On Wednesday April 21st, a warm spring day, the Senior Seconds headed to Naas RFC to finally play their long awaited League final.
The College had hoped to keep the momentum going from their previous rounds but the Easter break meant a delay in the fixture. With wins over Terenure, St. Mary’s and Blackrock, confidence was high but St. Gerard’s, the day’s opposition, would be no pushovers.
From the kickoff St. Gerard’s made their intentions clear. With an arcing run from their centre he rounded two Newbridge players and it took the quick feet of Cathal Maguire to scoop up the chip ahead and kick to the safety of touch. From the resulting lineout St. Gerard’s put together some good phases of play and edged closer to the College line. With the clock on 5 minutes and after some good forward recycling they decided to spin the ball wide and despite the best efforts of Will O’Brien, St. Gerard’s managed to touch down in the right corner. The conversion attempt was less than convincing and with 6 minutes gone it was 5-nil to St. Gerard’s. This was only the sixth try conceded by the College in competition this season. This early blow seemed to shock the College into action and with 9 minutes gone captain Ben O’Connor weaved his way through the Gerard’s defense and offloaded to Ronan O’Neachtain who carried to just outside the Gerard’s 22. The College were starting to show signs of what they were capable of. After an early steal in the lineout by Gerard’s, James Doyle returned the favour with 13 minutes gone and from the resulting play the College were awarded a penalty which Maguire dispatched deep into the Gerard’s half. Tight play followed but on 16 minutes Michael Brown attacked the opposition backline and popped to Darragh McConville who was supporting him on his left. McConville saw the line just 15 metre ahead but a great cover tackle saw him bundled into touch just short. Although they secured possession from this lineout, St. Gerard’s conceded a penalty shortly after and it would be Newbridge who would had the throw 5 metres from the Gerard’s line. A perfect throw from hooker Charlie Kings was matched by a great catch from O’Brien, with the help of lifters Finnian Logan and Dan Tinsley. Cameron Dempsey came on a looping run from the front of the line to collect from O’Brien and crashed through the Gerard’s defense to score a try. Maguire slotted the conversion to make it 7-5 to the College with 19 minutes gone.
From the restart, St Gerard’s were awarded a penalty which they decided to kick for goal. This attempt was not successful and was followed by another blow for the Bray team 2 minutes later. As the College pushed forward the referee blew sharply on his whistle at a ruck. Immediately he called the Gerard’s hooker and showed him a yellow card for something off the ball. The 7 minutes of the sin-bin were very tight and the College found it hard to break down the 14 players of Gerard’s. This period saw Maguire and the Gerard’s kicker trade penalties, on 25 and 28 minutes respectively, to leave the score 10-8. This is how it would stay until half-time.
The second half started with the College being awarded a penalty following early pressure. Unfortunately, Maguire saw his effort pass both posts and drift wide. Just a minute later, the College management was forced to make their first change. With Brown injured a decision had to made. This saw O’Neachtain move to first centre and John Jennings come off the bench to slot in at out-half. More pressure from the College up front saw David Quirke and Dempsey, among others, gain yards from a series of controlled pick and drives. One such drive saw Gerard’s concede a penalty on 42 minutes. With the ball some 30 metres out and 10 metres from the right touchline Maguire decided to have a go at the posts. A good strike saw the ball head straight for the right post but at the last second it turned left and the College stretched their lead to 13-8. Gerard’s cut the College lead back to two points with a penalty conversion of their own on 44 minutes. As the College set up for the restart a second change was made. David Moynihan came on for McConville on the wing. St. Gerard’s secured the restart and pushed towards the middle of the field. They then spun the ball to their centre to try and beat the College out wide. This was met with fierce opposition and a bone-shaking tackle from O’Connor. He then ensured the College were awarded a kickable penalty by getting back on his feet, competing for the ball and forcing the Gerard’s ball-carried to hold on on the ground. As the support players merged on the breakdown area however, a scuffle broke out. The referee had seen enough and called one player from each side and Tinsley and the Gerard’s towering second row saw yellow. As they walked to the line the referee decided to reverse the penalty and Gerard’s relieved the pressure. This seemed to give the Wicklow side some encouragement and they started to get some dominance. A series of penalties at the breakdown saw them secure themselves in the College half. On 54 minutes they decided to kick for goal with one of these and in doing so secured a one point lead, 14-13. A tough blow for the College who had led for 35 minutes and had the lion-share of the second half possession, but rather than drop their heads they come out at the restart determined not to let the game slip away. A massive effort both in attack and defense would follow. Mark Crowe, scrum-half, heaped pressure on the opposition at scrum time and at the breakdown.
The College attacked left, then attacked right, then left again but the Gerard’s defensive line coped very well with all the pressure. One particular attack saw O’Connor felled just before he could offload to Jake O’Connor, running support on the wing. If J. O’Connor had received, there was space for him to make it to the try line. The College would though, have to worry about what might have been later. With 10 minutes to go Gerard’s pushed up the right but knocked-on. The ball was hacked forward by Moynihan into open space. B. O’Connor and Moynihan gave chase. O’Connor grabbed the ball on the Gerard’s 10 metre line, after a wicked bounce deceived the Gerard’s winger. The winger did manage to tackle O’Connor but an offload to Moynihan would have seen him touchdown unopposed under the posts. The winger however, following his tackle, prevented the offload illegally. A penalty was given to the College on 61 minutes and the Gerard’s winger became the fourth player to make the walk to the sin-bin. Sadly, Maguire couldn’t punish St. Gerard’s further and the score remained 14-13 to the Bray side. Continued pressure for the sin-bin period saw the College earn a lineout just inside the Gerard’s half with 3 minutes left. A great take and pop from Andrew Cronin was followed by Crowe getting his backline moving. As Cronin lay in pain with a twisted knee, the College attacked down the left. Maguire came into the line from full-back and chipped through only to be blocked from collecting the ball. The referee immediately blew for a penalty in a very kickable position. However, Maguire lay flat on the ground, winded. He picked himself up but decided not to take the kick. Up stepped Jennings to take over the kicking duties. With no sign of any pressure, and seemingly oblivious of the significance of the kick, he calmly slotted the kick to put the College two point up with 2 minutes to go. St. Gerard’s charged back but the College cemented their defense and kept them out of their 22. A knock-on by Gerard’s was picked up by Moynihan and a ruck formed. Crowe set himself at the base of the ruck, questioned the time with the referee, picked and kicked the ball to the clubhouse. A sharp blow on the whistle followed and the celebrations began. 16-14 to the College. A long year of rugby was over and the College were Senior Seconds League (Division 1) Champions. Ben O’Connor, who ably led his troops all season but particularly well in the closing stages of the final, had the honour of lifting the Cup for the first time in the College’s history. A great achievement by all involved. It would be wrong to single out any one player as man of the match. A fine team performance was the key to the day. Commiserations to St. Gerard’s.
Many thanks to all who supported us and came to see us play at home and away throughout the season.
Senior Seconds Team: David Quirke, Charlie Kings, Cameron Dempsey, Andrew Cronin, James Doyle, Finnian Logan, Dan Tinsley, William O’Brien, Mark Crowe, Ronan O’Neachtain, Darragh McConville, Michael Brown, Ben O’Connor, Jake O’Connor, Cathal Maguire. Subs: Conor Sheridan, Ross Geoghegan, Niall Carey, Ciaran Fagan, Cathal Murtagh, John Jennings, David Moynihan.