Cathal Duff, Kieran McKeever and Fiachra Finnegan all touched down as the Navan Under-20s defeated a much-fancied Lansdowne side 22-9 today to win the Fraser McMullen Cup for the first time.
The Co. Meath youngsters were crowned All-Ireland Under-20 champions after a thoroughly entertaining encounter at Templeville Road – a fairytale finish to a cup run that also saw them claim the scalps of UCC (28-16) and Dublin University (42-31).
Having won All-Ireland titles at Under-17 and Under-19 levels in recent years, Navan have really announced themselves at the U-20 grade, winning the JP Fanagan Premier 2 title last season, finishing fourth this term in the Premier 1 table and now lifting the prized Fraser McMullen Cup.
Unbeaten JP Fanagan Premier 1 champions Lansdowne were the pre-match favourites, however they were rocked by the concession of a fourth minute try when Navan hooker Cathal Duff crossed in the corner. Full-back Christian Byrne, who provided the final pass, failed to convert from near the touchline.
Lansdowne included recent Ireland Under-20 debutant Greg McGrath up front and the Leinster 'A'-capped Tim Murphy at scrum half, and they gradually knuckled down and started to show some of their league-winning form. Out-half Peter Hastie's 22nd-minute penalty opened their account and he added a second successful kick on the half hour after Byrne had pushed a penalty wide at the other end.
Navan's defence came under further pressure as half-time approached and they did well to avoid leaking a try, number 8 Liam Thornton tidying up at the back of a scrum and Byrne booming a well-struck clearance kick downfield.
Lansdowne took a 6-5 lead into the second half but that was erased inside six minutes. Navan won a penalty in front of the posts and Byrne mopped up with the three points, with the next few phases seeing the headquarters club pinned back in their own half.
Coached by Declan Fassbender and Ben Armstrong, Lansdowne had beaten Navan twice during the league campaign – 26-10 (away) and 53-23 (home – but they were finding it hard to cope with their opponents' accuracy and intensity on both sides of the ball.
The underdogs were also finding holes in the Lansdowne defence, centre Kieran McKeever cutting through for a try out wide which Byrne did really well to convert. However, a third penalty success from Hastie got his side back to within a converted score at 15-9 down.
The final 15 minutes produced even more end-to-end fare and it was Navan who manufactured a match-winning try, Byrne going close before loosehead Fiachra Finnegan crashed over for a converted effort from close range.
Whereas Lansdowne let their discipline slip slightly, the Navan U-20s showed the greater composure and they were deserved 13-points winners in the end. The self-belief instilled in the players by Pat Kenny and his fellow coaches was evident throughout the final.
It could be the first part of a memorable double for the Balreask Old club as Navan's senior team are on the cusp of their very first Ulster Bank League promotion – a home win over Sligo next Saturday would see them go up as Division 2C champions.
Referee: Dan Carson (IRFU)