Ashbourne successfully defended their Ulster Bank All-Ireland Junior Cup crown with a deserved 18-9 win over first-time finalists Kilfeacle & District on Saturday afternoon.
The final of the prestigious national competition was played in wet conditions at Portlaoise RFC where Ashbourne, the current Leinster Junior League Division 1A leaders, used their greater experience and tactical nous to become two-in-a-row champions – matching a feat only achieved by Tullamore (2012-2013) before.
Tipperary challengers Kilfeacle were bidding to become the first Munster winners of the cup since Crosshaven in 2011, and with a strong wind behind them, they got off to an encouraging start with out-half Jamie Heuston nailing a 10th minute penalty from straight in front of the posts. Kevin Kinane and Cormac O'Donoghue both impressed in the underdogs' back row.
It was a very physical contest with little given away in defence. Wind-backed Kilfeacle needed to put more scores on the board given the conditions, but Ashbourne stung them with an unconverted try on the stroke of half-time. Full-back Stephen O'Neill scored in the corner with Donal Crotty, Mark Rooney and Casey Dunne all involved in the build-up.
Out-half Crotty went on to be Ashbourne's match winner with a talismanic second half performance. He knocked over two penalties, sandwiching a second effort from Heuston soon after the resumption.
That gave the Meath men an 11-6 lead to take into the final quarter, as the rain began to teem down. An excellent 64th-minute strike from Heuston – into the elements – set up a grandstand finish, though, at 11-9.
Nonetheless, the title holders struck decisively for a try six minutes later. Big back rower Simon Deevy was held up a few metres out before Ashbourne retained possession in impressive fashion and swung it out for Crotty to cross the whitewash and then add the extras himself. At the ripe old age of 47, Jeff Mahon came on for Ashbourne and despite his sin-binning in the dying minutes, O'Donnell's charges kept a gallant Kilfeacle out to confirm a double-scores victory.