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Clontarf Advance To Second Successive League Final

Clontarf Advance To Second Successive League Final

Second half tries from Michael Noone and Evan Ryan proved to be the difference for Clontarf against UCD as they booked their place in the Ulster Bank League Division 1A decider for the second year in succession.

Early tries from Bryan Byrne and Mick McGrath had Andy Wood's charges 10 points to the good, and even though UCD worked their way back into contention with a Barry Daly five-pointer (after Michael Noone had claimed a third touchdown for Clontarf), a late score from replacement Evan Ryan ensured the progression of the 2013/14 champions.

Today's semi-final stage is familiar territory for Clontarf, who overcame Terenure College in the last-four twelve months ago. They booked their place in this season's play-offs by finishing top of the table, and capped off the regular rounds by securing seven wins in-a-row.

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Their most recent victory was last week's dress rehearsal against the students at Castle Avenue, and although their early season form had put them in a strong position, UCD entered this contest on the back of five defeats on the bounce.

Playing on the all-weather surface at the north Dublin venue, Noel McNamara's young guns enjoyed a decent spell of possession early on. However, the Clontarf defence held firm, and with just eight minutes on the clock, they broke the deadlock on their home patch.

A series of drives towards the whitewash had kept UCD on the back foot, and from a tight right hand angle, young hooker Byrne (a highly-rated member of the Leinster Academy) drove over the line in powerful fashion.

Out-half Joey Carbery, playing against his former UCD team-mates, was off target with the tricky conversion, but just three minutes later, 'Tarf doubled their advantage. The classy Carbery kick-started the attack deep inside his own half, and at the end of a sweeping move involving several players, winger McGrath managed to crash over in the left corner.

It was already beginning to look quite ominous for the Belfield outfit, but to their credit, they displayed great resilience as the first half wore on. They opened their account when the Leinster-capped Ross Byrne split the posts with a close range 16th minute penalty.

This was a much-needed boost for UCD, and but for a forward pass from winger Daly on 21 minutes, they may well have restored parity.

Consequently, the loss of full-back Rob Keogh was a blow for 'Tarf, while Daly and prop Andrew Porter made promising breaks for UCD approaching the interval. Ross Byrne was wide of the mark from a 22-metre penalty, however, and in spite of their best endeavours, they could not break down the disciplined 'Tarf defence.

Yet, a determined UCD persisted on the resumption, and after weathering an early second half storm from Wood's side, they once again gained a strong foothold in the possession stakes.

Replacements Ian Hirst and Aaron Dundon, who is also part of the Clontarf coaching staff, provided the home pack with a renewed vigour, though, and nearing hour mark the table toppers moved into a 17-3 lead.

Powerful flanker Noone held off a number of challenges to cross the whitewash on the right, and from his third kick at goal, the excellent Carbery supplied the extra points. This left UCD with a mountain to climb in the final quarter, but they gave themselves a fighting chance with 16 minutes remaining.

Daly claimed his side's first try – via exceptional approach work by skipper Emmet MacMahon – and thanks to an outstanding conversion by Ross Byrne, the gap was down to seven points once more.

This set-up a nail-biting conclusion, and the 68th-minute sin-binning of openside Karl Moran meant that Clontarf had to be careful during the closing stages. Ross Byrne twice opted for touch when referee David Wilkinson awarded UCD penalties from kickable positions, but 'Tarf ultimately secured a penalty of their own.

The result was put beyond any doubt when Ryan raced in under the posts in the third minute of injury-time, setting up an Aviva Stadium showdown with his former club, Cork Constitution, on Sunday, May 8.

Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)