Athlone made the decision to travel with two distinct squads. Under the SSI rules players who start for the Seniors are not allowed to play for the seconds, but those players that are subs for the Senior team may also play for the seconds. AIT decided that by having two separate squads they were giving 44 players the opportunity to play in an All-Ireland Final despite realising it would weaken the seconds team.
The seconds final proved to be a step too far for the Athlone I.T. team. Despite the bravest of efforts they struggled against a strong I.T. Carlow side that consistently outflanked them. Trailing 22-7 at half-time, having played with the wind for the first period, I.T. Carlow soon started adding to their advantage as they built up a 40-7 lead midway through the second half. AIT put in their customary gutsy performance as they scored a try to make the score 40-12 and then had an extended period of applying pressure to the Carlow line but were just unable to add to their score despite a number of near misses. Close to the end Carlow scored a breakaway try that was converted to leave the final score 47-12. Full credit to Conor Galvin and his team for putting up such a brave performance.
The senior final was eagerly anticipated by all present. AIT last won this final in 2010 and having lost to I.T. Carlow in the last three senior finals they were desperate to reverse these results, not least because they are the only college to have ever won four successive finals (between 2001-2004). Captain Martin Staunton brought along his three losers medals for pre-match motivation and it was obvious during the warm-up that the team were highly focused and very much “up” for the game.
Straight from Carlow’s kick-off AIT gathered the ball and immediately set about putting the opposition on the back foot. Driving runs into the heart of the Carlow defence put them under great pressure and the only way they could cope was by giving away penalties. The first of these was spurned by Athlone’s desire to keep the pace high when they ran the ball from a kickable position but when the next penalty came Domnhal Corbett duly slotted the ball between the uprights for a 3-0 lead. From the next Carlow kick-off the pattern of play was repeated and as Athlone drove across the gain line again and again, Carlow killed the ball again and Corbett slotted his second penalty for a 6-0 lead. AIT were dominant in the scrum and were playing with a power and verve that Carlow were finding increasingly difficult to live with. When Carlow kicked the ball, it was fielded brilliantly by the Athlone players who ran it straight back at them. The noisy Carlow crowd had been silenced by the time Bryan “Dixie” Dixon was put through a gap in the ITC defence to score under the post. Corbett duly converted and the lead stretched to 13-0. Carlow were struggling to get out of their own half and hard tackling and big hits from Athlone were forcing knock-ons and turnovers to increase the pressure on their opponents.
Athlone had territorial advantage and after a number of scrums close to the Carlow line, Kevin Gavin scampered around the blind side to score a try in the corner. Corbett succeeded with a very difficult kick to extend the lead to 20-0. With rolling subs allowed, the coaches changed the props to keep the players fresh and the tempo high, Gavin and Aodhan Glynn came off to be replaced by Craig Hansbury and Brian Teape. Teape’s very first touch of the ball was to force his way over for AIT’s third try which extended the lead to 25-0. With 7 minutes to go to half-time Sean Dempsey was sent to the sin-bin for not releasing after tackling a Carlow player, but Athlone held on comfortably so the score at half-time remained 25-0.
The half-time team talk centred around staying focused and the importance of the first score in the second half. This Athlone team knew how to follow the script and within two minutes of the restart Aidan Connaghton scythed through the Carlow defence to extend the lead to 30-0 while they were still reduced to 14 mean. The difficult conversion was missed but the all-important first score went to Athlone. Throughout the game AIT had defended brilliantly never giving their opponents any room and snuffing out danger before it developed, as a result Carlow became more frantic as the match went on but Athlone were disappointed when the next score went to ITC, a try in the corner, which was splendidly converted from the touchline by former AIT student Willie Canavan. It was about this time that the skies opened and rain made the conditions very difficult for Athlone to play their free flowing brand of rugby but they were comfortably handling anything Carlow could through at them. The final score came to Athlone in the form of a fifth try, this one scored by Dempsey. This left the final score at 35-7 to earn Athlone I.T. their 9th Senior Cup.
It would be wrong to pick out any individual from the Athlone I.T. team, everyone played well – the starting XV and also the subs all of whom came on at some stage. Tremendous credit should be given to coaches Charlie Couper and Geoff Kenny who have worked tirelessly to produce a team capable of challenging I.T. Carlow who have reaped the fruits of their Rugby course for the past few years. Next up will be the Freshers who are waiting to find out who their semi-final opponents will be as AIT try to retain the cup they won last year. No fewer than six freshers were involved in today’s victorious Senior Cup squad.
Team: Kevin Gavin, Brian McGovern, Aodhan Glynn, Josh O’Rourke, Sam McCormack, Brendan Fagan, Aidan Connaghton, Martin Staunton, Mark Dolan, Domhnal Corbett, Colm O’Reilly, Cathal Evans, Bryan Dixon, Sean Dempsey, Callum Boland
Subs: Brian Teape, Harry Hester, Craig Hansbury, Mark Kennedy, Darragh Maher, Ricky Dixon, Ben Porter