With 25 minutes remaining in Saturday’s Ulster Bank League final at the Aviva Stadium, Clontarf were on course to become the first club since Shannon in 2006 to successfully defend the Division 1A title
However, a converted Joe McSwiney try provided a lifeline to Lansdowne and following a subsequent penalty by out-half Scott Deasy, it was the headquarters club who emerged victorious by a single point (18-17).
Clontarf head coach Andy Wood was naturally disappointed to have lost by such a narrow margin, but also admitted that he never felt that their 17-8 second half advantage was an insurmountable one.
“To be honest, when you’re ahead by that margin, it’s a slippery margin. It’s not a game-winning margin. I think in terms of how the game swung immediately around in that period, it was important. Then to concede a pretty soft penalty, and for them to go over from a lineout maul. Those circumstances, we’ve controlled those positions this season,” he said.
“It was disappointing but, look, again it wasn’t a match-winning lead with 20 minutes to go. It obviously would have been important to score the next points. If we scored the next points, then I think we could have actually tried to close it out as Mike (Ruddock) alluded to after Scotty (Deasy) kicked his goal.”
Reflecting on the overall trajectory of their season, however, Wood could not find fault with the effort of his charges. The New Zealander was hugely proud of the commitment that they have shown since the opening weeks of the campaign.
“I thought we left everything out there. We come up a point shy of it. It’s disappointing, we got ourselves into this position. I’m disappointed for the players.
“The effort they’ve put in today, the effort they’ve put in all season, has been phenomenal. I’ve huge respect for them and for the coaches and all the backroom team in Clontarf. They’ve been absolutely fantastic.”
The north Dubliners have certainly had a year to remember. In the past 12 months they were crowned Ulster Bank League champions for the first time, beat the Barbarians at home in a unique encounter, won their first Leinster Senior League Cup since 2008 and finished as runners-up this term in the Bateman Cup and Division 1A play-offs.
There will always be that nagging feeling that they could and perhaps should have won Saturday’s all-Dublin decider. However, their hopes of overhauling Lansdowne were hit by the sin-binning of replacement winger Ariel Robles who was penalised for taking out Cian Kelleher off the ball.
Highlighting how difficult it was to finish the game with 14 players, Wood remarked: “Absolutely, very difficult. You noticed we obviously collated a lot of points when Lansdowne were a man down (following Adam Boland’s 44th-minute yellow card). You’d expect to concede a little bit of advantage against a quality team like Lansdowne, playing with 14 men.
“It was a little edge that they had, and they certainly took advantage of it. Whether it was deserved or not, doesn’t matter now. We had to scramble and unfortunately we came up a bit short.”
Indeed, Clontarf came into the final without a fully-fit squad as regular out-half and place-kicker David Joyce was once again missing with a shoulder injury. Returning full-back Rob Keogh kicked 12 points in his absence, though, and Wood paid tribute to his excellent performance in difficult circumstances.
“Rob (Keogh) is a fine player. A fine kicker in his own right. During the week, when it was looking less and less likely that Joycey was going to be back, Keoghy was under a cloud as well. He played with an injury.
“Now he did very well, and he struck them extremely well off the tee. He certainly got us into a commanding position. Credit to him, and like I said, credit to the lads for getting him back on so he was able to start.”