Historic day as Shannon lift Munster Senior Cup
THE Munster Senior Cup has, for over 100 years, been characterised by countless dramatic matches, remarkable comebacks and victories fashioned in unlikely circumstances. At Musgrave Park, yesterday, there was an encounter to set beside the most memorable encounters this great competition has produced and an achievement by the Shannon club without parallel in the history of the game, when they defeated Cork Constitution in the final by 15 points to 13.
The first club to win the All Ireland League title in successive seasons, the win yesterday set Shannon apart from all other clubs when they became the first team to win the national title and their provincial senior cup in the same season. Not just that, but a week ago Shannon also won the Munster Junior Cup, a unique treble. Thus not alone the most successful season in the history of a great club, but the finest achievement by any club in the history of the game in this country.
Down 13-0 at the interval yesterday, Shannon produced a comeback without equal in a Munster Senior Cup final to score 15 points in the second half and claim the cup in front of a crowd of 6,000. And the man who got the winning try in the 78th minute was Shannon full back Pat Murray, the most successful captain the game has known.
Murray has now led Shannon to three Munster Cup triumphs and two All Ireland League titles, and the scenes at the end will live forever in the memory. The Shannon players were carried shoulder high from the pitch as thousands surrounded the victory rostrum. Never not even in Thomond Park, have I heard the Shannon anthem "There is an Isle" sung with greater passion as Frankie Flynn, the inimitable bard of Shannon, led the crowd in a wild, romantic, unconventional acclamation of a triumph without precedent.
This was not just a triumph for hopes and dreams realised, it was a remarkable display of character, courage and telling testimony to what the human spirit can attain. "It was our greatest victory," said an exhausted but jubilant Shannon coach Niall O'Donovan. "To come from 13 points down in a final against Cork Constitution is a tremendous tribute to the will of the players. We got little line-out ball in the first half and that was a crucial factor. Yet I felt at half time we could come back. We needed an early score after the break and we got it.
And who else to start the Shannon revival but Murray. He dropped a goal in the 42 minute and, from that point on, Shannon were a team transformed. "I asked the players at half time to give us 40 minutes to remember and they answered the call. That is the depth of character in this side. Yes, in the circumstances it was our greatest win," O'Donovan added.
For Constitution it was bitter disappointment. They had carried the game to Shannon in the first half and were worth their 13-point lead. Constitution were sharper up front, won the first half line-outs 14-4 and behind the scrum, Paul Burke used the wind very well. He had put Constitution six points up within six minutes with two penalty goals and while Shannon, in one driving surge, almost got in for a try sub sequently, it was the Constitutions pack which dominated, with Kew Murphy, Ultan O'Callaghan, Len Dinneen and Victor Donnelly giving Constitution the pronounced advantage out of touch.
Indeed, there was more confidence and authority in the Constitution forward effort in every respect. In the 25th minute, Constitution got due reward with a try from Niall Murray as they drove Shannon back and Murray got his hand to the ball after Brian Walsh and Dinneen were in the van of the assault. Burke converted, Constitution led 13-0 and Shannon looked down and out.
Then came Pat Murray's address to the troops and we were treated to a captivating second half. Murray dropped a goal after two minutes and now with Mick Galwey at his brilliant best, Shannon won some great line-out ball. Galwey won his sixth Munster Cup medal yesterday, but never in the past has he served the cause better.
The Shannon pack prospered and drove with the old belief. In the 52nd minute, Anthony Foley brilliantly blocked down a clearance kick from Burke, Alan McGrath was on to the loose ball and scored a try wide on the left. Andrew Thompson kicked a great conversion and suddenly the match had taken a dramatic turn.
But Constitution, pinned deep in defence, defended superbly. Jim Glavin was wide with a dropped goal attempt, Thompson saw a 40 yards penalty drift narrowly wide and still Constitution did not yield.
"Thompson was tackled short of the line as Shannon sought the breakthrough, then, with the match entering its final phase, Shannon got a footing near the Constitution line. Shannon had six scrums, but each time the drive and the assaults were halted. Then Constitution got a scrum, were under pressure from it, an attempted clearance went no more than a matter of yards and Shannon regained possession. Galwey broke, ball in hand,, and Pat Murray, coming up at pace on the short side, took his pass and broke the cover for a try in the 78th minute) The ground erupted. Thompson missed the conversion.
Constitution, who in the second half mistakenly tried to take on Shannon in the driving, mauling game instead of allowing Burke to kick for position, got a penalty 45 yards out in injury time, but facing into the wind, elected to run it. Shannon halted the attack, the final whistle went and the celebrations began.