THE Kilkenny rugby club under-13 team were crowned Leinster League Division 1 champions after winning a hard fought final against a strong Birr side. The match was played in Naas and Birr arrived in confident mood after scoring 34 points in the defeat of fancied Dundalk in the semi-final.
Kilkenny reached the final by scoring a thrilling last minute try to beat Wexford 5-3 in an altogether different encounter.
During the opening minutes of the final it seemed that Birr’s high ranking was justified. They dominated possession and territory by keeping play relatively tight and relying mainly on their well drilled, strong running, forwards.
The pressure told. Birr opened the scoring with a try on 15 minutes. The losers were awarded a penalty to the right of the Kilkenny posts and they elected to kick for goal. The ball rebounded off the posts. A Kilkenny player was deemed to have played the ball in an offside position and a second penalty was awarded.
This time the ball was tapped quickly and transferred to powerhouse number 8, Michael Milne, who powered over the line to touchdown. The conversion attempt was missed.
That five point concession seemed to kick Kilkenny into life. The Foulkstown outfit began to use their superior pace and combined strong running from the likes of team captain, Laurence Feehan and No. 8, Padraig Mullen with quick recycling to punch holes in Birr’s defence.
Livewire scrum-half, Kieran Norton, kept the ball moving quickly. The Kilkenny backs displayed excellent handling skills when putting an expansive game plan into operation. Birr struggled to deal with the width and pace of the opposition and it didn’t take long before they conceded.
After left winger, Conor Cantwell, made ground down the touchline the ball was flashed out along the line and a nicely timed pass from outside centre, Robert Boyd, put right winger, Aidan Lawler, into space just inside the Birr half. Lawler displayed blistering pace to round his opposite number and beat the cover to touchdown for the equalising score.
Full-back, Jack Walsh narrowly missed the conversion. From the restart Kilkenny immediately applied pressure and forced the opposition back. With half-time looming, the Kilkenny forwards moved into a strong position and drove in a series of mauls towards the Birr line.
Eventually the prop, Conan Dunne, drove off the side and despite being tackled by three defenders he managed to stretch out and touch down to the left of the posts. Walsh was successful with the conversion. The score was 12-5 to Kilkenny at half-time.
With the game finely balanced, the next score was always going to be vital. From the off it was Kilkenny who grabbed the initiative. After 10 minutes the winners again worked their way into a strong position on the right. When they drove forward, the Birr defence was sucked in.
When the ball was flashed to inside centre, Eric Mahon, he spotted a gap and sprinted through to dot down under the posts. Walsh successfully converted. Kilkenny had a commanding 19-5 lead.
Despite the odds, Birr displayed great strength of character and kept taking the game to the opponents. In fact, if it hadn’t been for a heroic defensive display from the young Kilkenny players the result could well have been different.
Kilkenny out-half, Rory O’Keeffe, and his centre partners, Mahon and Boyd, were particularly impressive as they regularly took down bigger Birr players.
However, the pressure eventually told and with around five minutes to go Birr made their way to the Kilkenny line in the right corner. From a ruck their scrum half passed to Milne who, again made a well timed run and was just too powerful to stop from short range. He crossed the line for his second try (19-10).
This turned out to be the final score in a fine game of rugby that was played in the best possible spirit by two teams who displayed character, bravery and skill beyond their young age. As the final whistle blew the Kilkenny squad wildly celebrated becoming the Champions of Leinster!
Kilkenny squad - Conan Dunne, David Graham, Evan Morrissey, Tim Ferris, Dan Blanchfield, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Laurence Feehan (capt), Padraig Mullen, Kieran Norton, Rory O’Keeffe, Conor Cantwell, Eric Mahon, Robert Boyd, Aidan Lawler, Jack Walsh, Joey Organ, Ryan Nugent, Niall Doheny, Alex Johnston, Michael O’Shaughnessy, Charlie Buckley, Paul O’Dwyer, Sean Rafter, Harry Foley, Cian Harding, Adrian Mullen, John Burns, James Rafter, Callum O’Dwyer.