Munster Schools final day: the occasion is all-consuming. From the giddy bands of school-kids bedecked in their college's colour, to a unique atmosphere in a near full house and later capped off with the mother of the winning captain presenting the Cup, it makes for a special day. And one that all rugby players have savoured, and will continue to do so for many years to come.
This premier schools competition, the blue riband of the school's rugby calendar, takes place this Sunday at Munster Branch Headquarters between two schools with a rich and varied history in this most storied of Cup competitions.
The last time St. Munchin's got their hands on the precious silverware - first presented in 1909 - was exactly twenty years ago, when a certain Pat Murray (pictured with the '95 AIL League trophy), the present UCC coach and former player with Shannon, lifted the trophy after playing one of his finest hours in the full-back position. Present Shannon Coach Geoff Moylan was also a member of that team.
But the mystery to all followers of rugby is why it has taken Munchin's so long to try and seriously claim their right as the top rugby school in the province. Their participation in recent deciders paints a painful picture. They have taken part in four out of the last seven finals, but the ultimate prize has eluded them on each occasion.
Last year Munchin's lost 17-5 in the final against Rockwell, but got rich retribution this year when overcoming their nemesis 20-3 in the semi-final at Thomond Park. The Limerick school's forward play and teak-tough defence stifled Rockwell's traditional free-running expansive game. The fact that Munchin's looked so one-dimensional that day may militate against them in the final. Defensively sound, their lineout presents the platform as their best attacking option, but lack of imagination in the backs may cost them dearly. But all that was said before the Rockwell game. And Munchin's came out unscathed.
They have always been fanatical about their rugby in St. Munchin's, and such is their dedication to the game in the famed Corbally nursery, that U13 and U14 leagues have proven an undoubted success. In future years, the schools should reap handsome rewards. Munchin's system of developing players is different somewhat to the Cork template. In Limerick, many schools - including Munchin's - allow their senior players train and play with their clubs up until Christmas. Each player is guaranteed at least one rugby game every weekend. Whether this is a beneficial system is open to debate, as some players may have to play two games at the weekend and may suffer burnout.
On Sunday all those young players will add a real sense of occasion to proceedings, and will be hoping that Munchin's can pick from a full panel. Niall Dodd and out half Brendan Diddy are struggling to overcome injury, but Munchin's can call upon Brendan Horan - brother of Munster prop Marcus - to provide front-row leadership. Indeed Brendan is thankful that he can take part on Sunday. Three years ago a very serious injury during an U14 game almost curtailed his career. Now Irish Schools' selectors and University academies watch him closely. Horan will be ably assisted by Gerard Collins from Bruff (seven Bruff players backbone this side) and flanker Donncha Ryan from Nenagh. Ryan was an Irish Youths player last year, and though ignored by the Munster selectors, could make an impression for the Irish Schools side.
Coach John Broderick - a Thomond man - was very impressed with PBC's defence against CBC and knows that they will be very difficult to beat: "Their defence was very impressive, but overall, they look a rock solid unit and really play for each other. Though they lived off scraps against an excellent Christian's side, they showed a lot of character to scrape through. They're very aggressive in the tackle and their commitment to the tackle must be applauded."
"But, at the end of the day, our fellas get real enjoyment out of rugby here. It's not all about winning or losing. They are always a positive bunch and winning Cup matches is not the be-all and end-all of things here."
Pres, meanwhile, must feel somewhat lucky that they have made it into this years final. On the back foot defensively for eighty-percent of the time against old foes CBC, their wall of defence held firm, and with only two attacks in the game, landed two penalties. Barry Keeshan will again start at out half, but Sunday should see the battle of the diminutive scrumhalves when David Stringer of Pres battles it out with his opposite number Jeffrey McNamara. It's still debatable which of the two is the smaller in senior schools rugby!
Despite Pres' deficiencies, particularly in the lineout and scrummage, they showed commendable character to stave off a relentlessly attacking CBC outfit. Their back-row team of John O' Flynn, Ruairi Geoghegan (who is still a serious injury doubt) and Henry O'Flynn were consistently present and made many tackles in their last outing, and coupled with centres Mark Murphy and Morgan O'Gara have, overall, players of real quality.
It should be a tremendous finale to a Cup competition that started out in early January when 17 colleges went into the hat. Now it's down to two, and as Pres aim to lift their first title since 1996, an interesting footnote is that Munchin's have yet to win a Cup final in Cork.
Maybe their luck is about to change.
PBC: D Kingston; T Gleeson, M Murphy, M O'Gara, D Griffin; B Keeshan, D Stringer; J Moynihan, R Quinn capt, N McMahon, S O'Keeffe, B Buckley, J O'Flynn, R Geoghegan, H O'Flynn.
ST. MUNCHINS: W Murphy; B Kennedy, B Carroll, D O'Mahony, J Cott; B Deady, J McNamara; D Horan, D Varley, G Collins; A Gallagher, D Ryan; N Dodd, J Shine, M Carroll capt.