The new style AIL got off to a dramatic start at Dooradoyle when a drop goal from 45 metres by flyhalf Willie Staunton gave Garryowen a 12-10 victory over arch rivals Shannon.
It came seven minutes into stoppage time and was the last action of a contest that proved hugely enjoyable.
Many of the estimated 2,500 were heading for home in the belief that Shannon had stolen the win after David Quinlan got in for a try after 79 minutes when he was driven over by his forwards after Shannon had no choice but to kick a penalty chance to touch rather than taking the three points.
Outhalf Tadg Bennett converted from the touchline-having missed three easier penalty chances-and it seemed that the title holders had pulled off a successful first title defence.
Two penalties by under 21 international, Conor Murray, had Garryowen 6-0 in front at the end of a first half in which Shannon’s bet player, Eoghan Grace was sin-binned after 22 minutes.
Bennett landed a Shannon penalty on the hour and Shannon totally dominated the second half. Indeed Garryowen’s only serious incursion into their territory produced the marvelous winning drop goal.
Felix Jones, a member of the Munster squad made his debut for Shannon and made a few breaks but defences on both sides were superb.
Shannon made the brighter start with Bennett twice cross-kicking for Felix Jones but each time the attack broke down. Having weathered the early storm Garryowen then got a grip on proceedings and went in front with a well struck penalty by Conor Murray after eleven minutes.
Garryowen were thrilled with their success for which they can thank their forwards and none played better than Frank McKenna who pinched a few of the Shannon line-outs and he was well helped by Jason Harney who was making his first appearance as prop at this level, Conor Hartigan,Paul Neville and Conor Murray all playe dtheir part for the winners.
Shannon tried to over-use possession in both halves and will be wounded that the bragging rights rest with Garryowen.
Shannon had their chances and the penalty misses by Bennett proved crucial at the death.
L Bourke, R O’Mahony, C Doyle, K Hartigan,(D McCarthy, 70) I Hanley; W Staunton, C Murray; J Harney, M Sherry, D Lavery; D Sheehan, (F McCloskey, 79)F McKenna; P Neville, C Hartigan, D Sherry.
D O’Donovan, F Jones, M O’Driscoll (J Clogan, 68), M Lawler, S Kelly; T Bennett, F O’Loughlin, (F McNamara 68); L Hogan, B Duggan, K Griffin; P O’Brien, F Walsh (P Loughnane, 15); J O’Connor, E Grace, D Quinlan.
Referee, P Haycock, IRFU