In this week’s Limerick Leader rugby column, Aidan Corr recalls St Mary’s last success in the Munster Junior Cup.
THERE are many things I remember about the day St Mary’s RFC won the Munster Junior Cup for the first and only time. Even though we are only three years from marking 50 years since that great occasion, it remains a very special sporting occasion in this city. With that competition getting underway again this week-end, we are still waiting for them to repeat that achievement.
The final, played on May 5, 1968, had to be deferred from its original kick-off time of 3pm to 7pm that evening due to the centenary celebrations of the Arch Confraternity of the Holy Family in Mount St Alphonsus. A number of my Caxtonian colleagues (in the printing industry) were involved with St Mary’s in those days and with my girlfriend of only a few months, we took up an early vantage point on the sixpenny side of Thomond Park.
Joe O’Shaughnessy, formerly of the Limerick Leader and a trustee of St Mary’s RFC for many years, who was imparted with the responsible job of bottle boy for the game, reflected the excitement of the occasion, running up and down the sideline following the play as the action ebbed and flowed from end to end.
Their opponents, Waterford City, had the advantage of winning the trophy in 1930 but they failed to be inspired by history on that occasion, St Mary’s running out winners to the delight of their large following.
In their excellent facilties in Grove Island this week I bumped into one of the heroes of that day, prop Jim O’Dwyer, who spoke about losing their blindside flanker Ger Cosgrave with a broken jaw midway through the first half (no replacements in those days so they had to play the rest of the game with 14 men), the ecstasy of the cup victory and having to carry a prominent cleric out of the ‘Kahzba’, the club’s local drinking haunt, in the early hours, such was the level of celebration.
That St Mary’s success was to open the door to world prominence for one of the side. 18-year-old Brendan Foley, father of the current Munster coach Anthony, had an outstanding campaign, joined Shannon the following season, was a hero of the Munster team that beat the All Blacks in 1978 and went on to win 11 caps. He played his last game in the green jersey in 1981, partnering a very young Donal Lenihan for Ireland against Australia in Lansdowne Road.
What is equally interesting about that Saints’ team is that most of the players came from the environs of Athlunkard Street. Out-half Eddie Price had a lengthy career with Shannon after converting to the pack, captained the side and went on to become president but there was sadness in the club last week with the death of the team captain of 1968, Frank Ryan, their openside wing forward of ‘68. Also on the side that day were Tom McNamara at full-back, Connie Kerley and Eamonn Rice on the wings, Michael Kerley and Tim Rice in the centre; Pa McNamara at scrum-half, Paul Manning at hooker, Pa Ryan tight head, Christy Kelly at second-row with Foley and Jim Daly at number eight.
The Munster Junior Cup captures what local rugby in this province is all about. It is grassroots to the core, very much parish-orientated where matches are played for pride and club honour and where successes are never forgotten.
There is another reason why I will not forget St Mary’s historic victory of 1968. To complete an enjoyable evening of rugby entertainment, myself and the aforementioned ‘girlfriend of a few months’ went for a meal in a William Street restaurant during which she became worryingly uncomfortable due to a fish bone becoming lodged in her throat.
Thankfully, after 44 years of marriage, we can still see the funny side of it as we reminisce on the greatest occasion in the 71-year history of Limerick’s Saints and how a large tumbler of water saved the day.