Old Belvedere came through an extraordinary final Division 1A match against St Mary’s College at Anglesea Road on Saturday to make certain of a home semi-final in the All Ireland League.
They will now face Division 1B winners Clontarf at the same venue on Saturday week, with the holders Cork Constitution taking on Young Munster at Temple Hill in the other semi-final.
The big losers are St Mary’s. After spending virtually the entire season in the top three, last year’s beaten finalists were pipped on the final day for third spot in the table by Young Munster. St Mary’s just couldn’t get the job done, losing their final three games.
If they had started a bit better on Saturday, things might have been different. They were 20 points down after 26 minutes, having conceded three tries.
But, inspired by out-half Ian McKinley, who scored two brilliant tries, they reduced the deficit to 20-19 by the midway stage of the second half. An increasingly exciting match then could have gone either way before the Old Belvedere No 8 Leo Auva’a settled matters with yet another spectacular individual effort in the final minute.
Coach Phil Werahiko will realise that Old Belvedere must show more consistency if they are to beat Clontarf and go on to win the trophy. But at least the confidence returned after failing to win either of their two previous games.
They played some excellent rugby to cross for three well worked tries through full-back Danny Riordan and wings Dave Mongan and Eddie Devitt in the opening half hour. With out-half Conal Keane adding a conversion and a penalty to make it 20-0, there seemed no way back for St Mary’s.
But the Templeville Road outfit came to life before the interval, McKinley weaving his way through the Old Belvedere defence for a try which fullback Gavin Dunne converted.
St Mary’s took full advantage of a sin-binning for Keane early in the second half, prop Robert Sweeney and McKinley crossing for tries, one of which McKinley converted to reduce the deficit to 20-19.
Suddenly the comeback was on, especially when Old Belvedere had scrumhalf Simon Keogh yellow-carded with 10minutes left.
But St Mary’s then saw their No 9 David Campbell sin-binned and Auva’a made certain of an Old Belvedere victory when running in from near halfway for a try in the final minute.
Werahiko, having spent six successful seasons coaching Clontarf, knows they will provide tough semi-final opposition.“We very nearly beat St Mary’s in the semi-final last season after qualifying out of Division 1B,” he said. “Clontarf are a much improved side and I would anticipate a really hard game.”
OLD BELVEDERE – D Riordan; E Devitt, J Kennedy, B Woods (K Barden 66), D Mongan; C Keane (A Dunne 66), S Keogh; V Soden, D Gilchrist (K Buckley 57), S Maguire, D Moore, R Leyden, J Slattery (E Jackman 64), J Rison, L Auva’a.
ST MARY’S – G Dunne (P Brophy 44); D Hudson, S Grissing, M Sexton, R Doherty; I McKinley, D Campbell; J McGrath, D Kilbride, R Sweeney, C Ruddock, D Hall (S Bradshaw 38), K Sheahan, P Nash (Capt), H Hogan.
REF – S McDowell.