The Fraser McMullen Cup will take up residency at either College Park or Castle Avenue after Dublin University and Clontarf progressed through last weekend’s semi-finals to set up a mouth-watering decider at Merrion Road this Sunday (kick-off 2.30pm).
The prestigious All-Ireland Under-20 club tournament has proven fiercely competitive and this year’s edition is no different. Two sparkling semi-finals were played out last Saturday as Leinster champions Lansdowne came a-cropper against Trinity, and Conor Kelly’s coolly-struck injury-time drop goal saw Clontarf overcome UCD.
Promising Portlaoise youngster Kelly, who is part of the Leinster sub-Academy, played a key role in wrestling the victory out of UCD’s hands, kicking 13 points in an epic 28-27 comeback victory. Cancelling out a second minute penalty from Kelly, UCD took the lead when Ireland Under-20 scrum half Patrick Patterson went in under the posts for Marc Baker to convert.
Kelly kicked his second penalty goal before a terrific spell from UCD, which ran to 22 phases in total, paid off when Milo O’Donohoe crashed over in the 31st minute. However, ‘Tarf hung in there and a Seni Reilly try closed the gap to 14-11 for half-time.
Patterson, who was impressive throughout along with fellow U-20 international Charlie Ryan and David Pogatchnik, was involved in the build-up to Baker’s converted try, and a 57th minute penalty from Baker pushed the margin out to 24-11 as Ian Wyse’s charges edged closer to a place in the final.
However, a costly UCD yellow card with 11 minutes remaining saw Clontarf take full advantage. Cian Walsh struck for two converted tries, with Kelly landing a somewhat-controversial retaken conversion for the second one. Suddenly, the north Dubliners were ahead with just five minutes left on the clock.
In a drama-filled finish at Castle Avenue, a successful penalty from Baker made it 27-25 to the visitors before ‘Tarf held up them and forced a scrum in the dying seconds. Conor Jennings carried strongly as they moved infield via Mark Williams, and then assured out-half Kelly stepped up to slot his first ever drop goal in the final play, delighting the large home support and breaking UCD’s hearts in the process.
Talking about their journey so far, Clontarf Under-20 captain Grellan Murray told IrishRugby.ie: “It’s a very competitive age-grade so we’re delighted to be contesting the final. For us the contest really started in securing a place in the Premiership in Leinster, which involved getting past a good Old Belvedere side in a very tight game.
“Then it was about getting into the top-four – and between ourselves and Terenure there wasn’t a lot in it. From there it’s all about cup rugby. Across the squad, we’d have a decent amount of experience of cup rugby between schools and clubs, so at least we understand the demands.
“Delivering is another matter against a side of Trinity’s strength, but we’ll give it everything. I think 40 lads have played for the side since the start of the season and, of that number, 28 have played either minis or youth, or both, so we know who and what we represent. The lads who have joined us this season have really bought into that as well so it’s been really enjoyable.”
Meanwhile, Dublin University’s pack led the way in their impressive 39-24 win away to JP Fanagan Premier 1 winners Lansdowne. Number 8 Patrick Nulty and Ireland U-20 lock Jack Dunne both stood out in what was a very physical and hard-edged semi-final clash.
Lansdowne, who had beaten Trinity twice in the league, ran in four tries through Sean Galvin, Peter Sullivan, Tom Roche and David Nicholson, with Peter Hastie supplying two conversions. They got off to a strong start and led 12-7 initially, and also showed their battling qualities to reduce a 29-12 deficit to 29-24 and really rattle the students.
However, Trinity wrestled back control thanks to a nerve-settling try from powerful tighthead Joe Byrne and inside centre Moriarty converted more pressure on the Lansdowne into points with a closing penalty for a 15-point winning margin. Moriarty had an excellent game, also touching down for an opportunist first half try and then going over in the corner – early in the second period – to finish off a cracking team try.
Hooker Dan Sheehan was prominent in the build-up to that latter score, putting in some punchy, ground-gaining carries, and it was another series of forward drives which preceded second row Rory Clarke’s effort close to the posts, which made it 29-12 with 20 minutes remaining. Lansdowne, last year’s beaten Fraser McMullen Cup finalists, hammered back with a two-try salvo before Byrne and Moriarty shut the door on any comeback bid.
2017/18 FRASER MCMULLEN CUP FIXTURES/RESULTS:
QUARTER-FINALS: Saturday, April 7
Lansdowne 55 Dolphin 8, Aviva Stadium back pitch
Shannon 19 Dublin University 29, Coonagh
UCD 17 UCC 12, Belfield Bowl
Garryowen 30 Clontarf 37, Dooradoyle
SEMI-FINALS: Saturday, April 14
Lansdowne 24 Dublin University 39, Aviva Stadium back pitch
Clontarf 28 UCD 27, Castle Avenue
FINAL: Sunday, April 22
Dublin University v Clontarf, Merrion Road, Wanderers FC, 2.30pm
FRASER MCMULLEN CUP – RECENT CHAMPIONS:
2016/17 – Navan
2015/16 – Cork Constitution
2014/15 – Lansdowne
2013/14 – Cork Constitution
2012/13 – Lansdowne
2011/12 – UCD
2010/11 – UCD