Not Quite the Fear of God

Wordpress51

They say that Paul O’Connell shed a few tears when announcing his retirement on Tuesday. Unfortunately he seemed to be leaning over Donnybrook at the time. The day was wet and occasionally windy (we shan’t blame Paulie for that) – but we have seen good rugby served up on worse days.

O’Connell was the Munster master of the pick-and-go and many onlookers assumed this game against CBC Monkstown would be a lengthy tribute to his endeavors. But Clongowes didn’t seem unduly bothered by the conditions. The half-back pairing of Joe Murphy and Tom Monaghan, for instance, began brilliantly. Against The King’s Hospital the young duo allowed the day to pass them by somewhat. In the meantime Mr. Conry must have had a quiet word: carpe diem.

Throughout much of the afternoon Murphy was a pest whom every Monkstown player had to swat. Beside him, Monaghan conducted matters with little fuss. Given the conditions it was quite remarkable how they could be so assured in such pivotal roles, while their snappy distribution had CBC in a kerfuffle from the off. Ben O’Shea was on hand to punish some early ill-discipline (3-0, 2mins).

Although Clongowes’ control was far better than on their last outing, their intrusions into Monkstown territory failed to yield much more than a few groans for much of the half. Indeed on one occasion there was complete disquiet as a mix-up in the midfield saw CBC’s Thomas O’Callaghan hack the ball the length of the field. But for the attentions of Fiachra Lynch, Sean McMahon and the encroaching cameras, Monkstown would have been prospering on the crumbs of Pancake Tuesday in the refectory.

The Dun Laoghaire outfit were proving to be a very charitable side. Almost immediately, as if to encourage a younger brother back into a scary film, they kicked into the hands of Sean McCrohan who lay deep in Clongowes territory. As bemused as any by the tactic, the No.8 duly built up such momentum that many wondered whether it was he who had demolished the Wesley End in recent weeks. Clongowes were buoyed.

McCrohan, Patrick Nulty and Ed Carroll were increasingly to the fore of all that was good for the Jesuits. Indeed it was no surprise to see all three centrally involved when CWC finally breached the whitewash a few moments later. From a 5metre scrum, CBC showed plenty of bravery in stalling McCrohan and others, but now their defence was scurrying across the line in anticipation of further burrowing. Nulty shrewdly opted to set up a maul instead and when the ball landed in Carroll’s clutches, Monkstown’s heads landed in theirs. O’Shea added the extras from the right of the posts (10-0, 30mins).

Having abstained from making any notable inroads into Clongowes territory, CBC showed themselves to be a rather thrifty bunch in their own right. As half-time loomed a sudden flurry of activity saw Clongowes stretched and the rangy full-back Tom Kelly squeezed over for Monkstown in the left corner. The linesman’s apparent confusion suggested that he may have wished to consult the Setanta Sports crew – the referee showed less hesitation. It was a dangerous time to concede (10-5, HT).

With Monkstown’s aspirations enjoying an unexpected jolt, it was crucial that Clongowes didn’t bumper their positivity any further. To that end Jack Moore’s side engaged in a set of half-time drills to ensure that their focus was intact when proceedings resumed. It seemed to have the desired effect. Another McCrohan excursion set the tone. Galloping for the Monkstown line from within his own half, it was unclear whether he evaded numerous tackles, or they evaded him. However, as he bore down on the last few metres his footing failed him and CBC could finally grab a hold. It was a bittersweet moment for the Wood. While O’Shea split the posts with a penalty (13-5, 37mins), McCrohan hobbled from the action with injury.

With the game still poised, it was hoped that McCrohan’s loss would not be felt too keenly. There needn’t have been any doubt. Nulty (who is having a fine season) filled the back-row void and more, giving an exhibition in both the fine and industrious aspects of the game. Jack Moore was not far behind, albeit with less sleight of foot! Fittingly, given the significance of the day, it was Moore who provided the captain’s score on 41mins to finally point Storm Imogen in one direction. O’Shea converted from under the posts and Monkstown began to resemble canvassers removing the posters of their beaten party (20-5, 41mins).

While the try was evidence of Moore’s growing influence on the game he will have been grateful to Ed Carroll for providing him. As the field opens up Carroll prefers to offload to a colleague – but within a certain yardage he can be devastating and his peers feed off his destruction. Having enjoyed the luxury of bigger men in recent years, the mobile pack was a nod to the vintage Clongowes troops of old. Each try was of their making, while their work at the breakdown ensured that not one turnover was conceded all afternoon. In this light it would be remiss not to mention Sean McMahon. The honest flanker is so unobtrusive that you are hardly aware of his presence until he pops up to seal a leak. So unfamiliar was he with the spotlight that accompanied his sealing of the game in the 56th minute that he simply adjusted his scrum-cap and swiftly returned to the comfort of his station. O’Shea’s boot became ever more trustworthy (27-5, 56mins).

While Clongowes’ performance fell far short of O’Connell’s fervent passion for putting the fear of God into opponents, it was pragmatic rugby and it mattered little. For the third year in succession they return to the final four.

 

Clongowes Wood College: Michael Silvester; Fiachra Lynch, Miles O’Connor, Ben O’Shea, Brian Maher; Thomas Monaghan, Joseph Murphy; Joseph Martin, Daniel Sheehan, Edward Carroll; Jack Moore (capt), Florence McCarthy; Patrick Nulty, Sean McMahon, Sean McCrohan.
Replacements: Patrick Celebi for McCrohan 39 mins, Jack Gilheany for Monaghan 56 mins; Monaghan for Gilheany 57 mins; Reinis Lemess for Maher 61 mins; Tadgh Dooley for Sheehan, Arthur Odlum for Martin, Gareth Graham for Carroll, David Jeffares for McCarthy, Joseph Gilmartin for McMahon (all 68).

All Systems Go

wordpress50

At the outset of the school year, teachers across the country enlighten their students with their wisdom. They set out their stall and assure their class that by the close of the summer term they will have them where they want them – but there is always a caveat: “But I can only do so much for you… you will only get there if you want it for yourself. Your year will pass by with a click of your fingers, seize the opportunity!”

It must be a little mystifying for a lot of the boys of Cistercian College Roscrea who featured in that inspiring success last year. Their dream has been and gone and they join the black and white brigade in the stands. Of course their names will resonate through the school corridors now and then, but for the most part they are old news. Now all eyes are trained on those who have taken up the baton and aim to run with it. For Leo Cullen and his team, the hope is that some just keep on running.

It has been an exciting few weeks for schoolboy rugby. Following countless evenings of grunt and graft, the arrival of the cup season has burst a long tunnel wide open. The dirty, wet and miserable evenings in November will test the most resolute of athletes but thankfully, the Leinster Schools’ system shines like a beacon as they raise their heads from the mud.

The vast multitude of those who have the privilege of representing their school this season will harbor ambitions of silverware and hope that it catapults them into the sights of the provincial coaches. Some will prosper; others will regret a lost opportunity. Indeed the dream for many is already over before it has even started. Unfortunately this is the nature of the competitive game – somebody has to lose, but this is arguably the greatest lesson of all.

Given the rising standards of schoolboy rugby across the province, it was perhaps a little surprising that the first round of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup did not provide us with an upset. Aside from The King’s Hospital’s first-half display against Clongowes Wood, teams struggled to live with the intensity, power and experience of the usual culprits.

It is sometimes easy to forget how momentous an occasion each cup match can be. Most of the players taking to Donnybrook will have never experienced anything like it before: the new kit, the fans, the stands, the television cameras and the interviews – a whirlwind insight into the professional rugby world. When cast into the spotlight it is only natural that some players will freeze under the pressure. Others suddenly return to form and thrive. But no matter the outcome, each player should remember that their rugby career need not be defined by a first round loss in the Senior Cup.

The recent elevations of Garry Ringrose and Josh van der Flier to the senior Irish set-up are the purest examples of how far a coalition of hard work and skill can bring you in this province. The possibilities are there should you wish to exploit them. While Ringrose’s calibre was always going impact on the fortunes of his team (he helped guide Blackrock to success in 2013), van der Flier was much less flirtatious with the national headlines on his cup outings with Wesley College. In stark contrast to the laid back attitude of his Dutch heritage, van der Flier did not rest on his laurels. The young flanker acknowledged that his ambitions would have to be chased. Although his endeavors were admired, the general consensus was that he was too small to progress in the game. But this drove van der Flier further still and he set about confounding his critics in assembling the necessary building blocks to bring his skillset to the national stage.

It is very rare for a talented player to pass-by unnoticed. In the current senior squad several members did not enjoy lengthy exposure in the Senior Cup. The likes of Darragh Fanning (St. Mary’s), Mick McGrath (CUS), Dominic Ryan (Gonzaga), James Tracy (Newbridge College), Devin Toner and Marty Moore (both Castleknock) were beneficiaries of a Leinster network that has become a much-envied system throughout Europe. It shows no signs of abating either with eight Leinster players starting against Wales in last week’s U20 Six Nations opener against Wales.

So while there will be deserving winners of the Senior Cup on St. Patrick’s Day in 2016, the real pot of gold may lie in what has brought the competition to that stage. Make sure you don’t miss out!