03.10.2009 1st XV v Clontarf (H)
St Mary’s College RFC V Clontarf FC
3rd October 2009.
Senior Seasonal Preview,
The new AIL
Although the early fusillades at most levels have been fired, now we are into the battle proper at senior level and within the structure of the new 1st division 1 A it is taut. It feels like a cliff-side walk, with bracing air and salubrious scenery, but steep and dangerous sides where slips can be damaging or even deadly. The new structures should concentrate skill and ability and make each game a tremulous test and so give games excitement and pace. It could too of course, stifle adventure with fear of failure. However we have little to fear after last season’s performances and the substantial and judicious additions to the squad, gives it an all over robust appearance. Indeed it is most important that we play to our strength and use the full range of our players and skills and our traditional high tempo, adventurous game. We must though improve on our complete kicking scope and our concentration and confidence late on in tight matches. We have the finest coaching, management and back up personnel in AIL and although the truly admirable Peter Smyth, Director of Rugby, will not be able to give quite his usual intense level of attention for a little while, he has in Senior Coach Ciaran Potts and Backs Coach Shaun Mc Carthy two highly skilled, motivational coaches who command the greatest respect from every squad member.
President Niall Rynne has played at every level for many years at St Marys (do not be at all surprised if you see him on the field of play at some level this year), he also works hard for the club at the Leinster Branch and is greatly admired and liked throughout the rugby world in Ireland He has messianic enthusiasm and has put in place a committee of enthusiastic rugby men and an infrastructure around rugby to ensure meticulous attention, and hopefully the success he greatly deserves; Rynner, like his close friend and last year’s highly successful president Eoin Quinn, is extremely popular and a non stop worker and he will receive the strongest support throughout the club.
Ultimately, success is down to the team and especially the captain. We have been most fortunate in the past with great leaders as captains and again this year we have in Hugh Hogan an ideal captain in this challenging season, he has captained the Irish Club International team. He inspires his team through motivational play and cerebral and emotional leadership, making sensible, yet adventurous decisions. Recently he faced a dreadful personal tragedy with great dignity and bravery and everyone will wish him well and every possible break.
Today we saw again, in the background, the great behind the scenes volunteer club members, without whom little could happen. Gatekeepers, parking managers, bar, lunch and competition organisers, club maintenance and upgrade organiser, doctors etc. It behoves us to remember them all season.
This season and beyond, the far terrace, no matter how crowded it may become, will have a sadly empty spot where should be a much lamented and missed member, John Doddy, absorbing every move, analysing every phase, lauding every fine play, admonishing the opposition and instructing the referee when necessary, spotting every misdemeanour and finally sportingly celebrating victory or graciously accepting defeat, then greeting every Mary’s player before retiring to the bar to share a few glasses with club members and opposition alickadoos.
Thud, Thud, Thud, these are the sounds of hearts beating faster as the morning wears on towards the game. Thump, Thump, Thump, are the sounds of boot meeting ball in kicking practice. Clump, Clump, Clump, are the sounds of car doors, as groups arrive for lunch. Unfortunately the wind is stiffening and the rain slyly swirling, not a great omen, but the appetite is growing both for lunch and the game. There is a singular sense which envelops us on the first day of AIL and added is the tight-rope tension that accompanies this season’s campaign.
The president is there waiting the visiting alickadoos in his shining new blazer, looking youthful and enthusiastic, yet a little apprehensive with the weight of expectancy. The greetings from all are warm and drinks are offered and accepted and spaces fill and noise expands and elbows touch and waves are made across the room and hangovers recede with bonhomie. There are many Clontarf friends to be seen, as there has always been a strong bond of friendship between the two clubs from early times and we remember Otto Palsic and his carnivals and the late Denis Shaw, the towering prop, Matt Gilsenan’s Brother in law, and our own Big John O’Donoghue’s links with Tarf and, up to the present, with Popey’s links to both clubs. Good friends like Finbar Crowley, John Glackin and Brendan Smith are present today with their president Jim Mc Ilvenna and chairman Geoff Curran and committee.
We have lots of our own there, our patron V Rev Fr John Flavin CSSp is in company with Bishop O’Riordan and as we all shuffle down in line for lunch, greatly loved Joe Banana Fanagan is spotted with a big smile on his cherubic face, having had a super party a few days earlier for his shhhhhh 80th birthday, also fresh from a celebration (retirement) is seen Ossie Fogarty, close to other meds, Dave Ryan and Michael Farrell. Looking around the dining hall, again decked out ornately by Marie and John Hammond, many great Marys men are visible and it is a real pleasure to note there, as Mattie Jones’s guests, two of our all time greats, Sean Cooke and Noel Kenny, in company with Lord John Hussey Jr Vice President IRFU and John Kilmurray, while sitting at the next table can be seen another true great, Johnny Moloney, with Ben Mc Ardle, Joe Doddy and friends, while JB Sweeney is busy keeping his troops under control, these include doyens Paddy Bolger, Bill Fagan, Matt Gilsenan, also Charlie Chawke, Brian Corrigan, John Carvill and Spike Fanning. Steven Hennessy and Gerry Delaney are spotted enjoying lunch. Many of our lady members are there, including Claire Rynne and Aoife O’Donnell, Head of Templeogue College. It is good to see Jimmy Smyth present, as it is to see Vinny Cunningham, Eugene Brophy and John Collier and also Eoin Quinn, last year’s president in company with John Griffin and main sponsors Investec. The Kennedys are keeping a low profile, as are David Donohue, Kevin Conboy, Michael Fanagan and Reggie of RC. Keith Mc Carthy our PRO is busily scurrying around at work.
Vice President Ronnie Mc Brien acts as MC and doing a fine job under the instructions of Hon Secretary John Cunningham and when the enjoyable lunch ends, he introduces former great athlete John Treacy of Sports Council of Ireland who gives an interesting dissertation and then our president gives his first lunchtime address, to a highly enthusiastic reception. It is measured, warm and highly articulate, he covers the club’s aspirations on and off the field, the fine friendships between Clontarf and St Marys and he expresses gratitude to all the sponsors and club workers. Jim Mc Ilvenna replies with a polished and friendly response and ends with a highly amusing story of two props who are having a walk through forests when they come on tracks, which they follow and about which they begin to argue, the tight head being convinced that they are tracks of cattle while the loose head argues that they are those of deer; then the train hits them.
How proud we can be to sit on the top of the table after the first day of the league, with a bonus points win, for this was truly a good win and many aspects of the game give reasons for optimism and satisfaction. As the score indicates, there was a lot to be pleased about the offensive game, but most satisfying was the defence which was adamantine and our counter-rucking which was stupendous (the best I can remember), very many times we turned over ball that seemed already destined for the Clontarf side with fierce low, and determined vectors. The backline alignment was admirable and Clontarf only managed to breach it once. For a first league outing, although there were a few handling, scrum and lineout slip ups, the quality of the set pieces was satisfactory and that of the off-loading, passing and lines of running high. Jack Mc Grath, Conor Mc Phillips and Paul Gillespie, out today with injury and Steve Bradshaw home from Australia, are expected back shortly. The coaching group can be well satisfied with the team spirit, understanding and confidence that they have engendered. Indeed, Peter Smyth, Ciaran Potts and Shaun Mc Carthy were positively glowing afterwards and deservedly so. There is a long hard road ahead but there should be nothing to fear if our lads perform with the ability, concentration and constancy shown today.
The forward game was powerful and dominant against a strong but disappointing Clontarf pack. Our front row was disciplined and very lively in the loose especially Robert Sweeney who of course had a short spell with Clontarf and he showed today where his heart lies, he had a terrific game, he was ably backed by brother Richard who also had a fine game and by Colm Mc Mahon and also in the second half by Kevin (Chunky) Carroll, who did really well when he entered the fray. We welcomed back to AIL, Gavin Hickie (he who helped so much get us back to Division 1, some years ago) late in the second half and he showed he still retains the skill and fire to make an important contribution this season. In the second row Gareth Logan was gargantuan, full of strength and endeavour and was another who had a fine game, he was partnered by enigmatic Robin Copeland, although today he was all answers and no mysteries, he was in fact superb, full of intuition, grace, pace and athleticism. It is satisfying to see Robin converting his latent potential to kinetic actuality (great credit to him) and he contributed throughout the complete game, of course he was man of the match.
The backrow can take a lot of credit for the innumerable high quality turnovers, Paul Nash was putting his marker down and contributing most effectively when he was injured, after 25 minutes, and he had to withdraw. Barry O’Flanagan, who replaced him slotted in effortlessly and was responsible for many important interventions and snaffled balls. Captain Hugh Hogan led his men with honour and determination all game and big Damian Hall, one of our welcome newcomers, worked hard and is continuing his integration process.
The half backs, had a reasonably easy afternoon due to the superiority of our pack, but both worked hard, with Joe Burns, at nine, commanding, as a quality nine should, his kicking, especially defensively, was particularly good and important on many occasions; he is a grafter and will not shirk his duty on wet winter afternoons to come. Shaun showed again his class distribution and astute game reading and can be well pleased with his contributions in all respects. The centres were impressive with both Mark Sexton and Phillip Brophy showing strongly, with many exciting movements involving them, in fact Stephen Grissing and Conor Donohue worked well also when they came on in the second half, this being indicative of the intense competition for places right across the backline; and to think Conor Mc Phillips was out with a groin strain. Phillip Brophy also looked top class when he switched to fullback later in the game. Darragh Fanning was once more the star back of the day and he put the trembles into the opposition every time he got the ball, they had little answer to his, pace, guile and strength, his covering was also excellent. Ronan Doherty on the right wing was not too far behind Darragh, showing excellent anticipation and speed and at full back Gavin Dunne did all that was asked of him and contributed with his kicking.
The first ten minutes saw Clontarf shape as though they might be once more a troublesome side, as they mounted several strong attacks, up hill, against the hard wind, but our resolve in defence showed strongly and they were repelled and we began the climb into ascendancy which lasted all match, excepting brief spells in the second half. After fourteen minutes a high kick ahead from Shaun was fielded by Tarf 13,Bryce, who ran out from his 22 and when faced by a tackler on his 10 metre line he gave a semi closed hand off which was penalised and Gavin Dunne took his shot at goal which was well hit but struck the upright high up and bounced out; Robin Copeland following up fast somehow managed to hold the twisting, low bouncing ball, step inside a defender and dive between two others to score under the posts for Gavin to convert the try and so .it was 7 – 0 and the tempo was rising. Then with 19 minutes gone, a loose Clontarf ball near half way, out wide, gave Darragh all the invitation he needed, Joe Burns took the ball went to go wide but on being cut off he doubled back and spotted Darragh, who shrugged off his marker and zipped down the touchline beating two on the outside then he cut in leaving the cover gawking and he was in; it was 12 – 0. This was great stuff, the forwards were driving them back and the backs straining their defence to the utmost, then on 23 minutes Paul Nash ripped the ball from a ruck on half way on the stand side tore, through the defence and made over 30 metres full out along the margins before alertly linking with Robin, following up, then the ball went across though hands with Phillip giving a lovely ball to Ronan who stepped between two and dived over in the far corner for a splendid try which was not converted, so it was now 17 – 0 and we were dancing. Soon afterwards Nasher went off with an injured hand, Barry O’Flanagan taking his place. On 27 minutes a series of drives in mid field saw Robin pick a ball, skip over the ruck and show great celerity to sprint under the posts, Gavin converted again. Four try bonus point already gained and the game continued with Marys in attack mode to half time, when it was 24 – 0.
Clontarf shaped as though they would mount a recovery, having been comprehensively outplayed in the first half, however, it was mainly illusionary, for soon Marys took firm control again and many fine attacks ensued, one exceptionally fine move from inside our 22 and involving forwards and backs, with slick passing and with Phillip Brophy to the fore, almost ended with a try as the ball bounced into touch on the far corner. Not unsurprisingly a brief slight loss of intensity occurred, and on 18 minutes Clontarf took a quick throw in, they caught us standing and they ran through the middle to score under the posts, so it was 24 – 7. We tightened back our grip and were once again in command to the end, although they did raise their game for brief spells but we showed good composure under pressure and repelled them on several occasions with a turnover or clearance kick or break out. We finished comfortably and all players looked fresh at the end with the fitness gained over the summer and autumn returning dividend.
Many staunch supporters were impressed by the win. Pat Nash (Paul’s father) took an extra puff from his cigar, with deep satisfaction. There were Barney Moran and Barry O’Sullivan grinning (yes grinning) and Dave Gardner and Maurice Hogan were believers after the performance, while Fr Brian Mc Laughlin, Paul Davy and Arthur Costello were almost levitating and Brendan and Marcus Spring were nigh doing somersaults to the urgings of Paul Sheeran. Barney was smiling, a very dangerous sign. Clontarf followers, although obviously very disappointed were sporting and magnanimous in defeat, of course there is a return fixture on 27th March next.
The team hammered out We are Marys Boys to the jubilation of everyone in the dressing rooms and eventually all gravitated to the Centenary Bar where Rynner got everyone going with Sloop John B and then he and Skipper Hugh called on the new St Marys AIL players to sing, as with tradition. Joe Burns, an Ulster man, in Leinster, sang a Connacht song, much travelled to Munster, The Fields of Athenry. Native Dublin son, Damian Hall, gave a nice performance of Molly Malone and Gavin Dunne form Cork and with a fine singing voice sang a pop song of unknown (unknown to the writer that is) genesis or name. The party continued.
Next week we travel to Shannon and we will not forget how much we were in control and ahead in the first half 9 – 17 last season down there just before Christmas, only to lose 26 – 20 and no doubt will do everything possible not to let that happen this time so travel with belief and come down to Thomond Park to help in that cause.
Team: - 15 G Dunne, 14 R Doherty, (C Donohue), 13 P Brophy, 12 M Sexton, (S Grissing), 11 D Fanning, 10 S Mc Carthy, 9 J Burns, 8 H Hogan (Capt) 7 P Nash, (B O’Flanagan), 6 D Hall, 5 R Copeland, 4 G Logan, 3 Robert Sweeney, 2 Richard Sweeney (G Hickie), 1 C Mc Mahon, (K Carroll).