St Mary’s College RFC V University College Cork RFC
Energia AIL Division 1B
Saturday 25th March 2023.
A fresh day and a fresh restart of AIL 1B after a little International interruption. We knew that the inspiration of the two top stars of the triumphant Irish team, Captain Jonno Sexton and 6/8 Caelan Doris, supported by brilliant analyst, Vincent Hammond, also three other Marys men, Peter Smyth, Mark Sexton and Ciaran Ruddock behind Ireland’s brilliant U20s; all deep blue Marys Men, would supercharge our own “Ronan’s Rampagers”.
There was an almost festive feel to Marys’ Psyche, as getting back after the exhilaration of the past few weeks played into the atmosphere, as did the spring feel. To add, the great organiser Stephen Shirley, had a squadron of dauntless U8s filled with blues and whites and flags and pennants there to greet and cheer their senior heroes. The accompanying parents and coaches showed many svelte Marys greats, like ever active Johnny Ellis and John Mc Weeney, looking ready to join the fray if called.
Sean et al has been working their magic over the past few weeks and it was clear to note with an overall improvement in individual skills and team interactions. We fielded a strong squad and all got an opportunity to display their wares.
The result tells the story of a high scoring, swashbuckling encounter. It is in fact only some of the story, for although we won and scored some scintillating tries, there were also periods of inattention, especially during the last quarter of the game when with a strong performance we had led 26-10 and later 40-15, only to allow UCC get to within 8 points. We are indebted to Mick O’Gara’s superb kicking today and UCC’s erratic kicking to ensure victory. That said Marys well deserved the victory. The loss of influential Skipper, Ronan with a head gash early on was clearly felt. UCC played with flair on occasions as expected from a university team, although their performance was not consistent. From the home side’s perspective it is clear that the pieces are falling into place and a strong senior squad is being moulded.
With the proviso of a periodic daydream, all who hit the pitch showed the intense need and instinct for their team. This is material and template of success and future. There were some exceptional performances, with the backrow again to the fore, while individually in the pack former club Captain Richie Halpin was outstanding, with a high successful tackle rate, two tries and a clever all-round performance. Mighty Mick Mc Cormack, Hurtling Hugo Conway, Dashing Daniel Leane and Mercurial Mark Fogarty, were others with most impressive inputs.
Richie (Eile) Fahy joined the squad during this season and has been acclimatising to the system, today we got to know his true substance. His basics were reassuring and constant, a most important issue for scrumhalves. His back-field cover was impressive and reliable and his box kicking was precise. His cover kicking was accurate and his fast follows were a real bonus for the team. He had a delightful game and he deservedly was selected to receive the SoftCo MoM award.
The occurrence of an unexpected shower early in the match did not impinge on the quality of the interactions and the game was played with real pace and accuracy for the most part. One lingering problem that needs to be eliminated if tight games are to be won, seems to be the concession of high numbers of penalties. The scrum was stable and strong as ever. The defence to the maul remains effective and try line defence too, is good. Early in the second half, the game broke up and our rate of attack and line-break success increased greatly and shows that this team is particularly suited to a fast offloading and loop-play system with ball retention.
Playing down towards the Road End in the first half puts nervousness in the oul alicadoos present, with memories of outcomes, but of course it is pure superstition as this and others of this season have shown. We used the brisk breeze well and played the early part in the visitors’ territory. After ten minutes Mark Fogarty put a deft kick towards Carvill Corner and Hugo, as ever hungry and alert controlled it expertly and beating the cover to register our first score, Mick O’Gara, sporting an old style crew cut (much loved of the same oul alicadoos) showed his intent with a fine touch line conversion, 7-0. It was 17 minutes when UCC got into the game with a penalty, 7-3. Marys extended the lead after a maul from a penalty to the corner. Richie Halpin dived in hard for a try, Mick again hit the mark to make it 14-3. Home was humming. St Marys defended a 5 Metre maul well, but a following constant barrage led to a UCC try and conversion, on 30 minutes and we were 14-10. That stirred the grit and on 40 minutes a tantalising kick from Conor Hickey, then Deano caught and controlled it marvellously, then kicked it on. Daniel Leane showing superb ability and pace, controlled and hit on the ball, ran between defenders and beat all in a sprint to touch down, Wow, that was goluptious! That made it 19-10 and half time.
The second half was four minutes old when Marys struck again after fast thinking Mick O’Gara took a quick tapped penalty and then after acute carries, Mick McCormack got it and said I will finish the job, and he did, as he drilled through the defence to score, Mick O’Gara made it 26-10. UCC made it 26-15 from a close in penalty. It was Richie Fahy’s turn to take a quick penalty from close in, the ball then went wide to Ryan O’Loughlin, who diacritically did his terpsichorean step inside for fear of the touchline and went through two to score yet another most attractive and well worked try. Mick O’Gara showed his virtuosity with a magnificent kick from far out into a swirling wind to make it 33-15.
It was 65 minutes when another maul from a penalty to the corner, saw wily Richie Halpin slip off the maul and over for a try and with Mick’s help it was 40-15. On 70 minutes and Marys drop out from the line was run back by UCC and after severe pressure on the Marys line the referee decreed a penalty try and it was 40-22.
On 75 minutes while we were on 40 winks they ran in try from 30 metres and it was 40-27 and they scored again on 80 minutes and that brought the final score to 40-32.
Five points gleaned and an afternoon of excellent entertainment, although the table has changed little. We have a worthy haul of 41 points and remain sixth on the table, three behind Old Wesley and nine behind Highfield, in fourth. Naas are three behind us 38 points. Next we visit our friends Malone in Belfast next weekend. Although the bottom team they are a good side and will be fighting existentially so will be keen competitors. Our enjoyable odyssey nears its end. The Marys supporters have done well but must not flag; so do a bit of shopping on the way, bring a picnic or go by plane, but GO! Our genial President Gareth Roche has put his heart and being into this season. He was really happy today, now for the last away game for his presidency make sure to be there to support him.
Remember next week, go along and Roar on Ronan.
Team (12 rolling changes)
15 M Fogarty, 14 H Conway, 13 C Hickey, 12 M O’Gara, 11 R O’Loughlin, 10 C Dean, 9 R Fahy, 8 R Watters (Capt.), 7 E Baxter, 6 N Hurley, 5 D Leane, 4 P Starrett, 3 M McCormack, 2 R Halpin,1 A Mulvihill. 16, T O’Reilly, 17, J Reidy Walsh, 18, H MacDonald, 19, I Wickham, 20, A McEvoy, 21, C Pierce,22, S Phelan.