The first round of the Junior Cup is a terrific occasion. For any Clongowes team, running out onto Donnybrook’s hallowed turf when faced by all those you represent sets the heart racing and gets the adrenalin pumping. The pitch, the crowds and the striped socks are all novel features that will become etched in the memories of young players for years to come. They will remember the team huddle prior to kick-off; a tackle that drew cheers; a line-break that drew screams. While the Clongowes JCT of 2013 found themselves on the wrong end of a result on this occasion, they will have many of those moments to savour
It had been hoped that Clongowes might catch a monstrous St.Michael’s side napping, but the latest crop from Ailesbury Road honoured their favourites tag and walked home from Leinster’s former residence with a place in the next round secure. One could only wonder at the potential of this St.Michael’s side (one which resembled the size of the team to be faced by the CWC SCT on February 22nd) had they been able to call on the heart and spirit of their Clongowes counterparts.
By marching into a 20-0 lead at the interval some reckoned that the Dublin side were well on their way to avenge their record Junior Cup final defeat to Conor Gilsenan’s all-conquering 2008 side. But a Clongowes team never bows down. Indeed, an early second-half penalty aside, St. Michael’s were unable to return to Clongowes territory until the fixture entered its final moments. Spurred on by some terrific support, Patrick Nulty’s men began to regain belief when many of those looking on had let it fade. But ultimately, despite several scores and several more opportunities, Clongowes found that overcoming the damage wrought earlier in the game was just one step too far.
Thrust into a competitive fixture for the first time in purple and white, Clongowes JCT were immediately introduced to the rigours of cup rugby and fell behind to a penalty after 2 minutes of play. While it wasn’t quite panic stations it was clear that this young side were determined to make amends. Unfortunately some errors began to sneak into Clongowes’ game as they desperately sought to make their mark on proceedings. On the other hand, St. Michael’s capitalised on the opportunities that presented themselves during a 15minute first-half period. Three tries in quick succession would dampen the spirits of any team. It is a lonely place underneath a mounting scoreboard.
There had been some encouraging signs though before the interval. As the half drew to a close, Clongowes were camped on the St. Michael’s line only to be halted by some ferocious defending, while at various stages Reiness Lemess and tight-head prop Ed Carroll showed that value was to be found on the outside channels. This laid the foundation for the Clongowes onslaught that was to come after the break. First, Brian Maher wreaked havoc in the St. Michael’s rearguard when booting a loose ball downfield. Maher’s clear route to the line was only denied by a mean bounce into the hands of St.Michael’s last man. While this phase of play might have appeared innocuous, the momentum of the contest suddenly took a purple swing. Space began to open up out wide, while the significantly smaller Clongowes pack became the more cohesive unit. Indeed it was they who somehow managed to force Sean McCrohan over the line to spark talk of a miraculous comeback.
Clongowes knew they had a game to chase and Michael Silvester and McCrohan were to the fore of the assault. At one point, McCrohan, while off balance and inches from the whitewash, managed to bundle over several would-be defenders only to be halted just short of the line. At out-half, Silvester was growing in confidence and began to skip by the tackles that had previously kept him under wraps. In true competitive style, St.Michael’s did what they could to halt the Clongowes momentum. Their size told in the individual exchanges while at the breakdown several blue boys began to make nuisance of themselves, disrupting the Clongowes flow. Inevitably the penalty count began to rise. Had the referee played advantage on one particular occasion, Paddy Delap would surely have raced to the posts and duly closed the gap on the scoresheet, making it an 11 point game with 15minutes to go. Alas, it wasn’t to be and St.Michael’s kept some breathing space between the teams. By the time McCrohan added another try to his tally, latching onto a wide Silvester pass (Stephen Gildea landed the conversion to make it 23-12), it had become apparent that this mountain was proving too steep to climb.
Nulty and his team returned to a rousing welcome following the game as the Clongowes community showed their appreciation of the Junior panel and their coaches, Mr. Emmet Condron, Mr. Stephen O’Hara and Mr. Barry Bowen. Naturally there were disappointed faces in the concourse, but not one of them was lacking in pride. Clongowes will not always produce champions, but it will always field a team full of heart and spirit.