Jump to main content


Diary Of A Club Player: Richie Mandeno (UCD)

Diary Of A Club Player: Richie Mandeno (UCD)

Our New Zealand-born diarist, Richie Mandeno, reflects on a Christmas spent in County Laois and UCD’s recent back-to-back encounters with Ballymena.

Our New Zealand-born diarist, Richie Mandeno, reflects on a Christmas spent in County Laois and UCD’s recent back-to-back encounters with Ballymena.

“So there I was, sitting down at Kevin Croke’s house enjoying an amazing country Christmas feast prepared by Mrs. Croke – we are talking roast turkey, beef and ham. Nothing was spared and it is fair to say I was in my element!

“During the meal, Mr. Croke brought up the issue that both Kevin, my UCD team-mate, and I knew would come up but hoped it would not. “What has happened to UCD this season?”, it was a question that I disliked answering because the fact is we have been training hard in an effort to become more competitive against all teams in the AIB League’s top flight.

“Naturally Mr. Croke had his own ideas about what was going wrong and according to him if we played like his world-beating Portlaoise team at some stage back in the early 1960s, we would have been mixing it up with today’s top club sides.

“It was funny listening to Mrs. Croke talking later about how distorted Mr. Croke’s memory had become about his own rugby career.

“I would like to thank the Crokes for their kind hospitality over the Christmas period and hopefully, ever after this diary piece, I will be allowed back to Mountrath at some stage in the future.

“In the New Year we faced the challenge of playing a double header against Ballymena – the first of which was a home match in the league, and then an away trip in the AIB Cup.

“The first match was played in near perfect conditions, both teams were hungry for league points and within the first ten minutes, we found ourselves 10-0 up. I honestly cannot put a finger on what went wrong from us after that, or whether the Ballymena team simply ran off their ‘bus’ legs and upped their intensity.

“Ballymena were by far the more impressive side in the second half and they gave us an absolute schooling on how to hold ball for a number of phases and slowly wear down the opposition. They ran out 40-10 winners.

“During the game we were able to create about ten line breaks, none of which were converted into points, mainly due to poor option-taking after the initial break and Ballymena’s ability to turn over the ball. These stats were unacceptable – if you don’t make the most of your opportunities to score, you’ll have no chance of winning.

“(Our coach) Dara (Rowley) and John ‘The Doc’ McClean, the club’s director of rugby, put the light turnovers down to a low work rate off the ball, especially from the tight five. This is something we paid for on the following Tuesday when we had a very physical training session and an absolute gut buster of a fitness run at the end.

“Last Saturday’s AIB Cup first round match gave us the opportunity to prove to ourselves that we could play well, although many people had been writing us off after that 40-10 defeat. But within the team, there was a feeling that we would push Ballymena all the way and possibly pick up a result.

“In atrocious conditions at Eaton Park we were able to take a 16-5 lead in at half-time. With the conditions deteriorating at the break, the second half saw us playing into horizontal rain – this made it almost impossible for us to score!

“After a physical, extremely muddy final 40 minutes, we were able to take the match with a narrow 16-14 victory.

“Hopefully this improvement in our game will continue throughout the rest of the season as we fight to pull ourselves out of the relegation zone in Division One.”