THE Kilkenny under-15 rugby team finished a great season by contesting a tense and fiercely fought Leinster final in a breezy, sun-drenched Donnybrook on Bank Holiday Monday.
Against a well-drilled Boyne side, Kilkenny strove manfully from start to finish, coming agonisingly close to what would have been a winning score with only a minute remaining. Although very disappointed to lose, it won’t be long before this group of players realises what a fine achievement it was to reach a provincial final and the loss should only strengthen their resolve to do better in the future.
As is often the case with finals, the match turned out to be a scrappy, low scoring affair but no less compelling for all that.
After 15 minutes during which Kilkenny defended comfortably, Boyne were awarded a penalty on the Kilkenny 22 that their out half knocked over for the first score.
Five minutes later, following strong runs from captain Matthew McWey, open side Aiden McDonald and Cian Smith, capping a tremendous debut season for the big second row, out half Jake McDonald replied with a penalty of his own to level the scores.
With the referee about to blow the whistle for the end of the half a ball popped out of a maul on the half way line to the Boyne No. 10. He looked up to see that, for once, the Kilkenny defence was slow to re-align and raced through a big gap to score under the posts, leaving an easy conversion for himself.
The response from the Kilkenny players at the start of the second half was instant. Second row Tom Cuddihy, No. 6 Noel Whelan, who finished as the game’s top tackler, and the ubiquitous McWey put so much pressure on the Boyne defence that a string of penalties in the first two minutes left the referee no option but to send one of their props to the sin bin.
Kilkenny turned the screw with another tapped penalty and this time centre Kevin Mullen used pace and nimble footwork to force himself over near the left corner flag. The conversion attempt dropped just short, leaving Kilkenny needing one score for a win.
Kilkenny gave everything they had to get this score and so nearly did as the match reached its climax. With the crowd in the stand on their feet in excitement, No. 8 McWey tapped a penalty on the Boyne 22 and fed the hard charging Cian Smith on a burst for the line. Only tremendous defence from the Louth boys held him up short and moments later they were reacting with relief and gratitude to the sound of the final whistle.
Some of this group of Kilkenny players will move up to the under-17 team next season, but many will be around to use this excellent experience to have another go next year. One player who won’t be around unfortunately is Eoin Clarkson.
Best wishes for the future go from all of his teammates and coaches to the popular, easy going Eoin.
Kilkenny squad - Eoin Clarkson, Ben Devlin, Mark Carrigan, Tom Cuddihy, Cian Smith, Noel Whelan, Aiden McDonald, Matthew McWey, Ian Buckley, Jake McDonald, Conor Delaney, David Jordan, Kevin Mullen, Luke Rafter, Peter Hutchinson, John Hanrick, Shane O’Carroll, Daniel O’Connor, Lyndon Brannigan, Shawn Fitzgerald, James Moore, Sean Brennan