J5 XV v Carrick on Suir Vets XV

St. Mary’s College RFC J5 XV (12) vs Carrick-on-Suir Vets XV (24) 


Saturday 16.03.2024 

Tempeville Road 

So many things had to go the right way for this fixture to even take place. Head Coach Owen Clery broached the possibility of welcoming Carrick-on-Suir Vets to Templeville Road some months ago and had worked non-stop with his counterpart, brother Ross, to make sure the J5 squad had the opportunity to run out for their club in a genuinely competitive game. Selection went from strength to strength with players from the J3, J4 and U20s sides making themselves available to bolster the J5s side. Next, Chris O’Connor battled the odds and the weather – clearing standing water from the pitch for two hours straight the night before the game. With the rain spitting down in the morning, there was a palpable sense of relief when the texts went out on Saturday – the Carrick boys were enroute – Game On.  

With captain Chris O’Connor at the helm, returning outhalf Andrew Fitzpatrick got the game underway with a high-hanging kick to the Carrick pack, giving St. Mary’s ample time to track their man and start the tackle count. From the off, Carrick put immense strain on the Mary’s defensive line with heavy carriers making dents despite the textbook tackling exemplified, in particular, around the fringes by O’Connor and Ali Acar. The relentless pressure from Carrick-on-Suir yielded two well worked team tries, one converted. It wasn’t all defensive action in the first half for the Mary’s J5s, as they began to assert themselves in attack. Gaps and soft shoulders were hard to come by but with David Browne and his front row partners Anun Buajan and Jonny Stevenson securing ruck after ruck, we were making ground. The front row deserve special mention for putting in an enormous shift, Browne and Stevenson lasting virtually the entire game and Anun only being recalled to the bench late in the day, sustaining an arm injury. Our bolter from the back-field, Kevin Perry, kept cleaning up untidy ball and delivering back to the gain line. Dynamic centre Eric Dunne, tackled and carried with precision and intent. Towering forwards Rory Litton and Richie Fagan (who was testing a recovering knee) steadied our lineout, ensuring Stevenson had clear targets at set-piece time. Our backs were equally impressive, being forced to tackle time and time again, with a serious and concerted defensive effort from youngster, Aaron Harrington.  

Drawing defenders, a dextrous pop from the deck by David Dixon saw scrum half Al McPhillips race into one of the rare defensive holes in Carrick’s line with this writer hot on his heels. McPhillips didn’t need the support runner and dotted down to the right of the posts. Pre-game, the other half of our stand-out centre combination, Karl O’Brien, had mentioned to management that he may need to leave the venue early (apparently there was some other noteworthy game on that day…). Typifying his work ethic, during the half-time huddle he stated emphatically, a la Leonardo DiCaprio channelling his inner Jordan Belfort, “I’m not leaving!” Lucas Weber, who had been in fine form in the backline until his withdrawal due to a stiff hamstring, spoke at the break injecting some urgency into the performance to come. Some key half-time changes kept the J5s fresh and competitive.  

Michael O’Malley, returning from injury, stepped in at outhalf and was a commanding presence, communicating effectively and clearly, keeping the opposition backline honest with probing kicks. Colm Byrne, also looking for game time to test the healing process, made a brief but impactful cameo, making big hits but unfortunately retiring before time with a recurring shoulder issue. Barry Norman made a change from his usual backline to support the pack and was monumental on both sides of the ball – the forwards will be making a case to keep him in their ranks from here out. Our best efforts couldn’t corral the pressure from Carrick-on-Suir, even with the exemplary bravery of replacement scrum half Caglar Tuc and centre Gerry Pelosi, with St. Mary’s conceding another converted try. Player / Coach Owen Clery took to the field, with one thing in his sights – to put aforementioned brother Ross on his back. We couldn’t tell who would have Easter dinner bragging rights as Clery’s action was reciprocal. Clery carried hard into and floored Ross, who dusted himself down with a wry smile and, next time he was in possession of the ball, made a beeline directly for Owen and returned the favour.  

St. Mary’s around this time were enjoying another period of success, with O’Malley shifting the ball to the wide channels using flanker Jaden Chambers Conboy, who had been outstanding all day, as a link player putting backs Andrew Gallagher and Luke Lawrence into space at full tilt towards the opposition line, Luke carrying hard and scoring with Andrew expertly supporting the runner. With the extras added, St. Mary’s felt that the game was still within our grasp to win, the score now 19-12. Our final substitution of the day saw Patrick Casey take to the field for only the second time demonstrating a keen understanding of positioning and locking down space. We know Patrick will continue to go from strength to strength as he develops as a key player for this squad. Unfortunately, our pains to level the score or to tip it in our favour did not yield results with the Carrick winger turning me inside-out thrice putting his outside man over to score. Referee Colin Burkley blew up the game shortly afterwards, the score 24-12 to Carrick-on-Suir. It was a hugely enjoyable, competitive game and we are extremely grateful to our opposition. We also want to extend our sincere gratitude to the club, Tony and his team for providing post-match refreshments. It goes without saying that we’re very much looking forward to the return fixture in late April.   

James Casey