There is a debate bubbling in the IRFU corridors of power around the subject of money in the Irish club game. The debate was kicked off by a small number of clubs who have found themselves on the wrong end of the debt cycle as the property market collapsed and as their local bank manager morphed from happy smiley golf club handshake man into something from the cast of the film “Pulp Fiction”. Needless to say this has gathered legs in true Irish political style and the said clubs have managed to disguise blatant self interest as a “common good” issue, and have generated traction in an IRFU liberally populated with “concerned” tut tutters and sparsely populated with clear thinkers and even less with transparent, direct, communicators.
For the clubs on the other side of the accounts ledger; those who are solvent, raise money before they spend it, and manage their debts with scrooge like intensity Saturdays contest in Castle Avenue was their answer to the debate. Two Clubs from vastly different traditions, from different sides of the City, clashed in a game that , had it been attended by any neutral party in this wasteful discussion would surely have ended the debate flat. Dead as a doornail!
If this is an example of a Club game in crisis then we have all been wasting our time for the last fifteen years. In front of a crowd of c. 2000 spectators Clontarf and St. Mary’s delivered a contest straight from the pages of the Norse Sagas and in an 80 minute battle ended the argument about the viability of the Irish Club game. If this was an example of wasteful Clubs spending foolish money on uncommitted , greedy players then they need to watch the playback and count how many times the Mary’s captain Hugh Hogan threw himself head first into rucks ; they would have liked to have been in the Clontarf medical room after the match to see Killian Lett almost fainting with pain and exhaustion after a titanic contribution to a lost cause; they could have seen the Clontarf tight head and try scorer Niall Treston at the end of the game crushed with emotion after an effort that was unsuccessful on the scoreboard but glorious in its corinthian intensity.
The game can be summed up as the Clontarf bludgeon versus the St. Mary’s rapier. Clontarf dominated possession and territory but failed due to the tenacity and commitment of the St. Mary’s defence where, as mentioned, Hugh Hogan was immense and was closely followed by hooker Richie “Chips” Sweeney. Clontarf will rue the 10 minute period starting just before half time when three home errors gifted tries to the sparkling Mary’s wingers and on a day where place kicking was a lottery that was to prove too high a mountain to climb for the home side. But by God did they give it a shot ! The last 20 minutes were spent effectively camped on the Mary’s line where the men in blue repulsed wave after wave of attack. At one point the crowd noise became a blur of screams as the tension from both sets of supporters gave voice. In the end Mary’s held on and deservedly go in to the last round of games with the momentum. Clontarf will require a performance against Lansdowne on the Main Aviva pitch next Saturday and will be hoping that Young Munster bring their special brand of defiance to Templeville at the same time.
For me this special day was summed up by the sight of a little girl , no more than 5 or 6 , her face, apache painted, in blue stripes lounging underneath the Mary’s bench as the game and the excitement went off around her. It was that kind of day . Great for families and local supporters, and great for the two Clubs.