Triumphant U-18s end Leinster stranglehold
Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30
The Munster U-18 Clubs side, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, beat Connacht 35-17 in the Interpro decider last Saturday afternoon to claim the title for the first time in 13 years at the Sportsground.
It is just the fourth time Munster have won the competition in 21 years as they broke Leinster's seven-year stranglehold on the trophy (Ulster and Leinster were joint-winners in 2008/09).
Quite the achievement then for the young squad that was drawn together from clubs all over the province.
Munster rugby development officer Brendan O'Connor led the team as head coach and he was delighted with the high standard his squad set in completing the clean sweep.
"The quality of player I've seen coming through clubs has improved massively so it's a credit to the clubs," said O'Connor.
"The lads played with confidence and they back themselves and we never questioned what we were doing, we had confidence in what we were doing and just went out there and did it.
"It was all about the attitude of the players.
"We met in CIT last December and had a chat with the lads and we had a squad of around 40 players so we had to narrow that down to 26, which was a tough task.
"We trained alongside the schools team throughout the summer programme in Rockwell, it was great that way because we could benchmark fellas off each other.
"The quality of some of the clubs and schools players is superb, I think that gulf between clubs and schools has narrowed massively and the clubs are producing a good quality player now with a good skill-set."
The campaign started with a tough trip to Ulster and things looked bleak for O'Connor's side at the break as they trailed 14-3.
However, a stunning second-half comeback saw Munster win 19-14 and take their first step towards the title.
After the Ulster win came the formidable challenge of Leinster at Thomond Park, a side that Munster hadn't beaten at this level for eight years. A 15-3 win followed, though, as momentum began to build.
Playing an expansive style of rugby that requires good skills, the campaign culminated in a brilliant five-try win over Connacht in the title decider.
"They'd give you a heart attack at some times the way they play the game but it's great because they try things," says ex-Munster and Connacht flanker O'Connor.
"I always said to them, when you play with a smile on your face, that's number one. And after that, when you enjoy it, you'll start to buy into it. If you don't play with a smile on your face and you don't enjoy it, that's when you won't get performances."
There were certainly plenty of smiles after last Saturday's title-clinching performance at the Sportsground as this year's crop joined the class of 1996, 20001 and 2004 in winning the U-18 Clubs Interprovincial title.