UCD secure top-flight status in thrillling style

Shannon relegated for the first time since the tournament’s inception

UCD players celebrate their promotion to Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

UCD players celebrate their promotion to Division 1A of the Ulster Bank League. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

It was a stunning triumph in the terms of the context of the occasion, the nature of the victory and manner in which it adhered to the ethos and philosophy of college rugby.

UCD will play their rugby in Division One A of the Ulster Bank League next season following a 42-0 win over Shannon in a relegation-promotion playoff at Coonagh. But no one would have envisaged such a scoreline beforehand.

The Limerick club had endured a nightmarish string of reverses prior to Christmas but managed to extricate themselves from automatic relegation and into a playoff. Champions of the All-Ireland League a record nine times, Shannon have lost their elite status for the first time since the tournament’s inception in 1991.

UCD’s Director of Rugby Bobby Byrne reflected on a magnificent achievement. “Our thinking going into the match was that we had nothing to lose and that we wanted to play with a sense of adventure; have a go. We got a very good start and the lads played exceptionally well.”

At the start of the season Byrne sat down and outlined goals. They were predicated on individual and team development rather than a specific target in terms where the club might finish in Division 1B.

“There is a traditional style of rugby played by the college teams and we wanted to honour that in the way we went about the game.

“We wanted to pursue expansive patterns, develop players while challenging them in terms of skill sets. There are a lot of lads here on the ladder on the way up to professional rugby. We wanted to play a style of rugby and if we were successful doing that, then well and good. Our focus here is on developing players.”

Young prospects
UCD used between 35 and 40 players during the campaign, 17 of whom are under age 21. It amplifies the achievement. While there is a temptation to point to the obvious quality of outstanding young prospects in the UCD ranks who have also contributed to Leinster ‘A’s progress to the final of the British & Irish Cup final, like Andrew Boyle, Sam Coghlan Murray, Adam Byrne, Luke McGrath, James Tracy, Jordan Coghlan and Conor Gilsenan to highlight a few – not all played in the Shannon match –- it should not overshadow a squad effort.

Byrne pointed out in passing that: “Barry Daly (he scored a brace of tries against Shannon), one of the top try scorers in league rugby has been exceptional but there have been unsung heroes who are not in the Leinster academy like (No 8) Danny Kenny and our captain, hooker Risteard Byrne.”

Byrne added: “We led 16-0 at the interval having played with a strong wind in the first half. We knew that we would have to endure long periods of pressure and we were mentally prepared for that.”

At half-time UCD players resolved to ‘give it a go,’ rather than defend a lead. It proved a wise move. Daly grabbed two tries, Kenny another while Tracy and Stephen Murphy also crossed the whitewash. James Thornton and Niall Earls kicked the rest of the points.

It was a tough day for Shannon, particularly as it marked the final appearance of Munster and Ireland prop Marcus Horan. An outstanding servant to club, province and country he was capped 67 times by Ireland and was a member of the 2009 Grand Slam-winning squad. He also made 225 appearances for Munster and was part of the Heineken Cup triumphs in 2006 and 2008.
Scorers: UCD – Tries: Barry Daly 2, Danny Kenny, James Tracy, Stephen Murphy; Cons: James Thornton, Niall Earls 3; Pens: Niall Earls 2, James Thornton.
SHANNON : J Loxton; S McNamara, E Moloney, R Mullane, D O’Donovan; T Bennett (capt), R Guerin; M Horan, D Casey, G McNamara; F Walsh, S McCarthy, E McLoughlin, J Murphy, J Shine. Replacements: J Cronin, N Horan, L Mullane, M Cullane, C Cullane.
UCD: A Boyle; S Coghlan Murray, A Kelly, S Murphy, B Daly; J Thornton, J Glynn; J Tracy, R Byrne (capt), K Moloney; S Grannell, E MacMahon; C Gilsenan, M McGroarty, D Kenny. Replacements: R Harrison, A Clarkin, B Cawley, L McGrath, N Earls.
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU)