Monday 23 April 2018

History in making as Kiwi pair face off

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

TOMORROW afternoon, two towns meet in Edenderry intent on creating their own bit of history.

One is known for its GAA and the other its soccer, but thanks to the work of two New Zealanders, they are homing in on Leinster provincial rugby's Holy Grail -- the Newstalk Provincial Towns Cup.

Tullamore and Dundalk may be famous for their contributions to other sports, but rugby has played its part in each town and they both have pedigree in this competition. And recent heartache will spur them on this afternoon.

And it's up to their Kiwi coaches to get the minds right. Both are at different stages of their lives and coaching careers, with Dundalk's player-coach Ene Fa'atau still learning the job and Tullamore's Andy Melville looking to sign-off on a memorable stint in Ireland with one last hurrah.

A former AIL stalwart for Carlow, where he met his wife, Jean, Melville will return home on Monday after a 16-year stint in Ireland. He had a spell at Naas, before coaching Tullamore to the All-Ireland Junior Cup title two years ago, and after successive final defeats to Boyne in the last two years, he wants to sign off on a high.

A career in accountancy awaits, while coaching options are looming for the former back-row forward who was a hard man to stop when playing -- even when he took the field in the final for one last hurrah two years ago.

There will be "definitely no cameos on the weekend," he says, and he'll hope to head straight to the airport from the clubhouse after a famous victory.

"I've been here 16 years, I came to Ireland to originally to play rugby and experience playing rugby in Ireland. I happened to know a friend who knew a friend who could get me into Ireland and it was the usual story, I met a woman and never really went back."

As a rampaging No 8, the New Zealander was part of Co Carlow's rise through the ranks and as a coach he has had success at both Naas and Tullamore.

When he casts his eyes across the dugouts to his opposite number, he might see some similarities.

A Wellington native who played Sevens for Samoa and featured for the midweek side during international tours without ever being fully capped, Fa'atau pitched up to De La Salle, Palmerstown six years ago.

competitive

After a few seasons in Division 2 of the AIL, he was offered the chance to become player-coach at Dundalk and moved to the border town in 2008.

Since he took over, they reached the last two Towns Cup semi-finals, but were beaten by Melville's Tullamore on both occasions. This year they have avoided their nemeses until the final and the big ball-carrying back-row expects his side to be more competitive.

"Now that we've made it to the final, it's a new experience. Our form this year and our experience is good, the way we've gotten through games. I know we've lost to them, but we're more excited that we're in the final and we can push on and win the thing," he said.

If they reign supreme, they will be the first Dundalk team since 1987 to do so. It's a long time to wait for the fourth most successful team in the competition's history and the dust is gathering on the pennants and photos on the walls of the clubhouse.

Fa'atau may be an outsider, but he's well aware of what it would mean to take the Towns Cup back to Mill Road.

"There's a lot of history behind the Towns Cup, what it means to the town itself and the club," he said. "The people that are affiliated with the club, who are a part of the club. There was a lot of success early on, maybe 30, 40 years ago and that's dried up.

"It's definitely a motivation for us to write our own piece of history and that's something that motivates us, that we can be the first boys to win it in 24 years.

"It's incredible just to see what it means to the boys. I'm from the outside, but from the way people talk, the look in the eyes shows how much it means to them to be in the final. It's good for the competition."

Irish Independent

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