1st XV v Dublin University (H) by D. O’Brien 01.04.2016
St Mary’s College RFC V Dublin University FC
AIL Division 1B
Friday 1st April
Coming into Templeville Road around 5.30 PM, the quickening could be sensed. The cars pulling in, the two Micks (Coyle and O’Flaherty) manning the gate, Noel waving motorists to moorings, the National, St Mary’s College Club and our Sponsors’ (SoftCo) flags gently waving, all heightened that tremble. Glancing out on the fields, the concentration of the players could be sensed, as they went through their routines and drills, repetitiously. Climbing the storied steps and entering the clubhouse pale smiles mingled and cold hands met. The Club Administrator, and truly peerless Marie Hammond, had the club sparkling and almost dancing in beautiful blue, not a detail lost, she even had little gifts for the diners. The pre-match meal, catering for 260 rugby persons from both clubs and beyond, was perfectly presented by the caterers, Vinnie Hanlon, as all joyfully prepared for the joust. President, Declan Fanning was warmly welcoming, with however a discernible nervous tremor; and who could blame him. DUFC, president, Tommy Burns was obviously similarly stricken. The meal and chat and the formalities were enjoyed and then it was time to climb the steps and disperse around a teeming, thronging ground. Let the games begin.
Defiant defence and calm composure were the keys to success for Marys in this defining AIL Division 1B match at Templeville Road. The home team showed an uncompromising, attacking defence that un-composed the Trinity team and led to rushed actions and errors, in a wonderfully competitive game. The game plan devised by the coaching team and fearlessly effected by the home team was as compelling to watch as it was effective, as player after player hurtled up on ball carriers and stifled every action.
One of the largest crowds at any AIL game this season was buoyant and bantering, as the two sets of supporters urged on their men. As the action mounted the redoubtable Rynner got his troops into top gear with his Marys, Marys, Marys reverberating around the ground; the team responding to it with renewed vigour and power.
The pace of the game was often frantic, leading to a number of dropped balls, and knock ons. The game was ever sporting, without foul play or altercation and was a credit to all involved. Trinity and their multi-talented team, led by Nick McCarthy (son of former St Marys’ captain, Noel Mc Carthy) could justly expect to do well in the playoffs and may well do, for highly respected coaching duo Tony Smeeth, and Hugh Maguire a former player and coach at St Marys.
What a team effort this was by Marys and it needed to be, for if one player had stood or lost concentration a second, all could have been lost. It is almost a cliché now to say this was a team effort, but indubitably it was. And the credit could not be placed more on the forwards than backs both played equal parts in this vital win. There was one man in a superb forward unit, who shaded it and that was MoM, David Aspil. From the first lineout to the final minutes, when injured, he was either under a clump of players with a stolen ball, soaring into the night sky for it, skimming through a gap or ramming an opponent three metres, back in a tackle. He was perpetuum mobile. He has a big future. There were problems in the first half with the scrum, but as has been his wont, the great McGov and his front row union sorted it.
Young Sean Kearns, once again, without fuss, ran his line with élan. His kicking out of hand was as good as has been seen from him and his place kicking was again immaculate. It was of course the difference between the two sides. The defence of the backline, supported by the pack, was terrifying in its accuracy, intensity and power. Overall the defensive strategy and its operation were remarkable.
It was not just defence, many times we broke the line, with stinging vectors from the midfield and out wide, with, as usual, Darragh Fanning, the captain, that wonderfully popular and talented winger, leading in all respects, was ever a danger to TCD’s line. His work rate was almost supernatural. A quintessential Marys’ man, even if he eats Mexicans. He was supported by all his talented strike force. How lucky we are to have them.
The weather forecast had been ominous, but the evening turned out calm with a fine rain falling; the pitch was in good condition if a little slippery. Trinity played up towards the Cabbage Patch in the first half and started well, turning over an early scrum and running hard back. However, a pattern soon emerged with Marys playing down towards Templeville Road end, mainly in the DU half, and Sean Kearns kicking astutely to keep on the pressure. That pressure led to errors, and chances came, with Sean converting three fine penalties on seven, 14 and 27 minutes to put St Marys nine points up. We lost talented Steve Toal-Lennon to injury half way through the half, another young tyro, Terry Kennedy, replacing him. Nearing the end of the first half Trinity had a good spell and came close to crossing the Marys’ line but were ultimately repelled; it was probably an important point.
The second half was as tense as it felt long, with DU coming more into the game and often coming close. They missed two very kickable penalties and eventually on the hour mark broke the steel line, for winger, Tim Maupin to cross in Carvill Corner after a series of phases, the conversion was missed.
The home team came close on several occasions with some memorable runs from Darragh, Terry, Ryan, Marcus and Ivan. Both teams rattled the line a number of times with drives and mauls and near the end DU fought frantically to get that winning score. However, overall there was more depth, power, variation and composure about the Marys team that made it a fair result. The support from the terraces also helped. When the final whistle went, our hard working and popular Mossy verified the result on PA and there appeared to be an enormous St Marys’ collective exhalation of breath; and then delight.
The presentation of the AIL 1B trophy and medals was undertaken by popular IRFU men, Gordon Black (he also did the TV streamed commentary) and Michael Coghlan, who was most gracious and complimentary. He is a former president of DUFC and a staunch member.
If the premath was tense, the aftermath was wonderfully relaxed and Marys can be proud that the long night that followed was lacking in triumphalist or exultant celebration. It was a harmony of warmth and happiness that was shared most graciously by TCD. Nights like these make belonging to the rugby football fraternity uplifting and heart-warming. They also bring back former players and drifted members, to join in the shared occasion. So good it was to see the bars, halls, corridors and alcoves heaving with joyous humanity. Long serving officers such as John Cunningham, Bill Fagan, Matt Gilsenan, Joe Fanagan, JB Sweeney, Spike, Liam Byrne, and marvellous past players, Sean Lynch, Peter Smyth, Noel Mc Carthy, Brent Pope (with friends Henno, Titus and Robbie), Micky the Fish Corcoran, Jim Murray, Reggie, Des Early, Patsy (kindly helping out), Aidan White, Niall O’Brien, Peter Gilbourne, Paul Brennan, and many others all soaking in happiness. Also there, were entire dynasties of Gilsenans, Fanagans, Fannings, Sweeneys, Doddys, Treacys (including our popular JVP, Steve), Kinahans, Kennedys, Andreucettis, and of course the ever-stalwarts, Pyner and his famous flag, Arthur Costelloe, Robin Bailey, Louis McMullan, Barry O’Sullivan, Revs Noel Redmond and Brian McLaughlin, Rhuairi Moran, Dave Ryan, Mick Farrell and Kieran and Janet Sheahan, lots of past presidents and former officers and then unsung, unmentioned here, lines of current men and women players, volunteers and officers who make it all happen. From SoftCo, our main sponsors, Jim, Susan and Anne Coffey and Paul Tighe were immersed in it all night. Everyone smiling, chatting and relaxing, some even drinking. Tut Tut!
To the main bar the younger members and players gravitated and soon cacophony reigned, with a mixture of heavy rock and pop, sweet voices of women, men’s loud chatter and happy laughter. Ecstasy of the natural kind. This would see out the night and indeed most of the morning, with many a move and kick, switch and pass analysed, players dissected, and the future meanwhile, predicted. Indeed, many other successful passes were undoubtedly made in the course of the night. While, in the Centenary Bar, packing down with hands full were Quinner, Kathy, Aoife, Ferro, Paul Murphy and pals, while JB held court with Mullers, Terry and Frank, Ronnie Douglas and the Well gang. Having the best of both worlds was gregarious and generous Jimmy Smyth as he floated between stations. All the while Terry Tierney paternally hovered in worry mode, to ensure all went well. Indeed all did go well but went too fast and it was no time before the players were in Lynch’s Swan Bar in York Street, for the traditional morning after rendezvous.
The Driving Forces behind it.
This success was not just a chance falling star, it was born of hard work and talent of the players, the entire squad of over thirty players. It was also born of the work, planning, understanding, leadership, tutelage and decision making of the senior rugby coaching/management team, supported and guided by the Director of Rugby. There were added challenges this season in that the incomparable Peter Smyth had to take a new rugby position halfway through the season. He had brought around him top class men, ready when called. Big Jamie Cornett (what a find he has proved to be, showing tactical nous, brilliant attitude and compelling leadership) already teaching and coaching at St Mary’s College took charge and with him impressive Peter Burke continued and accelerated the outstanding work he was doing with the backline, while Malcolm O’Kelly and Jonathan Garth (sadly he is stepping down after this season; we owe him) continued with emphasis on the pack. The squad responded and not one game was lost. The support that they were receiving from the smooth management machine under Paudge McGill, also accelerated and night after night day after day the logistics, travel and on field support was humming. Paudge and his group of Garry Manning and Peter (Pokey) O’Kelly were superb.
They had great help with video coverage for all games due to the quiet efficient work of Brian Houlihan; this is a most important aspect of team development and progress. Needless to say Davy Lyons and his highly professional physiotherapy input is essential and greatly appreciated. As was the kind help of his assistants and our own medics organised by Ossie Fogarty with the added generous work of Stuart O’Flanagan and, Richard Sweeney when not playing. Additionally, during the season Pat Tunney became involved with the senior squad and has been exceptionally generous with his time and his highly regarded medical expertise. As usual they had the friendly, diplomatic referee interaction and hospitality of Ian Bloomer. At this stage Ian can tell each ref in the dark by the notes of their whistles.
A few lines must be given to our proud and dedicated club captain, Robert (Chops) Sweeney. It is a wonderful honour to become captain, however since the millennium we have been unfortunate that several of our captains have been injured and missed a considerable part of their seasons. Once again the Captain’s Curse struck and Robert was injured mid-season and eventually had to retire. He had been an inspirational captain and leader and drove the team to great success. He has stayed vitally involved and was a pivotal force in ensuring success. His teammates’ appreciation of him was evident as he was carried shoulder high off the pitch after the game. The man who took over from him, Darragh as Fanning, who had been a former captain, was no less a giant in leadership and inspiration. He has been brilliant as a player and leader; and like Chops highly instrumental in this success.
Without support there is little success and a lot of that support was driven this season by two fantastic women, Joyce (Sweeny) Farnham and Eileen Fanning; no coincidence the names. They have been unremitting in ensuring there was a full bus, with sandwiches etc. for all away matches and have led the support when there. They also ensured everyone got home safely; well got them home…………..
Finally, although important contributions could be added all week, including our president Declan Fanning a true legend in our club, and great support to his team, one person must be held up as a true cornerstone of this success, as indeed he was involved in so many other successes at all levels over many years. Kevin Conboy who was Director of Rugby (DoR) this season, and also vice president. He has carried both difficult and onerous loads with energy, good humour and sagacity. Kevin has been involved over many years, in club affairs and rugby particularly, and has been intimately involved in the evolution and development of rugby to its betterment. He will also be a popular and effective president next year and we all owe him big thanks. We also wish him well.
Now everybody, remember your job is not finished yet. We have to play Dolphin in Cork on 16th April and we owe it to the league, our opponents and the other AIL teams and vitally our honour, to go with the best team available, highly motivated and determined. We also have our record to protect and we must leave the field proudly carrying our colours and with Pyner’s flag flying honourably. So all of you, heed Joyce and Eileen and hop on that bus or cadge a ride or get out the bike. Think of the fun you can have afterwards.
Well done to all.
The Squad (Rolling substitutions)
15 S Toal-Lennon, 14 R O’Loughlin, 13 M O’Driscoll, 12 I Dineen, 11 D Fanning (Capt.), 10 S Kearns, 9 D Fanagan, 8 M Fallon, 7 D Aspil, 6 K Sheahan, 5 D O’Connor, 4 C Ruddock 3 B McGovern, 2 H Kean, 1T O’Reilly, 16 S O’Brien, 17 E Ferron, 18 I Cullinane, 19 T Kennedy. 20 C Gilsenan