ST MARY'S COLLEGE put themselves right back into the title race with a dramatic late success over Clontarf at Templeville Road on Saturday.
St Mary's coach Peter Smyth admitted afterwards that as the game entered the closing stages, he would have settled for a losing bonus point. His team had fallen 20-15 behind and were playing into a strong wind.
But they managed one final effort which saw them apply considerable pressure. Clontarf supporters must have feared the worst when they saw their second-row Tim Chipman sinbinned for a professional foul. The St Mary's pack took full advantage -- holding on to possession through numerous phases before providing out-half Philip Brophy with the opportunity to go over for a try to the right of the posts.
Full-back Gavin Dunne then held his nerve with the final kick of the game to add the conversion which gave St Mary's victory. It's a win which brings the Templeville Road club up to third in the table, now only trailing second placed Clontarf on points difference.
Not bad for a team which lost two out of their first three games. But they have now put together a run of four successive victories, which marks them down as genuine contenders in a very open title race.
So, for that matter, are Clontarf, despite Saturday's second loss of the campaign. They are entitled to feel disappointed having come from 12-0 down to establish their 20-15 second-half advantage. St Mary's had to be satisfied with a 15-7 lead after playing with the wind in the first half. They had tries from hooker Richie Sweeney and replacement prop Jack McGrath, while Dunne landed one conversion and a penalty. But a try from their No 8 Frank Cogan shortly before the interval -- converted by Richie Lane -- put Clontarf in with a great chance. Playing with the wind in the second half, they gradually pegged back their rivals in what was a very good contest.
Right-wing Lane was the key figure, crossing for a try midway, converting it and also adding two penalties.
Although they had lost their influential skipper Barry O'Mahony through injury, Clontarf seemed to have done enough.
But they had not quite reckoned with the late surge which brought Brophy's try and Dunne's match-winning conversion.
Smyth said: "That was a great advertisement for the club game. It could have gone either way.
"To be honest, with about six minutes left I would not have complained if we had finished with a losing bonus point.
"But the team showed tremendous character to dig out the victory.
"Gavin Dunne deserves huge credit for the conversion. It was far from easy in those conditions, he's been great for us this season."
Clontarf coach Andy Wood was understandably disappointed, but he did give St Mary's credit for their late surge, saying: "They were two good teams but they reeled us in by playing smart rugby."
Gavin Dunne (St Mary's)
Out-half Dunne sent Templeville Road into raptures and put a dent in Clontarf's title charge with a last-gasp winning conversion. Mary's are four points behind the leaders Young Munster and Dunne will be key to their league push.
One to watch
Michael Oyuga (Old Belvedere)
Captain of Belvedere College's senior team two seasons ago, the Kenyan-born back-row has been elevated to senior rugby and showed signs of promise, carrying well into contact, as champions Old Belvedere slipped to another defeat at Anglesea Road.
Number of the week
201 Newcomers Cashel and Division 2A's Old Wesley became the first clubs to pass the 200-point mark on Saturday.
St Mary's College -- G Dunne; D Hudson, S Grissing, M Sexton, C Hogan; P Brophy, M D'Arcy; C McMahon, Richard Sweeney, Robert Sweeney, G Logan, D Hall, C Ruddock, G Austin, H Hogan (capt). Reps: J McGrath, S Bradshaw, C Lilly, M O'Driscoll.
Clontarf -- N Reid; R Lane, K Lett, C O'Shea, T McCoy; E Ryan, S Cronin; B Barclay, A Dundon, N Treston, C O'Keeffe, J Chipman, S Crawford, B O'Mahony (capt), F Cogan. Reps: D O'Shea, A Darcy, D O'Meara.
Ref -- S McDowell.