At the final whistle in the Aviva on Sunday the abiding memory for me is the sound of monkeys coming off backs among the Clontarf faithful.
The magnificent fight back from Cork Con in the second half of this fantastic game left the Clontarf support at the point of prayer, and potential human sacrifice, for an acceleration of time and the final whistle. In the end, the Cork men’s tactic of going to the air in an effort to break Clontarf’s composure and force errors failed in the arms of Michael Browne and the magnificent Joey Carbury.
The final whistle heralded an explosion of joy and relief, not just because Clontarf had won, but because the manner of their victory spoke volumes about the standard of rugby in the Ulster Bank League. There has never been a final like this. I have watched this game a number of times (it’s on a constant loop in my kitchen) and have to pinch myself to confirm that it was a final, and an Irish final at that. One where the rules of engagement should be slathered with a marinade of conservatism, long kicking, and low risk game management.
On Sunday, Clontarf binned the book & rewrote the rules. In doing so they reaffirmed the position of skill over brawn in a sport that has become more about biceps rather than sidesteps, big asses rather than skip passes and running over opponents rather than dancing around them.
If the People in the IRFU responsible for the position of the Club game in Irish Rugby’s structure can’t see the value of this competition in the development of Irish rugby talent and move to formalize Division 1A in the structured pathway for developing players then, frankly, and humbly, they should be sectioned .
Cork Con started big and for 30 minutes struggled to get their foot on to the neck of the Clontarf defense with consistent pressure in the ‘Tarf 22 . Clontarf defended relentlessly led by Sam Cronin whose work rate raised suspicions of a snort of Crystal meth. After 30 minutes, with the score at nil all Joey Carbury slalomed through the Con defense; Con hooker Abbot grabbed the loose ball and was promptly mugged by an outraged Cronin who re-established the momentum and Carbury put Matt Darcy in on the right.
From the kickoff Clontarf took the ball through one phase and promptly set off again. Matt Darcy accelerated through a gap and flipped inside to Michael Browne who made ground and had Joey Carbury inside to accelerate away under the posts for an outrageous score.
With the first half almost up Tony Ryan made an entrance and created and scored a try he will grin about until he croaks it. He started by emptying Con’s most physical backrow – Graeme Lawlor with a shuddering hit that dislodged the ball. ‘Tarf immediately took the ball on and after fast hands from Conor O’Brien, Sam Cronin, Michael Browne, and a wall pass off a Con hip the ball came to Carbury who delayed the pass enough to open a crack in the door and Ryan bashed through it like a sex maniac crashing a strippers convention.
In a 10 minute period Clontarf scored three blinding tries against a solitary penalty to Con for 21 – 3 at half time.
The second half saw the expected fight back from the Cork team who profited from some Clontarf defensive laxity to force a scrum penalty followed by a lineout Maul and a score that also resulted in a yellow card to Tony Ryan. Clontarf’s response to this setback was to conjure up another Barbarian try. Moving right to left centres Darcy and O’Brien worked a beautiful outside inside passing combination resulting in Darcy running free and his inside pass to Mick McGrath put the winger in behind the posts.
To their credit Con refused to lower the flag and full back Sweetnam got in after a perfect lobbed kick over the ‘Tarf defense from their scrum half. They followed up with a try to winger Jermyn after some tired defense from Clontarf to bring the score to a tooth grinding 28 – 25.
However, there were to be no more scores and Clontarf hung in against the Con ferocity and even managed some more magical moments with a stylish break from Michael Browne bringing the crowd to its feet and a stunning lob kick from Peter Du Toit to Matt Darcy drawing gasps of astonishment at its audacity.
So a magnificent, glorious, end to a season in which every team in the club seemed to make ground in their individual competitions. We were left with some great memories on the day.
Captain Ben Reilly brings the trophy to the minis in the crowd and promptly gets mugged by the little monsters who drag him into the stand . . . The bus journey back to the club where we were met by the triple winning Under 17’s sitting along the top of the entrance wall like the nights watch and spraying the bus with lemonade from Dutch Gold cans!!!
The madness in the clubhouse . . . No words to be said . . . Literally hanging from the rafters.