Any neutral perusing the score line and the try count could be excused for presuming this was a routine day at the office for Clontarf.
Unlike the phony war of a week ago in the League, this was as full blooded an encounter as you could get for a semi-final. Moments of utter brilliance were knitted into a quilt of tension for long periods of an enthralling encounter.
Clontarf started with ruthless intensity and after 7 minutes were a try to the good. The forwards played bully ball down the right for Bryan Byrne to get in at the corner. Almost directly from the kick-off Joey Carbury snapped up loose ball in his own 22. With a shimmy he lit the blue (and red) touch paper on a try that will be difficult to match for many years given its quality and the importance of the game. In a flowing move down the left the ball passed through at least 8 pairs of hands as backs and forwards combined with Barbarian dash. When it finished with Mick McGrath Clontarf went 10 nil ahead after 10 minutes.
At that point it could have been a rout. What followed was a credit to the young UCD side who rather than lower their colours set about owning the ball for the next half an hour. They put the home side and their support through ructions of anxiety as they pounded in the ‘Tarf 22 until half time. Unfortunately for the heroes in blue they ran into a home defence that had more than a touch of the war hammer about it and was not in any mood for surrender. When half time arrived, Clontarf were leading 10 – 3 and had given a salutary lesson in the defensive side of the game.
The second half resumed as the first had ended but with reduced intensity from the visitors’ so when ‘Tarf released the defensive pressure and made ground into the Blue 22, Michael Noone saw space on the blindside (Space to Nooner is anything less than 3 defenders) and carried two defenders with him for a superb try converted by Joey Carbury for 17 – 3.
Once again UCD rallied and when ‘Tarf failed to put away an interception for what would have been the game winner the students lifted and with 16 to go got in on the left through winger Barry Daly. It was converted by out half Ross Byrne for 17 – 10 and bye bye Clontarf supporters fingernails.
Clontarf then lost a player to the sin bin after what looked like an accidental collision in midfield and we all strapped in for the inevitable rear-guard action of the noble 14. What followed was worthy of the battle of Thermopylae with UCD pinning ‘Tarf in the corner with a succession of penalties and Clontarf hurling bodies at the opposition attackers as the fingernail less crowd howled for all it was worth for their side. As time wound down the home heroes forced a turnover, broke with fierce intent, and showed superb discipline and patience in possession to probe the blindside opening space on the open side. When the ball flashed out, the peerless Evan Ryan, found a gap in the first line of defence and stiffed the last defender with an outrageous Hollywood sidestep for the final try converted by Joey Carbury with the final kick of a classic game.
Heartfelt commiserations to UCD who were 10 times the side from the previous week. Congratulations to ‘Tarf who have reached the final for the second year running. May 8th (Sunday) at 2.30 in the Aviva Stadium.
P.S. Sympathy to Rob Keogh who, with desperately bad luck, broke a bone in his hand and must be doubtful for the final. Tragic for Rob who was in superb form.