St Mary's finally lay Limerick hoodoo


ST MARY'S COLLEGE went to Tom Clifford Park last Saturday, as leaders in the Insurance Corporation All Ireland League and burdened by the legacy of never having won a league tie in Limerick since its inauguration.

But St Mary's signed the scene with their honour and resolution and ended the seven year hitch by defeating Young Munster, having laid the Limerick bogey and, at the same time, keeping their unbeaten record intact.

It was a vibrant contest and no place for the faint of heart. Application and courage are essential requirements for the visitor to this most formidable rugby territory. St Mary's answered the call on all counts. And if the result was in doubt until the third minute of injury time when St Mary's stretched a five point lead into eight insurance points, there is no doubt that they deserved to win.

There were several in their sided who had not previously experienced the demands of a match at Clifford Park, a factor that St Mary's coach Ciaran Fitzgerald said, "helped them insofar as they were not really concerned about the fact we had never won in Limerick." But it was a man who has been at the heart of St Mary's efforts for several years now, and who has been at the centre of some controversy at Clifford Park in the past, second row Steve Jameson, who emerged as the key figure in this victory.

Jameson had an outstanding match and his play in the line out was a crucial element in helping his side to victory. He was very ably assisted by a pack of forwards who passed the examination set them with merit and another veteran, Kevin Potts, also played splendidly.

For St Mary's it was, as Fitzgerald said, "a very big and important win. They defended superbly. We tried everything to break them down, but apart from one try, they countered us."

But that try in the 26th minute was not alone a crucial score, it was splendidly created and clinically executed, a sweeping movement from right to left with Denis Hickie coming in off the right wing to create an extra man and full hack Keith Nowlan up to give Dave Lyons the scoring pass. Craig Fitzpatrick, who had another fine match, converted and St Mary's led 16-5.

Fitzpatrick had earlier kicked three penalty goals, while scrum half Derek Tobin had scored a try for Young Munster in the seventh minute after he capitalised when St Mary's failed to clear from a scrum near their line. That had left the home side 5-3 in front - Fitzpatrick had kicked a penalty as early as the first minute - and then added two more in the ninth and 20th minutes.

St Mary's had enjoyed the benefits of a cold crosswind and had stood up well to the Young Munster pack. Indeed, St Mary's mauled and drove with great effect throughout, scrum half Eoin McCormack was a splendid link between backs and forwards. It was, too, unfortunate for Young Munster that they lost their captain and number eight Declan Edwards in the 16th minute. He had played very well in the short time he was on the field.

Young Munster faced the second period with an 11 point deficit. When Aidan O'Halloran kicked two penalty goals in the 51st and 55th minutes, they stood just five points adrift and the stage was set for a really big comeback. But it did not materialise. "At that stage I felt we could and would win," said a very disappointed Young Munster coach Dan Mooney. "But St Mary's weathered our pressure and we did not help ourselves by giving away needless penalties when we got into their half."

That assessment was accurate, as that is what Young Munster did. Then, in the closing stages, St Mary's kept play in the Young Munster half. Jameson's line out play was majestic at this stage and St Mary's regularly had the throw in as Young Munster kicked to touch out of defence.

Three minutes into injury time, with only five points separating the sides, Young Munster were penalised (rather harshly in my view) for offside and Fitzpatrick completed a fine performance by kicking his fourth penalty. He scored 14 points and also hit a crossbar and an upright with two other attempts. The final penalty award was disputed vigorously by Young Munster's very hard working flanker Des Clohessy. As a result, referee Sean Buggy won few friends at Tom Clifford Park and in fact, ended up having to be escorted from the field.

"St Mary's well deserved to win. They played well and tied us down in the closing stages with good mauling. We needed those points, but we will now focus on the next match and I feel sure we will move to safety", said Mooney.