A late Max Abbott try capped a superb second-half performance by Cork Con which saw them secure a well-deserved bonus point victory over reigning All-Ireland champions Clontarf in a pulsating AIL Division 1A encounter at Castle Avenue on Saturday afternoon.
The two sides had fought out an entertaining tie at Temple Hill before Christmas, with a second-half Jack Kelleher red card proving to be crucial as Clontarf finished the stronger side to win 22-29. This one was always likely to be just as tight.
Clontarf dominated the territory and possession in the early exchanges with Con struggling to get out of their half. The home side thought they were about to score in the 10th minute, but resolute Con defending forced a knock-on right on the try line and Con duly cleared.
Con were rewarded for their patience in the 23rd minute when centre Greg Higgins brilliantly escaped down the left touchline to win a foot race to score an excellent breakaway try in the corner to get the scoreboard moving.
Clontarf had another great opportunity in the 29th minute but the pass to put outside centre Michael Courtney under the posts didn't go to hand and Con survived once more.
The reprieve wasn't a long one, however, as Clontarf capitalised on a scrum penalty to go down the line, and their fearsome maul did the trick, with Dylan Donnellan burrowing over in the 35th minute to score, to leave the home side leading 7-5 at the break.
Con started the second half extremely brightly, forcing a scrum right on the Clontarf line, and when they were awarded a penalty from that set piece the alert Con scrum half Louis Kahn showed some incredibly quick thinking to tap and dive over in the 44th minute.
The tit-for-tat nature of this contest continued with Clontarf striking next, as Clontarf number eight Tony Ryan made a superb charge right down the middle in the 51st minute to put former Munster scrum-half Angus Lloyd away to level the scores at 12-12.
Clontarf were not to score again though, as Con regained the lead seven minutes later when second-row Cathal O’Flaherty grounded under the posts after sustained pressure.
The next quarter of an hour saw Con dominating the territory battle, keeping Clontarf pinned in their own half, but George Coomber saw his 40m penalty attempt in the 77th-minute drift to the right of the posts.
The game was put to bed soon after though when Max Abbott blasted over from close range at the back of a maul to ensure that Con had their bonus point to leapfrog their rivals in the AIL table, while Con also had the satisfaction of gaining some revenge for their December reversal.