Cork Constitution survived a late onslaught from hosts St. Mary’s College to claim a deserved 20-16 win in their Ulster Bank League opener at Templeville Road on Saturday.
Constitution captain Niall Kenneally's 41st-minute try had put 14 points between the sides and although young out-half Sean Kearns inspired a determined fight-back from Mary's, they ultimately had to settle for a losing bonus point.
A Kearns penalty on the stroke of half-time was Mary's only score of the first half, as the Leesiders turned around with a 12-3 advantage.
Despite missing the injured Marcus O'Driscoll, David O'Connor, Dave Fanagan and new signing Paddy Lavelle, Mary's were determined to hit the ground running on their return to the top flight of the league.
However, it was Cork Con who opened the scoring in the fifth minute. Having established an early foothold in the hosts' 22, the Con forwards were thwarted on a series of drives before neat passes from centre Keneally and hooker Max Abbott saw winger Rob Jermyn cross in the right corner.
Out-half Tomas Quinlan, one of their star performers from last season, missed the difficult conversion. Mary's lost influential number 8 Kevin Sheahan to injury and also watched the usually reliable Kearns was off-target with two penalty attempts after 19 and 23 minutes.
Quinlan also fired past the right hand post at the other end, but with Con looking dangerous in possession, their second try arrived seven minutes before the interval. A strong break by Kenneally left winger Liam O'Connell with the simple task of touching down by the posts, with Quinlan converting.
Mary's finally opened their account in the final minutes of the first half when Kearns converted a penalty at the third time of asking. Con's cushion stood at nine points and they immediately put further daylight between the sides on the resumption.
The impressive Jermyn broke free from deep, and after collecting his swift pass, Kenneally crashed over the Mary's whitewash with consummate ease. Terry Kennedy raced out to block Quinlan's third conversion effort of the day, but the hosts were nevertheless left with a mountain to climb at 17-3 down.
They were agonisingly close to crossing the whitewash during an extended spell inside the Con 22-metre line, and when Kearns kicked for touch on 45 minutes, it looked like a Mary's try was imminent. Yet, Brian Hickey's men managed to hold firm, and Kearns settled for another successful three-pointer all of five minutes later.
Con did lose prop Ger Sweeney to the sin-bin during this juncture, though, and just as he was re-entering the fray on 58 minutes, fellow forward Conor Kindregan was issued with a yellow card by referee Stuart Gaffikin.
Last season's beaten finalists handled their numerical disadvantage well for the most part, but in their final attack before Kindregan's return, Mary's set up a grandstand finish. They probed with great intent in the Con half, and after expertly sidestepping a tackle close to goal, Kearns drove over for a seven-point salvo.
Kearns' influence was growing as the half progressed, and he cut the gap to a minimum in the 73rd minute with a curling penalty from an awkward angle on the right.
This increased the pressure on Cork Con, but thanks to a penalty from the returning Quinlan in the fifth minute of injury-time, they eventually prevailed by four points.
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)