Tomas Quinlan was Cork Constitution’s 14-point goal-kicking hero as they knocked table toppers Lansdowne out of the Ulster Bank League title race today.
The ice-cool Tomas Quinlan converted an 82nd minute penalty to guide Constitution to a gripping 19-16 semi-final victory on the Aviva Stadium's back pitch, setting up a rematch with Clontarf in the stadium proper in two weeks' time.
So often a match winner for Con in recent seasons, the 22-year-old Quinlan's time with the Munster Academy was short-lived – he had a year with the province in 2015/16 after impressing for the Ireland Under-20s – but he remains arguably the best young out-half on the domestic club scene.
2015 league champions Lansdowne were quietly confident of avenging two regular seasons losses to Cork Con, with Ireland Sevens internationals John O'Donnell, Mark Roche and Matthew D'Arcy joining talismanic number 10 Scott Deasy in the back-line.
Up front, the hosts handed starts to current Ireland U-20 forwards Tadgh McElroy, Oisin Dowling and Paul Boyle, and young winger Mark O'Keefe's 10th-minute try, inspired by a bullocking run from lock Stephen Gardiner, gave Mike Ruddock's men the early impetus.
Lansdowne were still leading by the interval, but three Quinlan penalties after 18, 24 and 28 minutes had the Leesiders hot on their heels at just 10-9 down. Deasy had turned a 22nd-minute scrum penalty into three points amid some intense exchanges between the forwards.
It was end-to-end stuff in the second half, Constitution briefly seizing control thanks to winger Liam O'Connell's well-taken 53rd-minute try, which was created by a well-weighted chip to the corner by full-back Shane Daly, before Deasy answered back from the tee just two minutes later.
Tighthead prop and captain Ian Prendiville and flanker Charlie Butterworth drove on Lansdowne's youthful pack, while second rows Brian Hayes and Conor Kindregan – two real totems for the visitors – led the way for Con along with their Zimbabwe-capped flanker Graeme Lawler.
Extra-time was in the offing when Deasy found the target with a 75th minute penalty to square things up at 16-all and Quinlan missed a subsequent drop goal attempt from 25 metres. Nonetheless, the hard graft of his forwards ensured that Quinlan had a one last shot at the posts and he delivered in nerveless fashion, taking his season's haul to 180 points.
Brian Hickey's Con squad, who retained the Munster Senior Cup in February, will make two return trips to the capital in the next fortnight in search of a potential All-Ireland double – they visit Old Belvedere for next Saturday's Bateman Cup decider before battling it out with Clontarf again for league honours on May 7. The club's last league title was won in 2010 when Peter O'Mahony, Simon Zebo, Duncan Williams and Stephen Archer were in the side.
Speaking after Con's win at Lansdowne, Hickey told Cork's Red FM: “It was a very tight, hard-fought game. There was nothing between the teams. They went seven points up and we responded almost immediately and then it was score for score all the way until late on when Tomas kicked that penalty.
“We had anxious few minutes camped on our own 22 but we managed to hold out. The kick was about 45 yards out, a bit to the left of the posts. He had kicked particularly well earlier in the game into the wind, so this one was with the wind, and in fairness he held his nerve very well.
“We know each other quite well, ourselves and Clontarf. It was honours even this season and they obviously beat us in the final last year. Hopefully we can improve hugely on that performance.”
Referee: Stuart Gaffikin (IRFU)