It all started with that initial presentation from Brendan ‘Mac Daddy’ Staunton in E101 in the Smurfit building. Followed by a wet and windy Friday night in Monkstown Rugby club where record numbers turned out for the first training session taking by Oisin ‘Crusher’ Farrell. It was the start of the long journey that would inevitably leads us to be crowned world Champions!
With numerous fundraisers and multiple emails sent to companies, the day was finally upon us, the 12th of April was the flight to Charlotte airport! After organising training facilities, two coaches (Tom ‘Nolo’ Nolan & Oisin ‘Crusher’ Farrell), flights, accommodation, insurance, jerseys, all 44 of us (men and women’s teams) were set to play in the 38th MBA Rugby World Cup in Dansville, Virginia. Smurfit have attended the tournament for the past 19 years and wanted to keep this tradition alive; winners on numerous occasions.
A key competitive advantage we had was the inclusion of one of our coaches on the trip ‘Nolo’, wise beyond his years, his knowledge played an important role in our success. This was clear when he turned players who have never played before into try scoring & tackling machines, having never made a tackle in his life before.
The tournament’s first game on Saturday saw us rise at the early hour of 7am to face Yale. The marker was well and truly laid down early with Cameron ‘No Hands’ Kenny landing a massive hit in the first phase of rugby. Slick hands and direct running allowed Gavin ‘I want to be a centre’ Bolger to finish under the posts for our first score of the competition. Neatly converted by the man who doesn’t miss Jack ‘I actually missed two easy kicks’ Duffy and our player of the tournament. The dominance was further shown by running in three tries before half time, and this also included Cameron ‘No Hands’ Kenny being rather easily stripped of the ball as he went to touch it down under the posts! Some say that it was inexcusable, and they would be right to say so! Fantastic performances from some men who have never played rugby before, Dermot ‘I love teeny bopper songs’ Murphy & Padraig ‘Podge’ Curry.
After witnessing the comfortable win over Yale, Columbia decided it would be best for their players welfare if they conceded; mostly since Patrick ‘I tackle like a train’ Hinkson put up some strong tackles against the Yale players. A set score of 35 nil was awarded to us!
Two from two and up next was SMU, with the lads ready to go after feeling robbed by not getting to play Columbia. Sean ‘I got some Sun’ Brew laying down early markers with running direct lines and clever off-loading allowed Matthew ‘I’m not warming up its roasting out’ Scaife to grab his first try of the competition. He also bagged one for himself. Tom ‘I’m the coach so I’m playing this game as captain’ Nolan togged out to allow some players rest. He missed a tackle! A special note to Brendan ‘Mac Daddy’ Staunton, who with the longest run up in history for a kick landed one from an extremely tight angle following our last try scored by Gav ‘I was robbed of top try scorer’ Bolger.
The first day was coming to a close, bodies were sore and our toughest challenge LBS was up! Jack ‘I don’t miss’ Duffy landed an early 3 points to put Smurfit on the board. This was cancelled out by two penalties by the LBS out half. With tensions high, fatigue setting in and a disallowed try from Rob ’41 not out’ Becker, a much-needed piece of team brilliance allowed Gav ‘I sneak a lot of tries’ Bolger to finish well under the posts. With our backs against the wall LBS managed to sneak a last-minute try, which was converted, to finish winners on the day 13-10. That signalled the finish to the Saturday and the feeling of disappointment that we experienced after that game, we knew we weren’t going to allow it to happen again.
Following the disappointing end to the group stages on Saturday, the Men’s squad begrudgingly awoke at 6:45am on Sunday morning. Our Quarter-Final vs Columbia A kicked off at 9am, and, owing to the controversy experienced with Columbia the previous day, the lads were ready for action. There was a true sense of animosity to be felt on the pitch as the boys put in a clinical and physical performance against a team who, well let’s just say they should have stayed in bed that morning.
The Quarter-Final victory vs Columbia meant we were to play the old enemy, London Business School, in the Semi-Final, at 1pm. The loss to LBS late the previous evening had no impact on the confidence in the team, we were even more motivated to get the win. A piece of brilliance from Peter “I never eat carbs” Condon, displaying scintillating speed and strength to score under the LBS posts, as well as two well kicked penalties and a conversion from Jack “I don’t miss” Duffy, brought the score to 13-0 to Smurfit with 9 minutes to go on the clock. What was to happen in those last 9 minutes epitomised what UCD Michael Smurfit rugby was all about. Through blood, sweat and tears (tears from assistant coach Niall Connolly) and true heart and courage, Smurfit held out a 42 phase onslaught on their own try line to deny LBS any points, winning the match 13-0 and booking themselves a place in the Final. Special mention should go to Stephen MacCarthy who, after sustaining hyper-extension of every finger on his left hand, went back on to put in a serious defensive shift, only to be injured and ruled out of playing in the remainder of the tournament.
A shock result in the other Semi-Final between tournament favourites, Ivey and Wharton, meant Smurfit would face Wharton in the Cup Final. We knew how physical Wharton were going to be, considering the sheer size of their forward pack and how dominant they were against Ivey. Even though we were the smaller side physically, our intelligent and unparalleled defensive effort, including a vital turnover on the brink of the half-time whistle from Ronan “Factor 50 please” McDonagh, meant we led 3-0 at the break. The lads were visibly shattered, and who could blame them, they had accumulated 200 minutes of game time in 28 degree heat! In moments such as these, however, true leaders come to the fore to galvanise a team, to push them that small bit further. In this case, Peter “Jazz Hands” Condon delivered a half-time team talk Al Pacino could only have dreamed of delivering. The message was clear: ‘20 minutes, of everything you have left, and that cup, that piece of silverware we’ve worked all season for, is ours.’
In the final 20 minutes of the tour, the lads displayed some of the best rugby I certainly have ever had the pleasure of witnessing, and showed why they were deserving champions. Second half tries from Rory “Go on Blackrock!” Doyle, Dermot “Wheels” Murphy and Hubert “One Can Wonder” Gallagher, as well as two penalties from reliable Duffer and only what one can describe as the most spectacular conversion kick from Brendan “Mac Daddy” Staunton, which, may or may not have been, in front of the posts.
Special mention must go to the man of the match of the final, Eddie “The Langer” Beechinor, whom, with a serious ankle injury sustained in the quarter-final, put in a performance fellow Munster man, Paul O’Connell, would have been proud of. This dedication from Eddie epitomised the character of not only the Cork man, but the character and determination of each and every member of the squad.
It truly was an honour and privilege coaching this great bunch of lads. I have made some great friends and have amazing memories of what was a spectacularly unforgettable trip. This really was a squad effort, all 34 playing members contributed in spades and it is an achievement they should be immensely proud of.
To sign off, I would like to say a few words about my superb assistant coaches, without whom, none of this would have been possible. Firstly, to Oisin “Crusher” Farrell. Oisin was with us from day one and looked after the forwards for the season. Unfortunately, due to work commitments, Crusher could not travel with us but I know the lads will join with me in extending our deepest gratitude to a man who deserves as much plaudits as anyone for this successful tour. Secondly, to Niall “Limpy” Connolly, a massive thank you for stepping in last minute for Crusher, who couldn’t play himself due to a broken ankle. To be able to bounce ideas off and gather advice from such an intelligent rugby mind is invaluable for a Head Coach, and I will be forever grateful to Niall for his help over the weekend.
Until next year,
Coach Tom “Nolo” Nolan, B.Sc. Sports and Exercise Management, and Assistant Coach Niall “Limpy’ Connolly, M.Sc. Management
|Saturday Group Stages
||Sunday Knock-out Stages
|Yale- 57-0 W
Columbia B- 35-0 W
SMU- 38-0 W
LBS A- 10-13 L
|QF- Columbia A-24-0 W
SF-LBS A- 13-0 W
Final- Wharton 25-0 W