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).