter and Con’s anxiety grew when Manning hooked his second penalty from a left-sided position.

The home forwards were playing well, however, and number 8 Frank Cogan enjoyed some bullocking runs through the heart of the ‘Tarf defence.

After some good driving from Ryan and company, Manning made no mistake with his third place-kick from a more central position, eight minutes before the break.

There was a scrappy finish to the opening half but ‘Tarf got a sniff of the hosts’ whitewash when O’Donohoe made a smart break through the middle and Stride and Breffni O’Donnell also took the ball on.

But a knock on from Keating closed off any hope of a try and referee Alan Lewis signalled for half-time.

The sun shone brightly for the start of the second half and both sides upped the ante, showing their willingness to attack from deep.

Lyons and the nippy Healy looked lively for Con, while Keating’s attempt at a chip over the top almost turned into a nightmare play when Billy Holland plucked the ball out of the air on halfway with ‘Tarf caught for numbers at the back.

However, Holland failed to hold onto the ball and O’Donohoe marshalled his pack forward, with hooker Aaron Dundon, second rows Ben Reilly and Simon Crawford and replacement Johnny Wickham all gaining good yardage.

Eight minutes in and after 10-plus phases of possession in the Con 22, with both Reilly and winger O’Brien prominent, O’Donohoe popped a pass for Stride to blaze over past Ryan and John Stringer on an arching run for the game’s first try.

Martin Dufficy, the former Ireland Under-20 out-half, curled the conversion over from the left, moving Wood’s charges into a deserved 10-3 lead.

A big lineout steal from current Ireland Under-20 captain Peter O’Mahony, who was sprung from the Con bench, helped Healy launch a counter attack on the left and he forced Phil Howard into a hurried clearance.

But Con struggled to get within scoring range with their forwards playing second fiddle and out-half Manning, so crucial to Con’s cause in last year’s final, being kept out of the game.

Pinged for going off their feet at a ruck on 59 minutes, Con fell further behind when Dufficy landed a simple penalty from in front of the posts.

Con charged back and after some silky running from Healy and Ryan, Manning split the posts with a 66th-minute penalty to give his side some hope at 13-6.

But ‘Tarf, who put 50 points on Dungannon last week, had plenty in the tank. Healy had to track back and haul down O’Shea with a crucial tackle after O’Brien was sent charging through the Con midfield off a Dufficy pass.

Just a minute later, Con’s defence gave way when Stride muscled his way over off a close range ruck after a series of pick and goes.

Dufficy added the conversion and after some frantic attempts from Con to get themselves back in the game, with Manning setting up a lineout in the 22 off a penalty, ‘Tarf broke through on the counter for a third try.

Stride picked up possession on the right and passed inside for O’Donohoe to charge forward with only Lyons in his way.

He weaved his way forward before offloading for Rantz-McDonald to dive over in the corner and complete a famous win.

CORK CONSTITUTION: Dara Lyons; Richie Lane, Tom Gleeson, Evan Ryan, Cronan Healy; Jeremy Manning, John Stringer; Gareth Murray, Des Murray, Timmy Ryan, Merle O’Connell, Billy Holland, Ed Leamy, Brendan Cuttriss (capt), Frank Cogan.

Replacements used: Peter O’Mahony for Cuttriss (half-time-46 mins, blood sub), Peter O’Mahony for Leamy (51), David Kelly for Cuttriss (63), Chris Nolan for Stringer (71).

CLONTARF: Phil Howard; Michael Keating, Daragh O’Shea (capt), Breffni O’Donnell, Niall O’Brien; Martin Dufficy, Paul O’Donohoe; Kenny Dorian, Aaron Dundon, Niall Treston, Ben Reilly, Simon Crawford, Henrich Stride, Niall Carson, Martin Garvey.

Replacements used: Conor Keegan for O’Donnell, Johnny Wickham for Dorian (both half-time), Ben Focas for Carson (51-56, blood sub), Max Rantz-McDonald for Howard (66), Ben Focas for Garvey (68), Sean Treacy for O’Donohoe (77).

Referee: Alan Lewis (IRFU)