Having won the coveted trophy for seven successive years before relinquishing it last season, they will start favourites for another title when they take on Division Two side Highfield in the final at Musgrave Park on December 29. Ironically, the respective coaches on that occasion will be Mick Galwey and Geoff Moylan, who have played together for Shannon in successful Munster Cup and AIL teams.
“Geoff actually gave me a scoring pass when we beat Garryowen in the 1988 final,” quipped Galwey.
Moreover, Moylan was the Shannon coach for the last few years of Galwey’s playing career with the club before moving on to Buccaneers and now to Highfield, with whom he has made an outstanding start. Friendship, however, will be put to one side for a couple of hours four days after Christmas.
“I thought this was a fantastic performance by our lads today,” said Galwey. “We had nine Shannon men involved with Munster last night, and that means we have lost a lot of experienced players. But the younger fellas relished the chance of taking on Heineken Cup winners like John Kelly, Anthony Horgan and Denis Fogarty and, hopefully, they themselves will go on to greater things.
“Tadhg Bennett at out-half, the front-row en bloc, a great captain in David Quinlan … they were all outstanding, but it was the way the team as a whole battled, especially when reduced to 14 men for the last 20 minutes, that pleased me most. I was sorry for Philip O’Connor, he’s not a dirty player and was sent off for two technical offences, but it’s never nice to be shown a red card. Overall, though, I think we were the hungrier side and deserved to win.”
Cork Constitution, however, must wonder if the Munster Cup is ever again to grace their sideboard. They have to go back to 1989 for their last success and can have few complaints. They were able to field a number of contracted players — including Anthony Horgan and John Kelly — but failed to reproduce the form that has them sitting at the top of the AIL Division One table.
They were predictable in most things and, apart from a short spell in the second half, rarely threatened the Shannon line.
They were certainly handed their chance in the 65th minute when Shannon flanker Philip O’Connor saw red for a second yellow card offence and forced five successive scrums on the Limerick side’s line. They were 13-6 behind at the time and it was at this stage that their coach Brian Walsh felt they lost a glorious opportunity.
“We didn’t show sufficient patience and should have kept the ball in there,” he maintained. “We were naïve then and in other areas as well. We seemed content to play the game in the middle third of the pitch and that suited Shannon. I felt both sides had equal opportunities and they took theirs and we deserved to be beaten.”
The game’s only try came Shannon’s way in the 35th minute when right winger Andrew Finn gathered his own kick ahead and passed to second-row Padraig O’Brien who broke a tackle and galloped 30 yards to the line. Andrew Thompson converted to leave Shannon 7-0 ahead at the interval.
Referee Peter Fitzgibbon became a central figure as he yellow carded Philip O’Connor and Des Murray after 20 minutes. In the second half he binned Jeremy Cotter, the Con out-half, for a late and dangerous tackle before dispatching O’Connor for an early shower. In Cotter’s absence, Tom Gleeson kicked a penalty, the number ten returned to knock over another. but Thompson twice replied in kind to send Shannon seven clear.
They did admirably to hold on to that advantage to the final whistle.
D. O’Donovan; A. Finn, A. Thompson, J. Manuel, S. Kelly; T. Bennett, F. O’Loughlin; L. Hogan, S. Cronin, K. Griffin, P. O’Brien, F. Walsh, P. O’Connor, L. Mullane, D. Quinlan.
Replacements: K. O’Neill for Griffin (65); G. Murphy for Quinlan (82).
E. Ryan; A. Horgan, J. Kelly, T. Gleeson, C. Healy; J. Manning, D. Williams; C. Murphy, D. Murray, T. Ryan, M. O’Connell, S. O’Connor, E. Leamy, B. Cuttriss, F. Cogan.
Replacements: D. Fogarty for Murray, D. Hurley for Murphy, W. Holland for Cogan (all 46).
P. Fitzgibbon (Munster).