Clongowes Wood College v Castleknock

wordpress31

 

Although he might have assumed that he would quietly slip away into the sunset upon his retirement, Mr. Tony Pierce found himself cast back into the limelight once again as Clongowes ran riot at Donnybrook on Thursday. Taking up his usual position on the half-way line opposite the hollering of his former charges, Mr. Pierce was subject to much interrogation:

“Tony, what’s the score?”

 “How about now?”

As the resident mathematician in Clane for many years, those gathered around expected that he would be the very man to provide them with an answer. Alas, not even one of Clongowes’ greatest minds could keep up, not to mention the Wesley-end scoreboard.

Following their commendable exploits in the Vinnie Murray Cup – their semi-final bout against St. Gerard’s went to a replay less than a week ago – Castleknock College looked like a spent force as the blue-capped Will Connors jaunted away from the defensive cover for his third try of the game after just 20 minutes. Unfortunately for the North Dublin school, a much anticipated trip to the revamped home of Leinster schools’ rugby was fast becoming an exercise in damage limitation.

From this perspective, Clongowes appear to be the complete package. Up front captain John Molony and converted flanker Donal Mongey were immense at the breakdown – to the point of complete disregard for their own safety, while Connors and Sean McCrohan wrought havoc in the loose at every given opportunity. Even diligent prop Nick Rinklin gave credence to his outlandish claims that he was once an out-half. Having been put through by Johnny Glynn, the German showed sleight of foot to send the Castleknock full-back the wrong way for an impressive score under the posts (some detractors suggested that the defender was merely safeguarding his own well-being…!)

Out wide meanwhile, clean ball on the 4G surface was clearly suiting a classy Clongowes backline. Having settled into the game in the early stages, Glynn was pulling the strings with consummate ease. Within moments, Michael Silvester, Michael McDermott and James Lappin had all exploited gaps in the Castleknock defence and would continue to do so throughout. But despite their efforts, it was McDermott’s centre partner Colm Mulcahy who was making the real mark on fixture. A veteran of two previous senior campaigns, Mulcahy used his experience to bring solidity to proceedings in the first-half, before stretching his legs in the second to claim four tries of his own.

Going into the break 29-3 to the good, with tries from Connors (3), Rinklin and Mongey, Clongowes might have been forgiven for taking their foot off the gas somewhat. However, that would not have been in keeping with Head Coach Noel McNamara’s philosophy. Instead the purple army continued to work hard and ignored the temptation to make glorified individual contributions. For instance, the standard of ball presentation was something to behold, continuously allowing Rowan Osborne to keep his opponents on the back foot. Indeed as soon as Castleknock had picked themselves off the floor following Mulcahy’s first effort three minutes into the second-half, they were back with their hands on knees again as McDermott found his way through following great interplay between McCrohan and Osborne from the subsequent kick-off.

Remarkably, despite the introduction of seven new personnel, the sustained onslaught on the Castleknock line did not relent for the remaining twenty minutes. Having put in a firm shift in the front row (including three scrums against the head), Charlie Carroll was replaced by his namesake Ed who duly helped to win a fourth in his first involvement. The resulting play saw Mulcahy make his way to the try-line for a second time. Four mintues later, replacement No.8 Patrick Nulty fed Mulcahy for his third off the back of a scrum deep into the Castleknock ’22. Although a loose pass from Conor Murray allowed Castleknock in for a consolation score as the game drew to a close, Clongowes still found time to add three further scores through Silvester, Dan O’Leary and Mulcahy (again).

While this rout will have sent out an emphatic statement to their rivals, there nevertheless remains several unanswered questions that will undoubtedly be asked of this Clongowes side at some stage in this competition. However, nobody will fancy their chances against a side in this form whilst oozing quality in the shape of the tremendous trio – Connors, Molony and Mulcahy. As for Castleknock, the Vinnie Murray Cup Final against The King’s Hospital awaits. But they will be back. Of that there is no question. We wish them the very best of luck.

So, as Mr. Tony Pierce departed Donnybrook basking in his re-found fame brought about by this mathematical conundrum, he could be heard to profess in his own distinctive way: “Possunt quia posse videntur” – They can because they seem to be able to. Hopefully the undoubted ability of this crop of Clongownians shines through the rest of this latest assault on the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup.

Team: Michael Silvester, James Lappin, Colm Mulcahy, Michael McDermott, Conor Murray (Fionnan Madden ’65), Johnny Glynn (Joe Murphy ’60), Rowan Osborne (Tom Monaghan ’54), Sean McCrohan (Patrick Nulty ’50), Donal Mongey, Will Connors, Dan O’Mahony, Tim Burke (Jack Moore ’58), Charlie Carroll (Ed Carroll ’50), John Molony (Hugo McDermott ’60), Nick Rinklin (Dan O’Leary ’60)

Focus On: Fergus McFadden

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Castres Olympique match programme (feature article – 17/01/15)

wordpress16

While all eyes over the coming weeks will be on Rounds 5 and 6 of the Champions Cup, there will be plenty of others with their sights set on other competitions with the schools rugby season only weeks away. Fergus McFadden gets it…

“I’ve won Heineken Cups, I’ve played for Ireland, I’ve been to a World Cup; but some of my best rugby memories come from my days in Clongowes. Every kid dreams of playing professionally, I was no different, but back then you’re not playing for personal gain, you’re playing with and for your best mates… and we had some craic!”

When Aurelien Rougerie struggled to compose himself following a shuddering hit against Leinster in a 2010 Heineken Cup clash, the international rugby world stood up with greater assurance and finally took notice of Fergus McFadden. Less than two months later the combative centre/winger was facing the Clermont captain again, this time in the green of Ireland (on his try-scoring home debut) and a remarkable rise to prominence was complete.

It had not always seemed thus for the Kildare man. Though freakishly capable at any sport he threw his hand to, rugby remained a little beyond the means of a diminutive whipper-snapper. A footballing out-half in his first year at Clongowes Wood, McFadden quickly emerged as a prodigious talent. Such potential however was undermined by a fiery temper and small frame to the extent that while coaches yearned to pick him, ultimately they feared for his safety.

We have since learned that they needn’t have bothered.

Overage for Junior Cup rugby in 3rd Year (the date has since changed), it would have been easy for the youngster to opt out of the sport entirely. However, such was McFadden’s competitive conviction that, despite warning, he pushed himself towards the next available stage: the senior ranks.

For two years McFadden toiled away in the lower tiers perfecting skills and falling bigger opponents. Game after game the eyes of the players would light up as McFadden, with an overflowing jersey and scrum-cap in tow, took up his place opposite them. Meanwhile his teammates would look on with great amusement as each gallant competitor was swiftly returned from whence they came.

By the Summer of 2003, McFadden had earned greater notoriety for his classroom antics rather than his rugby prowess. However, he returned the following September with a steely resolve to put that right. Indeed, within moments of the first day of senior trials, McFadden stopped his opposite number dead in his tracks, claimed the loose ball and danced his way through several would-be defenders to the try-line. He was quickly hauled off to great applause. “Things just kind of took off I suppose…”

wordpress14

With Rob Kearney at full-back in a team replete with the dogged determination that had become synonymous with Clongowes sides, McFadden and his peers embarked on a journey that would see them through to the final of 2004. Although Kearney stole the limelight, McFadden was the quiet success of the campaign, quickly becoming a crowd favourite with his now customary aggression. “While there are two sides to the story, that day in Lansdowne is probably the highlight of my schools’ career. To be there at the end of a great season with thousands of people willing us on against one of our greatest rivals is a special memory. Blackrock wore us down in the end and we were obviously disappointed but in the back of my mind I knew I had another year to put it right.” 

With McFadden as vice-captain, allied to the return of several teammates and the introduction of David Kearney, big things were expected of Clongowes in 2004/5. Unfortunately they met a rejuvenated St. Michael’s College at the first hurdle. Despite going into injury-time in the lead, a controversial score put paid to McFadden’s season. “That day and the days that followed were probably the toughest of all my six years in Clongowes. I couldn’t stop thinking about the manner in which we lost. I was absolutely gutted for the group. In the end I had to go home for a few days to clear my head.”

Schools rugby will always celebrate the hero. In recent memory, Gordon D’Arcy (1998), Luke Fitzgerald (2006) and Brendan Macken (2009) have all garnered the acclaim as they guided their school to glory in the Senior Cup. McFadden never had it all his own way. In a tale that echoes that of Roy Keane’s travails, he was always written off for his size, always in someone else’s shadow and never got the just rewards for his efforts. However, McFadden’s fierce determination has seen him rise from the ignominy of a first-round schools defeat to the pinnacle of the game.

“The schools’ system in Leinster is the best in Ireland. It’s quite amazing how so many players are picked up and given the opportunity to experience rugby from a professional perspective. Had it not been in place when I was coming through, I’m not sure if I would be here today.”

Wordpress17

An Overview: Development Cup Finals

As featured in Leinster Rugby v Ulster Rugby match programme (3/01/15)

 

While much focus turned to the schools draws taking place on College Green in early December, four sides had more important matters on the horizon. The Senior and Junior Development Cups recently came to the most exhilarating of conclusions and further proves how far rugby has come in the province.

On Tuesday, December 16th, Scoil Chonglais of Baltinglass and Ardee CS came head-to-head in the Junior final at Donnybrook. Both sides, through the sheer resolve of their coaches, have earned great credit over the past number of years for their steadfast progression.

As recently as 2008, Andy Robb assumed the role of rugby missionary in Ardee CS. While there was a clear sporting hierarchy in place, Robb exhibited a steely resolve to ensure that one day they would field a rugby team. Greatly excited at the prospect, Robb called the first training session but could do little more than inform three obliging individuals about his plans. In time however, and in no small part owing the success of the senior Leinster side, interest levels in Ardee began to rise.

At first, the Ardee squad seemed a little unorthodox: “An eclectic bunch, I’m reminded of the 1992 movie The Might Ducks starring Emilio Estevez, where a group of misfit skaters are put together to form an ice hockey team. This is what presented itself to me; talented footballers, a couple of athletes and a few big lads who just wanted to bash people…” But it was never going to be an overnight venture.

Scoil Chonglais meanwhile have been endeavouring to gain a foothold on the Leinster schools rugby ladder for the past ten years. Through local funding in addition to support from the Leinster Branch and Ireland international Sean O’Brien, the school has been firmly established as a front-runner in the Development Cup, with the recent final being their third appearance in a row at the definitive stage.

The game itself was a testament to the standard of rugby now being played at this level. While finals can often be cagey affairs, the fast paced surface on the newly laid 4G pitch at Donnybrook ensured that this particular game would not descend into a dogfight. Ultimately the contest tested the motivations of the respective sides like no other in that for every point scored by Ardee, a reply swiftly followed. A cracking game undoubtedly impacted on the tiring legs and when Scoil Chonglais (at 20-20) piled on the pressure, pinning Ardee into their own ’22 for a sustained period, something was going to give. A penalty was soon followed by an industrious try saw the Wicklow school claim the spoils in a 30-20 victory.

In the Senior final, it took 140 minutes before Coláiste Chill Mhantáin could finally celebrate their first senior victory following a nip/tuck battle over two fixtures with Dundalk Grammar School. Playing with admirable aggression and cohesion for the second time in a week (the original final resulted in a 28-28 draw), CCM ultimately prevailed despite a lacklustre first-half.

Dundalk were quickest out of the blocks on this occasion when an unfortunate slip allowed for an easy score under the Donnybrook posts in what was their first attack. Dundalk proceeded to dominate the early exchanges, with only some last-ditch defending precluding the Louth school from increasing their lead. However, just as their Wicklow counterparts would do the following day, CCM managed to stay in touch with their foes and their efforts were rewarded with a well-worked team score finished by winger Cal Connolly.

Yet CCM insisted on making life hard for themselves and further mistakes from the restart allowed Dundalk to regain significant territory from which they barged their way over for their second try just five minutes from half-time. Not to be disheartened by a score at a crucial juncture of the game however, CCM sought to put a psychological stamp on the proceedings and a penalty before the break meant that CCM were still in touch with the score poised at 12-8 – a minor victory in itself in light of Dundalk’s clear dominance.

The huge travelling support saw a different Coláiste Chill Mhantáin side return to the field in the second-half. In what was a devastating blow to the Dundalk contingent, CCM completely turned the game on its head when, following a period of sustained pressure, Connolly again dotted down in the corner to capitalise the space provided by a panicked Dundalk defence. The CCM assault was not finished yet either and a quick thinking from scrum-half Mark O’Reilly saw Ben Fleming, make his way to the Dundalk posts from inside his own half.

Dundalk were relentless though and a forced CCM error soon made it a one-point game. Although several mistakes pockmarked their game, CCM must be commended on the way they have responded to setbacks throughout this campaign. Once again, inspired by a loud crowd, CCM laid siege to the Dundalk line and were not prepared to remove themselves without their just rewards. With O’Reilly at the heart of proceedings, steering his team about the park, just enough space was created for captain Fergus Ward to burst through two would-be defenders to score next to the posts.

With enough time remaining on the clock, Dundalk were not ready to capitulate. Yet in their desperation to make amends and reclaim the ball as quickly as possible, the referee deemed there to have been an offence at an immediate breakdown. CCM opted for touch and from the subsequent lineout their diligent pack kept the ball tight before Tom Maguire was released down the corner to effectively kill the tie.

Although Dundalk had one final say, it was all ultimately in vain as Coláiste Chill Mhantáin became champions for the first time on a scoreline of 32 – 24. What a day for the Wicklow men!