28 Jun 2022

RUGBY: Thurles RFC - back where we belong after a fantastic season

Even the most optimistic of forecasters could not have predicted an undefeated league run on the field and the successful completion of the land purchase deal off the field.

Thurles RFC create history in successful weekend of finals

It was a great season for Thurles RFC

Written by Michael Quinlan

There comes a time in the affairs of men, when taken at the flood leads on to fortune.
(Julius Caesar; William Shakespeare)

Cassius’ words of incitement to Brutus were aptly chosen and intoned with the nonchalance of the learned by Gerry Purcell, that fine full back from another era; he was defining a seminal moment in the life of the club he loved and served for over 50 years; a year that would confirm if the dual ambitions of restoration to division 1 of the MJL after 10 years struggling in division 2 and the acquisition of precious training and playing real estate adjacent to the home grounds to cater for the burgeoning number of players of all ages and sexes would be realised.

Even the most optimistic of forecasters could not have predicted an undefeated league run on the field and the successful completion of the land purchase deal off the field.

The early season omens were propitious; it seemed that the bingo balls of the zeitgeist had finally called the number of a new dawn for the old Loughtagalla club preparing to celebrate its 100th birthday in 2024.

Off the field some very dedicated hardworking and persistent club people were putting in place the essentials to ensure that a rather torturous and protracted deal for the grounds would soon be completed while on the playing field there were some new kids on the block who along with a core of the loyal old guard and one or two returnees would be capable of alchemising the existing side into a winning ticket.

Head coach Eoin O’Connor set out his stall early; more of the Jack Charlton than the Dr.Clare school of psychology the message was stark and clear-No prima donnas or cherry pickers need apply!! The collective would always be more important than the individual however talented. That is how he and his able assistants, Ollie Geoghegan and Shane Scanlon moulded this talented but perhaps rather disparate bunch of young men into a Band of Brothers.

A struggling set scrum had to be firmed up; old hand Gerry Scanlon was joined in the front row by hooker Shane Nugent and prop John Shaw who like Sam Quinlan and Eoin Byrne was promoted from the U18 side; belying their callow youth they steadied the scrum manfully with 18 year old John Shaw filling his father’s boots with some aplomb while young Nugent’s darts were finding their line out targets far more often; they were locked in the engine room by the extremely talented and teak tough captain Luke Kelly and Colin Nolan; the term “engine room” can connote bruisers but these two are accomplished young footballers capable of running very subtle support lines and scoring more than their fair share of tries.

Joining veteran Mark Cummins, who always punches above his weight, in the back row are Sam Quinlan and Ciaran Ryan, the latter often plucking despairing ball from energy sapped scrums with the prestidigitation of a nimble pickpocket and always crashing the gain line; 19 year old Sam Quinlan is a precocious talent soaring high in the line out, scrambling and jackaling at the breakdown, carrying ball with subtle hands and feet and like a talented hurler always seems to be in the right place at the right time with the least effort.

The big man Rob O’Donovan has a roving role, in the back or front row. The clip of his try against Kanturk went viral within 24 hours of scoring. The big man can be seen slaloming through a sea of defenders emerging on the 22 and haring for the line like a man who just heard his house was on fire.

A sine qua non for any aspiring rugby side is a pair of half backs capable of making the best use of hard-won possession. There is much of the old firm of Moore and Lillis in the pairing of Seamus Holohan and James Maher; the Rahealty man rips lightning speed passes off both hands and is not averse to darting for the odd gap. Behind such a service the astute number 10 has precious seconds to mix his game pulling the right strings; a judicious mix of little honesty inducing dinks and real howitzers to gain distance or lift sieges. Playing close to the gain line he knows when to set his talented three-quarter line in motion; and this is a sight to behold with Geoghegan’s fingerprint all over the well drilled complicated moves.

The decision by Sonny Dwyer to continue his rugby at home was greeted with joyous anticipation; he was bringing a glittering rugby resume long before his “use by date”; captain of the Rockwell Senior Cup team followed by many years of plying his talented trade at the highest level of the AIL with Cork Constitution; and it was an inspired decision to move this talismanic figure to join Eoghan Dwyer at centre; both have a simple philosophy; they will go around you or through you; take your pick; the outcome will be the same; the smile is back on Eoghan’s face; after toiling so loyally and so long he knows he now has a team worthy of his talents There is hardly a more talented centre combination in the MJL today.

Eoin Byrne and Cathal Hayes man the wings ; The former, like Sam Quinlan, who has dual status with Shannon U20s, holds similar status with Garryowen; equally comfortable at centre he always fixes his man before timing perfect passes to his support runners; Cathal, who like Seamie Holohan and Mark Cummins began his rugby life in Rahealty school, only needs ball and a little space and his speed and power does the rest; currently in his final year of Acturial Studies he has to prioritise exams from time to time and his absence has been felt when he does.

Paddy McGrath has nailed down the full back berth; safety under the high ball is a given- he is of the Loughmore McGraths- lightning fast in attack he is a ruthless exploiter of the gaps opened by his honesty inducing centres putting him at the top of the try scoring table.

The iconic try by Rob O’ Donovan against Kanturk required the extras if the league were to be secured; there is no easy putt to win the captain’s prize; no simple penalty to lift the McCarthy Cup; but young McGrath was here before; he had the cajones; straight over the black spot.

Modern rugby has become more attritional and no season can be successfully negotiated with just the same 15 men; strength in depth is a treasured currency; outstanding players such as Jack Kavanagh, Conor Moloney, Matthew Kelly,Daragh Sweeney, Luke Fogarty, Conor O’Hagan, Don Lee, Brian O’Connell, Dylan O’Shaughnessy, Dara Sweeney, Joey Kelly, Nate Morehu and Eoin Long have made huge contributions when they have started games and joined games with no noticeable diminution in the team’s performance and there is no doubt that many will be in the first 15 more often in seasons to come.

There is now a very entertaining tradition when players link arms in a circle at the end of a game and belt out a joyful rendition of The Foundation’s hit song “Build me up Buttercup” led by the totemic choirmaster Rob O’Donovan; perhaps a suggestion to add to his repertoire; why not Warner’s and Cocker’s “Up Where we Belong”!

Hail the conquering heroes.

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