Exemplifying the never-say-die attitude with teams from the province, Peter Malone’s Munster ‘A’ side erased an 18-point deficit to secure their first British & Irish Cup title since 2012. Their 29-28 final win over Jersey Reds will live long in the memory of those who attended Irish Independent Park tonight.
Centre Cian Bohane became the second Munster 'A' captain to lift the cross-border competition's trophy after Billy Holland had done so in 2012 at the same Cork venue, as the province's young guns prevailed in thrilling fashion.
The Munster 'A' starting back-line had an average age of just 22, with Stephen Fitzgerald, Sam Arnold (both 21) and 20-year-old scrum half John Poland the youngest of the lot.
The hosts' pack had a slightly more experienced feel to it, especially with the late addition of former Wallaby Mark Chisholm (35). The 29-year-old Robin Copeland marshalled a youthful back row that include teenage flanker and current Ireland Under-19 international Gavin Coombes, while Chisholm's second row Darren O'Shea was the pick of the forwards for his work-rate and impact as a ball carrier and tackler.
However, Munster 'A' made a calamitous start and were down by 18 points with less than a quarter of an hour gone. Gunning for their first major trophy, Jersey hit the front thanks to winger Nick Scott's first-minute try, with Callum Sheedy adding two penalties along with the conversion of a Joe Buckle touchdown.
The power of Jersey's massive pack was the bedrock of their fiery first half performance, but it was a well-worked move down the left flank that saw Scott race over in the corner, while Buckle's score came from a clever dummy at maul time.
The second quarter eventually saw the Munstermen start to retain possession, but for the most part they could not convert it into points, thanks first and foremost to the Jersey pack, most notably their back row. Be it in the scrum, breakdown or in defence, the English Championship outfit had the measure of their hosts who continually were forced into knock-ons and penalties.
Nonetheless, having spurned some earlier chances, Munster 'A' found their rhythm in timely fashion just before half-time and relentless pounding on the Jersey try-line paid dividends when Coombes sniped over from close range. Influential out-half David Johnston converted to cut the gap to 18-7 and it was very much 'game on' as the sides headed off at the break.
Increasingly their physicality and gaining parity in that area as the game progressed, the men in red enjoyed a dream start to the second period, impressive hooker Kevin O'Byrne finishing off a fine team try that was spawned by an excellent Alex Wootton break with clinical phase play then seeing them over the whitewash.
Johnston's conversion made it a four-point game, but the province's young guns would have to wait a while longer before getting their noses out in front. Instead, it was the Jersey forwards who reasserted some of their earlier dominance, winning a scrum against the head off of which scrum half Kieran Hardy raced to the try-line with Sheedy adding the conversion.
Crucially, the penalty count began to favour Munster 'A' and, off repeated kicks to the corner, they eventually got the try that they so desperately needed. Opting to attack down the blindside, Johnston did extremely well to dive low in at the left corner and stretch out to ground the ball. There was more to come from the Clonmel-born play-maker who was one of Munster's most impressive performers on the night.
A long looping pass from Johnston to skipper Bohane just outside the Munster 'A' 22 was the catalyst for their best try of the night. From there, Bohane did well to find Wootton for some back-three magic, the Ireland Sevens international pining his ears back, zooming over halfway and beautifully sidestepping away from two defenders to touch down to the left of the posts. It was fitting that Johnston added the extras to eventually put Munster 'A' in the lead.
Still struggling at times in the scrum, a penalty at the set piece allowed Sheedy to kick Jersey back in front on 61 minutes (28-26), but Munster 'A' looked the far more assured and sprightlier team in the final quarter.
Further inspired kicking from Johnston and full-back Fitzgerald kept Peter Malone's men playing in the right areas and when the penalty eventually came on 69 minutes, the left-footed Johnston coolly split the posts with what was essentially the kick for the title.
Munster 'A' controlled possession and territory for the remainder, Johnston missing a late place-kick from wide on the right before Darren O'Shea soared to take down the restart. Replacement hooker Duncan Casey then broke the line and had two more carries as the province, now two-time B&I Cup champions, ended the final on the front foot and deep inside the Jersey 22.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys (England)