It may have been a war of attrition with heavy hitting, but this was club rugby at its unfettered best.
Mary’s, whose register includes 13 contracted players, rolled out the youngsters again on Saturday and, in 19-year-old out-half Jonathan Sexton, coach Steve Hennessy has found gold.
“He is a very good player, a good reader of the game, a good tactical kicker, and his two kicks ultimately helped us salvage a draw,” said Hennessey afterwards.
After a nervous opening half Sexton really turned on the style after the interval. With his side trailing 0-10 at the break, his penalty on 49 minutes set off a chain of splendid Sexton moments.
With three-quarter play scarce on a slippery surface, it was left to Alan Gaffney’s scrum-half-in-waiting in the Munster Academy, Tomás O’Leary, to direct his pack. The former Cork minor hurling star showed his box and grubber-kicking skills to an appreciative home crowd.
After John O’Mahony, who has scored in every AIL game he has started in since 1998, added another three points after nine minutes, the tie got a tad cranky and referee George Clancy sin-binned Gareth Logan for continually disrupting Dolphin’s quick recycle play.
O’Mahony missed a penalty in the 31st minute, but Dolphin got their just reward for fine pressure play from captain James Coughlan and Donncha Murphy. First O’Leary set up O’Farrell to burrow through a line of Mary’s defenders five metres from the line.
The hooker was stopped, O’Leary went left and fed O’Mahony, whose glided pass to Mick Manning saw the centre touch down under the posts. A simple conversion from O’Mahony gave Dolphin a comfortable 10-0 lead at the break.
As the hits came hard and heavy, there was always an underlying sense that Mary’s would find a chink of space in Dolphin’s defence, though Coughlan and Murphy were having blinders for the Cork side.
Though Sexton miscued a penalty attempt in the 57th minute, Mary’s kept plugging away and in the 78th minute the teenage fly-half set up Paul Nash for a well-worked try and Sexton’s cool conversion gave his side a share of the spoils. In the after-match tunnel, Dolphin looked like a team that had let four points slip away, while the Mary’s forwards wore smiles after a job well done.
“Very pleased with that result,” admitted Hennessey. “To get a draw in Cork is a super result. We should have been way behind at half-time.
“We froze in the first half. We made so many mistakes and gave away an amount of scrums. Dolphin have Tomás O’Leary at the base of the scrum, and though he didn’t expose us today, we know how good he is off the base of the scrum.”
Dolphin coach David O’Mahony, was less pleased. “We could have lost it. We played very poorly in the second half and got what we deserved. There was a harsh lesson to be learnt out there but hopefully our fellows will learn from that,” he said.
“We were well on top in the first half and in the first 10 minutes of the second but we didn’t put them away.”
DOLPHIN: D O’Mahony; S O’Halloran, J Storey, M Manning, J Murrell; J O’Mahony, T O’Leary; R McKinney, D O’Farrell, J O’Sullivan; J Fitzgerald, R McGrath; G Finn, D Murphy, J Coughlan (c). Blood sub: C Healy for J O’Mahony (10-12).
ST MARY’S: D Hughes; R Smyth, D Lyons, C Field, R Murphy; J Sexton, J Kilbride; C O’Byrne, B McCormack, P Tucker; G Logan, J Ellis; P Nash, B Donohoe, A Copeland. Replacements: B Moran for Tucker (58); O McCormack for B McCormack (70); B Brophy for Donohoe (73).
Referee: G Clancy (IRFU).