Con target double after Cup triumph
CORK Constitution survived a frantic finish to edge out hosts Old Belvedere 18-13 at Anglesea Road yesterday and win their fifth straight Bateman Cup. Brian Hickey’s men did all their scoring in the first half, with tries from Liam O’Connell and man of the match Brian Hayes establishing an 18-10 interval lead, and had just enough in reserve to hold off a determined comeback from Belvedere who were relegated from Division 1A three weeks ago.
It was the first leg of a potential All-Ireland double for Constitution, who face champions Clontarf in an Ulster Bank League decider next week.
Cork Con were first to threaten with a Ned Hodson break and when Belvedere prop Declan Lavery infringed at a maul, Tomas Quinlan’s left boot swept the fifth-minute penalty through the posts.
Quinlan’s half-back partner John Poland was distributing swiftly and accurately from ruck to ruck, and Con continued to make inroads in attack.
A brilliant multi-phase move had Belvo back-pedalling towards their posts; nice handling created an opening and Quinlan’s skip pass sent winger O’Connell over for a neatly-taken eighth-minute try, which was converted with aplomb by Quinlan.
Paul O’Keefe got Belvedere off the mark with a 22nd-minute penalty from the 22, rewarding Ed Rossiter and Jack Kelly for a well-executed lineout and some solid carrying from the likes of Sean Coughlan, Paul Pritchard and Jonathan Slattery. Pritchard’s opposite number Murphy returned the favour, shrugging off a tackle and setting up a penalty which Quinlan fired over for 13-3.
The sides swapped tries approaching the interval, the Belvo forwards delighting the home support with Rossiter’s 32nd-minute score. Slattery made a break from a lineout and with James McWilliams-Gray making a big impact off the bench as a forceful carrier, fellow front-rower Rossiter was able to crash over from close range.
O’Keefe’s conversion made it 13-10 but Constitution were quick to respond. Captain Niall Kenneally claimed the restart and O’Connell’s quick feet and offload sent Hayes over past Daniel Riordan in the right corner.
Quinlan, who missed the difficult conversion, was then short with an early second-half penalty from near halfway.
The third quarter was a real dogfight, at the end of which Kenneally lifted the Leesiders by winning a penalty at the breakdown and then threatening in the Belvo 22. However, replacement Liam O’Connor’s pass went forward as Con looked to take advantage on the left.
Suddenly, it was Belvedere who were looking dangerous, Karl Miller leading the charge and teeing off a barnstorming set of carries as brothers Michael Oyuga and Connor Owende used their physicality to punch holes around the fringes. The end product was a close-in penalty stuck over by O’Keefe’s replacement Willie Staunton, which cut the gap to 18-13 with a quarter of an hour remaining.
After a fumble from Riordan near his own posts, Con’s strong scrum had them on the cusp of a clinching try; however Cahill, who elected to break off the back, Hayes and Conor Kindregan were all held up close to the whitewash by the gritty Belvo defence. The wind also pushed a Quinlan penalty effort wide.
Belvedere were bidding to be the first Bateman Cup winners from Leinster since Blackrock College in 1938/39, and had the bit between their teeth during the closing stages. They had a scrum back in an inviting position after O’Connell had kicked the ball dead, and then Con’s try-scoring winger was also pinged for a ruck offence in the 77 th minute.
Belvo opted for a scrum, and a couple of phases later, their forwards were held up under the posts as Con’s reserve hooker O’Connor put his body on the line to deny them. The Leesiders were sloppy in the second period, but it was their hard graft in defence which eventually saw them prevail.
As Belvedere went wide deep in the Con 22, former Munster lock Hayes’ intervention at a ruck forced the ball to go loose and replacement Ross O’Neill gobbled it up, a subsequent penalty against Belvo centre Coughlan allowing a relieved Con to see out another Bateman Cup victory.