The Dublin University Under-20s produced a spectacular performance at Naas RFC this evening to defeat UCC 41-24 and secure back-to-back Fraser McMullen Cup titles.
Backs Paddy Opperman and Louis O’Reilly chipped in with two tries each, prop Simon Clear and replacement Seb Pim also crossed the whitewash and captain James Moriarty kicked 11 points from the tee. Retaining the prestigious All-Ireland U-20 trophy gives Trinity a timely boost ahead of their senior team’s Division 1A semi-final trip to Cork Constitution next Sunday.
The damage was done during the closing stages of the first half when Tony Smeeth’s superbly-drilled side capitalised on UCC prop Conor Burke’s sin-binning to register 21 points without reply. The Cork youngsters dug deep to close the gap late on but the defending champions had already developed an unassailable lead by that point.
It was Smeeth’s charges who dominated the early possession at Forenaughts where centre Moriarty proved to be the fulcrum for many of their best attacking phases. Having knocked out Clontarf in a hard-fought semi-final at Castle Avenue last week, Neil Lucey’s UCC team were in buoyant mood and forced a number of defensive turnovers as well as lineouts steals.
However, it was Trinity who hit the front in the 16th minute when Moriarty slotted over a penalty. UCC held firm despite their opponents creating a potential overlap through Jody Booth and Liam McMahon on the right flank, and out-half Eoin Monahan kicked them level from an awkward angle on the left after McMahon was guilty of a body-check.
Then came Burke’s yellow card, 25 minutes in, and Trinity took a significant stranglehold on the game during his absence. Moriarty kicked the penalty to touch and scrum half O’Reilly managed to round off an extended lineout maul with the opening try. Opperman followed him over the whitewash, a wonderful piece of skill seeing him break into space and chip over the defence to touch down in eye-catching fashion.
Moriarty confidently converted both tries and also added the extras to O’Reilly’s second score, a powerful break up the right wing by McMahon teeing up the supporting half-back to go over beside the posts. Leading 24-3 at half-time, the Trinity coaches introduced three replacements on the restart – including prop Giuseppe Coyne from the Ireland Under-20s’ Grand Slam-winning squad – and their thirst for tries was very much maintained.
Using his electric pace and impressive footwork from just inside the UCC half, Opperman jinked his way inside two defenders and beat two more for pace to dart in under the posts despite Alex Molloy’s committed chase. Lucey also dipped into his reserves as the Cork students looked to battle back. Adam O’Connor was set to race over from a Molloy assist, only for referee Chris Lough to deem that the pass was forward.
They kept plugging away, maintaining a high work-rate and probing for openings, but when their winger Sam Burns was binned on the hour mark, it allowed Trinity to extend their lead through tighthead Clear. UCC’s persistence eventually paid off in the 68th minute when full-back Molloy’s distribution was pinpoint accurate on this occasion and winger O’Connor was able to dot down in the left corner.
The conversion was a great hit by Monahan, although it was followed by an inevitable Trinity response. Pim put his name to their sixth and final try, with fellow replacement Max O’Reilly making the initial incision. The tables were turned on the Dubliners in the dying minutes, though, as they lost flanker Booth and lock Neil Howard to yellow cards in quick succession.
The title holders finished with just 13 men, and to UCC’s credit, they showed their own ruthless streak to put a fairer reflection on the final outcome. A 74th-minute penalty try, which led to Howard’s binning, was supplemented by a close-range Tom Ormond score after O’Connor was stopped just short.
The late flurry was not enough to spoil the party for a jubilant Dublin University who celebrated the club’s fourth Fraser McMullen Cup win – 2003, 2005, 2018 and 2019. To go back-to-back is a tremendous achievement given the high standard of Under-20 player being produced at clubs in all four provinces.
Referee: Chris Lough (IRFU)