22.03.2014 J2 XV v Lansdowne (H)

22/03/20144:30pmMetro Div 3 Playoff FinalSt. Marys J2 XV28 – 11LansdowneHome

Leinster Metropolitan Division 3 League Final

St Mary’s College RFC J2 – 28 Lansdowne FC J2 – 11

The J2s successfully defended their league title on Saturday with a convincing win over old rivals Lansdowne. This was the first year where a play-off final was held between the first and second placed teams. Having beaten Lansdowne twice already this season in the league format the pressure was on to deliver in a one-off final. Preparations for the final were hampered by the withdrawal through injury or sickness of Captain Graeme McInerney, Barry Cahill, Marc Aboud, Alan Shirley and Jason Verdon. It is a testament to the great strength in depth of the club at this level that we fielded such a quality side even with these regulars absent. This has been a feature all season long with players coming in and out from the enlarged J2/J3 squad which trains together every week. Several men who have played vital roles in other games this season did not make the match day squad yet all continued to train and support  the team in the lead up to the final. It is not a surprise that these guys formed the backbone of the outstanding Division 5 league winning team a few weeks ago.

We knew a good start was essential and we got it through the sensational running of full-back Conor Gilsenan. Lansdowne cleared their lines with a kick which was caught 30 metre out on the touchline by Brendan Short who passed it in-field to Gilsenan. A superb side step took him past the first line of defence, he then pressed the accelerator and jinked past three more defenders to score untouched under the posts for a brilliant solo try.

The intensity and accuracy of our play was excellent with multi-phased attacks regularly creating try scoring chances. Our pack were everywhere in the loose and while we had to concede some ground in the scrum due to their greater size and weight, our mobile 8 generated a constant supply of quick ball for Mucker and Joey to pass and control like only they can. Brian Young’s throwing in the lineout was exceptional, repeatedly hitting his man for off the top fast ball. The pack has worked really hard on the line out and it paid off today. Mikey Houlihan and Kenny McInerney carried and tackled and rucked to great effect. Short and Gavin Thornberry dominated the lineout and are as fast and mobile as backs. Niall Brew played excellently, going on trademark big rumbles up the middle and turning over several balls using the choke-tackle. New recruit Brian Flaherty is a proper No. 6, hard tackling and strong carries a frequent sight. Stand in Captain Colm Barry rivaled Gilso for man of the match, he was everywhere, setting the pace and the intensity with his superb low tackles, vicious rucking and clever running lines.

The second try came off a brilliant back line move that put Ronan Doherty over in the corner. Ronda had a great game, regularly breaking the line and terrorising the opposition with his weaving runs. The carrying and distribution of Jack Buggy and the peerless Kieran Lewis in the middle was superb with Dave O’Halloran making good ground on several occasions.

Lansdowne are a very strong side and they were not going down without a fight, scoring a good try before half-time. The game was sealed with 20 minutes remaining by another magic back move, Joey Connolly taking fast ball flat to the line before off-loading to Ronda coming in off the blind wing to scorch in under the posts. Gilsenan’s strong kicking added two conversions and three penalties on the day for a personal tally of 18 points.

To be able to unload a bench of Robert Timmons, Louis Burke, Gareth Hennessy, Harry Norton and Hugh McGovern is some luxury and all contributed excellently to the win.

This win and this game marked the end of rugby playing careers for two great St. Mary’s men, Kieran Lewis and Louis Burke. Starting out together as 8 year olds in the school, these two great friends have contributed strongly to the club. Louis Burke is a brilliant back row forward who represented Leinster Schools before playing in the UCD first team for seven years at the top amateur level in Ireland. Persuaded by the his mates to come back to play J2 rugby in Mary’s 6 years ago, his renowned talent saw him quickly on the St. Mary’s’ senior team for two seasons. He then came back to us in the J2s and has been a stalwart for us, collecting several Leinster medals.

It is hard to see what Kieran Lewis has done for junior rugby in our club being repeated. One of the greatest backs the club has ever produced decided two seasons ago that he wanted to play with his friends on the J2s at the end of his career. For a player of his stature to do that has been an inspiration to us all. Kieran played for every Irish international team from school all the way up to senior international. He had a top professional career with Leinster in the era of the greatest centre partnership of them all before moving to Munster where he won a Heineken Cup medal in 2008. Kieran is an absolute gentleman, completely unassuming and modest. He was a dedicated trainer for the last two years and has carefully passed on his knowledge to all of our players and coaches who have benefitted greatly. It has been a pleasure to have been involved in a team with him.

Stephen Shirley

15. Conor Gilsenan 14. Dave O’Halloran 13. Kieran Lewis 12. Jack Buggy 11. Ronan Doherty 10. Joey Connolly 9. Eoin McCormack 8. Niall Brew 7. Colm Barry (Captain) 6. Brian Flaherty 5. Gavin Thornberry 4. Brendan Short 3. Kenny McInerney 2. Brian Young 1. Mikey Houlihan

Subs: 16. Harry Norton 17. Hugh McGovern 18. Gareth Hennessy 19. Louis Burke 20. Robert Timmons.