Monday 16 December 2019

Tony Ward: Move over Boru and O'Driscoll – there's new heroes in Clontarf

Robbie Walsh, Kilkenny RFC, in action against Ashbourne RFC. Provincial Towns Cup Final sponsored by Cleaning Contractors, Ashbourne RFC v Kilkenny RFC, Tullow RFC, Tullow, Co. Carlow. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Robbie Walsh, Kilkenny RFC, in action against Ashbourne RFC. Provincial Towns Cup Final sponsored by Cleaning Contractors, Ashbourne RFC v Kilkenny RFC, Tullow RFC, Tullow, Co. Carlow. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Tony Ward

Tony Ward

It was a good Easter weekend for Irish rugby, a very good one for Leinster rugby but a great weekend for the game in Dublin North – city and county – and just over the border in Meath.

Credit Leinster for the manner in which they put Treviso, albeit a very poor side, to the sword on Friday at the RDS and Munster for the clinical efficiency with which they dismissed the fired-up Connacht challenge ahead of the big one in Marseille – now only five days away.

But pride of place over the bank holiday period goes to Clontarf and Ashbourne.

At Tullow, out-half Paul Morris was once again the Ashbourne hero as the Leinster Junior League Division 1B champions completed a remarkable double when beating Kilkenny to take the Provincial Towns Cup for the first time.

It made for three wins from three over fellow 1B side Kilkenny as two clubs from the lower division made it through to the premier junior final for the very first time. And talk about doing it the hard way. Having survived playing into a first-half gale just three points down to a Willie Wright penalty, it looked like the Towns Cup was Kilkenny-bound.

INSPIRED

But efficient though Kilkenny were in the first half, inspired by full-back Joey Manuel, right wing Killian Everard, scrum-half Robbie Walsh and particularly No 8 David O'Connor, they dominated the second even more convincingly.

That said, they were aided and abetted by two bizarre yellow card decisions against Ashbourne in a crazy five-minute spell in which the quick-fire Everard (by far the game's best attacking player) appeared to have scored a perfectly good try.

It was probably a case of swings and roundabouts but undoubtedly it was in this period when reduced to 13 men that the defensive aspect to the Ashbourne game all season came to the fore when needed most.

They required leaders in a crisis, and they had three in particular – Jeff Mahon, Rory Gleeson and Gavin Kennedy.

It wasn't by any means a classic, as the 6-3 final scoreline at the end of 100 minutes of rugby indicates.

But that will matter not a whit to Ashbourne or their fans, and nor should it as the spiritual home to Irish ladies rugby now boasts the Provincial Towns Cup in its trophy cabinet for the first time.

Kilkenny could have won and for sure they will view this as one that got away, but when a team digs as deep as Ashbourne and does so with such consistency all season, then it deserves the breaks which eventually come its way.

The trophy rests where it is most deserved.

And so too does the All-Ireland League Division 1A title, for the simple reason that over the course of seven long months, embracing 18 fixtures the length and breadth of the land, the league table never lies.

Just a single point separates Clontarf and Old Belvedere at the death but nobody, not even the most blinkered black and white supporter, can begrudge the Castle Avenue faithful this long-overdue success.

Following successive defeats to UCD and Lansdowne, I thought they had blown it. But the pressure got to Belvo in Dooradoyle, where anything but a Garryowen win would have been a travesty. I have been in that position in my time when you freeze on the day and the occasion proves a much greater obstacle than the opposition – because that for sure is what befell Paul Cunningham and his charges on Saturday.

Credit to Tom Tierney, Eddie O'Sullivan and everyone involved for already-relegated Garryowen as they, much like UCD and Lansdowne, showed what this great competition still means to those who make it tick.

I can only hope that David Nucifora, from his own club playing days in Australia, is still made of the right stuff – as the IRFU, for all their self-righteous posturing, couldn't care less.

Individually, only Kieran O'Gorman and to a lesser extent Josh Glynn stepped up to the mark for Belvedere, while for Garryowen Aaron McCluskey (although he must rid himself of that mid-match red mist which occasionally descends), Mark Rowley, Shane Buckley and Harry McNulty were most impressive. Andrew O'Byrne also had his really telling moments.

But the glory goes to Andy Wood, Ben Reilly and everyone else at Clontarf involved in a special year which has finally delivered this richly deserved AlL triumph. The cream invariably rises to the top and, with the most victories (14), the most points scored (485) and fewest conceded (279) over the marathon campaign, on Saturday, it certainly did. Tomorrow's visit of Mike Ruddock and the Barbarians to Castle Avenue should make for some night of celebrations.

It took a circuitous route but they are 2014 champions because they are the most consistent. Who would have believed that the contribution of the Brians (Boru and O'Driscoll) to the area could have been trumped? Well right now for everyone involved in Clontarf RFC it has ... and how!

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