26.03.2011 U20 Premier XV v Cork Constitution (A)

26/03/20112:30pmAILCork Constitution23 – 21St. Marys U21s 1st XVAway

                                        St. Mary’s V’s Cork Conn (21-23)
                                              All Ireland Quarter Finals.

The Squad:
1.Shane Kearney 2. Rory O’Donovan 3. Robert Ferris 4. Stephen Maguire 5. Ronan Lennon 6. Mark Fallon 7.Thomas Lamboley, 8. Darragh Keller 9. Chris Lilly 10. Darragh Fitzgerald 11. Ciaran Collins 12. Maurice Walsh. 13. Ryan O’Loughlin 14. Steve Toal-Lennon, 15. Ray Crotty.

Subs: Sean Preston, David Callanan, Gavin Thornberry, JJ Clarke, Simon O’Donnell, Colin Sheridan, Eoin Moriarty.

                                                   WHAT A HEARTBREAK !!

There was no doubt in the mind of most independent (and some not so independent) analysts that St.Mary’s were, in spite of their excellent performances in recent games, significant underdogs going into this game and with good reason. To their credit, Cork Conn easily won the Munster Championship, helped no doubt by having no less than three U21 internationals on the team.  

That said, I was very optimistic about our chances of victory and certainly confident that we would give them a real run for their money and I am proud to say that not one of the squad disappointed on the day. For a team who qualified through the play-off system to knock out the Munster Champions, would have been the biggest upset of the Championship and that is what our guys so very nearly did.

To a man, they all put everything in to this game and put their bodies on the line again and again for the team. What was also evident was the confidence which the squad have acquired over the last number of months. Even having conceded an early penalty followed soon after by a soft try under the posts (now 0-10 down), they continued to show great courage and discipline and they stuck to the game plan as best they could.

Cork Conn were happy to kick everything down the slanted pitch throughout the first half which allowed their very substantial pack to continuously pile on the pressure in open play. It is worthy of note that, throughout the day, our pack held their own against a much bigger and stronger pack in the set plays. Cork Conn were penalised 11 times in the first half alone for infringements in the scrum but inexplicably did not receive a more serious sanction for it. Our line-outs were also very controlled and offered us a platform from which to attack and also effectively disrupted the opposition.

Once the initial onslaught from Cork Conn had been absorbed and we settled into the game, we applied good pressure of our own, resulting in an excellent penalty kick from Steve Toal-Lennon from the LHS touchline.  With points on the board their confidence visibly grew and before half time, following some excellent running out of defence by Ray Crotty (which he did on several occasions during the game), he off loaded to Steve Toal-Lennon who had Maurice Walsh in support. The resulting ruck offered Chris a half-chance which he took with relish and brought the half time score to within 5 points (8-13).  

This narrow margin gave us great confidence and a belief that the dragon could indeed be slain. Excellent pressure from the kick off  and a near line-break by Ciaran Collins had the opposition rattled. They conceded a penalty (another difficult one for Steve on the wing) which he converted brilliantly. (11-13).

Cork Conn again piled on the pressure and were camped in our 22 for almost 10 minutes. We defended superbly and were rewarded with a Ciaran Collins intercept on our 5 mtr line. Cairan ran the length of the pitch with the whole Cork Conn team giving chase (and me screaming in his ear) to score at the left corner post. Again Steve converted and for a moment we were kings. (18-13).

A shaken and stirred Cork Conn were even more shocked when Steve converted yet another excellent penalty (21-13) but to their immense credit, Cork Conn dug deep and again applied the pressure. It was obvious from their structure and discipline why they are Munster Champions and they attacked us from all angles. It would be easy to say that their try under the posts was soft but it was in fact a result of intense and sustained pressure. Followed soon thereafter by a well taken (albeit spurious) penalty kick and the tables had turned again. (21-23).

St Mary’s however never gave up and only narrowly failed in the dying minutes to convert their efforts into points before time ran out and the game was lost.

When the final whistle blew, I was both hugely disappointed for the guys and immensely proud of them. They had worked so hard all day (all season) to get to this point and only narrowly missed out on a great prize.

I would like to say that we should have won but that would be disingenuous and unfair to Cork Conn who were forced to work equally as hard as us on the day.

In truth we could have won and certainly deserved to win but equally so did Cork Conn. I only wish the outcome had been different.

I thought of singling out performances but I ended up noting Chris’s defence and constant attacking threat, Ray’s brilliant attacking runs out of defence, Wallie and Ryan’s strong running and wonderful defence, Daragh’s, Steve’s and Ciaran’s constant threat on the ball, Robert, Rocky and Shane’s huge performance in the front row and also in open play, Steve and Ronan’s dominance of the line outs, Thomas and Mark’s defence around the fringes and of course, Keller’s usual brilliance in attack and defence. I decided therefore not to single anyone out for particular mention!!

What is important now is that the guys take this narrow defeat in the right way and convert their frustration into a determination to win the Mc Corry Cup, in the full knowledge that they are at least as good as the best team in the land.

Thanks to all those who travelled to Cork to support the team and I look forward to seeing you all at the next match. (Opposition and date TBC).