From the opening moments of yesterday’s Ulster Bank League Division 1A final at the Aviva Stadium, it was clear that place-kicking was going to play a huge part in deciding the eventual winners.
With three penalties apiece, Lansdowne’s talismanic out-half Scott Deasy and his Cork Constitution counterpart Tomas Quinlan sent the sides in at half-time on level terms at nine points each and all to play for.
A single kick was the difference in the end as Quinlan’s tricky touchline conversion of Brian Hayes’ lead try drifted just off target, while Deasy made no mistake when adding the extras to Lansdowne hooker Tyrone Moran’s crucial 61st-minute try for a 19-17 lead.
The angle of the kick certainly favoured his trustworthy right boot, and the former Munster player accepted that the break did fall his way on this occasion. “Swings and roundabouts,” Deasy said when giving his post-match reaction. “Last year Tomas Quinlan kicked everything in front us. They beat us in the semi-final by three points. This year I made my kicks, but I wouldn’t take anything away from Con. Boy did they arrive today. It was one of the hardest games I’ve ever played in. Absolutely wrecked!”
The hard-fought victory completes a coveted All-Ireland League and Cup double for Lansdowne, following their recent success over the same opposition in the Ulster Bank Bateman Cup. After Mike Ruddock’s men came through that game with 20 points to spare, the rematch in the Division 1A decider was always likely to be a close affair.
“After we played quite well in the Bateman, Con came out and looked to tactically negate us (today). They really put pressure on me and put pressure on our set piece,” admitted Deasy. “They got the return for it today. They got two or three shots at goal from that. I was under pressure a lot today, but that’s it.”
Indeed, as division’s top scorer this season (with 219 points) explains, Con’s effective work at the lineout made it next to impossible for Foster Horan, as well as his injury replacement Ian Fitzpatrick, and Adam Leavy to threaten out wide from their wing berths.
“That was actually down to the pressure they put on our lineout. In the Bateman Cup, we probably had our way with the lineout. Today we won our ball, but it wasn’t on our terms. It was a bit scrappy. We couldn’t launch as we’d like to launch off it. I’m just delighted that we didn’t screw it up too much.”
With an hour elapsed, Lansdowne had a 17-12 deficit to overcome against the defending champions. Leaking that try to Hayes was the kind of hammer blow that had brought on morale-sapping defeats in recent seasons, but the new-found belief in this side was in evidence during the final quarter.
Deasy added: “We were quite disappointed with that (Con) try. We felt we had them under control from a defensive perspective. We thought we had their attack pretty much negated, but they just snuck in the corner there. In previous years or in previous games, we probably would have capitulated.
“It just shows you the growth of this team, as I spoke about during the week. They really just keep to the task at hand. Tyrone (Moran) has popped up with a good few maul tries this year off the back of scrums and off the back of rucks. He got another one.”
Including Constitution’s 2010 triumph over a Robin Copeland-inspired St. Mary’s College, Deasy now has three Ulster Bank League medals in his back pocket. Each final he has played in has gone right down to the wire and he admitted this latest success will be one to cherish.
“That was my fourth final, so I’ve won three and lost one. The first final went to extra-time against St. Mary’s in 2010. The second final, the following year, we lost to ‘Belvo by three points,” recalled the 29-year-old.
“We (Lansdowne) beat Clontarf here by a point three years ago and it was only two points again today. They always come down to the wire, but I suppose I’m getting a little bit older now. They’re a little bit sweeter. I don’t have that much time left on the clock!”