Replacements used: James Thompson (Ballynahinch) for McCoy (34 mins, inj), Neville Melbourne (Young Munster) for Kelly, Glenn Moore (Malone) for Kenny (both 61), Pat O’Regan (Old Belvedere) for Griffin (70), Sam Cronin (Clontarf) for Hurley, Barry Keeshan (Dolphin) for Ronaldson, Risteard Byrne (UCD) for Slattery (all 80+1).
Replacements used: Ben West (Cinderford) for Shires (39 mins, inj), Robbie Kalbraier (Blaydon) for Fidler, Billy Johnson (Old Albanian) for Burton (both 46), Will Hurrell (Stourbridge) for Marchon (54), David Dickinson (Tynedale) for George, Lewis Barker (Coventry) for Heeks (both 67), Clder Elder (Esher) for Barrow (71, inj).
But Ireland made certain of a gripping win with an injury-time try from hooker Ger Slattery, converted by Lansdowne sharpshooter Craig Ronaldson who had just returned from the sin-bin.
Ronaldson brought his excellent Ulster Bank League form to club international level by landing six of his seven shots at goal for a 15-point haul.
As a collective, the Conor Twomey and David Murphy-coached Irish side were particularly clinical in the opening half with Stuart Morrow and Ben Reilly helping themselves to tries.
The English fight-back, coupled with second half yellow cards for captain Gerry Hurley and Ronaldson, set up a grandstand finish for the riveted attendance of over 3,000.
Rory Teague missed an opportunity to draw the Counties outfit level at 23-points apiece, leaving the stage clear for Ireland to produce a final telling drive with Slattery getting the all-important touchdown.
As a rugby night out, this was one of the best in recent memory. A thrilling, action-packed encounter on the pitch between two hugely committed teams, and off it it a landmark occasion for hosts Cork Constitution FC as they opened their resplendent new clubhouse.
With plenty of vocal support in chilly conditions, Ireland opened up a 13th minute lead. Centre Morrow intercepted a pass from Teague and the Ballynahinch clubman raced away for a superb 60-metre try, outpacing the retreating Scott Barrow. Ronaldson converted for 7-0.
England had a good deal of possession and territory in the opening half, a chip through from scrum half Matt Heeks proving dangerous.
It created a penalty chance for Heeks' half-back partner Teague who duly split the posts after missing an earlier attempt.
Ireland forced a couple of penalties in the space of five minutes, Ronaldson landing both after good work at close quarters from the likes of Frank Cogan, Ed Kelly and Danny Kenny.
The men in green were beginning to gel in attack with skipper Hurley and Ronaldson dictating play, the forwards playing with tremendous cohesion and urgency and the outside backs probing for space.
But England showed a glimpse of their quality when winger Nev Edwards sniped through for a five-pointer late in the half. Some neat interplay between the fast-breaking Jack Adams and Matt Hall released him for a well-taken score.
In injury-time Clontarf lock Reilly grabbed a hugely encouraging try. It gave his side a considerable boost heading into the dressing rooms, the big man wrestling his way over from close range after the pack had pounded away under Hurley's baton.
Ronaldson's successful conversion took the lead out to 20-8 at the break, and the Irish seemed set for more tries after English scrum half Heeks saw yellow early in the second half.
However, England Counties managed to shut the hosts out while they were at a numerical disadvantage - their only concession being a third penalty goal from the in-form Ronaldson.
Again though, this pulsating tie took another couple of twists. Suddenly England were on the move as Hurley earned time in the sin-bin and the visitors struck for two tries.
The first one saw Heeks dot down from a close-in ruck after Barrow had been held up short. Teague tagged on the conversion for a 23-15 scoreline.
Replacement Hurrell made it over in the corner for a five-pointer to cut the gap to just five points in the 62nd minute and Jan Bonney's charges, hunting for a first win on Irish soil, clearly had the bit between their teeth.
Ireland had to soak up further pressure in defence as Teague sent a kickable penalty wide and his cross-field almost led to a second try for Hurrell.
Ireland recovered their poise with Hurley back on and their replacements making an impact. But the harsh sin-binning of Ronaldson - for an alleged high tackle on English replacement Lewis Barker with ten minutes to go - made for further drama.
The action swung from one end to the other as both sides scrambled to create a crucial late opening.
The hosts displayed clever game management at this point, maintaining their lead with some gritty defence and wholehearted play.
They then pounced for a third try just as they were restored to their full complement, with Slattery doing well to burrow over. The returning Ronaldson had the final say with the conversion, wrapping up a memorable Leeside success.
Referee: Cédric Marchat (France)