There was a feeling of immense pride in and around the Cork Constitution dressing room at Dubarry Park on Saturday as Brian Walsh’s charges overcame the first half dismissal of lock Ian Nagle to capture the club’s second AIB Cup title in five years.
When Cork Constitution captain Evan Ryan was presented with the AIB Cup trophy by IRFU President John Callaghan and quickly engulfed by his team-mates, you could see what it meant to the entire squad.
To reclaim the trophy they won in the competition’s inaugural year (2006) while playing more than a half with 14 players, against long-standing Munster rivals Garryowen and to do so less than twelve months after their shock final defeat to Ballynahinch, made it an extra special achievement for the Temple Hill club.
They made a sterling start with an early try from winger Richie Lane, but a brace of penalties from Garryowen number 9 Conor Murray settled the Limerick side.
And when hooker Mike Sherry’s try on the stroke of half-time was quickly followed by a red card for Cork Con lock Ian Nagle, Ryan and company were facing a huge uphill task.
But the Leesiders dug deep and pulled off a fantastic second half comeback which was topped off by a Daragh Lyons try and five points from the boot of full-back Scott Deasy, while Garryowen, despite their numerical advantage, were held scoreless.
Speaking to IrishRugby.ie afterwards, Ryan said: “We’re very happy with the win, it was a very tough battle. I suppose Garryowen had the best of the first half, they took their chances very well – their try in particular and they kicked their goals as well.
“At half-time and a man down, we just said we have to keep plugging away, playing our own game and putting pressure on them and luckily enough we got a try out of it.
“I think our defence at the end was superb. It was a great game to watch and that was the common consensus. It was a very good spectacle.
“It’s a competition that is very close to our hearts and it’s brilliant to win it again.”
Munster prospect Nagle was distraught after his sending-off, which came on the cusp on half-time. He was seen throwing a number of punches at a Garryowen player at a ruck close to the Cork Con line.
But the dismissal ended up working in Constitution’s favour – Garryowen coach Paul Cunningham said it seemed to galvanise his side’s opponents, while Ryan agreed that it acted as a catalyst for that second half surge.
“In hindsight you could say it was the catalyst for people to work harder and I suppose fill in the gap,” admitted the centre.
“I don’t know actually what happened, he’s quite upset. He’s a superb player, he’s going places. I’d be very surprised if he’s not pushing for Munster and international honours in the next four or five years.
He’s been a great, integral part of our set-up this year, as have the other players who have come in from ‘College in Stephen Archer and Scott Deasy, and also Robert Quinn coming back from Lansdowne and Martin Gately from Highfield.”
Giving his take on one of the final’s major talking points, Cork Con coach Brian Walsh said: “They’re a very tight knit bunch. Ian was unfortunate with his sending-off and it was completely out of character for him.
“The rest of the guys wanted to rally around and not make it a huge issue, and make sure we still put in the best performance we could. We knew if we kept playing, we’d get something out of it and we did.”
Walsh, who was also in charge for Cork Con’s 2006 cup win, said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ with the club’s latest senior success.
“I suppose it buries the ghosts of last year (and losing to Ballynahinch) to a certain extent. We were delighted with the manner of the performance as much as the victory.
“We came and we wanted to play rugby, we wanted to go out and win it. If we were good enough to win it, we wanted to win it by playing good rugby.
“We stuck to that even when things got very difficult. The performance in the second half was one of the better performances I’ve seen from a Con side in a long time.”
Typifing that effort was omnipresent flanker Peter O’Mahony, a player whom Ryan feels has a very bright future in the game.
O’Mahony collected the AIB man-of-the-match award after the game at a venue where he captained the Ireland Under-20s to memorable wins over France and England last year.
“Pete’s an excellent player. I suppose he would have been a number 8 coming up through school and he would have been most renowned as an 8.
“He’s been the standout performer in our team all year. He’s definitely making heads turn.
“If people were to go out and watch the AIB League matches all year, he’s been the standout player by a long shot and he’s definitely going places – as a 7 or 8.
“Ball playing ability, his ability to tackle on the ground and a lineout option as well. He’s the full package. I’d be surprised if he didn’t push on in the next couple of years,” added Ryan.
O’Mahony, a current member of the Munster Academy, fended off any personal plaudits that came his way post-match – preferring to talk about how the whole squad rose to the occasion.
“This was a 22-man performance. It was a backs to the wall job after half-time, we put the effort in in the second half and got the result, thank God,” he said.
“We came in at half-time and didn’t panic, we knew exactly what we needed to do.
“To be fair to the boys in the second half, there was huge effort, huge work rate – we talked about it before about the breakdown – and we ground it out.”
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