As featured in the Leinster Rugby v Bath match programme (16/01/16)
Wednesday, February 11th 2015: A date that will live long in the memory of all those associated with Cistercian College Roscrea. As news from Donnybrook emerged, past-pupils from yester-yesteryear sent out their homing pigeons to contact old pals while those in closer vicinities met for a celebratory pint. Blackrock College’s season had just gone down the Swanepoel and onlookers were finally beginning to believe the hype.
“Knocking that Blackrock side out of the competition gave the team a massive boost of confidence,” Roscrea captain Tim Foley revealed when asked to reflect on a momentous year. “Given their history and how tough they always are to play against, coming out on top in that battle was psychologically huge at a critical point of the season and it really set us up for the rest of the campaign.”
From his berth at inside centre, Foley was at the fulcrum of a side that boasted several notable contributors under the auspices of their coach Pieter Swanepoel. Alongside Foley, the likes of Dylan Travers, Dylan Murphy, Tim Carroll and Alan Tynan all added to a legitimate claim to the Leinster title. However, even from the dizzying heights of a semi-final, many still felt that CCR’s romantic adventure would crumble, an assumption founded largely upon an apparent failure to address their unconvincing form for much of the early season – including a loss to Newbridge College in the league final. “It was frustrating because we just weren’t where we wanted to be as a team,” Foley explains. “Despite having the personnel we were performing quite poorly in terms of results. We badly needed to sharpen our focus post-Christmas. I think we achieved that.”
As fate tends to have it, Newbridge awaited Foley’s men in the semi-final of the cup. Having earned much praise for the manner of their victory over Blackrock, Roscrea were quickly installed as favourites for the tie – not that the Kildare men took any notice. Indeed Newbridge very nearly gave CCR a taste of their own medicine in the final moments of the 8-8 draw on March 4th, before also taking the replay to the death five days later. It was a steep learning curve for the Roscrea men. While they had prevailed against all the odds in the previous round, the semi-final bouts provided the real test of their character.
March 17th doesn’t often feature in Roscrea’s fixture calendar. In the competition’s 128year history, the school had contested (and lost) four finals. But despite history weighing heavily upon their young shoulders, Foley suggests that his troops were unperturbed by the task at hand. “We were incredibly relaxed. I think it was important that we decided to travel from the school on the day of the game. This meant that we could maintain the same routine in the lead-up to the final and not build it up too much for ourselves. On the morning we gathered for breakfast, a prayer and then we enjoyed a pre-match meal before hopping on the bus to Dublin.”
To Belvedere College’s peril, Swanepoel’s charges reserved their best performance of 2015 for the biggest stage. Foley was particularly instrumental in converting a Travers try, creating one for Daniel Keane and adding two penalties to secure a deserved 18-11 win.
Victory over Belvedere College that afternoon is indicative of the developing rugby programme in the Roscrea. As Foley demonstrates: “Back when I was in first year we would have been delighted if one of our teams qualified for the cup. I think there’s a lot of expectation now, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The whole mindset of the place has changed and this was coupled with a step-up in the quality of our gymwork, our skills, our attitude towards nutrition and our recovery. While the lads coming through mightn’t thank us, we’re no longer a surprise package, but despite a few injuries I still see them getting a few results this year.”
The extraordinary thing about the Roscrea side of 2015 is that they will probably never be perceived as one of the great schoolboy sides – perhaps they are not, but they must be about the best middling side of them all. Not that Foley is concerned. “Obviously it was an amazing day and an unforgettable experience, but one of the things that actually stands out for me is when Tim Carroll went up to collect his medal. He hadn’t put a foot wrong all day and ended up falling onto the stage.” Photographers inevitably captured the awkward moment but in preying on Carroll’s misfortune all that is great about schools rugby was simultaneously revealed – a bunch of fun-loving friends having just realised a life-long ambition. Bring on the 2016 edition!