Sunday 20 January 2019

Memorable moments on 'surreal' day for Glenstal

Club Focus: Glenstal Abbey

Glenstal Abbey players celebrate their Munster Schools Senior Cup win. Photo: INPHO
Glenstal Abbey players celebrate their Munster Schools Senior Cup win. Photo: INPHO

Declan Rooney

The 109 years of the Munster Senior Schools Cup is littered with Cork wins and currently Presentation Brothers and Christians Brothers are tied on 29 wins each, but last week saw a new paragraph of that history written as Glenstal Abbey earned their first senior cup win.

It was a long time coming for the Limerick school, who have been competing in the cup for almost 80 years. Last year saw the team taste defeat in the final - just their second ever appearance in the provincial decider - but 2018 saw the team go one step further with a memorable 18-17 win over CBC.

The triumphant Glenstal Abbey team at Irish Independent Park
The triumphant Glenstal Abbey team at Irish Independent Park

For the hundreds of Glenstal supporters in attendance at Irish Independent Park, it was an achievement they are unlikely to forget in a while, and it was the fruition of a decade of hard work from everyone involved in the school.

Head coach of the team is Seán Skehan, a teacher of geography and business in the famous Co Limerick boarding school, while former pro-rugby player Tom Hayes has also played a key role in recent seasons.

According to Seán, the excitement of the win has not worn off yet, but the magnitude of their achievement still has to be realised.

"One of the monks told me the other day that the first senior cup game they played was in 1939, but we don't want to go 79 years to get a second title on the board," said Skehan. "It was huge for us, it was amazing and it's a bit surreal. It was a phenomenal day and one that will live long in the memory I'm sure.

Conor Booth in action
Conor Booth in action

"We were eight points up and the referee played five minuets of injury time and I knew we had won but I still didn't want them to get in for that final score. The lads defended the line well, but they knew time was up and they could enjoy it.

"We booked in for the night in the Rochestown Park Hotel, and we had an after-match meal there. All the kids were there and their families were round, so we all got the bus back together then on Tuesday. It was a great experience.

"We were in the semi three years ago and now two finals, so things have been gradually building up. But to finally win it after so long is a great achievement."

Glenstal Abbey is situated on the outskirts of Murroe village in Co Limerick, which is about 20km east of the city. The boarding school developed in the Norman Revivalist castle after it was bought by a local priest, who invited the monks of Maredsous Abbey in Belgium to settle there in December 1927.

It took 12 years for the school to be able to field its first senior cup team, but they could not have imagined it would be 79 years later that they were first crowned champions.

Hunger Seán Skehan says they would never have been competitive had the hunger to achieve not been there from all levels in the school.

"The school had only been to one final previous to last year, in 1970. One of the big issues was the size of the school - we only have 220 kids here, so it's always difficult to get a good 15 on the pitch.

"But in the last couple of years we have been pretty close at senior level. We've had a lot of guys going on to play with Munster and Irish age-grade sides lately.

"The support is massive. You only get as far as the senior management in the school want to push it and, to be fair, they are brilliant in that regard.

"Resourcing the team with external coaches and anything we ever want is there for us. It has been like a 24-hour physio room here for the last week after the semi-final. We had a physio set up residency for a couple of days to get them ready. That kind of support makes our job so much easier."

A former student of the famed St Michael's College in Dublin, Skehan is very much a Glenstal man now though after six years teaching there. He paid tribute to the backroom team and the players for their wonderful achievement.

"This is my second year coaching the team. Teaching is the day job, but a lot of the time has gone to rugby lately!

"I was director of rugby originally and didn't do any coaching. We had Ian Dowling and Brian Malone in as coaches for a couple of years but they had to finish up, so myself and Tom Hayes took the job. I think we got the success off the work the other guys put in over the years.

"Tom brought a lot of stuff from the Exeter Chiefs, attack plays that we'd use. He is really good and we have a strong backroom team behind us, from S&C to video analysis.

"All the lads involved in the senior squad, you see a pattern there. They tend to be better academically, they get a sense of stability and work ethic from that. We have an incredible group of kids, they represent the school so well across the board, be it cleaning the dressing rooms or supporting the first year team.

"The boys have a rule that there is someone representing the rugby side at all school events. On the pitch is important, but producing good people is fundamental."

For most of Glenstal Abbey's first champion team, a future in industry, academia and the real world beckons, but a few will surely be offered the chance to play professional rugby in the years to come.

In recent years the number of Glenstal boys in the Munster set-up has rocketed - Duncan Casey and Ian Nagle were the real ground breakers - but Skehan is impressed with some of the talent in his team.

"Duncan and Ian are Glenstal kids, and in recent years we've seen Colm Hogan and Jack Stafford make the step into Munster.

"Colm is on loan from Munster to Colombiers this year and his brother Andrew is on this year's team. Jack was on the bench for Munster on Friday night, he was captain here two years ago.

"I'm sure some of these lads will be going into Munster in the next couple of seasons. Our captain Ben Healy is something very special. That was his third year starting at out-half, he is a great young man with an excellent attitude.

"Mark Fleming, Andrew Hogan and Ronan Quinn are all on the Ireland Schools team, but we have a very talented squad too.

"From the 25 in the match-day squad they all played their part in the cup campaign. They all deserve praise for this win. There will be a lot of them back next year and they'll be keen to defend that title."

Irish Independent

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