Athlone Institute of Technology captured their first Treasury Holdings All-Ireland Colleges League Division 1 Cup in a number of years when they hammered Waterford Institute of Technology 40-6 in a fiercely-contested final at Dubarry Park.
Athlone IT were relentless in their quest for glory and holders Waterford IT, bidding for their third successive crown, were overrun in the end by a quite magnificent and sustained effort by the victors.
Waterford, the kingpins for the past couple of seasons, fielded a much taller side than their challengers and were quickest to settle in front of a big crowd at the midlands venue on a beautiful sunny evening.
Both sets of supporters made plenty of noise, and provided an appropriate backdrop to this big occasion. The early exchanges were frantic and, indeed, rarely abated throughout a most competitive opening hour.
The holders had first chance to score but Brendan Walsh was wide with a sixth minute penalty. Seven minutes later, Domhnall Corbett opened the scoring with a 30-metre penalty after Waterford had gone over the top.
Almost immediately, Waterford had a levelling opportunity but Gavin Duffy’s drop goal effort was off the mark.
A splendid Corbett kick towards Waterford’s left corner forced them to put the ball into touch close to their try-line and, from the resultant lineout, Athlone steadily moved the ball, picking and driving, towards the other flank where Karl Turley popped the final pass to Sean Stapleton for a 17th minute try.
Nine minutes later, further patient work with good support play yielded a Conor Lavelle try wide on the right. Although Corbett was unable to nail either difficult conversion, the challengers were now building up a head of steam, 13-0 to the good.
Two minutes later, Rory O’Connor’s chasing forced another close-in lineout on the right but this went awry for the midlands’ standard bearers, while Gavin Kelly was held up on the half-hour as Athlone forced a hectic pace.
Waterford were defending desperately but such was Athlone’s fierce pressure that referee David Keane awarded a penalty try, converted by Corbett, after 36 minutes.
Waterford had a rare scent of a score when Stapleton was blocked down just before half-time but Athlone cleared their lines to head into the break 20-0 ahead.
The loss through injury of prop Eddie Brady just before the interval was a worry for Athlone but replacement Ciaran Jennings rose to the occasion.
Brendan McManus was yellow-carded for slowing possession three minutes after the restart and Walsh opened Waterford’s account with the resultant penalty.
When Athlone came in from the side seven minutes later, hooker Walsh landed a splendid penalty to lift the holders’ hopes but a cunning Turley grubber kick soon yielded a penalty which Corbett converted excellently to steady Athlone.
However, just a minute later Athlone were back down to 14 players when Paul Galvin was quite harshly sin-binned for a tackle on diminutive Shane Kelly who actually ducked into the tackle.
But the midlanders’ resolve and desire were not found wanting and, after full-back O’Connor turned on the after-burners once again, he offloaded to Stapleton who committed the cover before setting up his captain Paul Harte for a stunning 61st minute try, converted by Corbett, to put Athlone in a now commanding 28-6 lead.
Another teasing Turley kick caused mayhem in the Waterford rearguard and full-back Kelly dropped the ball in the heat of Lavelle’s thundering tackle near the left corner flag and scrum half Turley pounced on the loose ball for try number five.
Pocket dynamo Rory Walsh then showed that forwards could get in on the try-scoring act too when he touched down on 69 minutes after another flash of clinical play by Athlone, Corbett’s conversion completing the 40-6 rout.
A third yellow card, this time to hooker Kelly, did not dampen the victors’ sparkle or lessen their resolve.
Waterford gave it all that they had but lineouts was their only area of any comfort as they were overwhelmed by a quite magnificent Athlone squad, backboned by no less than fifteen players who have featured for Buccaneers.
In the other Colleges finals on the day, Sallynoggin/Dun Laoghaire College won the Division 3 Plate decider by beating DIT ‘B’ 19-9, while DCU took the honours in the Division 2 Shield final by overcoming IT Carlow ‘C’ on a 32-17 scoreline.
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