Lansdowne’s potent mix of pace and power saw them progress to their first Ulster Bank League final since 2015, following a 36-19 semi-final over Garryowen at the Aviva Stadium yesterday.
Jet-heeled winger Adam Leavy started and finished the try-scoring, bagging a well-taken brace on the same pitch that his older brother Dan has starred on for Leinster and Ireland this season.
Table toppers at the end of league phase and boosted by last week's Bateman Cup title win, Lansdowne outscored the Light Blues by five tries to one. The Limerick men deserved to be closer, but brothers Neil and Liam Cronin combined for their only points, including the latter's 75th-minute try.
Played in perfect conditions on the main pitch, a sizable crowd witnessed a heavyweight contest between two fiercely-committed sides and, if the final score line was a little flattering to Lansdowne, nonetheless they took all of the chances they created, while managing to frustrate the Garryowen attack.
Mike Ruddock's side fell behind to an 11th minute penalty from Garryowen's captain and best player Neil Cronin, who rewarded a well-timed scrum. Leinster's Peter Dooley had come on to replace Martin Mulhall who picked up an early knock, but the Light Blues did well to force the infringement and Cronin landed the 32-metre kick.
Early in the second quarter, Leavy replied with a try in the left corner, evading the clutches of the covering Jamie Gavin. The Lansdowne forwards, who welcomed back captain Ian Prendiville from injury, went through several pick-and-go phases before a long skip pass released Leavy to go over out wide.
Scott Deasy and Cronin traded penalties as it remained nip and tuck up to half-time, Deasy's strike from 27 metres out rewarding good work by Foster Horan and Harry Brennan, and Cronin replying just three minutes later as Garryowen continued to chip away at the home defence.
Trailing 8-6 on the cusp on half-time, Conan Doyle's charges had enough possession to force a late score and take the lead but they were thwarted by a turnover on the 40-minute mark, and then a spill over the try-line in the dying seconds of the first half.
Willie Earle, Jack O'Sullivan and Aaron Conneely stood out for their efforts in defence as the headquarters club determinedly held onto their slender lead, and just like last Saturday's Bateman Cup decider against Cork Constitution, Lansdowne were able to move clear in the third quarter.
Deasy was the creator of a crucial second try for the hosts, just three minutes after the restart. He chipped over the Garryowen midfield, collecting the bouncing ball on the 10-metre line and drew in Garryowen full-back Andrew O'Byrne before releasing his half-back partner Alan Bennie to score from 30 metres out, despite the best efforts of the chasing Liam Coombes.
The visitors failed to panic, Bennie's opposite number Cronin cutting gap to 15-12 after Lansdowne were penalised in the scrum again and then for a high tackle. But again, Ruddock's side had the answers as they hit the hour mark with a 10-point cushion.
Following a counter attack led by right winger Horan, the hosts turned to their well-drilled pack to widen the margin, winning a 56th-minute penalty try after Garryowen were guilty of collapsing a maul. Hard-working hooker Tyrone Moran deservedly added a fourth try soon after, Lansdowne building from a scrum penalty and a lineout in the 22 before a strong set of carries.
Deasy converted for a 29-12 lead on a day he broke the 200-point barrier in league action this season. To their immense credit, Garryowen heads did not drop and they soon enjoyed their best spell of the entire match, with skipper Cronin and teenage flanker Jack Daly playing starring roles.
Lansdowne lost second row Josh O'Rourke to the sin-bin for side-entry at a maul, but Garryowen had nothing to show for the purple patch after taking the scrum option. However, the visitors, who were aided by fresh legs off the bench, earned a further penalty a few minutes later and replacement hooker Liam Cronin was able to dot down from the lineout drive.
Garryowen pressed for a further try at 29-19 down, but Jack Dwan gobbled up a grubber kick on the Lansdowne 22 and steadied the ship for the table toppers. The Light Blues were pinned back by a terrific touchfinder from Lansdowne replacement scrum half Charlie Rock who then teed up Leavy's second try.
After Garryowen were forced to concede a five-metre scrum, the Lansdowne forwards took the visitors through several phases before Rock expertly sold a dummy and sent Connacht Academy youngster Leavy over the whitewash. The 2013 and 2015 league champions will have an Aviva Stadium rematch with defending league champions Cork Con next Sunday (kick-off 3pm).
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)