After holding off a spirited fight-back from Cork Constitution at the Aviva Stadium yesterday, Clontarf secured their second Ulster Bank League title in the space of three seasons, writes Daire Walsh.
The north Dubliners claimed the top flight crown in 2013/14 by virtue of finishing at the top of the Division 1A table, and while acknowledging that it has been a long time for the club to win via the play-off route, ‘Tarf head coach Andy Wood was delighted that his side were able to get over the line.
“It’s been a long time coming to win it through the play-offs. It’s very satisfying, in fairness. If you sum up the game, the fact that we continued to play stood to us in the end. Regardless of the situation and the match points we backed our skills, and took one very important chance in the second half just after they’d scored,” admitted Wood.
“We knew Con would come back after half-time. We knew they’d get close. I didn’t quite expect them to get that close (28-25), if I’m 100% honest. They went after our breakdown on the first two phases and really messed up our momentum on two or three occasions, which got them back into the game.
“Some of the skills on display from both teams, particularly in our back-line, came to the fore. That is literally what got us the result in the end. Some really good work in the first half and then being able to punch it 10 minutes into the second half. Very, very pleasing.”
This was the second year in succession that ‘Tarf were contesting the Ulster Bank League decider, and although many would have seen their defeat to Lansdowne in that game twelve months ago as a motivational factor, Wood revealed that there was not much reference to it in the build-up to yesterday’s encounter.
“There wasn’t a lot of reference to last year’s game because you don’t want to dwell on negatives. Again, we had a lead in that one which didn’t come to a good finish. We must like doing it because Con almost caught up with us.
“It would be easier on the heart if we managed to extend our lead and left the ground running at the start of the second half. Look, that’s rugby. Con are an excellent side with super young talents themselves.”
One of the key performers for Clontarf on the day was their 20-year-old out-half Joey Carbery, who finished with a personal haul of 13 points. He also received the man-of-the-match award for his display, and he really embraced the atmosphere in his first match at the home of Irish Rugby.
“It was such a good atmosphere. You could feel when we arrived and got off the bus, there was such a buzz around the place and it just lifted the spirits,” said the Leinster Academy youngster.
“It was a tough game, very warm conditions and then in the second half it was almost impossible to stop Con at some stages.(I’m) just delighted and relieved to get through it.”
‘Tarf looked odds-on for their win at the halfway stage in the contest, having developed a 21-3 advantage. However, the Leesiders stormed back into contention after the restart, and Carbery felt that there were parts of the game when Con held the edge.
“We won the first half, they won the second half and then towards the end we just edged it. There were parts of the game we were better, parts when they were better. It was so close, it was almost hard to call.”
Since joining the Castle Avenue outfit from UCD last summer, Carbery’s stock has risen significantly. He made his senior debut for Leinster against Glasgow Warriors in March, and he produced an eye-catching display in front of watching Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt yesterday.
Yet, even though he was glad to stand out in the league’s showpiece encounter, he believes the way to impress the provincial and national coaches is to continue with his present development cycle.
“It’s good to stand out in a game, but the most important thing for impressing him I reckon is just keep training, keep developing over the next few years and hopefully be in the (shake-up) for opportunities.
“I feel that I am in some respects, but I feel like I have definitely so much still to learn. Hopefully with the good coaches we have, they can continue to help me develop and improve,” added Carbery.