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Monkstown’s Current Crop Embracing Chance To ‘Make Their Own History’

Monkstown’s Current Crop Embracing Chance To ‘Make Their Own History’

Paddy Thornton's Monkstown side won the Leinster Junior League Division 1A title after recording 11 wins and collecting 13 try-scoring bonus points ©Brendan Hurley

Monkstown FC are determined to produce their best performance of the season when they face hotly-fancied Ballyclare in Saturday’s All-Ireland Provincial League Championship final.

The two best teams in Irish junior rugby this year will clash at Navan RFC (kick-off 2pm), with the prize of a golden ticket to the Energia All-Ireland League for 2024/25 and senior status for their club.

Monkstown have raised their game under new head coach Paddy Thornton this season. They wrestled the Leinster Junior League Division 1A title out of the grasp of south Dublin rivals Bective Rangers.

Thornton’s side recorded six bonus point wins on the trot to emerge as very worthy provincial champions. They eventually finished on 61 points, a dozen clear of closest challengers Seapoint, in second place.

David Mahon spent 10 seasons as Monkstown’s head coach before becoming director of rugby last summer, alongside Brian Hogan. He is full of praise for his successor in the coaching hot seat, Thornton.

“Paddy has brought an honesty to the team that we haven’t had before. He has brought a fresh set of eyes to the group,” Mahon told IrishRugby.ie.

“At one point this year, I almost apologised to the ‘alickadoos’ because Paddy has brought them to another level. I was probably the handbrake in all honesty with you.

“We went right down to the wire with Bective two seasons ago. We got badly affected by Covid around Christmas time, and we dropped points, which proved very costly in the end.

“It came down to the last day of that season. We got a bonus point win, but Bective lost by seven and sneaked a losing bonus point. We both finished on 53 points, we had the superior points difference, but we lost on the head-to-head rule.

“There hasn’t been much between us and Bective in recent years. Seapoint were involved this season too. We just managed to carry our momentum and get over the line this time around.”

Led by Tristan Brady from scrum half, the newly-crowned Leinster champions continued their impressive form with a hard-fought 33-17 semi-final victory over Thomond in Ashbourne RFC last weekend, setting them up for the promotion decider.

Mahon reflected on his team’s performance by saying: “To be honest, the score didn’t really reflect the game. We went 19-0 up, they pulled it back to 19-17. At that stage, it was squeaky bum time for us.

“There were about 10 minutes left to play. They had the momentum in their favour. The two late scores didn’t really reflect how close the game was. It was in the melting pot for a long time.

“There was probably a turnover in the middle of the pitch that helped us get our feet back in the game. It was one or two big individual plays that won it for us. It was just relief in the end.”

It has been the collective effort of the whole Monkstown squad that has pushed them on this season. Their back-line is certainly not short on quality. Centre Cormac Brennan has been playing like a man on a mission since returning from injury.

Former Buccaneers winger Saul O’Carroll is enjoying his rugby in the capital, and Cian O’Donoghue, a 2021/22 Energia All-Ireland League Division 1A medal winner with Clontarf, has showcased his speed and experience any time he has had the ball in hand.

Standing in ‘Town’s way this weekend are Ballyclare, who will be a tough nut to crack judging by their form in winning the Ulster Rugby Championship Division 1 crown.

Mike Orchin-McKeever’s charges were pushed all the way by Enniskillen to win their provincial league by just a single point. They also captured the Energia All-Ireland Men’s Junior Cup after a comprehensive 48-8 final win over Bective in January’s final.

Asked if it is fair to call Monkstown the underdogs ahead of this encounter, Mahon admitted: “Yeah, there is no doubt about that. If you look at the success of Instonians and last season in Clogher Valley, Ulster club rugby is in a phenomenal place.

“It’s widely accepted that the Ulster League is the best of the four provinces. On form, they must be the favourites.

“Mike Orchin-McKeever is a shrewd operator. He has built a really good team over the last few years.  He is now head coach of the Ulster Juniors. Ballyclare have been building up to this – they’ve had their fair share of disappointments, and probably think this is their time.

“We’re the best two teams in junior rugby this season in Ireland, but it’s going to be a massive ask for us. But that’s what you want, if we can get over the line, it’ll make everything that bit sweeter.”

Steeped in tradition, Monkstown FC is one of the oldest rugby clubs in Ireland, founded in 1883, just four years after the formation of the Irish Rugby Football Union.

They have had numerous Ireland internationals, including the great Basil Maclear, who was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2015.

They were a credible All-Ireland League Division 2 side in the 1990s before their relegation to the junior ranks in 2003. All of their supporters will be hoping they can seal their long-awaited return to the AIL on Saturday.

“Our lads have to go out and try and make their own history. It would mean a lot to the people in the club if the lads could do it.

“We’re going to have to play the best game we’ve played all year if we are going to do it on Saturday. If we come up any way short in that regard, I think we’ll be disappointed.

“Of course we can do it, it is not beyond the realms of possibility, but it’s going to be a huge ask,” he added.