18.02.2012 1st XV v Shannon (H)
St Mary’s College RFC V Shannon RFC
AIL Division 1 A
Saturday 18th February 2012.
There was an effervescent, energetic enthusiasm emanating from the Marys team today that was irresistible and emphatic. When earlier, as guest speaker at the lunch, the great Tony Ward, spoke with passion of his love of the club game and its vital importance to the health of rugby he was prophetic, for this is what rugby is, its genesis, its soul, and he was no doubt greatly pleased with the game that these two core clubs served us piping hot. So much credit must be given, not only to Hugh Hogan and his players, but also the savant Peter Smyth and his colleagues, Ciaran Potts, James Norton and Steven Hennessy who had read the runes to perfection and formulated a high paced, purring game plan. Certainly, there was no thought of being caritative today. Once again, it has to be remembered that no team can play on its own and brave Shannon contributed fully to an enjoyable encounter, as indeed did the referee, David Wilkinson, with his fair and encouraging attitude.
The skill levels were high and the pace electric on occasions and it was one of those days it is difficult not to mention every player as all excelled. A big factor in today’s victory was the devastating defence; we were arriving at Mach 2 to hit the opposition carriers just as the ball was; it meant that often the opposition was in retreat. The ball chase was much improved too and our own vectors were often inscrutable, leading to breaks. The runners were taking the ball coming from deep at speed. The scrum was back to its indomitable self and the lineouts near perfection. What more can you want? Indeed, as I mentioned early in the season, when this team plays to its natural high pace, there is no team in the Ulster Bank AIL Division 1 A that can breath the same air. Fairness demands mention of the players.
Hugh Hogan, as ever, was the supreme leader in every way, commanding, superb and in his pack; he was wonderfully well backed up in his three-man commando unit backrow. From early on, as though to lay down the ground rules, colossal Ciaran Ruddock was crushing ball carriers, when not lifting like an Olympian and Gareth Austen was after the ball like a manic magnet. Steve Bradshaw in the second row, back from injury, showed how important he has become to the team, as he enforced and foraged and leapt and carried; he was well supported by versatile and talented Damian Hall who helped himself to a very nice try and later Gareth Logan who never shirks contact and shunts scrums and mauls, a mighty man. As mentioned recently, there is hardly a front row in the AIL to come near ours, in any combination, and to have Richard Sweeney back today was a bonus as he whirred around the field both with and without the ball working and marshalling. To see Robert Sweeney stampeding towards you must be fearful and on top of controlling his side the scrum, he did a fair bit of stampeding to good effect, back to his best today, as was Colm Mc Mahon, now a highly respected scrummager he had his business side in good order and additionally, was ever willing and effective in the loose. Rory Brosnan made a significant contribution when he came on ensuring that the scrum remained empowered and was putting in workmanlike mileage around the pitch. Kevin (Chunky) Carroll, after a long lay off is getting back into action and got useful time on field to make a worthy contribution.
Even to my enfeebled maths, if you add two halves they make up one (1/2 + 1/2 = 1), so when do two halves not add up to one? Answer, when they are our two halves! For Matt D’Arcy and Phillip Brophy are worth at least four, certainly today they were. There are few Nines the equal of Matt when he is in Duracell Bunny mode, as he was today, skipping around rucks and scrums, taking quick taps, making sorties, flicking passes, cover tackling, hoisting balls over the pack and of course winding his way through a jungle of bodies to score a try. Phillip is truly Marvel Man and today he was gravity defying in his contribution from kick off to game off, he was ever involved, he was like a stinger missile as he cut down runners, covering every option, he took balls from every angle, he cut holes in the Shannon defence, he laid off balls, he ran vectors, his kicking was judicious and between actions he was to be seen exhorting, supporting, encouraging and leading all around him; he was man of the match.
Midfield has steadily strengthened all season and today it was excellent, unfortunately Mark Sexton got a hip injury early on and had to withdraw at half time, but Marcus O’Driscoll moved in from the wing and slotted in naturally; he showed good hands, awareness, strength and close acceleration and he keeps the line well, on top of that he scored a fine try, he will have been happy with his game against his old club. Outside him, Stephen Grissing had another top class game, being unbreakable in defence (with lots of cover defence in addition) and he was a continual threat in attack, with several line breaks one of which led directly to a try, you can see his enjoyment in his game at present. With Marcus covering Twelve, Christopher Lilly came on to the wing and this highly talented young man showed his hunger for action, his defence was untroubled and he looked and found work on a number of occasions with some penetrating runs and good lay-offs and on the far wing capable Ray Crotty, another to improve by the game with the experience of playing senior rugby did all asked of him, discharged his set kicking duties well and scored a notable try. Highly regarded Darren Hudson, back from Leinster duty was another not willing to wait for involvement, but he went on the prowl, picking up balls and keeping Shannon under a lot of pressure; as well as covering well in defence.
Last week Conor Hogan was my man of the match and today he was not far off that again and, as mentioned then, he gets better with every game as his confidence grows. He dealt with every thing that was asked from him through high balls, grubbers or breaks, never missing a tackle and he has an innate ability to read a gap and slip through with needle like sharpness and high velocity and remains spatially aware.
With this highly merited bonus point win, we go level again on top with Clontarf and can feel confidence, tempered by sensible caution, pulsing through the system again. Next, in two weeks time we go to visit Lansdowne Road to face Lansdowne FC on their synthetic pitch and we will be looking for vengeance as we lost to them at home at the start of the campaign.
Marys went into attack mode straight from the kick off, playing down from the cabbage patch end with a boisterous wind behind. Shannon showed they were not going to succumb easily and counterattacked and defended vigorously. We maintained the high-paced game pushing Shannon back into their 22 and on 21 minutes, when playing advantage from offside, we got a quick ruck ball and Matt, alertly spotted the chance and streaked through the narrowest of gaps but with such pace to make it to the line through a clutch of players. Ray converted. 7 – 0. The intensity of the game continued and Shannon were matching us charge for charge, bite for bite in the loose, when on 33 minutes in loose play near halfway, Steve Grissing took a lovely vector and split the cover he glided through and made 25 metres then gave to Marcus O’Driscoll he made good ground and the ball then was thrown long, bounced off the ground, Ray Crotty scooped the ball, swivelled around the man and touched the turbo to whiz for the line, he launched himself for the corner and made it beautifully. He missed the conversion so it was 12 – 0 and then it was halftime
The second half saw Marys playing into the virulent wind and up the slight incline and it had to be seen if the lead would be enough. However, it became clear from kick off that this was going to be exceptional, for the pace and skill levels were as good as any fully professional team could produce and soon Shannon were finding it a little difficult to deal with. It was 12 minutes when an onslaught was launched after making our way from our own 22 with wave after wave of pick and drive, inter passing, quick ruck, direction switch, we laid siege to the Shannon line and then after over 20 phases Damian broke free and surged over the line for another excellent try and that made it 19 – 0, with Ray’s conversion. From the kick off, we took on the ball and held it, play after play, for nearly three minutes as we worked our way back up without ball loss and with concentrated determination and pace and when near the line the ball was swung out to Marcus who beat the tackler and swished in for a super try. It was 24 – 0. That meant we had earned a bonus point and hearts were essorant. We continued to hold sway, but heading into the last ten minutes the concentration dropped a little and Shannon, who had never stopped working away, came back into the game and on 33 minutes scored a very fine converted try, 24 – 7, followed by an unconverted try on 39 minutes and so it ended 24 – 12.
Although now, rugby is only marginally behind GAA in popularity in the country, it is disappointing to relate that the GAA all Ireland club championships were the headline events, with substantial reports on the games on RTE sports news this evening on the 6.00PM news, the Ulster Bank All Ireland League rugby results were not even mentioned.
Having a memorable year as president, John Gilsenan, entertained a large gathering at the pre match lunch, including Shannon’s president Eddie Price and his committee. It was a warm and happy gathering with many notables present. John and Eddie exchanged entertaining speeches and token presents and John, as has been his wont this season, has had some admirable innovations. This occasion he had wives or mothers of some of the distinguished St Marys members, living and dead, and among those present, in addition to his own greatly revered father and mother, Matt and Breda, he had Freda Lynch, widow of the late Benny Lynch, Eithne Whelan widow of the late Brian Whelan, Myra Fanagan vice president Michael Fanagan’s mother and Mary Hennessy, mother of Jr vice president Steven Hennessy. Once again Head Coach, Peter Smyth’s most popular and generous mother and father, Pamela and Jimmy Smyth, entertained many of the players’ mothers and fathers. It was especially good to have our own Tony Ward, former star Irish International and British and Irish Lion and now renowned rugby journalist and teacher, present as John’s guest, and he gave a most insightful, eloquent yet relaxed dissertation demonstrating his love and knowledge of rugby and his inherent understanding of the club and overall game. He added some very entertaining anecdotes about his own experiences at school at St Mary’s College and later at St Marys’ rugby club, Garryowen FC and Greystones RFC, also his football (soccer) career in both Dublin and Limerick, his love of Limerick and some of the many outstanding characters involved in his life, including the memorable iconic Shay Deering, J B Sweeney, Frank and Terry Kennedy and Paul Dean.
Team (Rolling substitutions) 15, C Hogan, 14 R Crotty, 13 S Grissing, 12 M Sexton, 11 M O’Driscoll, 10 P Brophy, 9 M D’Arcy, 8 H Hogan (Capt), 7 G Austen, 6 C Ruddock, 5 D Hall, 4 S Bradshaw, 3 Robert Sweeney, 2 Richard Sweeney, 1 C Mc Mahon. G Logan, D Hudson, C Lilly, R Brosnan, K Carroll, B O’Flanagan,