Revenge for Tountinna.
As the tired wedding guests traversed the heights of Tountinna and came into sight of Lough Derg, the great lake of the Shannon, and the Slieve Bernagh mountains to the west, they were set upon by the murderous attack of a superior force led by a fierce woman. No mercy was shown. The entire wedding party — including the King of Leinster — was slain on the slopes of Tountinna. They were buried on the spot, and the graves marked with several medium sized blocks of native stone for ever know as the graves of the Leinster Men.!
April, Friday the 13th 2018 in glorious sunshine the combined rugby sides of Newport, Ballina/Killaloe and Scariff’s under 14’s (on occasion known as the North Munster Rebels) set off for the battle ground of Oak Park the home of Carlow Rugby. The date a historic one would see the inaugural tie that is the Carpmael Cup. Excitement was palpable. The impending arrival of the Rebels was all over the airwaves as Kilkenny/Carlow Local Radio (KCLR) carried news of the game and the kick off at 6.30pm. (see the link https://kclrfanzone.com/carpmael-cup-carlow-2018/ )
The boys dressed as if to catch the eye of a Nenagh maiden on a Friday Night at ‘Pulse’ nite-club, lined up for the tour photo. Style was to the fore alright. But it was Owen Drost (SRFC) with his retro Dickie bow which won the prize for best dressed player. Little did we think that was all Owen was going to win that day. The touring party was joined by eight of the player’s parents. All equally excited with the thoughts of a trip away. No one was to be disappointed with the day that would unfold.
Arriving at Oak Park in plenty of time for the kick off the boys took to the pitch with all the exuberance of young bullocks being released into green pastures for the first time. Once a vigorous warm up had been concluded the team retired for selection and to don the Black and White of Ballina Killaloe RFC. Team selection was disquieting for the coaches. While most places were nailed down on the bus up the question of who would replace the non-travelling pair of Liam Minogue (SRFC) at full back and Shane O’Hallaron (NRFC) at scrum half needed addressing. With no volunteers for full back, it was the young Spaniard (on student exchange for the year) affectional known as Manuel ‘Murphy’ who stepped forward. Delighted Declan (coach) thrust the 15’s jersey towards Manuel only to be met by the questions – ‘Were is z dat position?’ and ‘Whats I do dere?’ In a display of true coaching excellence from which Josef ‘Joe’ Schmidt could learn a lesson Declan spent 3 minutes explaining the role in broken English for ‘Murphy’ to grasp. Then disaster struck – Aaron Leonard (BKRFC) who had received a knock in the warm up had to be ruled out – at least for the first half. But Diarmuid Cantillon (NRFC) who had been Aaron’s understudy for much of the year was ready to shine and shine he did.
The game began in a haze for the Rebels. A flurry of tries from the home side saw the tourists down 14 to nil within 8 minutes. Based on their start it wasn’t guaranteed that the Rebels could hold on to ‘Nil’ or would they be forced into negative figures. Clearly the boy’s heads were still on the tour bus and not in the game.
They say ‘Cometh the hour – Cometh the man’. And this took the form of the 5’8’’ blonde bombshell that is Mick Doyle of Feakle (SRFC). Much like his name sake from Castleisland now sadly departed when Mick demands more he will show you what he means. And after claiming a ball from his own out-half’s restart he lay waste to four Carlow forwards. This provided the platform! He had sucked in all remaining forward to halt his gallop. Enter Conor Whelan (SRFC) otherwise know as ‘Helicopter Whelan’ playing for the first time in his career at scrum half flashed a pass worthy of Murray himself. Whelan’s pass was to set in motion a series of lighting passes and ‘loop-around’s’ which saw Aidan(Feck Sake) Ryan (NRFC) go in for a try in the corner. The try was duly converted by Cillian O’Connor (BKRFC) a stalwart at No. 10 throughout the season for the Rebels. The boys were back in Town!
The second half saw the introduction of Aaron Leonard (BKRFC) for Diarmuid Cantillon. Aaron Collins (SRFC) known as ‘The Special One’ a forward who had to fill in as a back in the first half, gladly made way for Fionn O’Casey on the wing. Luke Nolan of Mountshannon (SRFC) one half of the Nolan sisters in the second row (the other being Daniel -no relation) made way for Matthew Ward (NRFC). ‘Wardie’ would prove to be the catalyst that would set the comeback in motion. His disruptive influence at training sessions which he brings to his game was to prove to be the down fall of a disciplined Carlow side.
As the second half began it was 21-7 in Carlows favor. From the drop off the forwards set up the perfect podium which allowed clean ball out to O’Connor. A text book skip pass fed the second centre ‘Macca’ (Stephen McCormick, NRFC) who completed two sidesteps worthy of Thomond Park to go in under the posts. Both Macca’s parents who had travelled and whom were central to much of the organization of the tour hugged and kissed, joy unconfined at ‘Juniors’ try.
Carlow quickly dampened any comeback aspirations with two tries in quick succession. Both try’s excellently executed like only a Leinster side can who are set on breaking Munster men’s hearts. But they only dampened the fire. They didn’t quench it. Cliché’s such as ‘Tooth and Nail’ cannot do justices to what I then witnessed. Aidan (Feck Sake) Ryan went on to demonstrate a cocktail of speed, size and strength never before seen in Carlow at such an age level. Young Ryan an avid hunter of North Tipperary game (pheasant ,grouse and trout) in his spare time, stalked and bagged three more tries to make the perfect quartet and round off his season’s tally to 78 tries and thus gaining himself the title ‘Player of the year’. However, Carlow weren’t finished yet and like Aarons Collins little sister at his 13th birthday Party they were there to wreck it! A mistake in the Rebels back line (which will be the subject of a documentary when footage of the match is released by RTE) saw two missed tackles allow Carlow the easiest try of the day. Disaster!
A minute left the score 31-36 in Carlows favor. Rebels tired, batter and bruised. They came a long way both in distance and metaphorically. Only two years together as a team. Boys who wouldn’t have known each other 24 months previous, let alone play sports together as a team. What could be done! Who would provide a ‘Roy of the Rovers’ type moment? Tomas (I don’t mind)O’ Farrell (BKRFC) that’s who!
From the kick-off he claimed a ball that sent the crowd wild. The crowd, which had started at about 20 strong now had built to what must have been 200 as news of the epic encounter had filtered from Oak Park out on to social media. This steal by O’Farrell was followed by a forwards display that would not be out of place in a Munster team of the 00’s. Carries by forwards Leonard, the two Simons (BKRFC) both Cal and James, Nolan and Wardie, with interplay by all the back most notable Shane ‘Speedy’ Geraghty (BKRFC) got them there – just inches from victory. The Rebels were camped on the Carlow try line. Surely this epic display of true grit had earned the Rebels the right to a victory. Over the line the rampaging forwards go. At the head? Who else but Leonard. It’s down……. the whistle blows… Is it?? Please god let it be. These boys deserve it. Sutton says a quick novena……….. But No! With the X-ray vision of Superman the referee determines it to be………. Held Up!
‘It’s not over yet boys!’ came the roar from Dan ‘The Man’ Nolan. A cry to rally any band of brothers. ‘Scrum down boys – let’s go! Let’s do it the hard way! Dan bellows.
The Scrum sets, the feed is perfect but unbelievable for the first time in the match Carlow from somewhere have strength enough to drive the Rebels the couple of inches they need to rob the ball. In a flash it’s at the back of the scrum all that is required is for the Carlow scrum-half to kick the ball dead. He doesn’t! He knocks it on! Surely we have to go again. Surely the scrum is re-set in the Rebels favor. The whistle blows three long high pitched gusts. It’s over. The dream of a Carpmael Cup Victory is over. It took over 1000 years but it came that day in April -Friday the 13th no less – and I was there…………………………REVENGE FOR THE GRAVES OF THE LEINSTER MEN!