Hogan raises toast to hail Mary's spirit
ST MARY'S 23
YOUNG MUNSTER 19
Ulster Bank AIL Division 1a
WHEN Hugh Hogan finally made it into the sanctuary of the tunnel at Templeville Road on Saturday, an hour had passed since full-time, the blood on the nose he broke in last week's win over Clontarf had dried and an empty bottle of champagne dangled nonchalantly from his right hand.
Trevor Brennan would approve.
The No 8 had earlier followed the Leinster, Ireland and Toulouse legend into local folklore, becoming the second man in royal blue to lift the All-Ireland League trophy after a day of incredible drama as the momentum swung back and forth between St Mary's and Clontarf.
"I don't think I will go on and have the same career Trevor had after he won it here, but I'm delighted to do it and I'm hugely proud," Hogan said.
Peter Smyth's men left it late to claim this one and, had Mark Sexton not crossed for a try in the closing stages, then the tears that flowed would have been of a different kind and the trophy would have been making its way to Lansdowne Road, where Clontarf had left it late to beat Lansdowne.
Sexton -- younger brother of Jonny, who was waiting in the dressing-room to congratulate him at the end -- was the hero, coming off the bench to score the two tries that finally saw off a dogged Young Munster team. Despite being reduced to 14 men after five minutes, the Limerick men did everything they could to spoil the party.
Although they trailed by 13-0 at one point, the Dubliners kept their composure and ground their way back. They were slow starters to the season and, having recovered to go into this clash as league leaders, they drew on that experience here.
"It is a hugely tough league," Hogan acknowledged. "I know there is talk about the play-offs and whether doing away with them is the right thing to do, but I don't know. The format there is so tough. To go and win 15 out of 18 games is really tough because the standard is so high.
"We put ourselves under pressure early on by losing two out of the first three matches, and then we won 14 out of 15, so it is a big achievement."
Having done the hard work last week by beating Clontarf at Castle Avenue, Mary's knew that they simply needed to better the northsiders' result at Lansdowne to take the title. It was easier said than done.
Despite referee Peter Fitzgibbon's harsh decision to red card winger Darragh O'Neill for a tip-tackle after just five minutes, Young Munster tore up the script in their traditional style, holding on to the ball and keeping the scoreboard ticking over through Willie Staunton's kicks and a Ger Slattery try from a line-out maul.
"It was funny because Matt D'Arcy's last words on the team meeting on Thursday night were 'we'll probably be down 13 points under our own posts'," coach Smyth said. "The big message he got out there was belief.
"Munsters don't do easy. On the sideline we knew we were in trouble a number of times, but all credit to the lads because they never gave up."
Gavin Dunne clawed back a penalty to make it 13-3 at half-time as the visitors were reduced to 13 when James O'Neill was sin-binned. But Mary's couldn't take advantage and lost a further three points to a Staunton penalty.
A loose box-kick from Munster Academy scrum-half Brian Haugh gave them their lifeline. It ended up bouncing back behind the gainline into the hands of Stephen Bradshaw. He rumbled towards the line and, after two phases, Sexton spotted a mismatch with second-row Neville Melbourne and crossed the line.
As news filtered through of a classic at Lansdowne and an impending 'Tarf turnaround, the imperative was to win, but it was Young Munster who struck again, with Staunton adding a penalty.
But St Mary's never panicked. Dunne brought them into range with two penalties and, after D'Arcy had been bundled into touch, they eventually got over the line with Sexton the hero, just six weeks after suffering a stress fracture to his hip and putting off surgery to play his part.
"The team who wins this league has to be one hell of a team," Cookies coach Mike Prendergast said. "Over 18 games, with squads not as big as they used to be... hats off to Mary's, they deserve to win the league."
ST MARY'S -- G Dunne (C Lilly 80); D Hudson, S Grissing, M O'Driscoll (M Sexton 44), C Hogan; P Brophy, M D'Arcy; C McMahon, Richard Sweeney, Robert Sweeney; D Hall, S Bradshaw; B O'Flanagan (C Ruddock 25), G Austin, H Hogan (capt).
YOUNG MUNSTER -- D Bannon; M Doyle, A Burke, R Maloney (C O'Hanlon 77), D O'Neill; W Staunton, B Haugh (A Carroll 55); G Flaherty, G Slattery (G Burke 74), H McGrath; N Melbourne (S Duggan 65), S O'Neill (capt); L Og Murphy, J O'Neill, M Rowley.
REF -- P Fitzgibbon (IRFU).