Cork Constitution 9
On this day 30 years ago Cork Constitution became first official champions of Ireland after edging their great Munster rivals Garryowen at a packed Dooradoyle.
Over 10,000 people crammed into the tight surrounds of the famous Limerick club’s grounds to watch the concluding game in the inaugural All-Ireland First Division.
It wasn’t a final as such, but the concluding game of eight, though the title was on the line because Garryowen and Con filled the top places and one of them would be kings.
The pair were level on 12 points, suffering just one defeat apiece with Lansdowne in close proximity, but out of the frame on this occasion.
All the advantages lay with Garryowen, whose superior scoring difference of +52 to Con’s +35 meant a draw would have sufficed for the light blues.
Con coach Christy Cantillon had no problems with the rule ahead of a game, which captured the imagination of rugby followers across the province and beyond.
“That’s the rule we all signed up to at the start of the season and there will be no crying after spilt milk if that how the game pans out,” he said.
The Cork club had coped without the injured Donal Lenihan during the run-in as Don Lynch settled immediately in the engine room with Stephen Hayes.
Conditions were typical for the time of year, an overnight frost thawing to ensure a soggy and demanding surface which tested players’ fitness levels and handling skills.
As expected it was a forwards oriented encounter with Garryowen on top in the line-out, where Paul Hogan, John Mitchell and Richard Costelloe lorded.
Con, though, had a stronger scrum and this proved decisive as matters unfolded with Philip Soden, Paul Derham, and Paul McCarthy an imposing front-row.
That critical area of the game became the central point during the second half when the sides were tied at 3-3.
Con captain Michael Bradley turned the Garryowen defence with a clever kick in behind and the pressure was on the home side once again.
Con’s scrum earned a succession of penalties before number eight Victor Donnelly picked and went only to lose possession as he was about to touch down.
There was no reprieve for Garryowen, however, because from their own put-in, out-half Nicky Barry was forced to concede another scrum after hounded by Bradley and flanker Ollie Barrett.
Eventually, after another series of scrums and over eight minutes in all camped on the line, referee Denis Templeton’s patience ran out and awarded Con a penalty try, converted by Ralph Keyes.
Both midfield defences stood up to the tasks manfully with Con pair Charlie Murphy and Niall Murray and their opposite numbers Philip Danaher and Kenny Smith effective in restricting opportunities.
Garryowen dictated play in the closing stages and Smith twice saw penalties rebound from the uprights.
He was also involved in a game-defining moment late on as Smith’s pass to wing Richard Wallace had major possibilities until McCarthy appeared from nowhere to pull off a try-saving tackle.
Moments later the final whistle prompted emotional scenes as Con players and supporters celebrated their historic triumph, ensuring they went into their Centenary Year season as All-Ireland champions.
Con started the game promisingly with Bradley and hooker Derham stopped short of the try line before their pressure yielded the opening points for Keyes after 16 minutes.
Garryowen responded with an equalising kick from Smith approaching the interval and that’s how it stayed until the Con front-row earned that crucial penalty try.
Garryowen collected rich pickings in terms of gate receipts but would have handed it all back to have had the right result from their perspective.
Scorers for Cork Con: Pen try, R Keyes con and pen.
Scorer for Garryowen: K Smith pen
CORK CONSTITUTION: K Murphy; D O’Dowd, N Murray, C Murphy, B Walsh; R Keyes, M Bradley, captain; P Soden, P Derham, P McCarthy; D Lynch, S Hayes; L Dineen, V Donnelly, O Barrett.
GARRYOWEN: D Larkin; R Wallace, K Smith, P Danaher, captain, G Quilligan; N Barry, I Barry; B O’Kane, D Murphy, D Madden; P Hogan, R Costelloe; W Sexton; J Mitchell, M O’Donoghue.
Referee: D Templeton (Ulster).