All great journeys start somewhere. In our case we started on a wet Wednesday night in early February on a triangle of waterlogged grass adjacent to the UCD all-weather pitches. There was no room at the inn, we were forced to set up in the dimly lit corner stealing whatever light we could from the American football team training on the pristine surface just 10 metres to our left. We started off as the underdogs and remained so for the duration of this journey, just the way we like it.
The committee had first met the previous week to discuss the possibility of organising a team to attend the 37th MBA Rugby World Cup in Dansville, Virginia. Smurfit have attended the tournament for the past 18 years and we wanted to keep this tradition alive. We outlined the list of tasks we had ahead of us and set to work. It was no mean feat, we had 8 weeks to organise training facilities, a trainer, flights, accommodation, insurance, jerseys, corporate sponsorship and most importantly an actual team.
One of the major turning points and key to our success was the introduction of our Head Coach David “Manners” Mahon. Not much was known about him at the time, although there was a rumour he once fought superman and the loser had to wear his underwear over his pants. He managed to transform us from a bunch of misfits (half of whom had never played rugby before) into a well-oiled try scoring machine. We trained hard for 8 weeks and unfortunately, due to the intensive regime Manners insisted on, we lost a few soldiers along the way, ending up with a bare contingent of 15 lads and 7 ladies travelling.
With much blood, sweat and tears shed by the committee in getting the logistics in order, the day of departure arrived and we all set off for Danville, Virginia (some arrived sooner than others due to a storm over New York). Upon arrival we discovered we were sharing a hotel with the Harvard team which allowed great networking opportunities (the balanced scorecard was a popular topic of discussion to break up those awkward shared elevator journeys).
The tournament’s first game on Saturday saw the men’s team face SMU from Texas in a riveting contest. We demonstrated our dominance early when Cameron Kenny, who ate the hotel out of weetabix earlier that morning, decided to take on the SMU team himself and ran over for an early try. Dazzling footwork from full back Craig ”Joey Carbery” Kennedy led to two more tries which finished the game early. Our next opponents were Columbia Business School, where man of the match Kevin Lynam took the ball and barged past three stunned Columbia forwards to get us on the scoreboard early. Tries from Darragh ”Biceps” O’Neill and Eoghan “Stringer” Cudmore closed out the game and we marched on to face Wharton in our final game of the day. This was a tougher contest but we prevailed in the end through excellent forward play from the impassable trio of Jan Ullman, David Camp and Colin Dunne. We finished the group stages top seed with an impressive tally of 28 tries.
The newly formed women’s team had a rocky start losing their first touch rugby game to London Business school (A) who allegedly had 76 substitutes, which they used after every try. However, nothing like a defeat to ignite a spark and something happened in that post-game huddle that inspired the ladies to go on and win their next three games against Wharton, LBS B and Columbia. Talk of the first day was a try scored by Smurfit Ladies Captain Ciara Keane, getting the ball in her own half she weaved her way in and out of the Columbia defence to cross the line untouched to win the game in the dying seconds. Some compared it to the magic once conjured by a young Brian O’Driscoll. Incredible skills were demonstrated by all with some impressive team tries including an amazing diving touch by Lyn Markey. The ladies day finished with a tense drop-off game against LBS B that saw Smurfit emerge victorious after a well-rehearsed switch pass between Ciara Keane and Mary Sheehan opened up space on the wing to allow Sheehan touch down in the corner. A job well done by both teams. With sore bodies and big smiles we headed to the Danville farmers market for a BBQ and networking event with the other schools.
We awoke Sunday morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to prepare for our quarter finals.
The men’s team had drawn Wharton, a formidable Ivy league school from Philadelphia. We had a slow start to this game but true leaders, in the form of Leigh Carr and Niall Gallagher, emerged to score excellent individual tries to see us through to the semi-final. The ladies faced Yale in their quarter final, they scored three amazing team tries with Micaela Connery Maria Barry and Lyn Markey touching down. The men now faced their biggest challenge yet matching Harvard in the semi-final. At this stage our bare panel of 15 began to take its toll and we were reduced to 13 men through injury. Exceptional defensive work from Cathal Murphy and Will Sheahan was unfortunately not enough to keep the pocket protector wearing Bostonians out. We crashed out of the competition coming 3rd overall out of 16 teams, always the underdog.
The ladies breezed through their semi-final, with an exceptional defensive display from Kerry McLaverty, to find themselves in the MBA World Cup Final against their initial defeaters LBS A. I caught a whisper of Manner’s pre-final speech, it sounded somewhat familiar, something about “inches” and “Healing as a team or dying as individuals”, whatever it was it worked. With the sun shining down and tri-colours out in force the final began. It was a tight contest Mary Sheehan showed her resolve and came close to running over for the Irish. Alas, even great defence from Michelle McEvoy wasn’t enough to keep the Londoners out. LBS used their 76 substitutes to great effect and in the end, the fresh legs made all the difference with Smurfit having to settle for 2nd place. An incredible achievement for a group of ladies assembled hours before the tournament. What they achieved will go down in history as one of the greatest David vs Goliath stories the tournament has ever seen.
The weekend was truly an amazing experience and the committee would like to thank all of the students who travelled. You have done both your school and country proud. We would like to sincerely thank all our sponsors, especially Sinnotts Bar and Newstalk, without your generous assistance none of this would have been possible. A special thanks must also go to Orla and Zoe in the MBA programme office and everyone who attended our fundraising events, your support helped make the trip an overwhelming success.
However, the journey does not end here, both Men’s and Ladies teams have unfinished business left on that field in the woods of Virginia. The only thing that stopped both teams was a lack of resources, an issue we have plans to address. Luckily most of the team are undertaking the Executive MBA, meaning we have one more year to make things right and get Smurfit back to where it should be, Number 1.
I will finish with the words of a well-loved Irish Poet :
“We’re not here to take part…We’re here to take over”
Brendan Staunton, Year 1 Executive MBA