1st XV v Queens (H) by D. O’Brien – 13.01.2023

St Mary’s College RFC V Queen’s University RFC
36                                    14
Energia AIL Division 1 B
Templeville Road
Saturday 13th January 2024

As Christmas came and fled with uncouth haste, its ambrosia was replaced with an enigmatic gnawing need. Hard to decipher it was, until New Year threw out its promise and there it was; AIL, big as a boot and just as tough. Then, the anticipation grew like a furze fire. Series 2, Episode 1, was on its way, with the same brilliant cast. The scene was well set too, as the mind probe of growing diurnal photons drew smiles onto the faces of the throngs of younger Blues; the superannuated sighed, but still welcomed the longer diurnal periodicity and its promise. All were ready. The squads prowled the dressing rooms in anticipatory and taut muscularity.

There was added excitement as Queens had been highly competitive, with a depleted squad, in the away fixture in December, still now without a full quotient, it was expected this again, was going to be a tough one.  The Marys supporters this season, seem to be more animated and empathetic toward their team than ever. The personality of Ronan’s squad is unique. Although eclectic, there is a close, and almost ethereal quality of their collective, it is not esoteric nor refractive; au contraire, there is an exudence of a warm, open and welcoming aura that embraces supporters, and enfolds them as a family. This makes all unitary in purpose.

The lunch brought the new rugby year into being as President Bobby O’Connor welcomed his Queens’ counterpart Ian McAvoy and his committee on their first ever rugby visit to Templeville Road. There was an uplifting atmosphere with a small but congenial conglomeration, made the more memorable by one of our dream-dozen Lions, Paul Dean, having a table of guests boasting brilliant former international colleagues of his, Nigel Carr, Trevor Ringland, Philip Mathews, Hugo McNeill, Brendan Mullins and Neill Francis. What an aperitif for a match!

Possibly the break it was, that threw a sort of nervous energy at the crowd. Many appeared to be training for River Dance, as they jittered on the cold terrace and drew harsh breath. Passing through the gate it engendered pride and gratitude, to note John Bainbridge and Gary Croke and their team of entrance ambassadors and their polite, efficient, welcoming attention. These members, like all of the match day volunteers, embody the spirit of St Marys and are the living blocks that build what is the entirety of our club.

There had been ten days of crisp cold weather, broken today with a slight misty drizzle before kick-off.  Wind was negligible, with a temperature of 6-7 degrees centigrade, so all was set for a January jamboree.

What makes sport fascinating and compelling is its variability and tendency to surprise.  Today’s game of Blues V Blues, (except the home team was in mainly white for contrast), was somewhat enigmatic. For home supporters, it was very welcome news, to have the superb Ethan Baxter back.
As far as Queens is concerned, it is baffling to note that after this game they are last on the table, when they are clearly a considerably better team than that in every way. Yet, that is where they are. They have a good set piece game and are most adventurous with excellent ball retention.

Two facts stand out for the home team, an exceptionally large number of penalties conceded and an outstanding defensive performance.  There were times when they were under excruciating pressure with probes continuously coming from many and every direction. The cool determined leadership of Skipper, Ronan Watters, ensured no one flinched. All game Ronan led from the front and covered the back, he was relentless in his play, in lineouts, in rucks in mauls in support and open play; he never baulks.  He scored a neat try and his contribution was pivotal to the winning of the game.  He was outstanding and so received the SoftCo MoM Award.

Throughout the game, and particularly in the first half, Queens were frequently in possession and like schoolyard spoilsports, and they would not give it back.  However, they could not breach the white ramparts, while, when Marys were in possession there was a menace in their demeanour and actions, and it shows on the scoreboard, with five tries and a bonus point win. In fact those who have followed this team always felt, without arrogance, there would be a way found and, if there were to be need of a replacement, it would not change the kinetics nor balance. Not that it was easy.  It was close for a long part of the game, with the student sassiness to attack from everywhere and every time, making it fascinating and entertaining. It would be a fervent hope that Queens University RFC will prosper and burgeon; they so deserve; and the league needs them.

The Game
The first five minutes was dominated by Queens, playing towards the Cabbage Patch End, they attacked hard, however, an attack broke down near the Marys’ line and the two dynamic and talented battling, outside backs, Mark Fogarty and Leandro Ramirez broke up field, play was carried on through the forwards, led by Mighty Mick McCormack and when the line was assailed, Adam McEvoy who is prospering each game now, dived over; ever diligent and invaluable, Mick O’Gara calmly converted. 7-0. Over the next 25 minutes, fortunes swung to and fro, with Queens having the bulk of possession and territory. However, on 31 minutes after a long maul and feed Hurtling Hugo arced around and was just held up short.  The QUB 15, was sent to the bin, for blocking recycling and Ronan led a close charge after the penalty, he was just held up under re the post but slipped it to Mighty-Mick who skittled defenders to score and Mick O’G, served the desserts, 14-0. Three minutes later, with QUB in attack, they were on the Marys line, their impressive hard working 9, James Wright dived over to make it, 14-7. But on 39 minutes, Marys went on the offensive and   just outside the 22, virtuoso, Conductor, Conor (Deano) Dean, did his special- a neat chip behind, it was gathered and carried on, then it came out to Magic Mark Fogarty, who skipped over in Carvill Corner, and Mick converted again, 21-7. It was at half time.

The second half was eight minutes old, when, after a penalty to Carvill Corner, a lineout and a number of picks and drives,  Queens got over for a converted try, to make it 21-14.  Marys attacked immediately, with Ronan winning a lineout on the QUB 22.  It was carried on, and the Skipper was there again to finish it in style.  This made it 28-14 after Mick’s conversion on 50 minutes. Queens then had a period of ten or more minutes of continuous attack, winning a number of penalties and assailing the home line. They showed great ball retention, with hard straight running, but for all their effort, the Marys lads matched them in skill and grit and manned the ramparts.  They came in waves, and the tackles went in, Mighty Mick, Battling Ben, Leroy, Liam and Dan, dynamic Jack, Ethan and Ronan, the backs, not an inch.  They covered gaps, sealed slips, and went again and again. Eventually the tide turned we got up field and it was nip and tuck with both sides burning, ablaze with fervour. On 77 minutes Mick calmed it a little with a sweet penalty on 77 minutes; 31-14.  Then towards the end, the home side went hunting again with a classical back move started by Mick O’Gara’s super pass. It went out the line. Then with Conor Hayes held up just short, Hugo Conway, was there to pick and dive over in the Cabbage Patch Corner.  It finished 36-14.

Once again, after the game, there was a warm sharing of sociability between the two clubs, players and supporters, hierarchy and hoi polloi, a lovely way to welcome in the New Year. We will look forward to meeting Queens University RFC, again.

Later on leaving, the darkening skies seemed to silence all, as the storied pitch shimmered dimly with almost spectral shapes of greats of yester-years, was it a Fanning or Fanagan, a Deering or Deano, a Hickie or Gracer ghosting past defences, a Jemmo, a shimmering Moloney fading by flailing hands, a giant cloud-like Lynch rolling over an insubstantial scrum and line, a commanding JB, even a magical Marvelman misting through the vaporous gaps to link with a wingêd Wardy? We went upon our ways wondering.

Next Saturday, after a number of years we will renew our acquaintance with Stradbrook Road, where we play Blackrock College.  They ran us close at home and remember, they are the only side in this campaign against which we have not scored a bonus point win. Come out, enjoy the sea air and a top class match.  But come you must, and Roar on Ronan.

D O’Brien.

Team 15 C Hayes, 14, L Ramirez, 13 M Fogarty, 12 M O’Gara, 11 H Conway, 10 C Dean, 9 A McEvoy, 8, R Watters (Capt.) 7 E Baxter, 6 B Taylor, 5 L Corcoran, 4 D Leane, 3 M McCormack, 2 J Harding, 1 J Reidy-Walsh, 16 J Nelson-Murray, 17T O’Reilly, 18 I Wickham, 19 L Jack, 20 R Fahy, 21 M Carey. C Stewart, F Burke, S Kilgallen.