1st XV v Highfield (A) by D. O’Brien – 14.01.23

Highfield RFC V St Mary’s College RFC

20                           14

Energia AIL Division 1B

Saturday 14th January 2023.

Woodleigh Park


The embers of last week were raked daily, so on commencement here in cold and windy Cork, a glow burst into flames that exploded into a controlled inferno. How proud was President Gareth in his team, as were the goodly numbers of travelling supporters they watched Ronan and his swashbuckling band, display, rhapsodic rugby for 80+ minutes. There were less errors and no end to the courage and concentration. The deep soul of Marys was manifest in this effort.  Yes we lost, to a fine well trained and determined Highfield team, but that was secondary to players finding their deep selves; every single Marys’ man who stepped onto the pitch showed his commitment.  And Sean Cronin and colleagues showed their understanding of their squad’s needs which long-term may be above a win; this was a squad effort, as each judicious change made during this fascinating, high tempo joust, played a singular and important role. To understand this, is more important than the story of the game itself. Having said that, it must be accepted that unfortunately we did lose with the winning post in sight. We did get a losing bonus point which often noted, may be of great importance when season’s end arrives. Today, the set pieces were commendable.  Against a gargantuan pack, the scrum had no reverse gear, the eight were rock, the front row were riveted together and the second row have seldom been as active or effective. The backrow, led by a superb skipper who was top class today, were vital to the continuity of play. The lineouts were at a high level too, and our defence was adamantine. Back play was purposeful and penetrative, with good back-up and support play.

It may not be fair to emphasise individual performances, for everyone genuinely played vital roles in the performance.  However, exceptions must be cited. Player Coach and outhalf, Conor Dean, was excellent today and had a major influence on the game.  His judgement, control and passing were high level and one exquisitely judged kick (despite a precarious wind) that was brilliantly taken by Ethan Baxter, led to a try. Likewise Hugo Conway, at 14, contributed exceptionally and valuably to the game. He was frequently found covering in all areas of the pitch, or there ready to take a pass and use his power and pace to the good.  He scored a superb try from that kick of Deano’s, and his electric break was critically important to the first try by Ryan O’Loughlin. His all round contribution meant he received the SoftCo MoM Award.

We welcomed a newcomer today too, who showed some fine touches.  Scrumhalf, Richard Fahy, joined the fray just before half time. All will hope he enjoys being part of St Marys.

The game

From Kick-off it was high pace. There was a nasty cross wind that made aspects of play difficult, but both teams managed it well in a fair match, played in a sporting manner overall. Last week St Marys being starved of possession, made it a very difficult task. The team put that right almost immediately, and when in possession, the players guarded the ball and used it wisely and rapidly.  However, against the run of play, after 20 minutes Highfield scored.  It was 5-0. Using their massive forwards Highfield had some periods of attack, during which the Dubliners defended passionately and incessantly. There was too good width, back-up and recovery in defence all through. Marys mainly dominated possession for the remainder of the half.  Just on half time, the visitors thought they had scored a well worked try by Hugo, only to be called back for a forward pass. So, 5-0 it remained at half time.

The Second half continued at pace. And Marys got busy right away.  After three minutes Marys had a lineout in the Highfield 22, it was mauled and released.  Richard Fahy sent a disguised ball directly to hard running Mick O’Gara and he timed a pass perfectly to Hugo on an exquisite vector and he seared through the defence for the line.  He linked with alert Ryan O’Loughlin and he went over. Mick converted and it was 5-7, and deservedly so. It was four minutes later on 47 minutes when Marys ran the ball near halfway, Deano saw a chance and guided a diagonal 30 metre kick towards Ethan out on the touchline, he took it en foulée, adroitly from the air and fed hurtling, Hurricane Hugo.  He scorched towards the line between two and swayed by another to go over.  It was 5-14. Highfield have a resolute band and they raised their game and on 57 minutes, from a lineout they secured a mauled try.   It was 12-14.  We continued to play and it was rap on rap until 74 minutes near the Marys 22, Highfield set up a lineout maul and as it angled out towards touch, they shot off the back and up along the touchline to score out wide. It was now 17-14. On 79 minutes the home side got a penalty with the invitation to lineout and maul, and the chance of a bonus point try.  However, they decided to kick a goal to ensure (maybe) that their visitors did not draw with a penalty. That was how it finished. 20-14.

The players were very disappointed, having been in the lead and the better team overall, not to win. However, how they played and having re-found their grit it will give them confidence to win at home next Saturday V Old Wesley. We then have to go to Athlone to take on leaders, Buccaneers; so two big ones ahead where we will need to be at our best.  The players have absolute belief in the importance of their supporters and appreciated greatly those who made the effort to get to Cork and the match. They are hoping that there will be a hoard next Saturday, with Marys-Marys-Marys.  

How tight 1B is, that we dropped from clear third to sixth on the table after one game. Old Belvedere, Highfield and Old Wesley all leapfrogged us, and are each two points ahead of us on 30, eight behind City of Armagh and leaders Buccaneers, on 38 points. There is then a gap of nine points from our 28 points to Naas and UCC on 19 each. There are eight games remaining so a distance to go and all to play for.

So come on and Roar on Ronan.

D O’Brien

Team (12 rolling changes)

15 C Hickey, 14 H Conway, 13, 12 M O’Gara,11 M Fogarty, 10 C Dean, 9 A Walsh, 8 R Watters (Capt.), 7 E Baxter, 6 D Leane, 5 L Corcoran, 4 P Starrett, 3 T O’Reilly, 2 R Halpin,1 A Mulvihill. S O’Brien, J Reidy-Walsh, H MacDonald, N Hurley, S Kilgallen.