Leinster prop Peter Dooley played a pivotal role as Lansdowne regained the Ulster Bank League Division 1A title with a nail-biting 19-17 final win over Cork Constitution.
Peter Dooley, the 23-year-old man-of-the-match, was menace at scrum time and carried forcefully in the lead up to Tyrone Moran's 61st-minute try, which proved to be the match-winning score for Mike Ruddock's table toppers at a sun-bathed Aviva Stadium.
The victory completed a prized All-Ireland League and Cup double for Lansdowne, who are now three-time league champions (2013, 2015 and 2018). A valiant Cork Con side missed out on back-to-back league crowns, with Tomas Quinlan crucially missing a 67th minute penalty attempt.
It was three penalties apiece from out-halves Quinlan and Scott Deasy at half-time, Cork Con having the better of the opening quarter but a strong finish from Lansdowne saw Deasy fire over two successive kicks for a nine-all scoreline.
Second row Brian Hayes cancelled out Deasy’s fourth penalty goal with a well-taken try nearing the hour mark. However, Lansdowne quickly rumbled up the other end for hooker Moran to reply and Deasy’s conversion remained the difference on the scoreboard right up to referee David Wilkinson’s final whistle.
Double winners last year, Cork Con were determined to bounce back from their recent Bateman Cup final defeat to Lansdowne. They were first to settle in today’s rematch, Hayes, Shane Daly and Luke Cahill spearheading an attack up the left wing and Quinlan knocking over a close-in third-minute penalty.
With Dooley to the fore, Lansdowne won the first scrum against the head, building plenty of pressure in the Con 22 before a couple of offsides allowed Deasy to kick his side level.
Former Lansdowne flanker Joe McSwiney used a Cahill turnover to carry strongly and tee up a well-struck second penalty from Quinlan from further out. The Con forwards maintained a huge work-rate, with Hayes, Evan Mintern, Ger Sweeney and McSwiney all punching holes before Dooley infringed and Quinlan’s left boot made it 9-3.
Nonetheless, Adam Leavy’s sidestepping run on a kick return got Lansdowne straight back on the front foot, and Mintern’s hands in the ruck allowed Deasy to split the posts from just outside the 22.
Individual errors spoiled promising situations for both teams in-and-around the half hour mark, with Alex McHenry knocking on after full-back Daly’s initial break over halfway and McSwiney’s great hands to combine with Vincent O'Brien.
Lansdowne had the upper-hand approaching the interval, although a close-range maul was sacked and Mark O’Keeffe knocked on a poor pass from Alan Bennie. Ian Fitzpatrick, who came on for the injured Foster Horan, drew a high tackle from Cahill, though, and Deasy landed his toughest kick from the right wing to square things up.
The second half was six minutes' old when Lansdowne’s powerful scrum won a long-range penalty which Deasy drilled over to move the headquarters club in front for the first time – 12-9.
Just minutes later, Con were celebrating the final’s first try. A ground-gaining maul allowed Rob Jermyn to have a cut on the left before workhorse number 8 Cahill carried twice closer in, and Jason Higgins' well-timed pass sent Hayes lunging over in the right corner despite a tackle from Leavy.
Quinlan was just off target with the conversion but Brian Hickey's charges were now enjoying a serious purple patch, turning down a kickable penalty as their forwards displayed enviable grunt and guile with ball in hand.
After loosehead Brendan Quinlan drove up close to the line, and winger Jermyn threatened from a cross-field kick, Tomas Quinlan nailed his fourth successful penalty goal to open up a 17-12 advantage.
That only served to bring the best out of Lansdowne, their captain Ian Prendiville tidying up a loose lineout and a great show of power from the pack, with Dooley shrugging off defenders, led to Moran expertly spinning out of a tackle to ground the ball. His timely try was converted by Deasy, moving his side back in front and setting up a tense finale.
The frustration was growing for Cork Con as Quinlan was narrowly wide with a 33-metre shot at the posts, and they had nothing to show for a cracking break over halfway from skipper Niall Kenneally. Dooley’s subsequent rip on Ger Sweeney gained turnover ball for Lansdowne.
The Birr youngster remained a key cog in the Lansdowne set piece, helping them win key scrum penalties in both halves as the clock wound down. Constitution had one final surge from deep in the dying seconds, but a knock-on from the unfortunate Daly signalled the end of the Temple Hill outfit’s heroic title defence.
TIME LINE: 3 minutes – Cork Constitution penalty: Tomas Quinlan – 0-3; 8 mins – Lansdowne penalty: Scott Deasy – 3-3; 14 mins – Cork Constitution penalty: Tomas Quinlan – 3-6; 24 mins – Cork Constitution penalty: Tomas Quinlan – 3-9; 27 mins – Lansdowne penalty: Scott Deasy – 6-9; 40+3 mins – Lansdowne penalty: Scott Deasy – 9-9; Half-time – Lansdowne 9 Cork Constitution 9; 47 mins – Lansdowne penalty: Scott Deasy – 12-9; 50 mins – Cork Constitution try: Brian Hayes – 12-14; conversion: missed by Tomas Quinlan – 12-14; 58 mins – Cork Constitution penalty: Tomas Quinlan – 12-17; 61 mins – Lansdowne try: Tyrone Moran – 17-17; conversion: Scott Deasy – 19-17; 67 mins – Cork Constitution penalty: missed by Tomas Quinlan – 19-17; Full-time – Lansdowne 19 Cork Constitution 17
Referee: David Wilkinson (IRFU)