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'Cup win was inspired by a collective never-say-die spirit'


Munster star Damien Varley scored two tries for St Munchin's in the 2002 Munster Senior Cup final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Munster star Damien Varley scored two tries for St Munchin's in the 2002 Munster Senior Cup final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE


Munster star Damien Varley scored two tries for St Munchin's in the 2002 Munster Senior Cup final. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Four minutes to go, six points down. St Munchin's College were staring down the barrel of a second consecutive Senior Cup final defeat.

Playing in their 26th decider and backed by the raucous Musgrave Park crowd, PBC had the Cup within their sights.

That was until Damien Varley got over in the corner for what was his second try of the game.

Three minutes to go, one point down. 16-year-old Wayne Murphy lined up the touchline conversion. The stunned crowd held its breath.

Varley held his breath. But underneath his nervous tension was a quiet sense of confidence.

"I remember thinking, if anyone can land this kick, it's Wayne."

And slot it over he did. Cue pandemonium among the travelling support from Limerick. But they weren't there just yet. Eight minutes of injury-time followed and as Varley explains, it felt like an eternity.


"The support was phenomenal, but my abiding memory is the eight minutes injury-time that we had to play," Varley painfully explains as if being transported back to that moment in time.

"The tension was incredible, but we knew we had to stay focused and not give away any silly penalties.

"When the final whistle went, it was just unbelievable. I'm getting very nostalgic here now even thinking back on it. I remember my father and my brother running onto the pitch afterwards and hugging me, it was very special."

The year was 2002 and Munchin's were still licking their wounds after being defeated by Rockwell in the 2001 decider.

The Tipperary school were again installed as favourites for the cup and looking back on the defeat, it's not a game that brings up happy memories for Varley.

"I was a substitute back-row but I ended up playing loosehead and then tighthead prop in the final.

"I spent most of the day scrummaging in the air. I remember not knowing what was going on. I got absolutely killed."

Munchin's regrouped and, under the guidance of John Broderick, came back stronger and eager for revenge.

Varley was moved to hooker, with his primary line-out target that season being his current Munster team-mate Donnacha Ryan.

Broderick's unorthodox style of coaching may have raised a few eyebrows, but Varley insists that it made players stronger, both mentally and physically.

"He was the puppet master pulling all the strings and he coaches his teams very well," the 31-year-old says.

"He used to write newspaper articles tearing us asunder and then cut them out and put them on the dressing-room wall.

"He created a siege mentality that everyone was out to get us and we really bought into that. It created a doggedness within us and it worked to our advantage.

"We had very good players who weren't picked for representative sides and that added to the bitterness. We felt there was a political element and that made us more determined to prove a point.

"Broderick's famous speech to us was that we were like an 'Angela's Ashes' team - small, scrawny and useless.


"We spent weeks preparing for the final, but it was more the mental side. We knew we were in a good place physically," Varley adds.

Munchin's were pitted against their old foes Rockwell in the semi-final and Varley was up against Denis Fogarty, who would also later go on to play with Munster.

"Denis was always being groomed for professionalism. He was the next big thing when it came to schools rugby in Munster," Varley explains.

"Broderick kept telling people to come up to me in the school yard and tell me how much better Denis was than me. When I look back on it now, it certainly made me mentally stronger."

Munchin's would run out winners that afternoon before they made the journey to Cork to take on PBC.

Varley got his side off to an ideal start with a try after two minutes, but Munchin's were pegged back.

Varley struck for his second try late on and Munchin's held on for a 20-19 win and he has never forgotten the values he learned that year.

"It meant so much to us as a team. We fought for each other and didn't have any individual desires. I would encourage anyone who is lucky enough to play in the Senior Cup to embrace it and enjoy it.

"If you get caught up in all the pressure and hype, guys can get lost in it and forget about what's important.

"In 10 years time, when I'm looking back on my career, that day in Musgrave Park will definitely be one of my best memories."

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