Shannon remain on course for the treble
SHANNON, the All-Ireland League champions, will travel to Cork next Sunday to meet Cork Constitution in the Munster Senior Cup final, a competition sponsored by Carling, and will do so pursuing a unique treble.
At Thomond Park yesterday Shannon saw off Young Munster in the semi-final and while in the end just a point separated the sides - Shannon did not secure the victory points until the 75th minute - they deserved their success in yet another pulsating Munster Cup tie played before a crowd of 8,000.
Now Shannon stand on the threshold of becoming the first club to win the national league and provincial cup in the same season, having won the Munster Junior Cup in Cork on Saturday, in fact a treble now beckons.
The hero of the hour for Shannon was their Ireland under-21 international centre Andrew Thompson. Playing on the left wing yesterday, Thompson scored all points a try and two penalty goals. The winning score was a pressure kick from 26 yards and about 15 yards in from the left touchline. He struck the kick with unerring accuracy.
Last week, Young Munster were clinging to a one-point lead against Garryowen who were awarded a penalty from almost the identical position in the dying minutes and it was kicked wide. This time there was no reprieve for Young Munster who saw their tenuous two points advantage turned into a one-point deficit and there was no way back. Young Munster's centenary year would not be crowned with Munster Cup glory.
Nor was there any complaint from Young Monster. "Shannon deserved to win and I hope now they go on to complete the treble," said Young Monster coach, Tony Grant. "They dominated most of the second half and while we missed some chances in the first period and a few penalty opportunities, overall Shannon were the better side. They used the wind well in the second half and it was an important factor. We have played six very hard matches in six consecutive weeks and I think it showed in the closing stages," added Grant.
Young Munster were unfortunate to lose their outside half, Aid an O'Halloran, after 26 minutes with concussion. That brought a reshuffle of their back line with Mick Lynch moving from centre to outside half. While he did some things well he also took some wrong options.
"The treble is on for us now," said Shannon coach Niall O'Donovan. "It is one match away and we must steel ourselves for the effort that will be required." He was mindful of the fact that he played in three losing finals for Shannon against Constitution in Cork. "Although we dominated territorially for most of the second half, I never felt comfortable. Even after we went into the lead I did not feel easy. You can never feel easy against Young Munster." And O'Donovan's tribute to Thompson: "I have not seen him play better."
Shannon took the lead after five minutes when Thompson struck with a fine try after full back Pat Murray came into the line to provide the scoring pass. Thompson missed the conversion from the touchline. In fact Young Monster subsequently had the better of the half as their forwards carried the game to Shannon.
But Shannon defended well and needed to do so. Aidan O'Halloran missed two penalty chances for Young Munster but then they got a fine opportunist try. Awarded a penalty in front of the Shannon posts, Young Monster's splendid scrum half Derek Tobin, took the ball and floated a beautifully-placed ball out to the left wing and Niall McNamara gathered to score the try. Lynch converted from the touchline and then just on the stroke of the interval, kicked a penalty.
So Young Munster led 10-5 at the break. "I felt we seemed to relax after we got the early try and Young Munster were sharper in the first half," said O'Donovan. "But the pack produced the right response in the second half. I also thought our midfield defence was excellent and Pat Murray was at his best at full back."
The Shannon forwards, even after losing Brian Rigney, played sufficiently well to keep play inside the Young Monster territory for most of the half. Kieran Maher did well when moved into the second row for Rigney and was an able partner for Mick Galwey and the back row with Aidan Quinlan in to partner Anthony Foley. Mick Fitzgibbon prospered on the strength of the tight five. Young Munster did well in the line out but could not get free from the Shannon territorial grip. But Young Munster defended with typical resolution.
Thompson cut the Shannon deficit with a penalty from almost 40 yards in the 54th minute, but for all their superiority Shannon could not break down the Young Munster defence. Then came the penalty opportunity in the 75th minute and Thompson stepped in to kick the goal and win the match.