Fanning on hand to ease St Mary's woe
DEFENDING champions St Mary's College took a major step in their battle to avoid relegation from Division 1A with a decisive victory over Clontarf at Templeville Road.
While their dreams of retaining the title have faded, St Mary's can still play an important part in the remainder of the campaign. On this form, they look capable of taking plenty of important scalps as they bid to move towards the top half of the table.
Clontarf, the side they pipped to become champions last season, just couldn't find a way through their defence.
The only try of a hard-fought game was scored by St Mary's right-wing Darragh Fanning just before half-time. Fanning has made a timely return to the club after spells with Connacht and in Australia.
He showed his blistering pace to run in from 40 metres after scrum-half Matthew D'Arcy had elected to run a penalty. Left-wing Steven Toal Lennon landed the conversion to give St Mary's a 7-3 interval advantage.
Clontarf could manage only a penalty from Richie Lane when playing with the wind in the first half. Toal Lennon then kicked a penalty to extend St Mary's advantage to 10-3 early in the second period.
Substitute Gavin Dunne further added to Clontarf's difficulties with two more penalties before Clontarf applied considerable pressure in the final quarter. But a combination of good St Mary's defence and poor finishing stopped the visitors from coming away with a losing bonus point.
St Mary's coach Hugh Hogan believes that their recent Leinster Senior League Cup final success over Lansdowne gave them an important boost.
"To win a trophy is always a confidence boost," he said. "This was another important step. Our attitude today was brilliant.
"We've worked hard on our defence and I think it showed. Our aim now is to keep winning and move up the table. We are also involved in the All-Ireland Cup, so that's another target."
Clontarf remain in fifth spot but they are now 11 points adrift of the two leaders, Lansdowne and Garryowen.
Their coach, Andy Wood, wasn't at all surprised to see the improvement shown by St Mary's.
"I was hoping today wouldn't be the day when they came back into the sort of form we know they are capable of. They were always going to do that at some stage," he said.
"We prepared well. We also played a bit of rugby but they shut us down. The better defensive side won the day.
"It was frustrating. The penalty count was huge against us but we definitely had the territory to have at least come away with a losing bonus point."
St Mary's – C Hogan; D Fanning, M O'Driscoll, R Hudson, S Toal Lennon; P Brophy, M D'Arcy; J McGrath, D Fawsitt, R Sweeney; S Bradshaw, J Sexton; C Ruddock, G Austin, K Sheahan.
Reps: C McMahon, A Lyons, D Keller, G Dunne, R Glynn.
Clontarf – D Fitzpatrick; R Lane, R Myron, E Ryan, T McCoy; M D'Arcy, D Shanahan; R Burke Flynn, C O'Flynn, T Furlong; B Reilly, C O'Keeffe; M Garvey, A D'Arcy, F Cogan. Reps: D Merrey, J Larbey, S Crawford, S Cronin, K Lett.
Ref – P Haycock.