Cork Constitution showed tremendous determination and will to win as they overcame the sending off of lock Ian Nagle just before half-time to record a stirring 15-11 AIB Cup final victory over Garryowen at Dubarry Park.
AIB CUP FINAL: Saturday, January 30
CORK CONSTITUTION 15 GARRYOWEN 11, Dubarry Park
Scorers: Cork Constitution: Tries: Richie Lane, Daragh Lyons; Con: Scott Deasy; Pen: Scott Deasy
Garryowen: Try: Mike Sherry; Pens: Conor Murray 2
Out-half Daragh Lyons danced his way over the try-line in the 70th minute to help 14-man Cork Constitution battle their way to the AIB Cup title, beating Garryowen in a real arm wrestle of a final at Dubarry Park.
Lyons showed superb footwork and attacking skill to fend off three Garryowen defenders before diving over to the left of the posts, with full-back Scott Deasy’s successful conversion moving Constitution 12-11 ahead.
Garryowen manfully tried to mount a fightback but they were out on their feet and Deasy’s 80th minute penalty confirmed the result as the Cork side put the demons of last year’s shock final defeat to Ballynahinch behind them.
Inaugural winners of this All-Ireland competition in 2006, the Leesiders had to fight all their way for this latest cup success after young second row Ian Nagle was sent-off shortly before half-time.
Defending a ruck close to his own try-line, Nagle was seen lashing out with a number of punches as he tangled with a Garryowen player at the edge of the ruck.
Touch judge David Keane gave the recommendation of a red card to referee Alain Rolland and the former Ireland underage international was dispatched to the stand.
The dismissal came at a vital stage as Nagle’s side, off that very same attack, had failed to keep Garryowen out. Hooker Mike Sherry burrowed his way over in the left corner to hand the Limerick men an 11-5 half-time lead.
In front of a 2,000-strong crowd, Cork Con started strongly and with scrum half Duncan Williams, winger Cronan Healy and captain Evan Ryan stretching their legs early on, Garryowen were kept on the defensive.
Indeed, from a 14th minute overlap on the left, Brian Walsh’s men made huge gains, punching their way into the Garryowen 22 and Munster’s Billy Holland was held up close to the line before Deasy swung a long pass out for winger Richie Lane to go over unchallenged for the opening try.
Deasy’s conversion attempt was off target though and the recent Magners League debutant also missed a kickable penalty early on. The danger for a dominant Constitution was that they would not transfer their pressure into points and so it proved as the first half wore on.
Ryan and his team-mates were guilty of overcomplicating things and they played too much rugby in their own half, allowing Garryowen’s grizzled pack to make the tackles and maintain a good slice of territory.
The hard graft of Paul Neville and company set up two penalty chances for young scrum half Conor Murray, from a left-sided position near the ten-metre line, and the Ireland Under-20 international duly delivered to give the 2007 cup champions a 6-5 lead, four minutes before the break.
Garryowen kept their foot on the gas and their forwards, with Neville, Anthony Kavanagh and Ed Mackey to the fore, maintained possession off an injury-time attack to give Sherry his chance to score.
Murray was off target with the conversion attempt but with a six-point buffer and Nagle away from the action, the Paul Cunningham-coached Light Blues ended the opening half on top.
The second period saw the sides cancel each other out which was unsurprisingly, considering that they met in the AIB League just last week – playing out a 6-6 draw at Dooradoyle.
The numerical advantage should have played its part in the end-game in Athlone, but Cork Con, with seven contracted players in their starting line-up, brilliantly upped their work rate and intensity.
That tigerish effort was summed up by AIB man-of-the-match Peter O’Mahony, the former Ireland Under-20 skipper, who covered every blade of grass and was a key figure in Cork Con’s final push.
Lyons’ excellent individual try, which saw him slice through from 10 metres out, gave last year’s runners-up the belief to go on and finish the job this time, with Deasy’s late penalty eventually putting the game beyond the reach of a valiant Garryowen side.
CORK CONSTITUTION: Scott Deasy; Richie Lane, Tom Gleeson, Evan Ryan (capt); Cronan Healy; Daragh Lyons, Duncan Williams; Martin Gately, Robert Quinn, Stephen Archer, Merle O’Connell, Ian Nagle, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony, Frank Cogan.
Replacements used: Brian Hayes for O’Connell, Alex Ryan for Evan Ryan (both 69 mins), David O’Driscoll for Williams (72), Gareth Murray for Gately (80). Not used: Peter Kelleher, Ed Leamy, Brendan Cuttriss.
GARRYOWEN: Ronan O’Mahony; Ian Hanley, Conan Doyle (capt), Kevin Hartigan, Alan Gaughan; Willie Staunton, Conor Murray; Jason Harney, Mike Sherry, Declan Lavery, Frank McKenna, Ed Mackey, Paul Neville, Anthony Kavanagh, David Sherry.
Replacements used: Mark Melbourne for Mackey (64 mins), Conor Hartigan for Kavanagh, Lorcan Bourke for Gaughan, Aaron McCloskey for McKenna (all 69), Rory Brosnan for Harney (74). Not used: Robert Meyer, Cian O’Shea.
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU)