When Rugby and History Rhyme

Clongowes Wood College 27, St. Andrew’s 12

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Last Tuesday one of the most important milestones in the history of Clongowes, the purchase of the school property for £16,000 by Fr. Peter Kenney SJ in 1814, was marked quietly in the school in advance of the year of celebrations, which will commence in May. Not content with this, fate intervened and ensured that the school community would gather in Donnybrook on the 200th anniversary of Fr. Kenney’s wily investment to urge on the Senior Cup Team at the penultimate hurdle.

Having been brushed aside by St. Andrew’s in the previous round, our Jesuit peers at Gonzaga urged us to approach this important day with caution. Despite not having made an appearance at the semi-final stage of the Senior Cup since they last won the competition in 1922, St. Andrew’s tested the Clongowes resolve to an extent that not many would have foreseen. Indeed, those looking on might have questioned their eyesight when consulting the scoreboard at the half-time break. It was like having your birthday cake laid out in front of you, only for your little sister to start blowing out the candles.

At first there was an air of inevitability about the result – Rowan Osborne, Colm Mulcahy and Will Connors all made early inroads – but a skewed Alan Hughes penalty attempt and a subsequent hit on Cian O’Donoghue intimated that such a notion was wide of the mark. The Booterstown boys were on a mission. Reluctant to commit too many men to the breakdown, St. Andrew’s fanned across the park shutting down the space for the much-vaunted purple backline. Closer to the rough and tumble meanwhile, their aggressive forward unit wrought havoc by any means necessary.

As Clongowes cleared their lines following another faltering incursion by St. Andrew’s the latter’s quick-thinking right wing Jordan Larmour sensed an opportunity. Catching even the Setanta Sports TV crew off guard, Larmour raced to the touchline and quickly returned the ball to play. Clongowes were immediately in trouble and, before they could recover, fullback Andrew Fogarty, who had noticed Larmour’s intentions, took full advantage by touching down in front of rapturous support.

Leaving the field 7-3 to the good at the break, St. Andrew’s had pep in their step as they departed to a standing ovation; it was clear that they didn’t want the half to end. Clongowes on the other hand were glad to regroup and devise an approach to prevail over what had grown into a vigorous threat to their cup ambitions.

Seasoned campaigners to the rescue

Eventually it would be the experience gained by several returning members of the 2013 campaign that proved invaluable in confronting the St. Andrew’s challenge. While the half-time intervention by the Clongowes coaching team ensured that the intensity levels would jump a few notches, it was the seasoned campaigners who fashioned a tempered resurgence in the second-half. At pivot, Fergal Cleary began to exert his considerable influence on proceedings while Stephen McVeigh was immense throughout, forcing several turnovers and making some outstanding carries. Their presence and influence ensured that there was no need to pull any hairs out just yet (Thank goodness…Ed).

In the event it took just two minutes of the second-half for Clongowes to reassert themselves. Following another infringement by a St. Andrew’s pack living on the edge, captain Cleary – confident of a well-oiled set piece – opted to kick for the corner. John Molony, who had just returned to the fray for a second time having received treatment for a ferocious tackle he had dished out earlier on, held his nerve and found his man in the throw, prompting a rolling maul that saw Josh Pim begin to turn the Clongowes screw.

Yet St. Andrew’s were not yet ready to bow the knee in reverence. While two overruled tries through Conor Gleeson and Pim might have given them further reason to believe, what it really told us was that Clongowes were finally punching holes with purpose. Although Alan Hughes, having found his range, kept the scoreboard ticking over, the demoralising blow would not come until the 67th minute, when the otherwise quiet Cian O’Donoghue pounced on a mistake that allowed him to race down the left-wing for his customary contribution. Hughes added the extras to kill the tie as a contest.

Ten minutes later, McVeigh – whose brother Joe played against Blackrock in the 1995 final – deservedly claimed some of the spoils, having broken down the blindside of a scrum deep in the opposition ‘22. To their credit, St. Andrew’s were determined to make the most of their day in the limelight and few begrudged them having the final say when their impressive lock Jonny Guy, bundled his way to the line in the last play. They had provided a fairytale element to this year’s competition.

And so, following a few wobbly renditions on Tuesday, the Womba will return to the RDS on Sunday March 16th when our old friends at Blackrock College will provide the opposition for the tenth time in a Senior Cup Final. Ten years ago, the same two sides met at Lansdowne Road when Rob Kearney and Fergus McFadden took to the field in a kit that harked back to the early days of Clongowes’ rugby history. Although the all-white strip failed to inspire them that afternoon, it is hoped that the bicentennial celebrations will add an extra incentive next week.

When Fr. Kenney SJ turned the keys in the castle door in 1814, the prospect of his institution celebrating its 200thyear while under the stewardship of a Jesuit Pope would have been incomprehensible. When Fr. Michael Sheil SJ led Clongowes to their second Senior Cup title in 1978, the prospect of facing St. Andrew’s in the penultimate fixture while en route to a fourth final in five years would have been unfathomable. But times change. Happy birthday Clongowes!

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