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!