Johne’s Journal is back, with PSA Academies’ Johne Murphy giving a first hand coach’s account of the pride and frustrations that accompanied a Quarter Final defeat for St Mary’s earlier this week. Enjoy the read!
The final four of the 2017 Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Senior Cup are now set and unfortunately for the coaching team including myself, the players, families, students and supporters, St Mary’s College didn’t pull through in Donnybrook on Tuesday
As with any day that promises so much but doesn’t deliver the result everyone worked so hard for, it was a disappointing day but one the lads should be proud of nonetheless. I explained in my first piece the emotional and physical investment all the Senior Cup Team around the province and through the country make to deliver their very best on the biggest stage in Irish school boy rugby. That commitment runs deep through the year and arguably across a number of years. For this 2017 squad, it probably started with the rugby camps like the Leinster School of Excellence and our own Tignes Rugby Academy during the summer, before the squad collectively met and started working hard back in mid-August with a challenging pre-season that featured a group of nearly 45 players.
From there on in, everything is aimed towards a Cup run that everyone hopes and dreams will run through to the RDS on St Patrick’s Day. The school has a hugely proud tradition of success in the competition, having won it five times, most recently in 2002 and whilst the competition has become more intense with changes in the schools market and structures on the schools themselves, the school and it’s past pupils and parents care passionately about investing to allow the students to give their very best on the pitch every Spring.
In terms of the season and how it progressed, we started out slow to say the least and the journey to this week’s quarter final was an arduous one. As with rugby at all levels but especially at schoolboy level, embedding the right culture, player ownership and game structure involves plenty of ups and downs but to be fair to the squad, they bought in and put the hard graft in to deliver the improvements that we all knew was needed to progress in the Cup. As a coach, that is all you can ever ask for, the commitment and attitude to deliver continuous self and collective improvement. And trust you need this at every level of the sport and if it is embedded and player led, then anything is possible. This year’s group may not have been the most talented squad to ever arrive through the gates but they had the right attitude, buckets of grit and what Eamon Dunphy might refer to as ‘balls’! This is why they achieved such improvements this year and why really displayed it at times on Tuesday afternoon.
In terms of how the match played out from a coaching perspective, I thought that we started very well and got great field position in the Clongowes 22 straight away, from some great play by Harry McSweeney. We had a few chances to get over the line in that phase, which would have been a great settler, but didn’t quite take them. We had a shot at three points that also went abegging, allowing Clongowes to steady themselves mentally and work their way into the game, dictating the pace and nature of the game. Before we knew it, they had blitzed us with three unanswered tries and we are looking down the barrel of a mauling.
Half time allowed us to get the lads in, refocusing them on the game plan, specifically the need for accuracy in the green zone. As a coach, you’re always looking at the body language and state of mind of the group, especially the leaders within it, and I felt that the clichéd ‘next score’ was crucial, as the team needed a chink of light, a moment of hope to spark them and reignite the fire that we had shown in the first 10 minutes. And cometh the hour, cometh the man as Myles Carey delivered a superb individual try to squeeze us into the game. As if by magic, the focus snapped back and our accuracy was much improved. Feedback from others at the game or watching on eirSport was that they thought Clongowes had lapsed in concentration and intensity but I think that is unfair on our guys. I’d spent enough long days training and coaching them to see the spirit and quality that they called on to get back into the game.
To be honest, I felt at 21-14 that we had a real chance. On the pitch the lads were in the zone and sticking to their task. With some great carries by Ronan Waters and skipper Niall McEniff, we got back in the Clongowes 22 and were pushing hard for that equalizing try but unfortunately, a forward pass frustrated us. Clongowes recovered their composure and got a penalty with 4 minutes to go which sealed the game for them.
To be fair, Clongowes deserved their victory on the day. They were more clinical than us, especially on their green zone attack execution. In terms of standout performers, they were marshaled exceptionally well by their scrum half Joesph Murphy, who controlled the game from close quarters very well. Their number 8 Sean McCrohan also had a great game and was on the edge all day. He made some great decisions and has great rugby smarts. Certainly, two players I can see having a bright future in the game.
To our boys, I can honestly say that you have been a pleasure to coach this year. It certainly wasn’t an easy ride for us on the day, to get yourselves back into a position to almost draw level after going 21-0 down shows how far you have come. I really hope that you have enjoyed it and learned as much as I have throughout the year. Your rugby journey shouldn’t stop here, as you have a lot more to give and get from the sport. But make sure you remember fondly the camaraderie, commitment and experience that was your Senior Cup campaign.
Read the full match report on the42.ie http://www.the42.ie/clongowes-st-marys-schools-cup-match-report-3238448-Feb2017/
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