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Holland: We Felt Like It Was Our Turn To Get Over The Line

Holland: We Felt Like It Was Our Turn To Get Over The Line

Cork Constitution vice-captain Jack Kelleher, captain David Hyland, and Matthew Bowen, who prevented a certain try in the second half, celebrate with the All-Ireland League Men's Division 1A trophy at the Aviva Stadium ©INPHO/Ben Brady

For the first time since 2017, the newly-crowned Energia All-Ireland League Men’s Division 1A and Women’s Division champions both hail from Munster – Cork Constitution and UL Bohemian.

Cork Con followed up UL Bohs’ earlier success at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday by dethroning Terenure College, winning 33-22 in what was one of the most tenacious performances in an All-Ireland League final in recent memory.

When lock John Forde received a 19th-minute red card for his shoulder-to-head challenge on Adam Melia, you wondered would it be a critcial moment in such a keenly-contested season finale?

Constitution then lost Niall Kenneally and Sean Duffy for separate yellow card incidents. That meant they had a short spell early in the second half with just 12 players on the pitch.

To their immense credit, they did not lose their composure and never gave up their lead. Speaking to IrishRugby.ie afterwards, Cork Con head coach Jonny Holland was still in awe of their gutsy display that delivered the club’s first All-Ireland League title since 2019.

“The group showed grit and determination, we really felt like it was our turn to get over the line,” he said. “That result shows how hard it is to go back-to-back.

“Terenure are a serious side, and they put themselves in a great position, but that’s why it’s so hard. We went down to 12 men, and we found a way to topple them. I don’t know how the players did it because I didn’t do it.

“It was about the players finding something within themselves, like Matthew (Bowen) managing to get himself under that ball to stop Conor Phillips from scoring. They had such calm heads on the pitch.

“I went on a few times, and nobody was screaming and shouting or losing their heads, they just moved on to the next task. That’s what it’s all about. For young men, they’re all very mature. I’m delighted to get over the line.”

Beaten by Garryowen in the recent Munster Senior Cup final, Holland’s side took on Terenure with an intensity and physicality that was evident from referee Andrew Cole’s first whistle to his last.

Con captain David Hyland and vice-captain Jack Kelleher led with fierce determination on the tackle front, while dynamic hooker Billy Scannell put in an impressive shift, his highlight being a well-worked maul try in the first half.

Holland unloaded his ‘bomb squad’ for the final quarter of the match. They made a telling impact, none more so than current Ireland Under-20 hooker Danny Sheahan, who muscled over for the closing try of this heavyweight decider.

It was an 80-minute arm wrestle and it certainly took a full squad effort, with Holland noting: “We felt that we had a good bench. We felt we had the horses to stay the course and really put them under pressure when it came down the stretch.

“We felt we’d have the energy, and we trusted our bench massively. It’s something we spoke about over the last few weeks, in particular this week.

“The guys that came on brought energy, but they also helped the guys who has been on all game and had to deal with the 15, 14, 13, 12-man situation. I’m glad we had the squad to do it because it does take a full squad to get it done.”

Now seven-time winners of the All-Ireland League’s top flight, Cork Con consistently feature at the business end of campaigns, rarely missing out on a play-off place. Before this season, they finished third in the table for two years in a row.

That meant they were forced to play away semi-finals, where they were beaten by the eventual champions on both occasions. They lost to Terenure at Lakelands Park last year, and to Clontarf the previous season at Castle Avenue.

Have beaten ‘Tarf 40-34 in a super-charged semi-final clash last week, they had to overcome both the 2022 and 2023 champions before bringing the trophy back to Leeside. They are now just two off the record nine AIL crowns won by Shannon.

“Belief grows throughout the season. We gathered at the start of the season and we knew we had it in us,” admitted Holland, the 32-year-old former Munster out-half.

“We knew getting a home semi-final goes a long way towards that. We failed to do that in the last two years and we were beaten in the semi-final in the last two seasons, so we felt to change the script.

“We needed to get that home semi-final and bring people into the club who believe you’re going to win it. First or second (in the table), it didn’t matter.

“It just helped us get to that winning position. It feels good to challenge the Dublin teams and bring something back down south.”

Between 2004 and 2010, the Munster trio of Shannon, Cork Con, and Garryowen shared seven AIL titles between them. However, Con, in 2017, 2019, and now this year, have been the only Munster winners since then.

Old Belvedere, St. Mary’s College, Lansdowne (3), Clontarf (3), and Terenure have all lifted the trophy in the last 12 completed Division 1A campaigns, ensuring a Dublin dominance of the competition.

Having the biggest prize in Irish Men’s club rugby back at Temple Hill, Holland was also keen to give credit to the many club volunteers and committee members who did a lot of work off the pitch to ensure that Con were in this position.

“Do you know what? Those experiences we’ve had in the last few months, training with La Rochelle, have helped us keep things fresh and keep the buzz around the club. It’s been an unbelievable year. From players to coaches to the staff in the club.

“I spoke to lads from Clontarf last week, I feel like they’re a similar club to us. We’ll get the credit for winning today, but it also has to do with the people above you in the club who put in the hard work too,” he added.