What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Garryowen went to Coonagh and hammered Shannon 31-6 but on Saturday afternoon at the same venue, and in atrocious conditions with a strong wind and heavy rain, Shannon overturned that result and won through to face Clontarf in next month’s AIB League Division One final.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION ONE SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, April 25
SHANNON 16 GARRYOWEN 12, Coonagh
Scorers: Shannon: Try: Stephen Kelly; Con: Tadhg Bennett; Pens: Tadhg Bennett 3
Garryowen: Pens: Conor Kilroy 3; Drop: Conor Kilroy
The bragging rights well and truly belong to the Shannon forwards after this latest episode in their many derby clashes with Garryowen.
Such was the power of the winners’ pack that Garryowen were restricted to only a few attacking incursions in the entire second half.
Prop Kevin Griffin, hooker Mike Essex, lock Padraic O’Brien and the back row unit of Donnacha Ryan, Eoghan Grace and David Quinlan ensured that Shannon kept it tight and denied the speedy Garryowen backs the chance to show their pace.
Behind the scrum, Frankie McNamara had a splendid game at scrum half and Tadhg Bennett kicked well at number 10.
For Garryowen it was bitter disappointment but it was certainly not the fault of full-back Conor Kilroy who had a superb game in open play, as well as landing his side’s 12 points with three penalties and a drop goal.
Team captain Paul Neville led by example in the pack with Declan Lavery and Ed Mackey also getting through an amount of solid work.
Garryowen had the wind behind them for the first half at the end of which they led 12-7.
Kilroy landed a Garryowen penalty after only two minutes but then came the only try of the game, scored by fleet-footed winger Stephen Kelly, which Bennett converted.
Two penalties and a drop goal, all by Kilroy, gave Garryowen their interval lead, before, five minutes into the second half, Bennett landed a penalty.
But Geoff Moylan’s home side had to wait until ten minutes from the end to regain the lead when Bennett kicked a penalty from in front of the posts.
The division’s top points scorer did so again five minutes from the end of what was a very keenly contested affair.
Kelly almost got in for a last-minute try for Shannon but it mattered little at that stage, as the eight-time league winners marched into their first final since 2006.
Speaking after the game, a relieved Shannon coach, Geoff Moylan, said: “There were no cups handed out here today. But I am pleased with the way we dogged it out and especially in the second half.
“Conditions were very poor and it was a physical contest. We knew with only one score in it at the interval that we were in with a chance and our forwards were magnificent in the second half and we just pulled it off.”
Garryowen captain Paul Neville said: “We are disappointed. But we knew it was going to be hard and all the more so because we won here last season.
“Shannon were really up for it and the worsening conditions might have helped them late on when we tried to run the ball. I wish them well for the final and believe they can win it.”
The long serving AIB League campaigner and former Connacht flanker is getting married in four weeks’ time.
“I don’t know what my future in the game will be but I will discuss the matter over the summer and see where it goes from there,” Neville added.
SHANNON: David O’Donovan; Richie Mullane, Fionn McLoughlin, John Clogan, Stephen Kelly; Tadhg Bennett, Frankie McNamara; Killian O’Neill, Mike Essex, Kevin Griffin, Padraic O’Brien, Fergal Walshe, Donnacha Ryan, Eoghan Grace, David Quinlan (capt).
Replacements used: Les Hogan for O’Neill (48 mins).
GARRYOWEN: Conor Kilroy; Ronan O’Mahony, Kieran Lewis, Conan Doyle, Lorcan Bourke; Willie Staunton, Gerry Hurley; Rory Brosnan, Michael Sherry, Declan Lavery, Ed Mackey, Frank McKenna, Paul Neville (capt), Conor Hartigan, David Sherry.
Replacements used: John O’Sullivan for Hartigan (48 mins), Neville Melbourne for D Sherry (62), Andrew Burke for Staunton (70).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)