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Getting 'hammered' at Stephen's Day massacre

THEY say university days are the best of your life but the UCC 1990-94 experience seemed to be a three-pronged combination of evasion (lectures), rejection (dance floor) and humiliation (rugby).

It was a less than vintage period for UCC RFC, emphasised by the annual St Stephen's Day fixture with Cork Constitution in Temple Hill -- a festive fling-about in front of a huge, well-watered crowd that would only keep half an eye on the game.

Tradition had it that both teams would throw the ball around and College would give their hosts a rattle before Con pulled away towards the end. However, UCC were so dire in that early 1990s period, the fixture was dubbed 'The Stephen's Day Massacre'.

For three years in-a-row, College gave out tries like Santy at a shopping centre and a factor in this student accommodation was undoubtedly the mental states of both sides. While St Stephen's Day is a not a noted night out in the capital, in Cork it is arguably the social occasion of the year.

The majority of the Con men were responsible adults with jobs and families, but the students were feckless and proud of it and this match was regarded as something to be endured before the night could be enjoyed.

Consequently, several College coaches were driven to the point of despair and, in 1993, one such unfortunate, after overhearing a dressing room conversation between the College second-rows, reached snapping point.

"For God's sake," he roared, "ye're going out to play Con in five minutes and all I hear is fellahs asking who has a free gaff, does anyone have the new 'Snap' CD and who's going to buy the plastic cups ... " (Con won 63-12 but it was a hell of a night in Morro's gaff, although Tuohy arrived late with the cups.)

That was far from the only embarrassment during that period. There was another game in Lansdowne Road which ended Wanderers 72 UCC 3 (K O'Brien 1 pen) -- College kicker Kevin O'Brien is still referred to as 'One Pen' -- and UCC were also responsible for one of the greatest days in the history of Thurles RFC.

The Tipperary men were a junior club in 1992 and gained a special invitation to participate in the Munster Senior Cup. College were expected to destroy them in Thomond, but Thurles triumphed, courtesy of a couple of John Lillis kicks, and the occasion is still enshrined in their clubhouse while in UCC, it is referred to as 'Black Saturday' -- or not at all.

The situation improved once that team graduated and dispersed to spread its mediocrity around the nation's various All-Ireland league clubs. UCC recovered to bring through some prodigious talent in the mid-to-late 1990s with Dominic Crotty, John Kelly, Peter Stringer, Frankie Sheahan and Mick O'Driscoll all wearing the skull and crossbones with distinction.

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And in 1999, College had their most famous day when they landed the European Students Cup and were brought back to Lansdowne Road to be presented to the full house present for Ulster's Heineken Cup final victory over Colomiers. This season they are going well again in Division 2 of the AIB League and should be in the hunt for promotion this spring.

It is unlikely the current crop of players will have heard much about that College team of the early 1990s -- there aren't any photographs or trophies to gaze at and that side is never referred to directly, unless it is as a cautionary tale to motivate players to train harder.

But Con and UCC still run out in Temple Hill on St Stephen's Day and, next Friday, huddled at the back of the terrace, will be a group of survivors drinking out of plastic cups and reminiscing about the massacres of yore. Christmas wouldn't be the same without it ...

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