Ashbourne dare to dream of AIL after double joy
It has been a hugely successful season for Ashbourne. Last Sunday they claimed the Towns Cup for the first time in their history, to add to the league title they also won this year.
To crown it all, the Meath club went through their entire season undefeated, winning all 20 of their games.
Extra-time was needed to separate Ashbourne from Kilkenny in the Towns cup final, but according to player-coach Jeff Mahon his side always felt that their superior fitness would count in the latter stages.
"We were building ourselves up for a very tight game beforehand. We knew that there'd only be a score in it," he said.
At the end of normal time it was 3-3; that wasn't exactly going to get the pulse racing and Mahon admits that nerves played a huge factor in the final.
"I think both sets of players let the occasion get to them to be honest. The weather didn't help either," he said.
"We had two players put in the sin-bin which really killed our flow. With all those aspects having a major say on the game, it became very stop start, which probably wasn't great for the crowd.
"We felt our fitness would come through in extra-time, though. We knew that once we got our second breath that we could kick on."
Kiwi Paul Morris was Ashbourne's hero – it was his kick on the stroke of half-time in extra-time that turned out to be the winning score.
Mahon (43), who featured in the 1999 side that lost the Towns Cup final against Navan, has been both a key player on the pitch and an important voice on the sideline this season. He knows just how much this means.
"We've been playing in the competition for 15 years and next year is our 40th year in existence, so it really is very special. Not winning a Towns Cup is a monkey that we wanted to get off our backs for a long time," he said.
"We spoke it at the start of the season. We knew that we had a squad of players who were good enough and committed enough to win it."
To go all the way in the Cup is one achievement, but to also win the league and go through the season unbeaten is something that Mahon never believed was possible.
"It really is unthinkable what we have done this year. It's a phenomenal achievement to win all 20 of our games. Our seconds team have lost one game, while the thirds have been beaten twice this season, so there really is a massive buzz around the club. We nailed our intentions down during pre-season meetings, but no one could ever have dreamt we would have this much success."
Ashbourne will play in Division 1A of the Leinster League next season, and one step further would lead them to the AIL – the holy grail of Irish club rugby. Despite that being a long-term ambition of most junior clubs, Mahon maintains that Ashbourne are still some way off being able to compete at that level.
"It's Catch 22 with the next step. We'll be competing for the AIL ranks which would change the club completely – especially in terms of finances. We need the strike the right balance in what we want to achieve. We're looking forward but at the same time, I don't know if we're right for the AIL just yet.
"Some day we'd love to get there but there are structures in place that we're following. It needs to be a stepping stone rather than a leap of faith."
All of that comes further down the line. For now, Ashbourne and Mahon can enjoy what the most successful season in the club's history.
Irish Independent Supplement