Ireland came desperately close to winning the 2014 European Cup at The Glyndwr University Racecourse Stadium, Wrexham and with it passage to the 2016 Four Nations and World Cup qualification for the following year.
Needing to win by a margin of 41 points, they led 46-10 and were pressing on the Welsh line looking for the decisive score in the closing minute when home full back Tom Hughes swooped on a loose ball and went the length of the field to ensure that Scotland are champions for the first time.
Ireland coach Mark Aston was disconsolate with the outcome but not the effort of his men.
“I’ve never been in a changing room like that before,” he said. “The boys were outstanding and have been for the last three weeks – they have grown and bonded, that’s the great thing about being in camp.
“To win two out three games we had the chance to live the dream and came so close. We had a massive belief we could do it and having Liam Finn back was huge for us. To go to the last play with the chance to make history is a credit to the guys, there’s not a prouder bloke anywhere than I am today.
“We’ve had a massive tournament to finish joint top and as much as it hurts we’ve got to build – the international game is the pinnacle of the sport, or it should be, we need to get everyone behind it; players, clubs and marketing. Our boys love the environment we’ve created and I guess that’s why they’ve been good.”
Scotland coach Steve McCormack paid tribute to his squad, picking up the Bravehearts’ first trophy on their 20th anniversary and marking his tenth year at the helm.
“It’s a remarkable achievement and all credit to all the players and staff,” he commented.
“It’s testament to everybody who has volunteered and supported Scotland RL over the last 20 years. Dave Rotheram and I have been working at this for 10 years, John Duffy has been here even longer, Danny Brough had been here ten years, so have some of the backroom staff.
“This is a reward for that commitment, giving up their spare time and holidays to help Scotland Rugby League. We’ve worked hard and with some quality and a huge amount of desire, we’ve won a trophy at last. No-one expected that but we deserve it.”
Wales, Ireland and France will take part in the 2016 European Championship alongside the winners of the 2014-15 European Championship B competition, which is currently being led by Serbia, with Russia, Italy and Ukraine the other participants.
Ireland took the lead on four minutes. A fine run from Ben Johnston set up position for Will Hope to force his way over, Finn converting.
The visitors’ second came eight minutes later when debutant Brad Hargreaves went over in the corner for the first of his hat trick after a good passing move.
Finn put Luke Ambler through a gap to score Ireland’s third try on 18 minutes, the Castleford star’s goal making it 16-0.
Another strong Irish set resulted in Hargreaves going over just after the half hour and the Irish were half-way to the points they needed to clinch the trophy.
Finn crossed for a deserved try two minutes before the break and added the extras to put the Wolfhounds 28-0 ahead at the interval.
Wales opened the second half well and in their first real dangerous attack of the game, Rhys Williams went over in the corner and Lewis Reece converted.
But the Irish hit back straight away as Hargreaves waltzed over for his treble, Finn goaling.
Matty Fozard thought he’d given Ireland more of a mountain to climb on 57 minutes but instead of grounding the ball he passed and it was intercepted.
But Wales were not to be denied, an excellent run from Reece creating a try on the wing for Dalton Grant.
Ireland refused to buckle, however, and Haydn Peacock was next over with Finn converting to make it 40-10.
Poor Welsh marking allowed Ireland their eighth try, a length of the field attack seeing Casey Dunne given far too much space to walk it in.
Finn converted and Ireland were just five points away from the Four Nations, but Hughes had other ideas.
New Wales coach John Kear was upset with his side’s start to the game.
“We discussed the lack of urgency in the first half which was disappointing, we were too soft and dumb,” he noted.
“But the second half was much improved. We played something like I knew we could, that was more representative of what we are like. Congratulations to Scotland they are deserved winners.
“We have got a young team that has improved dramatically over the three weeks but our inexperience showed. If nothing else, we’ve now got a bigger talent pool to pick from.”
1. Tom Hughes (Coventry Bears)
3. Dalton Grant (Barrow Raiders)
21. Lewis Reece (Toowoomba Clydesdales)
11. Christiaan Roets (North Wales Crusaders)
19. Rhys Williams (Central Queensland Capras)
6. Ollie Olds (Ipswich Jets, Australia)
10. Peter Lupton (Workington Town, capt)
34. Byron Smith (Batley Bulldogs)
18. Matty Fozard (St Helens)
12. Matty Barron (Gateshead Thunder)
31. Ricky Hough (Gateshead Thunder)
7. Ashley Bateman (South Wales Scorpions)
13. Daniel Fleming (Castleford Tigers)
22. Joe Burke (Barrow Raiders)
5. Connor Farrer (South Wales Scorpions)
24. Morgan Evans (South Wales Scorpions)
17. Paul Emanuelli (South Wales Scorpions)
Tries: Williams (46), Grant (62), Hughes (79)
Goals: Reece 1/2, Emanuelli 0/1
1. Shannon McDonnell (St. Helens)
2. Brad Hargreaves (Wigan St. Patricks)
3. Haydn Peacock (Carcassonne)
4. Stuart Littler (Leigh Centurions)
5. Casey Dunne (Athboy Longhorns)
6. Ben Johnston (Halifax RLFC)
7. Liam Finn (Castleford Tigers)
8. Robbie Mulhern (Leeds Rhinos)
9. Bob Beswick (Leigh Centurions)
10. Luke Ambler (Halifax)
11. Will Hope (Sheffield Eagles)
12. Josh Toole (North Sydney Bears)
13. Callum Casey (Halifax)
14. Jobe Murphy (Dewsbury Rams)
15. Sean Hesketh (Batley Bulldogs)
16. James Toole (Tweed Head Seagulls)
17. Matty Hadden (Antrim Eels)
Tries: Hope (4), Hargreaves (12, 30, 50), Ambler (18), Finn (38), Peacock (72), Dunne (78)
Goals: Finn 7/8
Referee: Ben Thaler (England)