St Mary's respond with Mary's spirit
Rumours of Young Munster's demise may be a tad exaggerated although their second of back-to-back wins at Templeville Road was just as notable for the impressive way St Mary's also dug into their resources and spirit.
Shorn of 14 front-line players, including five props and six forwards out of last year's AIB League winning team, St Mary's were a good deal more competitive than they could have hoped or than the scoreline indicates. Disappointment over their failure to obtain the bonus point they deserved was largely assuaged by pride in a resourceful performance of near loaves-and-fishes proportions. Given the near daily amendments to their front row all last week, Peter Smyth hit their under20 locks Mark Donnellan and Dave Griffin with a regularity which was as much a tribute to his and St Mary's organisational skills as his accurate arm.
Smyth was excellent as both he and Victor Costello carried the torch and led from the front; the lively Eoin McCormack made much of what came his way and the under-rated Gareth Gannon was typically offensive in his defence. However, it was the performances of the young/fringe players such as the rangy Griffin which would really have encouraged the champions.
Typical of their ill-luck all week and on the day, Peter McKenna strained an ankle 10 minutes into the game, which is liable to leave them 15 short next week in Dungannon. Even so, Brent Pope purred loudly: "Everybody out there saw more positives than negatives. A bit of naivety, but what do you expect." Nor was the scrum that submissive, even if Munsters occasionally cranked up the pressure tellingly. Indeed, in terms of territory and chances created there wasn't much between the sides. But whereas Mick Lynch stroked over five kicks from five, Mark McHugh missed three from seven, one of which struck the upright, despite a couple of strong-driven efforts into the breeze.
Dennis Hickie, looking palpably jaded after a well-earned mid-season break to New York, would surely have made the most of a long-range intercept on another day instead of being run down by the genuinely quick Finbar Hogan. Furthermore, St Mary's wasted a couple of hard-earned overlaps in the last 10 minutes, notably when Alan Conboy spilled Smyth's skip pass with the line abegging.
The bounce of the ball went with Munsters, too, primarily when Mick Lynch's deft chip veered wickedly away from Hickie for Clem Casey to win the touchdown for the opening score. Stealthily clinching the win with a rare second-half raid upfield when Mike Mullins exploded onto Lynch's short pass in midfield, like an earlier version of the same move with Leo Doyle, the pass looked suspiciously forward.
Attired in a new all-black away strip, Munsters' defence was typically tigerish, but there was also clear signs of a more expansive approach, and likewise they had some eye-catching newcomers. Their galloping, hungry openside Kieran Gallagher, who has taken a cicuitous route via Queen's and Dundalk, impressed with his athletic ball-carrying and strength in the tackle, as did their muscular new number eight Mutu Njumiaga.
That Lynch was the creative spark for both scores was also fitting in a man-of-the-match display. He was equally thrilled by his emerging young teammates, singling out hooker Bevan Cantrell, the hugely promising Paul O'Connell and Gallagher, "the powerhouse" Njumiaga as well as their quick outside three of Hogan, Casey and Connolly.
It was a significant lift-off for Munsters and mentally a big lift too.
Scoring sequence: 13 mins: Casey try, Lynch con, 0-7; 17 mins: Lynch pen, 0-10; 19 mins: Lynch pen, 0-13; 22 mins: McHugh pen, 3-13; 29 mins: Lynch pen, 3-16; 33 mins: McHugh pen, 616; 53 mins: McHugh pen. 9-16; 57 mins: McHugh pen, 12-16; 66 mins: Mullins try, Lynch con, 12-23.
St Mary's: P McKenna; D Hickie, G Gannon, R McIlreavy, A Conboy; M McHugh, E McCormack; R Cranfield, P Smyth, J O'Connor, M Donnellan, D Griffin, F Fitzgerald, V Costello (capt), K Jennings. Replacements: B Bartley for Mckenna (45 mins), B Moran for Cranfield, S Jennings for K Jennings (both 66 mins).
Young Munster: C Casey; F Hogan, M Mullins, L Doyle, M Connolly; M Lynchy (capt), M Prendergast; P Clohessy, B Cantrell, M Fitzgerald, D Edwards, P O'Connell, M te Pou, M Njumiaga, K Gallagher.
Referee: A Rolland (IRFU).