There have been many glorious days in the 143-year history of the great Lansdowne Club, but few, if any, will have surpassed that of last Saturday, when Mike Ruddock’s young side overcame a tenacious Clontarf team to clinch the Ulster Bank All Ireland Club Championship for the second time in the last three seasons.
Coach Ruddock stated before the match that finals are all about taking your chances. His side duly took theirs, and their opponents did not, and that was the difference between the teams in the end.
Following a wet and windy Friday, conditions improved markedly for what was a well-attended contest, and both sides sought to use the wide-open spaces of the Aviva Stadium at every opportunity. For almost the first time this season Lansdowne did not enjoy dominance in the scrum, and the Leinster-bound Royce Burke-Flynn and Ivan Soroka gave the Lansdowne props a testing afternoon. The side’s line-out performance was improved over the young Munster game, but tight possession went marginally in favour of the Northsiders.
It was in the loose, however, that Lansdowne had the edge and a Man of the Match performance by Corkman Joe McSwiney and the industrious Aaron Conneely saw Lansdowne shade this area. Along with prop Peter Dooley and Hooker Tyrone Moran, in particular, they were a constant threat in both their defensive and attacking duties. Captain Ron Boucher, as ever, led by example in this, his 134th AIL appearance in the Lansdowne shirt.
Clontarf opened the scoring after 4 minutes with a well struck penalty by full back Rob Keogh after Lansdowne were penalised in the scrum. Out half Scott Deasy equalised this effort after 13 minutes following some slick approach play by the Lansdowne backs, who looked sharp in attack throughout. Clontarf restored their three point advantage after 16 minutes as Lansdowne were again pinged at a scrum.
A Clontarf high tackle in the 20th minute having gone unpunished, Lansdowne set up a strong line-out rolling maul; Deasy availed of a penalty advantage being played by the referee to place a deft cross-kick into the hands of left winger Ian Fitzpatrick who fielded and played a clever offload to his wing partner, Mark Roche. Roche still had a lot of work to do, but he beat the first defender and rode a second tackle to plunge over in the right-hand corner for an excellent try. Deasy was unable to add the extras, but Lansdowne now led by 8 points to 6.
Clontarf came back strongly, but failed to take advantage of good work by centre Matt D’Arcy with the try line seemingly at their mercy after 24 minutes. They also failed to take an even more gilt-edged chance in the 36th minute when winger Conor O’Brien spilt what was a relatively easy scoring pass. The visitors continued to exert pressure, but were disrupted by the loss of their out half Evan Ryan just before half-time.
Lansdowne were relieved to hear the half time whistle armed with an 8-6 lead. Their fortunes did not improve after the break, however, as Clontarf’s pick and go approach through their big forwards began to pay dividends. Lansdowne’s defence stood firm until the sin-binning of sub prop Adam Boland in the 44th minute for a scrumming offence after both he and his opposite number had been warned by the referee. Boland had helped to stabilise the Lansdowne scrum, and his ten minute absnce was sorely felt by the Headquarters club.
Under mounting pressure, Lansdowne were penalised five times in succession and Keogh kicked Clontarf into a 9-8 lead after 45 minutes. Worse was to come in the 47th minute, as the always threatening D’Arcy picked off a Deasy pass to run 60 metres for a vital try. Full back Cian Kelleher did a great job to force the centre out wide, and the missed conversion was to prove crucial in the end.
Yet another scrum penalty conceded in the 54th minute saw Keogh increase the Northsider’s advantage to 9 points, at 17-9, and Lansdowne were staring down the barrel of a gun. This is a fit and mature Lansdowne side, however, and they refused to panic. The pack upped its game and, restored to full numbers, started to put some good phases together. A clever Dooley lay-off to Tom Daly saw the centre make ground into the Clontarf 22. A penalty shot at goal was spurned, and the ball was put into touch eight metres out from the ‘Tarf line.
From the resultant line-out maul, flanker McSwiney crashed over for a well-worked try and Boucher’s brave decision to go for the corner was vindicated. Deasy added the conversion from six metres in from the touchline via the right hand upright and reduced the margin to 17-15. Clontarf then went on the attack, and Lansdowne showed good defensive qualities and discipline in repulsing a series of threats.
Prop Boland made amends for his sin-binning with a crucial turnover on the Lansdowne 5-metre line, and the ball was worked wide to the always threatening Kelleher. He kicked ahead, and was taken out by sub winger Ariel Robiles, who was yellow carded for the offence. Shortly afterwards Lansdowne were awarded a further penalty wide out on the right and over 40 metres from the posts. Up stepped Scott Deasy to coolly slot the ball between the posts and an 18-17 advantage.
Lansdowne had the bit between their teeth at this stage, as Clontarf began to lose their shape. Robust Lansdowne defence kept them pinned back in their own half; Deasy had time to take another shot at goal, which fell short. The visitors had run out of ideas by this time and couldn’t break down the solid Lansdowne defensive wall.
Clontarf were awarded a penalty just short of the half way line on full time; their efforts to get full back Keogh back onto the pitch took too long, however, and the referee insisted they take it. They ran the ball, but it popped up and Adam Boland had the last say as he gleefully poked it into touch. The celebrations then began and are likely to go on for a very long time….
Congratulations to the senior squad, coaches and management team in completing the All Ireland double, the Under 20’s having already brought home their cup. A six trophy haul represents the best return since the 1981-2 season, and President Frank Kenny and his Executive team may feel justifiably proud of their achievements. Well done and farewell also to team manager Brian Corrigan, in what was his last match before retiring after many years of excellent service.
Lansdowne Team: Peter Dooley, Tyrone Moran, Ian Prendiville (Adam Boland); Brian Moylett (Tadgh Byrne), Stephen Gardiner; Joe McSwiney, Aaron Conneely, Ron Boucher (Joe O’Brien); Adam Griggs (Paddy O’Driscoll), Scott Deasy; Ian Fitzpatrick, Tom Daly, Tom Farrell, Mark Roche; Cian Kelleher (Cian Aherne, blood).
Match Report: Michael Day
Article related to 1st XV team.
Article related to 1stXV v Clontarf fixture.