Leinster Senior Cup Final

UCD RFC v. Clontarf FC

Donnybrook, Saturday, 17th January, 2015 at 3pm

  The 129th Senior Cup Final

The 129th Leinster Senior Challenge Cup final takes place at Donnybrook on Saturday 17th January, 2015 at 3pm between UCD RFC (currently, the holders) and Clontarf FC (currently, All Ireland League champtions). The astute reader will notice that UCD is designated as a Rugby Football Club whereas Clontarf is a Football Club. These slightly different descriptions are not intended to confer some advantage to one side or the other. Rather, it indicates that Clontarf was established before the formation of the IRFU in 1880. In common with other established rugby clubs at that time, such as Dublin University and Lansdowne, Clontarf were referred to as a Football Club, as the game of Rugby was then known. UCD RFC was founded in 1910 and was designated as a Rugby Football Club. In the absence of suitable grounds, UCD played its first (official) Rugby match at Castle Avenue which was then, and is, the home ground of Clontarf FC.

Down through the years, Clontarf and UCD have been drawn against each other in the Senior Cup on 14 occasions. However, they have met only once – in the 1938 cup final but more about this later. When reading about these matches, one must marvel at the commitment of both sides. Of course, these matches had their fair share of excitement, moral defeats, lucky victories, an unusual bounce of the ball, controversial decisions by referees, but they were always “interesting”!  So, read on…………..


The 1920s

The first senior cup match between UCD and Clontarf was the 1920/21 semi-final, which UCD won by a “flattering” margin (16 – 0), which included four tries. One match report commented that the game “was interesting and played at a fast pace throughout”. UCD’s international, prop-forward Andy Courtney, and future international, centre Donal Sullivan, were prominent. UCD would be beaten by Trinity in the final (0 – 5).

In 1924/25, UCD, as Cup holders, were winners (18 – 3) in a second round tie. Clontarf scored a try in the first minute (worth 3 points) but “were then outplayed in every phase of the game” and “the University backs gave a sparkling display…with all the judgement and polish of great players”. UCD scored 6 tries and the match report noted that “the brilliance of (Sarsfield) Hogan and (Eugene) Davy – both UCD players – should not go unrecorded”. (However, UCD would be beaten in the final by Bective).

The third cup match between the two teams was a second round tie in 1928/29. The scores were tied at the interval largely due to “a stout defence” by Clontarf but “the onlookers had at that time picked the winners” and “there was no doubt that the better side won”. UCD were victorious (13 – 3).


The 1930s

The 1930s was a remarkable time for Clontarf who reached five successive Cup finals, but winning only one (in 1936) and they often played UCD along the way. In 1933/34, the first round tie was drawn (0 – 0) but “the honours of the day must be given to Clontarf who, for more than three-quarters of the time, were without their clever centre, Fred Moran”. (Fred would subsequently be capped by Ireland). UCD won the replay (11 – 4) and “deserved their victory, as they had the better side all round” but the outstanding player on the field was Clontarf’s (George) Morgan who gave splendid passes to his out-half and in other respects did all that one man could do to pull off a victory for his side”.

The following season (1934/35) UCD again defeated Clontarf (3 – 0) but under controversial circumstances which was headlined as the “Mystery of Dropped Goal”. The Irish Press reporter wrote: “I am emphatically of opinion, however, that Clontarf can lay claim to a moral victory as a result of a beautifully taken dropped goal by Stan McHugh – the Clontarf out-half – two minutes from the end, which sailed perfectly between the uprights. To everyone’s amazement – and to the consternation of the Clontarf players in particular, who were mobbing McHugh with congratulations – the referee disallowed the score on the ground, presumably, that the ball touched a “National” player in flight after leaving McHugh’s boot. From my position, however, this certainly did not appear to be the case”. This was strong and unusual criticism but it was later clarified in the newspapers that M. Nolan, one of the UCD forwards, had touched the ball in transit. Therefore, although the drop-kick went over the bar, the laws at that time stated that a dropped goal cannot be awarded if the ball is touched by a member of the opposition! (UCD supporters may recall a similar decision by the referee in the 1966/67 final against Terenure when a UCD drop-goal was controversially disallowed).

In the 1935/36 semi-final, UCD would play Clontarf for the third successive season. However, Clontarf would beat UCD in the Cup for the first time and win the cup for the first time. The semi-final meeting was initially drawn (3 – 3) and brought together two Irish rugby “greats” – Aidan Bailey and George Morgan – whose schoolboy records can hardly be beaten. The UCD centre, Aidan Bailey, had already been capped while at school at Pres. Bray, but played out of the Lansdowne club. The Clontarf scrum-half, George Morgan, had played for seven successive seasons for Belvedere in School’s Cup – four years on the JCT and 3 years on the SCT. Clontarf won the replay (12 – 3) and went on to win the Cup by beating Blackrock in the final. Clontarf were popular winners as described by the Irish Times: “most Dublin rugby followers must have been pleased to see Clontarf winning the Leinster senior Cup for the first time, after striving for forty years. They were well-deserving of their success, too; for week after week throughout the season…they have proved themselves to be the most consistent club side in Dublin”. After their first cup win, Clontarf would play in four successive finals – being beaten on each occasion.

One of those defeats was provided by UCD in the 1938 final. UCD were “undoubtedly the better side but, like many another team, they found Clontarf most difficult to overcome and the deciding score was distinctively unlucky”. UCD’s winning try came from a kick ahead which landed in the in-goal area. The Clontarf and Ireland centre, Fred Moran, “easily beat the UCD winger, Prendeville in the race to touch down, but he failed to steady the ball, which sprang away from him as he dropped on it. Prendeville quickly threw himself on it and the referee awarded a try – a somewhat doubtful decision to my mind, and a piece of really bad luck for Clontarf”.

The UCD team was: P. Crean, D. O’Brien, T. Bradley, A. Bailey, T.Chamberlain, T. Prendeville, W. Dallas, J. Thompson, J. Ryan, R. Magner, Tim Boland (Capt). T. Headon, F. Dwyer, P. O’Meara and F. Morrissey. (No substitutes/replacements were allowed at that time). Of that UCD team, Aiden Bailey was the only current international player. T. Headon (who would subsequently join Clontarf) and J. Ryan were capped the following year and also in the unofficial internationals that took place during the war years. Headon, Chamberlain, Thompson, Boland, Magner, P. Morrissey, D. Ryan and Dwyer were or would become interprovincials. That UCD went on to win the Bateman Cup the following week – the only time UCD have won the All-Ireland knockout cup.

The 1940s/1950s

Clontarf and UCD would next meet in the 1944 semi-final where “Clontarf had the galling experience of crossing their opponents’ line twice, keeping their own line intact, yet losing…for the most part it was a fierce battle between the forwards and the younger University pack never gave ground to their formidable opponents”. UCD’s trump card was (subsequent) international winger, Kevin O’Flanagan. In the dying minutes, the Clontarf (and former UCD) winger, Breen Mullen had a clear run from half-way but “he had not sufficient stamina left, and the defence got back to save the situation”. For the second season in succession UCD would play and be beaten by Old Belvedere in the Cup final.

The teams next played in the 1950 semi-final. The newspapers reported that the Clontarf attacking play was limited as “their centres had neither speed nor tricks of swerve or sidestep, and the wings were disinclined to watch the ball when it was passed to them”. Nevertheless, match reports indicate that Clontarf were unlucky to lose. In the final minutes “UCD kicked over the goal line where McMullen, the Clontarf captain and full-back waited to touch down. However, the ball, on bouncing, shot away some four or five yards from the full-back, and P. McCabe hurled himself at it, and apparently touched it with the tips of his fingers (and it was) as fortunate a try as was ever seen scored”.

The teams were back at it in the 1954 at the first round stage, which saw Clontarf win (9 – 5) over the more fancied side, with Clontarf scoring all their points in the first 15 minutes. It was a robust struggle and “not for a long time has a cup tie been contested in such a fierce spirit. Fists may have been employed at times, but Ham Lambert, whose refereeing contributed to an exciting struggle, kept a firm grip on the affair without being over-Rugby/Leinster Senior Cup (UCD v. Clontarf) meticulous”. A motivating factor for Clontarf may have been that UCD were fielding three new international players, Mick Hillary, “Boldie” O. Neill and Paddy Kavanagh. However, “head and shoulders above every other UCD player stood Ronnie Kavanagh” during the match and he would receive his international cap the following season.


The 1960s/1970s

In 1964 UCD, as cup holders, faced Clontarf in the first round. That UCD team, containingfour internationals and four interprovincials, were “repelled by a rock-sound Clontarf” (and) UCD had their hands full in advancing (6 – 3) by the narrow margin of a try and a dropped goal to a penalty goal but they had to surmount a most difficult hurdle”. Perhaps the most dramatic cup meeting between UCD and Clontarf took place in 1967, which required three matches to determine the winners. In the first match, UCD were considered “lucky to force a draw (and) on the run of play Clontarf were the better side”. The replay required extra time but the scores were still tied. A third match was required. With three minutes remaining in normal time and extra time looming, UCD’s international centre, Barry Bresnihan, scored the decisive try. Thus, after 260 minutes of rugby, UCD progressed in the competition but, ultimately would be beaten by Terenure in the final. (Incidentally, that UCD team would provide three future Presidents to the UCD club).

The drama continued in the first round match in 1973 – a match that UCD, with four current/future internationals, were expected to win comfortably and were doing so. However, with minutes remaining and Clontarf trailing (6 – 10), that great servant of Clontarf rugby, Shay McMonagle, was the quickest to react in scoring an equalising try – then worth 4 points.

From a lineout a yard from their own line, the UCD winger intended to throw the ball over his forwards’ heads to his out-half who would, presumably, catch and clear. However, the ball was not thrown far enough and “McMonagle, jumping high, gathered at full stretch to hurl himself over with his colleagues supplying the essential drive from behind”. A newspaper report added that “in a long career, McMonagle has never done anything of more value for his side”. The missed conversion left the scores tied but there was more drama to come. In the 80th minute Clontarf were awarded a kickable penalty and their third-choice kicker, R. Sheehy, put Clontarf in front. Then, four minutes into injury time, UCD were offered redemption in the form of a kickable penalty. It was missed and “the last opportunity of UCD survival was gone”.


The 1990s and that “play-off”

It would take 20 years for both sides to meet again in the cup. By this time, the All Ireland League had gained preference and prestige over the provincial cups and early round matches were no longer played at Lansdowne Road. Both sides then played in the 3rd Division and UCD were victorious (18 – 15) in an end-of-season clash on Easter Saturday. This was the last time that both sides would meet under the “old format” of successive knock-out rounds. Subsequently, the initial stages of the competition would be staged on a League basis and played at the start of the season. Since that time, UCD and Clontarf have met on four occasions, with matches, sometimes, being played August. (Those results are not produced here).

While not a cup match per se, it is worthwhile to recall the two legs of the 1999/00 AIL Division 1/Division 2 playoff series. The first leg was played on a sunny Sunday in Belfield on 14th May, 2000. UCD stormed into a 20 point lead, scoring three tries, within 25 minutes, but the match was drawn (40 points each) with an equalising penalty for Clontarf, kicked by Richie Murphy, in the 79th minute. The Irish Times summed up the match as follows: “This was a game that had everything and better still, it was only the first leg”. The second leg (and series) was won the following Friday evening by Clontarf (21 – 16). Saturday’s Final On Saturday, 17th January, 2015 (Donnybrook, 3pm) UCD will play Clontarf for only the second time at the final stage of the Leinster Senior Cup. UCD are playing in their 27th final, having won the trophy on 9 occasions and are currently the holders of the trophy. Clontarf, currently All Ireland League champions, are playing in their 16th final, having won the cup on 5 occasions, the most recent year being 2007/08, under the captaincy Simon Crawford – a former UCD player.

For completeness, lists of senior cup finals involving UCD, knock-out cup matches between UCD and Clontarf, and total Senior Cups won by all Leinster clubs are presented below.