Bandon 15 Skibbereen 13: Underage rugby in West Cork is going from strength to strength and will continue to do so for years to come if the quality of the football in yesterday’s Bank of Ireland Munster Under-18 Club Cup final proves a reliable yardstick.
Bandon emerged as outstanding champions but only just edged a gallant Skibbereen side in an exhilarating decider which saw only the width of the Thomond Park crossbar separate two evenly matched, superbly coached squads.
The result brought a famous day for Bandon to a triumphant conclusion given that they had started off yesterday’s three-match programme with victory in the Munster Under-16 Plate.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for this day,” enthused head coach Bob Brady: “It was our fifth final and among those we have lost were the Munster 16s Pan final last year and a couple of South Munster titles. But this is only justice for the work put in by these boys and the coaches over the years. They are a very special group. Almost all of them have been together since they were around six years of age.
“The amount of work they have put in, even in the very worst of the weather, has been enormous. They turned up for training when others were hiding from the snow. Yes, they actually trained in the snow. And that’s the kind of thing that makes them great champions. It means a great deal to the club and no praise is too high for youth officer Gary McCormack and all the coaches.”
There was an early indication of the standard of play that was to follow when Skibbereen took a deserved lead on 10 minutes with a well-taken try by centre Matthew Bushe. Bandon full-back Joe Crowley, who was to later prove the hero of the hour, narrowed the gap with a penalty to leave “Skib” 5-3 in front at the half-time break. A penalty by Jamie Shanahan shortly after the resumption pushed them five points clear and the challenge to Bandon had grown ever greater.
Skibbereen retained that tenuous lead until midway through the second half when second-row Ben Donegan finally pierced the Skibbereen defensive wall to score close to the posts. Crowley tapped over the conversion to put Bandon 10-8 ahead. And when a magnificent demonstration of how to keep possession and recycle the ball led to a magnificent try in the left corner by Crowley, the contest looked as good as over at 15-8 for Bandon.
However, Skibbereen dug in and when Jordi O’Brien went over for a try they had sympathy of every neutral when Shanahan’s conversion came back off the crossbar. So near and yet so far for gallant losers but to Bandon the glory that was richly and honestly deserved.
J Crowley; H Hall, S Galvin, E Guinevan, M Crowley; J Crowley, C Roberts; C Heaney, A O’Connor, J Collins/O’Brien, C Keogh, B Donegan, T Galvin, J Brady capt, P Galvin. Replacements – R Cremin, M Wilson/Fehilly, F Toner, T Bryant, J van der Westhuizen, S Golden, D McCann.
D Daly; O Lucey, M Bushe, T Beare, E O’Neill; J Shanahan, G Foley; D Duggan, Jamie O’Driscoll, D Cullinane, A Stout, M Maguire, J Benn, L O’Connor, M Veale. Replacements – E O’Donovan, J Murphy, John O’Driscoll, J O’Sullivan, K Whelton, J O’Brien.
Referee - Eoghan Cross.
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