A slight glance back at the first nine. (No it is not golf) by D. O’Brien

A slight glance back at the first nine. (No it is not golf)

The outstanding work of President Bobby O’Connor, the coaching and management groups and Rugby Council has set the stage for this, so far, impressively successful season. Below are excerpt and comments on the first half of the league campaign, where we lead with 44 points out of a possible 45, from Old Belvedere on 31 points. Having had enthusiastic recruitment and a summer of training, the squad set out on a short trip to Valencia.  There was successful training experience and an outstanding amalgamation of new and established players that set store for the season ahead. Then the LSLC campaign was most satisfactory, with the team showing it was well in line with 1A clubs, such as Lansdowne, Clontarf and UCD.

There was a real air of excitement before the first AIL 1B game on 7th  October 2023, V Buccaneers, a team of the best of Connacht’s club players, which has always been a tough hard team to play against. On the day:- “Effervescence etched the air as a tremulous tramp of supporters elbowed along the terrace at Templeville Road, resplendent in 25 degrees of hazy sunshine and hopes. As the temperature rose, so the expectation, as Ronan led out his men”.

It turned out that we prevailed 41-25.

“Needless to say, when you get a start like today it is a supercharged boost to the season. It is satisfying and tremendously optimistic for the campaign. Buccaneers as ever fought each moment to the end and at one stage early in the second half made a comeback, however, Marys regathered and went away worthy winners. Over the past few seasons the scrum has been excellent and so it was today. The lineout was strong and productive with good variation and use of the ball. Ethan Baxter has been supercharged in every game that he has played, that day he was The SoftCo MoM.

The following week, 14th October, we went to play old rivals and friends Old Wesley, where we won 22-38. This was a signal win as we had been just behind them the previous few seasons also it was real barometer of our progress.

“We were back to Energia Park, today.  All those who played schools’ rugby in Leinster have embedded in their hearts, the tremble of times gone by, of trotting out onto the mud of Donnybrook, and hearing the throb of cheering chants and schools’ rattling rants, memories of those halftime orange segments that tasted gourmet then; now forgotten.  They were the days of cross kicks (not kick passes) and foot-rushes, feet up, crooked-ins, and when often, unused wingers or fullbacks, were forgotten and found later on the pitch in hypothermic trances. There was no jargon then, such as both sides of the ball. You lay on the ball and while going to ground meant hiding from creditors.

This was a stylish game. The 4G pitch ensured it was played at top pace, and with skill and few stoppages, the referee, Dermot Blake, helping in this respect. With the RWC quarterfinals on and the match being streamed the attendance was disappointing, but vociferous.

After the games there is always a Conglomeration (A collection of Rugby Heads) around the precincts of Wesley Clubhouse and the East Gate all milling around” that day brilliant young second row Daniel Leane was the SoftCo MoM

Our next game was a visit of university side UCC on 25th October, and they supplied a feisty fast moving joust, but in the end we prevailed 31-25.  It was overtaken by the news of the death of Patsy Fogarty.:-

“It has to be emphasised that this excellent win was put into perspective by the loss of one of our most popular members, Patsy Fogarty, whose death, after a long illness occurred as the match progressed.  A deep gloom spread around the attendance as news of his extremely sad passing filtered through. And indeed he was held with such high affection and regard, the celebrations afterwards, by the team and all present, were wholly muted.  This sadness of the team and management was accentuated further by the fact that their teammate Mark, Patsy’s son, had withdrawn from the team to spend what he thought would be the last few days with his dad. Patsy was renowned for his warmth of nature, sociability and the incredible generosity of his life; an exceptional Marys man. He is an enormous loss.

It had been a nervous few days, with rain hammering down and our pitch soaking up enormous amounts of water.  What would we do? Could we play, could we get use of a G4 pitch, or would we have to postpone the match a most invidious decision to have to make. As we looked out of our windows, Friday night, still the rain came and still the pools formed and gulleys ran. Eventually it ceased, roofs grew silent and gutters barely dripped.  Early this morning our intrepid senior team manager, Paul Pender and his aide-de-camp, Conor O’Neill, along with the ever helpful Iron Man, Aaron Hudson, took to the pitch (no they did not test it with a game of Tag).  Then with brushing and forking and clearing drains, they created a little miracle.  Two hours later, the pitch was passed perfect. Well done Titanic Trio, we owe you”

The Skipper, Ronan Watters who has been the essence of our success on the field this year, was the SoftCo MoM.

We were now into November and things were heating to a boiling brew as we still showed freshness adventure and growing confidence.  On the 4th November we headed down the Naas Road to tussle with a team that was becoming a bit of problem, Naas and registered another fine win, 14-25.

“This is a substantial team in all respects, it has depth and strength right through.  It is not a team that is going to fade as the season progresses, nor will it have anything but appetite for each game and fear for none. There is an outstanding captain, with support leaders throughout. Today also showed that it is a true team, one where every player can excel together.  That is what makes a successful team”.

“A Naas team never short of endeavour and determination, but one that does not at present appear quite as well equipped as the last few seasons. However, that clear St Marys’ superiority was not translated into scores and a few opportunities were missed. There were also a few miscues in the lineout and scrum, which will be sorted out”

One of our players who has been fast developing into substantial second rower, over the past few seasons, Liam Corcoran received the SoftCo MoM Award.

Now were humming along beautifully.  Highfield came to visit on 11th November and we again put up and handsome total 55 points to Highfield’s 29. Again notching 5 league points.

“Superlatives lose influence if too often used, sometimes however, like today, even superlatives seem puny. This was a pyrotechnic, pancratic, performance that was redolent of the 123 year history and core mission of St Mary’s College RFC. That is, of an adventurous, sporting, rapid, running game. Today showed a team, led by an exceptional, natural born leader, Ronan, and populated by happy and inspired rugby men. The excellence and joy of the players suffused the substantial numbers of supporters, to near euphoria.”

We deservedly gleaned our five points and celebrated.

A player who has been in his pomp this season and a major influence on play is young Deano (son of Paul), Conor Dean, and in this game he was goluptious and received the SoftCo Mom Award.

It was 18th November when went travelling to Limerick to old rivals, Garryowen, in search of a win and retrieval of our dear Shay Deering (or at least his bronze bust).  Well, it was mission accomplished and an enjoyable day out. Five more points and Shay in the bar!

“Several old teammates of Shay from both clubs, were there, including Marys greats Declan Fanning, Frank Kennedy, VP Paudge McGill, Kevin Conboy and Noel O’Dea.  Other top Marys’ members seen arriving were, Liam Birkett, Aoife O’Donnell, David Donoghue, Brian (Spike) Fanning, Gerry (G-Mack) McCormack, Stephen Shirley; then there was Tony Bourke-Moran, Paul Brady and Mick the Medium chatting with spirit.

It was heartening to see the great Peter Smyth, Mal O’Kelly and Alan Shirley, all with sons who had just finished playing a successful U11 match V Garryowen; a future generation of talented Marys players.”

Conor Hayes, a Limerick man, who joined us this year and has been impressive each game was exceptional on his return to his native city and he received the SoftCo Mom Award. We received another five points.

On the 2nd December we got a bit of a fright as Old Belvedere, then second, came calling and they had a very strong game and we had to put everything into the winning of this one.  That of course made it all the more impressive and reassuring.  The last play of the game at 27-27, for me defines this team and it leaders.  It showed courage and deeply based confidence; and we ended up 34-27 and with five points:-

“Courage, confidence and concentration was eventually to decide the match in the last play.  In a match of such celestial intensity and competitiveness, it was clear it would be afflatus at end game that would be decisive.

This was without doubt one of the great team tries, exhilarating; a reminder of the 1973 Barbarians super, Gareth Edwards try. Whew!

The terrace erupted, Marys-Marys-Marys, on and on. Seldom has Templeville experienced such emotion and joy. It was not an exultant cheer, it was joyous but respectful too of a well matched rival, who would be even better next time.  This match was a memory marker, a day of tumultuous club rugby an advertisement for our game and a binder for our two clubs. The response of the Belvederians playing and non-playing, to what for them, was a sudden jolting result, spoke highly of their character and demands respect. Both clubs will profit in the future”.

A new player to Marys this season, is Ben Taylor, he is a natural born (killer) Six and that day he was perfection in his role and he received the SoftCo Mom.

The last home game before Xmas, on 9th December, and the end of phase 1 of the league was Blackrock College RFC, now the second placed team.  Our old sister club, with which we have battled many times over many years, but had not done so since 2017, came to dethrone their friends and they battled with grit to so do, but our lads were not for yielding and again, we came out on top, 20-3.  This time we missed the five points, but were very happy with four.

“But before all that, President Bobby O’Connor had welcomed President Paul Flavin and his committee to a packed, lunch (yes, but no, not a packed-lunch). It was packed also with former players, coaches and celebrities from both clubs. Steven Hennessy and Dermot (Barney) Barnewell were there and got a special welcome. Dr Jim McShane, former Marys’ player and current Leinster Senior Medic was there with Greg Maher et al.  On medics, there was a star turn out of lunching medics, Prof Mick Farrell, Prof Kieran Sheahan (Father of Kevin-Shiner) Dr (Mr) Niall McEniff, and Dr Morgan Crowe all healthily nibbling lettuce. There was Christmas everywhere, and by lunch end, many Rudolf stand-ins. Both presidents excelled in grandiloquence, wit, and warmth. Leaving all that warmth, everyone had to face the full venom of Elin on the terraces and throughout the grounds”.

“Both teams had to face Storm Elin, (with Storm Fergus forecast to follow).  In between these storms, Rock had to face Storm Michael: – Michael McCormack has been outstanding again this season, match after match, he has been a particular force. Between this and last week’s match, he has played nearly 170 minutes.  Follow play all the time and you will see him there, in or near to the action.  He is a leader in every way”. He has been a vital part of the building of this team over the past number of seasons “He rucks and carries with venom, he tackles like a tank and he scrummages with volcanic power. He was outstanding today and deserved to receive the SoftCo MoM AwardThat speaks for itself.

So, as reported HERE, we set off for Belfast on 16th December to face Queen’s University Belfast, RFC.  This was the first time we played them in competition and it was a rousing game when after a bit of a stutter we got our five points, with a 17-22 win, and an enjoyable visit. Feature of that game was the performance of Conor Dean, who was brilliant and won the SoftCo MoM Award.

Now we await January and part two of this exciting serial.  Enjoy the break, but come back to us ready for action.

D O’Brien.

Christmas 2023.