St Mary’s College RFC V Highfield RFC
Energia AIL Division 1B
Saturday 9th April 2022.
There is always something electric about the last day of the AIL season, with frantic use of phones, tablets, semaphore and smoke signals in top gear, as frantic messages and scores exchange between grounds, twitter and friends.
Obviously, the lines to Naas were at full stretch, and smiles and tears and fears switched to and fro like with teenage lovers.
There was an overall atmosphere of spring and youth and pride and whistling and eyes and timid Covid hugs in the sun. However, there was also more than a scintilla of sadness knowing that the longest serving and most successful coach in the modern history of St Marys, Steven Hennessy, was stepping down from on-field coaching. (See end of report and website archive).
The players’ parents group was all around chatting and waiting. They have been a happy addition that has characterised this season. They have travelled Ireland with the team, they brought a special felicity and enhanced atmosphere. It is hoped that, not only the squad, but the parents group stay together, and with us. Their friendliness to all (even superannuated alicadoos) has been a feature and is greatly appreciated.
The draw of the old club was evident today, in addition to the faithful, so many players of yore were there in support , including Lion, Denis Hickie, Colin and Ciaran Potts (player and Coach of AIL 2012 team), former captain and AIL winner in 2000, Gareth Gannon, Steve Jameson, Greg Maher and very many more.
The last two games V Highfield (away October 2021 and home November 2019-20- aborted season) saw us lose out in the closest of games, by four and five points. Today, again it was by four, however, it could so easily have gone the other way as St Marys appeared the more skilful and coherent side. As it turned out, Naas won by a sizeable margin and so, as far as play-offs were concerned it was irrelevant, as Naas beat Old Belvedere by a sizeable margin.
Last week at Energia Park our team performed to its acme in a sizzling game. Today, and again in the pleasant spring sunshine, the team showed it has matured into a fine unit, fit to thrive in 1B and to have decidedly legitimate aspirations to promotion.
There were dropped passes and other errors by the home side in the first half when playing towards the Templeville Road end, but overall the performance and entertainment levels were high. Indeed you, the supporters all excelled in your efforts to spur forward your team with excellent support and many intonations of Marys-Marys-Marys.
Needless to say that the president, Patrick and his genteel wife Joan, were as usual on nerve patrol. They have not missed a game, wherever it has been and their close association with and support of the teams have been admirable and valued by the players.
It was again a close game. Highfield had a strong defence. They were primed to take advantage of any opportunity or slip and that may have given them the game. They needed a bonus point win to ensure a home play-off semi-final. In achieving that we congratulate them and wish them well. Had their hosts been a little less impetuous in the latter ten minutes of the game, they may well have gone home disappointed. We learn from that.
Once again, there were many fine performances and all involved showed Marys’ character. Hugo Conway has taken to the 15 Jersey and had a notable game. The backline ran all game long with intent, however, penetration was difficult against the strong Highfield defence. Adam McEvoy displayed growing confidence and maturity and will have learned much from the season.
Our set pieces were mainly secure, with the scrum clearly dominant against a much heavier pack. Again, special note should be taken of 19 year old Adam Mulvihill, in an astral quality front row; and behind him young Ian Wickham likewise demonstrated strong ability and potential. The backrow has this season been an axle of action, and has played a pivotal role in our success and progress. Once again the three on patrol in this game were goluptious. How could it not be, with a kamikaze pilot sweeping, a warlord warrior hunting, and a rampant rhino on the charge? David Aspil received a broken nose last week, as he had put his head where boots batter, this did not stop him taking his place today and putting in his usual high level performance. He carried ball, rucked, supported and tackled all game. When we were near the opposition line, he was to the fore driving in with nuclear nudges, and when on our own, he was there like a heat seeking missile smashing attacks. He was there with a strong vector, to terebrate the defence and score a neat try. Instead of a broken nose, this week he received the SoftCo MoM Award. This is the last SoftCo MoM Award for this season, and we should be very grateful to them for generously sponsoring this coveted award for several seasons now.
The clement afternoon deserved some excitement and adventure and right away, the first half gave that, with both sides playing con brio, wide and loose. For most of it St Marys attacked and put pressure on the Highfield defence. However, on ten minutes and against the run of play a breakaway and regathered kick ahead gave Highfield the lead with good try and conversion. 0-7.
Marys kept up the attack and eventually on 18 minutes it paid off, when a series of drives gave David Aspil the ball six metres out and he took a good angle and urged himself through two tacklers to score. 5-7. This was deserved It was 27 minutes and after some heavy pressure from Highfield a grubber kick over the line reaped and deserved try for them and so it was 5-14. A superb slaloming break from Hugo Conway on 32 minutes, got us into position near the visitors’ line and when we won a lineout Super Skipper Richie almost made it over. On recycle Ian Wickham showed fine body position and determination to eel over the line. This made it 10-14. That was how the half finished.
The second half was full of fizz. It was 46 minutes when a Highfield kick to Carvill Corner got a slight Marys’ tip, to give Highfield a touch near our line, they mauled and drove and scored a try, to bring the numbers to 10-21. We mounted much pressure on their line and when we had a penalty under the visitors’ posts on 52 minutes, we took a scrum a very cleverly Adam McEvoy slipped over for a neat try; it was 17-21. We were in strong attack mode and Deano attacked the line on 63 minutes and, timed one of his delicious dinks to precision, regathered, over and when he converted it was 24-21. We were looking value for that. It is good to report that Marys did not demur but continued to attack with increasing tempo and accuracy. However on 69 minutes and Marys in full attack, the ball was lost forward on the Highfield 22. The ball was picked up by Highfield and when the attacker got through the first line he gave it to a support player who ran from near the halfway to the Marys line and it was 24-28. The remaining time saw Marys really hammer the Highfield line and time after time, but just miss out. It almost seemed inevitable that we would score but possibly a little impetuosity and a resolute Highfield defence meant we did not and it ended 24-28.
Looking Back to forward.
There is much to look back at, within the past AIL season with pleasure and genuine optimism. The team has been developed into a full squad to AIL pitch of skills and confidence. This has been due to the continuous hard work of Steve Hennessy and his cohort of coaches, including soon to be head coach Sean Cronin, Paul Brennan, Marcus O’Driscoll and Conor Dean, (player coach who has contributed vitally as a player and coach, with a big future ahead). The highly experienced and competent management group, with Paudge McGill, assisted by Rhuardhi Moran, Paul Conlon, Conor O’Neill and Ian Bloomer (Referee Liaison Officer), have ensured a smooth passage through a challenging Covid period. The unseen and crucial work of DoR, Alan Shirley and Rugby Council is difficult and time consuming and it is done freely and with a smile. We know too how important the work of physiotherapist Davy (Dougal) Lyons and colleagues and Video Operator Brian Holohan is.
The role of captain is intimately involved in all aspects of team development and interdependence. Therefore, it is the captain who ultimately guides the destiny of the team. The current captain is of course Richard Halpin. If ever fate decreed a perfect fit, it was when Richie was selected by his peers. He has that cool steel that is required in tight situations and tough decisions. He also has the fire to drive, the spirit to lead and heart for camaraderie. He is a top class player and gave many coruscating performances over the season. He has been a perfect ambassador for his team and his club. We must thank him warmly.
It is sad to say goodbye to this season, for it has been a true tonic and a boost for all members of our club, when a boost was very much needed. We have got around the country we have had a raison d’être once more. We started in Cork where we were pipped by Highfield and then had Old Wesley call and were again unluckily pipped. Those two teams ended as top two in 1B. We then won five games in a row including beating Shannon away. Shannon ended third. The break in our run was due to a Friday night visit to Naas. It has been your reporter’s open contention for many years that our club does not respond well to Friday night rugby. Most are young students or trainees and find they are not in a position to take time off, so are limited by time. The following game was one we have to ask how we drew (42-42) at home, having led Malone, with a four try bonus point lead of 28-14 well into the second half. That was the last game of 2021. The first game of 2022 was another draw with Malone in Belfast, this time showing resilience and determination to gain a 17-17 result. A Saturday home game against Naas gave us the chance for revenge and we took it with a well executed 27-17 win. A visit to Navan, proved more troublesome than expected, but with a late flourish we ended up 28-36 winners. The next match brought us down to D4 and Old Belvedere, and if ever we under-finished it was then; for to be 10-23 up and looking dominant, with an hour gone and to lose 24-23 was a big disillusionment, not a pretty sight and most painful to recall. The only thing of great note was that astounding drop kick conversion by Belvo, to give them the one point victory. However, we must accept, that that game and the Malone home game, were damaging to our season. Shannon came to us in February and with a strong team and took the points fairly and squarely, 18-25. They looked as though they could well be the club to go up. We than had a bonus point win 34-10, when Banbridge visited us. Then there was that splendid game against Old Wesley in Donnybrook. We were beaten but played superlatively well in a 22-15 loss and that brought us to today and Highfield’s visit, and 24-28 result. It was all refreshing and exciting and we must thank everyone involved, very many in wider club administration, not mentioned. There is no doubt but that we are equipped to face next season with a genuine optimism. Not only have we a strong core of players but also many fine U 20 players on their way up. Every one of the players who donned the white starred blue jersey this year has done wonderfully well. Besides those who played major roles and were reported on, we must not forget those injured on the way or those who came and bravely filled roles new to them, Dan Lyons and Adam Mulvihill must stand out in that regard. We cannot forget Daniel Leane, Liam Corcoran, Conor Corcoran, Joe Nolan and Tim McMahon, and great bench men like Podge Dundon and young Stephen O’Brien ever ready to serve with distinction. Others who came when needed were, Ruairi Shields, Loris Nikolov, Jamie Coolican and Aaron O’Neill.
As I sign off, thank you all for your support and interactions during the season, they have made it so much easier and more worthwhile for me. I wish you all an enjoyable end to season and a super summer now that we can breathe Covid free.
By now everyone will be aware of the distinguished and unprecedented work done by Steven, as player, captain, coach, president and outstanding ambassador for our club. However, it is the heart of the man that defines him, his deep love for rugby and his strong loyalty to his family, friends and his club. Few will know as a player in the 80s and 90s the endless hours he spent practising place kicking (with faithful friend Noel collecting and returning the balls) to perfect the art. Perfect it he did, and played a major role in winning several trophies at senior and junior level. It should also be recalled how he as a young coach, with his great friend Hugh Maguire, got the club to two senior AIL semi-finals and helped develop them to win the AIL the following season. You all recall his unselfish rescue mission with his close friend and outstanding Marys’ man Peter Smyth, to bring the relegated team of 2003-04, straight back up to division 1 and develop a new squad towards eventually achieving great success in 2012. And he repeated the rescue achievement in 2015-16, after relegation from 1A to 1B.
His achievement as the Women’s National Rugby Coach, in beating France for the first time was an outstanding achievement.
When the senior team was not performing to the expected level in our club a few seasons back, astute DoR, Alan Shirley sought out the saviour and persuaded him to take over as head coach once again. He had taken on new challenges in St Mary’s College and in his domestic situation. It was very difficult for him. But with his keen sense of loyalty and love of his club, he was never going to say no; and he didn’t. This was a supreme act of unselfishness and although he was offered various aids to make things a little easier for him, he just did everything a coach should and more, which included mountains of work and time, many late nights, in analyses, reviews, individual coaching and excellent recruitment and ancillary work. He and Alan built a team around him and now he is ready to let his team fledge and take to the air.
He acknowledges the sacrifices his family have had to make, just as he made them for his club and is endlessly grateful to them as we are to him and them.
Those who know Steve well, know his serious dedicated work side but also know his great sense of fun and adventure and what marvellous company he is. Steve goes back a long way at the club and his dad, Jack was also a St Marys’ man. He will draw breath, step back for some time, and then you can be sure Steven Hennessy will be back working in some productive role in his profoundly loved St Mary’s College RFC. Meanwhile thank you, a true great club rugby man.
There is a full rugby bio of Steven on the club website.
Today’s Team (12 changes)
15 H Conway, 14 M Fogarty, 13 M Carey, 12 M O’Gara, 11 C Kennedy, 10 C Dean, A McEvoy, 8 R Watters, 7 N McCarthy, 6 D Aspil, 5 I Wickham, 4 P Starrett, 3 M McCormack, 2 R Halpin Capt.,1 A Mulvihill, S O’Brien, P Dundon, T O’Reilly, L Curran, M Timmons, C Corcoran.