There is a growing myth that implies that as the boys of Cistercian College Roscrea approach the Red Cow, they lapse into the language of their nursery:
We smell the blood of Leinster men!
Within moments of this bruising encounter it was clear that while Jack had scaled the beanstalk, he would have to navigate the Giant. Unfortunately, on this occasion Jack failed to return home with the spoils.
Throughout the history of the Leinster Schools’ Senior Cup, rugby in Roscrea has been like a dormant volcano. For many years we all wondered whether it would ever erupt. There was the odd spurt (Gavin Duffy led their foray into upper echelons of 1999 while Clongowes’ Conor Gilsenan ended their challenge at the final hurdle in 2011), but just as everyone expected their dormancy to be restored, all of a sudden lava, fire and brimstone comes pouring out… not to mention their front-row.
While the scales never quite balanced, there were times when the balance of this semi-final seemed to have tilted. However, the team that found itself at the wrong end of the scoreline refused to die. For Clongowes this would be just the final 10 minutes. It was unfortunate that they didn’t have 11.
Despite comprehensive victories in the previous rounds, Jack Moore and his troops faced into an uphill battle on Tuesday. Roscrea, with several members of the victorious 2015 squad in tow, were installed as favourites to return to the RDS. Indeed it was the first time in recent memory that a Clongowes side was precluded from performing under such heightened expectations at this stage. It seemed to suit them.
Roscrea’s aficionados – including a strong contingent of past-pupils keen to catch a glimpse of their fabled side – were conspicuous by their absence from the choruses in the opening half, as “No Noise from the Tractor Boys” rang out at the Bective end. A bright Clongowes opening had Roscrea’s machines chasing shadows for long periods. Having opened their account early on, the Kildare school were in the ascendancy and there was an air of inevitability when Dan Sheehan drove through the defence following a 15th minute line-out. After several subsequent jabs, Joe Murphy opted to swing left where Michael Silvester lay in wait. Silvester’s plundering duly awakened the Giant.
You couldn’t blame the Clongowes forwards if they felt like the diligent student whose industry went for naught because the big bully at the back wanted it so. Following Silvester’s contribution, Clongowes were bludgeoned on their line for over five minutes. To hold out for so long was an extraordinary exhibition of determination. Those watching could feel every hit, hold and McMahon chop – it was a tiring spectacle. But Roscrea’s experience taught them to be patient. When Dylan Murphy finally bored a hole, Clongowes gasped for air. Roscrea would return to this tactic.
While Clongowes were fully deserving of their 13-5 lead a half-time (Ben O’Shea added a further penalty before the break), the gusting wind allied to Roscrea’s penchant for territory suggested that the Wood had not yet landed the telling blow. Crucially, although Clongowes continued to be much the brighter after the restart, Roscrea were never out of reach. Eoghan Maher, their bestubbled hooker, made this eminently clear when he pounced on a loose ball to race through the Clongowes midfield prompting mass panic. A few phases later and it was a one-point game, with twenty minutes on the clock.
In considering a powerful forward unit one must bear in mind an oft-neglected truth: their mental health is bound up with the play of the men behind them – and in Alan Tynan, Roscrea had a director that could swing an Oscar for the Hunger Games. Tynan, a minor footballer for Tipperary, was beginning to pull the strings and kick the corners.
Another talented sportsman is Clongowes’ Fiachra Lynch. When he found himself at the end of a move that made it 18-12, it seemed to be a fitting reward for someone who was so crucial to Clongowes’ historic trophy haul on the soccer field last year. But a five-point advantage at Old Trafford is a world away from the same at Donnybrook.
Roscrea knew exactly what they had to do. Frustratingly, everyone else knew it too – only a pack of these dimensions are essentially unplayable. The next five minutes had the game turn on its head. A lineout deep in Clongowes territory had Michael Milne crash over and this was quickly compounded by a sublime Tynan kick that saw Roscrea return from whence they came. The ensuing maul had Brian Diffley land over the line and the added extras put a crucial 6-point gap between the teams. This would prove to be one jaunt too far for a gallant Clongowes.
It was a gargantuan effort from Brett Igoe’s charges, epitomised by the sight of a hurting Ed Carroll take on the ball with one leg as he sought to save the day in the dying moments. They were exhausted as they departed the field to mourn. They had given it their all. Sadly, this tale will recount that Jack was forced to retreat down the beanstalk without a bag of gold, but nevertheless his side have gained a bagful of much more valuable riches.
CLONGOWES WOOD COLLEGE:
M Silvester; F Lynch, M O’Connor, B O’Shea, R Lemess; T Monaghan, J Murphy; J Martin, D Sheehan, E Carroll; J Moore, F McCarthy; P Nulty, S McMahon, D Jeffares.
A Kelly for Jeffares (42), T Dooley for Sheehan, G Graham for Martin, B Maher for Monaghan (all 66).