Three successful penalties steered St. Mary’s College to a 9-3 victory over Old Belvedere in Friday’s well-contested Leinster Senior League Cup final at Donnybrook. It is the Templeville Road club’s first success in the competition since 2005.
LEINSTER SENIOR LEAGUE CUP FINAL: Friday, February 5
ST. MARY’S COLLEGE 9 OLD BELVEDERE 3, Donnybrook
Scorers: St. Mary’s College: Pens: Gavin Dunne 2, Stuart O’Flanagan
Old Belvedere: Pen: Andy Dunne
A dry windless night in front of dedicated supporters from both clubs provided the setting for a Leinster Senior League Cup final to bear comparison with any of its predecessors.
Both teams played attacking rugby for the most part and although the outcome of only four successful penalty kicks would appear to represent a dour encounter, nothing could be further from the truth.
With positive officiating from referee John Carvill, the game frequently had extended passages of attacking phases met by aggressive and, almost professional intensity, defences.
St. Mary’s shaded the first half possession with their experienced pack turning over ‘Belvo possession on a number of occasions by aggressive counter-rucking.
From Kevin Carroll at loosehead prop to captain Hugh Hogan at number 8, the St. Mary’s forwards demonstrated how they have given such a good account of themselves in the Division 1A of the AIB League.
And this was not just grunt-and-go forward play, frequently Gareth Logan, Robert Sweeney or Damian Hall provided the link with deft touches in open play, while Paul Nash and Hogan were dynamic ball carriers intent on more than crash and burn tactics.
The St. Mary’s forwards had to be good because their Division 1B opponents were intent on not taking a backward step.
With flanker Jason Risdon, hooker Thomas Sexton and second row Richie Leyden very prominent, Old Belvedere number 8 Leo Auva’a carried frequently for hard yards or set up scrum half Brian O’Neill to serve his talented back-line.
Out wide, assistant coach and captain Andy Dunne orchestrated a back-line with pace and subtlety and centre John Kennedy and winger David Mongan came within inches of breaching the try-line for what would have been critical scores.
Mongan, in particular, showed great pace on a number of occasions and approaching half-time carved out a great opportunity for his team with a 30-metre run along the left touchline, but he failed to notice the inside support with only Gavin Dunne, the St. Mary’s full-back, to beat.
Half-time switches on both teams brought the introduction of Leinster’s Chris Keane at scrum half for Old Belvedere and Stuart O’Flanagan at full-back for St. Mary’s and the game rapidly roared back to its first half pace and intensity.
The few neutral spectators in the ground were enthralled into admiration of the skills, fitness and tactical nous of players on both sides in what was an excellent exhibition of the best that the club game in Ireland has to offer.
‘Belvo playmaker Dunne found the range with one long range penalty but narrowly missed with two others.
O’Flanagan added one penalty to Gavin Dunne’s two earlier efforts and the last 10 minutes saw Old Belvedere attacking the St Mary’s try line in long multi-phase passages only to be repelled by a St. Mary’s defence that was professional in discipline.
Both coaching teams and supporters can be proud of the performance of their teams and although Old Belvedere will rue their inability to get the final try that would have swung the match, they can take consolation for the quality of the performance and the knowledge that on such performances, they can ensure promotion to Division 1A next season with something to spare.