Clonakilty 19 Suttonians 12
It was a great day for Clonakilty. At the magnificent AIB hosted pre-match reception in The Bank Centre, Kevin Dillon, club president, was presented with the division three winners shield and after the game his son Derek, the club captain, was presented with the top four championship trophy. Clon had proved beyond doubt that they were the best team by far in division three and will now look forward to division two next season with confidence. There was no more fitting stage to present their talents than Lansdowne Road and as the roar went up to greet the arrival of the West Cork men on to the hallowed turf it was difficult to believe that up to 48 hours earlier the venue was very much in doubt. All's well that ends well it can be said but it would have been an absolute travesty to stage such an event elsewhere. The event was, of course AIB All Ireland League finals day with Clonakilty taking on nearest rivals from the league stage, Suttonians. Clonakilty prevailed by 19 points to 12. 14 points through the boot of Gary Cribb with two Penalties, a Drop goal and the Conversion of the try scored by Man Of The Match, Eoin Scannell.
The match was tighter than the score would indicate. Clon started well with a bullocking run from Paul Dillon and good spread of the ball through the backs with David Lombard prominent. The intent was clear and the first five minutes were played between the half way line and the Suttonians 22 but unfortunately Clon conceded the first of many penalties and allowed Suttonians to clear the early danger. Suttonians made their first foray from this penalty, winning a lineout on the Clon 10 metre line and taking it on. Lenny Harte, with a great tackle, halted the momentum and won a penalty, which he took quickly. Alfie Harte took it on and with great vision threaded a kick through a tiny gap. Lenny nailed the receiver and won another penalty 38 metres out and in front of the post. Gary Cribb s kick came off the upright and Clon s aggressive defence turned the ball over and gave Cribb a chance to make amends from the same distance but with more of an angle. This time the kick was perfect and the electronic scoreboard in Lansdowne Road registered the first points in the name of Clonakilty after 9 minutes and 17 seconds.
Cribb put Clon further ahead again from exactly the same distance with another penalty following great defensive play from Eoin Scannell and Declan Coppinger. The latter had a great game and his trade mark driving backwards of the target ball carrier featured regularly and frustrated Suttonians support runners. The former, who would go on to deservedly take the man of the match award, made the Duracell Bunny look to be suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis. Tackling, taking the ball on or scavenging on the ground for turnovers was all in a days work for the born again second rower. Clon continued to try and get their running game going and did manage one sweeping move from 22 to 22 before disaster struck. A knock-on caused the move to break down and another couple of knocks-on in defence gave Suttonians a period of sustained pressure. Clon were dealing with everything until scrum half Vinny Patton put up a Garryowen. It did not look too dangerous as Derek Dillon had it covered but unfortunately Noel O Sullivan, with eye on ball, failed to see the advancing full back and the inevitable collision sent the ball loose and it was hacked on by Darragh Mulligan who was also won the chase to ground it for a try. The conversion was missed but only a single point now separated the sides after 32 minutes. Cribb had another penalty come off the upright before the end of the half.
Clon started the second half well but after three minutes again contrived to allow Suttonians in for a second soft try. This time it was a man with strong Clon connections who did the damage. David Walsh, (whose brother Joe would come on later) had troubled Clon earlier and he took the pass following a rare defensive lapse to score. The conversion put Suttonians ahead 12 6 and it looked like an uphill struggle for the West Cork side given the incredible defence that Suttonians had demonstrated when they had gone ahead in the league game in Sutton earlier in the season. Clon did not panic, although there were certainly nerves on the touchline. They immediately appeared to switch to Plan B as the forwards kept possession and proceeded to pick and drive at every opportunity following Scannell's claiming of the kick off. Derek Dillon breached the defence but the score was disallowed for a forward pass. The Clon pack were awesome in their commitment and none more so than Eddie and Joe Knowles, Alfie and Lenny Harte and Danny Whelton as they drove at the heart of the Suttonians defence. Cribb, Paul Dillon, Lombard and Colin Murphy capitalised on the space provided and when Cribb was stopped short of the line following a good run from David Cookson he found Scannell on his shoulder and a sublime offload sent Scannell over. Not content with crossing he proceeded to bump two tacklers out of the way to ensure an easier conversion for Cribb. 13 12 to Clon with 20 minutes to go.
The maturity shown in closing Suttonians down was indicative of the massive improvements shown by the side since the wake up call from Bruff. Although they failed to score four trys, which had become a habit they will not be concerned as this was as satisfying as it gets. Cribb put his name firmly in the history books landing a penalty and a drop goal after another had come off the post yet again to make sure that only a converted try in the dying moments could force extra time. It was a needless worry as the side were not going to let it slip again and the final whistle was greeted with elation by the large travelling support that had filled the north side of the West Stand with red and green noise.
It was a special moment. Scenes of unconfined joy ensued but perhaps summing it up best was the sight of an emotional man of the match Eoin Scannell who, without saying a word, said it all. For players, mentors and supporters it was a very moving testimonial to just what it meant to everybody and it was Munsteresque the way the team went to the support at the end of this absorbing and exhausting match as each delighted in the others ecstasy. The majority of the squad were the same players that had taken Clonakilty RFC from the second division of Munster Junior Rugby to the second division of the AIB All Ireland Senior League. Already the hunger for more of the same is evident and the excitement of the close season and news of arriving and returning players is on everyone s lips.
The strength of the club has in the past been the close-knit family element, community and the almost complete dependence on West Cork men. This will remain a huge strength and one to be nurtured in the new season with the development of the under age sides and the re-emergence of a strong under twenties. August cannot come soon enough for some! The squad was: - Derek Dillon (Capt), John O Donnell, Paul Dillon, David Lombard, Noel O Sullivan, Gary Cribb, Colin Murphy, Eddie Knowles, Alfie Harte, Joe Knowles, Danny Whelton, Eoin Scannell, Mike Keohane, Lenny Harte, player/coach, Declan Coppinger, David Cookson, Tadgh Wright, Darragh Lynch, Joe Crowley, Eoin Murphy, Peter Stoutt and player/assistant coach, Mel Shanley. Unfortunately injury prevented John O Regan from joining the squad. Special thanks are also due to other players who helped the club throughout the season. These include Justin Crowley, Ray Coppinger, Howard Kenny, Cathal Kirby, Mike Murphy and John Kingston. The backroom boys also played their part in this historic day and season and their names will also go down in the annals. They are: - Senior Squad Manager, Barry McAdams and Kit Executive, Gerry Sawdust O Sullivan. The physios who ensured that players lost as little playing time as possible, Brian O Donovan and David Williams, were also vital components in the success. The AGM of the club will be held in the clubhouse at 8.00pm on Wednesday 31st May and all past, present and intending members are very welcome. The dinner dance and awards night will be confirmed in the next bulletin.