Our U16s contested their second final of the season last Friday evening when they travelled to Bruff where they faced Young Munster in the North Munster Cup.
Nenagh looked the stronger team from the beginning and they attacked the dogged Young Munster defence relentlessly for the first ten minutes. After being held up over the line once, they finally got on the scoreboard when Daniel Quinn fielded a loose kick well and they passed the ball out to Ryan Gratton. Gratton broke from just inside the Young Munster half and sprinted all the way in under the posts. Cillian Healy added the extras to go 7-0 ahead.
Young Munster responded within minutes when they tapped a penalty and got the ball out to their strong first centre who made an impressive run to the Nenagh 5 metre line before offloading for a try in the corner to come back to within two points.
A knock on from the kick off put Nenagh straight back on the attack and a couple of penalties allowed them to gain a foothold in the opposition 22. They decided to tap and go for the second penalty and Gratton showed great strength to power through the defenders for his second try and a 12-5 lead.
Despite Nenagh continuing to play some excellent rugby, they remained scoreless for the remainder of the half and when Young Munster won a couple of kickable penalties they made no mistake, slotting both to go in just one point down at half time.
At the break the Nenagh lads knew the score did not reflect the work they’d put in and they started the second half determined to score first. However, disaster struck almost immediately when a late hit to outhalf Billy O’Brien forced him to leave the pitch and then minutes later a red card left Nenagh a man down for the rest of the game.
From a scrum on Nenagh’s 10 metre line, Young Munster crashed up the middle but managed to keep the ball alive and get it wide to outflank the depleted defence and score. They converted the try to go ahead by 18 points to 12.
Nenagh’s composure after these blows was impressive. They kept the heads and, after some great defence put pressure on the Young Munster attack, they were awarded a scrum. Nenagh went through phase after phase before Emmet Jones ran a hard, straight line in the middle of the pitch, setting things up for Cillian Healy to get a beautiful skip pass out to Brehon O’Donnell who scored in the corner to bring the gap back to just one point, 17-18.
The final quarter saw both teams giving everything they had. Every single Nenagh player was putting in maximum effort and on several occasions it looked like they would score. There were clear line breaks from Gratton, Kedagh Broderick, Nathan Mannion and Shane Cleary and even an intercept from O’Donnell but still no score. The Nenagh forwards had been excellent in the lineout throughout the game and they continued to dominate, stealing a couple of Young Munster throws to add to their own and allowing Nenagh to take advantage of some excellent kicking by Healy.
But time was ticking down and when Young Munster got into the Nenagh half again things looked ominous. Another loose kick allowed Nenagh to get out of trouble though and two penalties later they had a lineout inside Young Munster’s 22. With time almost up, an excellent maul took them to within a couple of metres of the line. They recycled quickly and scrumhalf Thomas O’Brien passed to Kedagh Broderick. Even though they were a man down, the space was there on the outside but when Broderick passed to O’Donnell to get the ball out, the Young Munster defender came in between them and slapped it down.
When the referee signalled for the penalty right in front of the posts the crowd celebrations began as all knew that Cillian Healy’s excellent boot would slot it with ease. But these things always looks easy from the touchline and even professional players sometimes crack under that kind of pressure. All credit to him, looking nerveless and confident, Healy stepped up, kicked the penalty and sealed a well deserved victory for his team.
After a heartbreaking, last minute, 3 point defeat to Bruff in the league final and a 2 point quarter final loss to eventual winners Bandon in the Pan Munster Cup, this determined team were going to stay playing to win no matter what happened. It rarely looked like they were a man down in the second half. They defended exceptionally well, keeping Young Munster well away from any scoring opportunities and when they attacked it was a pleasure to watch them build phase after phase of great rugby.
This has been an outstanding season for these exceptional young players who have won 14 out of 17 competitive games, losing just 3 matches by a combined total of 6 points. A top 8 finish in Munster and a North Munster League final were great achievements in themselves but to top it off with some silverware was more than well deserved.
Back in Nenagh on Friday night players, coaches and parents gathered in the clubhouse for a medal presentation and awards. Well done to the entire squad and to our award winners Donncha O’Meara, Kedagh Broderick, Luke Shelly and Valters Janitens.
Our U16s now take a well deserved break but we hope to see them back in the club for our S&C summer program at the end of June before they make the move up to U18.5 rugby next season.
The coaches would like to say a special word of thanks to all the parents for your help and support of the team throughout the season.
NORFC U16 squad 22/23:
Kedagh Broderick, Jack Casey (c), Shane Cleary, Dylan Gamble, Ryan Gratton, Jamie Horan, Cillian Healy, Valters Janitens, Emmet Jones, Paul Kennedy, Cillian Lewis, Nathan Mannion, Gonzalo Martinez, Billy O’Brien, Thomas O’Brien, Brehon O’Donnell, Dara O’Looney, Donncha O’Meara, Marcus O’Mahony, Cathal Quigley, Daniel Quinn, Alex Ryan, Conor Ryan, Luke Shelly, Diarmuid Gleeson.