DEFENDING Ulster Bank League Division 1A champions Clontarf continued their title retention bid as they proved too strong for Young Munster at Castle Avenue, winning 37-29.
Clontarf ran in six tries, including a brace from former Leinster winger Mick McGrath, to claim an eight-point success and move within 80 minutes of their third Division 1A title in four years.
The north Dubliners will face Cork Constitution in a repeat of last year’s final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, May 7 after they eliminated Lansdowne 19-16.
For Tarf, it took McGrath just three minutes to get them up and running, breaking through a ruck to score under the posts in the third minute with David Joyce converting.
The Limerick side bounced back with teenage out-half Alan Tynan in inspirational form early on, cutting through for a brace of first half tries. The Tipperary starlet danced through the Tarf defence and converted his seventh minute try to bring the visitors level, before he sniped over for a second early in the second quarter.
Crucially, Andy Wood’s home side took advantage of a yellow card to score 10 points in the lead up to half-time, out-half Joyce landing a penalty and converting captain Ben Reilly’s late score after a terrific break from flanker Tony Ryan.
A 17-12 interval deficit was suddenly 27-15 in the third quarter as Munsters, who had a 50th minute penalty from Tynan, dug deep to stay in contention. Either side of Tynan’s kick, McGrath burst through for his second try and centre Conor O’Brien also touched down in the corner.
Bristol-bound hooker Jason Harris-Wright and current Leinster squad members Mick Kearney and Bryan Byrne were part of a strong Clontarf pack, the latter coming in for the final half-an-hour along with Connacht’s Ivan Soroka.
That strength in depth proved too much for Munsters to handle, Tarf replacement Rob McGrath duly joining his brother as a try scorer on the hour mark and scrum half Mark Sutton acrobatically diving over in the corner for the sixth try late on.
A penalty try in the final play supplemented a 72nd-minute converted score from current Ireland Under-20 international Jack Lyons but it was not enough in the final run-in.
At Lansdowne, the ice-cool Tomas Quinlan converted an 82nd minute penalty to guide Cork Constitution to a gripping 19-16 semi-final victory on the Aviva Stadium’s back pitch, setting up a rematch with Clontarf in the stadium proper in two weeks’ time.
2015 league champions Lansdowne were quietly confident of avenging two regular seasons losses to Cork Con, with Ireland Sevens internationals John O’Donnell, Mark Roche and Matthew D’Arcy joining talismanic number 10 Scott Deasy in the back-line.
And young winger Mark O’Keefe’s 10th-minute try, inspired by a bullocking run from lock Stephen Gardiner, gave Mike Ruddock’s men the early impetus.
Lansdowne were still leading by the interval but three Quinlan penalties after 18, 24 and 28 minutes had the Leesiders hot on their heels at just 10-9 down. Deasy had turned a 22nd-minute scrum penalty into three points amid some intense exchanges between the forwards.
It was end-to-end stuff in the second half, Con briefly seizing control thanks to winger Liam O’Connell’s well-taken 53rd-minute try before Deasy answered back from the tee two minutes later.
Extra-time was in the offing when Deasy found the target with a 75th minute penalty to square things up at 16-all and Quinlan missed a subsequent drop goal attempt from 25 metres.
Nonetheless, the hard graft of his forwards ensured that Quinlan had a one last shot at the posts and he delivered in nerveless fashion, taking his season’s haul to 180 points but few more precious than those last three.
Brian Hickey’s Con squad, who retained the Munster Senior Cup in February, will make two return trips to the capital in the next fortnight in search of a potential All-Ireland double – they visit Old Belvedere for next Saturday’s Bateman Cup decider before battling it out with Clontarf.