Watched by 10,000 spectators, this was an exciting, competitive game where every scrap of possession proved valuable, but, in the end, the team with the best defence won.
Belvedere absorbed periods of unrelenting pressure in both halves, scrapped for their 11 points and this morning are celebrating their second title in four seasons, and tenth in total.
Credit to the victors, but special praise for Mary’s who, arguably, played all the rugby but came up short.
Positive and full of ideas, Mary’s varied their points of attack to great effect. Strike runners Darren Hudson and Ian O’Neill shone as did skilful out half, Darragh Fitzgerald, while Jack McGrath, Robbie Field, Ronan Lennon and Richard Bent were magnificent up front.
In the end the difference between winning and losing was very small. Mary’s reduced the margin to the minimum with a try fashioned through the industry of their forwards on full-time, but Fitzgerald’s conversion attempt from the left — the wrong side for a left footer — veered right and fell short.
Belvo proved that they’re a durable, resilient group, tough to break through, possess big hitters in every line and, crucially, edged matters at the breakdown where they made three huge turnovers.
Mary’s weaved the game’s most elegant and intricate back line patterns but Belvo coach Gabriel Fulcher had his homework done in countering them. His two centres, Niall Myron and Colly O’Shea provided midfield stability, Michael Keating — as well as scoring a superb try — was coolness personified at full back, while up front captain Thomas Sexton was energetic, Eoghan Browne was superb and Peter Synott gave a wonderful demonstration at openside. The number 7 also posted two crucial penalties, the second which arrived in the 48th minute proving the winner.
Fulcher admitted that technically his side came up short, but lauded the efforts of his players, most of whom have come through from Junior Cup success in 2005. “I couldn’t say we played well across the board but our defence was incredible, our commitment was amazing and we showed composure at times.”
It started so brightly for Mary’s. On seven minutes they were on the score-sheet. Sublime passing on the short side from Fitzgerald, Peter Finnegan and Ray Crotty cut Belvo open before Crotty’s pass found Brendan O’Connell on his shoulder for a touchdown in the corner, but Fitzgerald couldn’t add the extras.
Belvedere had to work hard for primary possession but their strength on the deck was crucial in the build up to their first score. A turnover on half way saw Keating burst into open field, before Sexton eked out a few more hard yards. Mary’s was pinged by Alan Rogan for killing the ball and Synott coolly converted a difficult 30 metre penalty.
Mary’s didn’t take advantage during their best patch between the 20th and 30th minutes, which was ten minutes of total control inside the red zone, including a series of scrums followed by repeated pick and drives. Alas, it wasn’t enough to wear down Belvedere, whose defence stood tall. And following the fourth scrum, Mary’s were turned over and Belvo lifted the siege.
It was now Mary’s turn to defend in what was Belvo’s second visit into the opposition half. Synnott missed narrowly from a penalty but the winners did work a 35th minute try that was finished by the dashing Keating after taking a fine pass from Myron. After ten minutes injury time, Mary’s got into field position to nab another penalty chance, but Fitzgerald’s effort sailed just left of the posts.
Belvedere made it 11-5 on 48 minutes, Synnott bisecting the posts with a superb effort from inside half-way. From this point on, it was all Mary’s.
Their pressure was relentless but again heroic Belvo defence kept the blue tide at bay. Mary’s kept plugging away, kept knitting some superb moves in the three quarters, while Bent and Field made some big drives. Their perseverance was finally rewarded when Robert Ferris nudged over close to the line.
However Fitzgerald’s conversion attempt seemed too difficult to convert. Seven minutes of injury time saw more Mary’s pressure, but they couldn’t penetrate a stoic Belvo.
BELVEDERE COLLEGE: M Keating; J Conroy, N Myron, C O’Shea, B Woods; R Considine, D Traynor; C O’Brien, T Sexton (capt), CJ Barry; E Browne, L Mangan; C Doyle, P Synnott, D Memery. Replacments: M D’Arcy for Considine (inj 58); A Kenny for Woods (inj 61)
ST MARY’S COLLEGE: D Hudson; I O’Neill, M Walsh, P Finnegan, R Crotty; D Fitzgerald, S O’Donnell; J McGrath, W Andreucetti, R Ferris; O McGill, R Field, R Lennon, B O’Connell, R Bent (capt). Replacements: E Moriarty for Crotty (inj 14); S Murray for Field and K O’Sullivan for O’Connell (both 62)
Referee: A Rogan (ARLB)