Final quarter tries from Gerry Hurley and Tomas Quinlan proved decisive at Lakelands Park as Cork Constitution overcame the challenge of Terenure College to begin the New Year in impressive fashion.
After returning to the Ulster Bank League's top tier on the back of successive promotions, Terenure made an extraordinary start to the current campaign with six wins from their opening six outings.
However, their incredible unbeaten run – stretching back to the 2012/13 Division 2A season – could only be maintained for so long and in their final four league games of 2014, they suffered defeats to Lansdowne, Ballynahinch and UCD.
This enabled 2013 champions Lansdowne to move to the top of the Division 1A table, and an eighth victory was needed against Cork Con if 'Nure wanted to avoid losing further ground in the top four.
Along with Clontarf, Constitution are hot on the trail of the aforementioned south Dublin duo and following their narrow loss to Young Munster at Temple Hill at the beginning of November, they embarked on a five-match unbeaten run prior to this first meeting with Terenure since 2008.
'Nure certainly started the contest with plenty of intent, and threatened to break through from their opening surges into the visitors' half. The well-organised Con defence managed to hold firm, before Terenure out-half Mark O'Neill was wide with an 11th minute penalty attempt from just outside the 22.
Shortly afterwards, Constitution full-back Darragh Lyons looked set to touch down via a neat kick by Quinlan, only for referee Dudley Phillips to award a penalty to Terenure for a Con infringement.
Nevertheless, the visitors grew in confidence as the first half wore on and despite losing influential number 8 James Ryan to injury after 25 minutes, they opened their account just shy of the half hour mark.
With Hurley and Lyons both proven kickers from the tee, Cork Con boss Tom Tierney is spoilt for choice when it comes to place-kicking options at present. Ireland Under-19 international Quinlan is the man who is currently entrusted with these responsibilities, however, and from his first attempt of the game, he made no mistake from long range.
This was a morale-boosting score for Con and courtesy of another routine three-pointer by Quinlan in the dying moments of the half, they brought a 6-0 lead into the second period.
The gauntlet had been thrown down to 'Nure, who were aiming to avoid a fourth defeat in five games. They remained on the back foot when play resumed, and flanker Graeme Lawler was close to scoring the opening try for Con just three minutes in.
Significant breaks by Harry Moore and Kyle McCoy on 50 minutes got 'Nure moving again, though, and there was greater purpose to their play once more. Mark O'Neill opted for touch rather than the posts three minutes later and this proved to be a wise decision, as hooker Robbie Smyth finished off a powerful lineout maul for a try which O'Neill converted.
James Blaney's charges could not push on from here, though, and when Quinlan's 62nd-minute penalty helped Con to reclaim the advantage, the Cork outfit built some serious momentum.
'Nure were still in contention with 11 minutes left to play, but experienced scrum half Hurley left them in an ominous position when he raced on to his own chipped kick to touch down underneath the posts.
Quinlan converted and he later profited from superb approach play by Hurley to dive over in the left corner for his side's third try.
His touchline conversion effort and a 77th minute penalty attempt were both short of the target, but those scores were not needed as Cork Con claimed a much-deserved triumph.
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU)