Cork Constitution made it through to their third AIB League Division 1 final in four years by overcoming Cork rivals Dolphin in sunny conditions at Temple Hill on Saturday afternoon.
AIB LEAGUE: DIVISION 1 SEMI-FINAL: Saturday, April 17
CORK CONSTITUTION 31 DOLPHIN 18, Temple Hill
Scorers: Cork Constitution: Tries: Richie Lane, Ed Leamy, Duncan Williams, Martin Gately; Con: Richie Lane; Pens: Richie Lane 3
Dolphin: Tries: Eric Moloney, Robbie Allen; Con: Barry Keeshan; Pen: Barry Keeshan; Drop: Barry Keeshan
These sides met last Saturday in the final round of the league’s regulation phase, with Constitution laying the foundations in the first half for an eventual 23-13 win.
This time around, and with a number of personnel changes, Brian Walsh’s men required an improving second half showing to end Dolphin’s title hopes and keep their own double dreams alive.
Cork Con showed great resilience to take the AIB Cup title in January, beating Garryowen in a real arm wrestle at Dubarry Park. They will be back at the Athlone venue on Saturday, May 8 to take on St. Mary’s College for the league crown.
Dolphin had the wind at their backs in the first half and led 8-0 as the first quarter came to a close. With captain Barry Keeshan directing matters from out-half, the visitors took the lead in the 13th minute courtesy of a Keeshan drop goal.
Some sustained pressure from the Dolphin forwards, who missed the muscle of the Munster-tied Dave Ryan, Julien Brugnaut, Nick Williams and James Coughlan, set up the platform from which centre Eric Moloney cut through for a 19th minute try.
Sunday’s Connacht v Munster Magnrs clash also hit Cork Con badly in terms of player availability, as Scott Deasy, Simon Zebo, Tom Gleeson, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony and Jeremy Manning are all on provincial duty this weekend.
Danny Barnes, who will start for Munster on the left wing, was another Dolphin absentee, along with influential scrum half Sam Cronin – he was unfortunately left stranded in Berlin as the Icelandic ash cloud grounded planes.
It took both sides some time to adapt – given the altered line-ups – and the hosts, who topped the league table, certainly lacked their usual precision up front and out wide. However, that all changed just a minute after Moloney’s try.
Experienced winger Cronan Healy made a brilliant break to get Constitution going forward and fellow wide man Richie Lane had little difficulty in completing the move, running in from the right for a well-executed try which Lane converted himself.
Lane increased his influence on proceedings by landing a superb penalty goal in the 28th minute, only for Keeshan to split the posts at the other end just moments later for 11-10.
Lane fired over his second penalty, six minutes before the break, delighting the vocal home crowd. But Cork Con were stunned on the stroke of half-time when Dolphin stole a lineout ball and number 8 Robbie Allen broke through for a converted try, giving Steve Ford’s side an 18-13 interval lead.
But there was no stopping the hosts in the second period as they racked up a penalty and three unconverted tries to leave Dolphin all washed up.
Lane started the comeback for Constitution with a 15-metre penalty, four minutes after the restart. Then flanker Ed Leamy, a brother of Munster and Ireland’s Denis Leamy, finished off an excellent try with ageless winger Anthony Horgan, who came out of retirement for the game, providing the scoring pass.
Dolphin fell 26-18 behind when Lane and Leamy played their part in another swift attack from the hosts which ended with scrum half Duncan Williams sniping through for his second try against Dolphin in seven days.
It was fitting that the fourth and final try went to loosehead Martin Gately, the AIB Club international prop, who got through a lot of unseen work. Teed up by man-of-the-match Frank Cogan, he put the final nail in Dolphin’s coffin by touching down in the 71st minute.
CORK CONSTITUTION: Richie Lane; Anthony Horgan, Alex Ryan, Evan Ryan (capt), Cronan Healy; Darragh Lyons, Duncan Williams; Martin Gately, Robert Quinn, Stephen Archer, Merle O’Connell, Brian Hayes, Ian Nagle, Ed Leamy, Frank Cogan.
Replacements used: Tim Kenneally for A Ryan (71 mins), Cyprian Jouve for Horgan (73), Gareth Murray for Gately (76).
DOLPHIN: Niall O’Driscoll; Rory Kenneally, Eric Moloney, Kevin Lynch, Paul Hurley; Barry Keeshan (capt), Mark Purcell; Ronan O’Neill, Andrew O’Driscoll, Christy Condon, Chris Rowe, Kyle O’Dwyer, Fraser Stone, Ruairi Geoghegan, Robbie Allen.
Replacements used: Aidan Foley for O’Neill (52 mins), Denis McCarthy for Purcell, Tom Keogh for O’Dwyer (both 73), Cormac O’Flynn for Lynch (78).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU)