Brendan Johnston Final
SETU Carlow 20
After losing narrowly in 2022, SETU Carlow made up for a year of hurt and disappointment when they won a nerve jangling Brendan Johnston Cup final at The Mardyke last week. They did it the hard way too. Coming up to half-time they were leading 17-0 and were looking to increase the lead. Instead, the Dublin college hit back for a converted try. Within a minute of the restart there was only five in it when DCU drove their rivals over the line for the second time.
Despite going into arrears, DCU had started the first half strongly and could very well have scored first. When Carlow were stretched out wide, full-back, Senan Hogan came into the line. Instead of passing left, he opted to go himself and was swallowed up.
At the other end, Carlow fashioned a try when Sean Quinlan went over in the left corner at the opposite end to the dressing rooms. As it transpired later in the game, Adam Johnson’s conversion was vital.
Eight minutes later they scored again in the same corner and this time Corey Hughes was credited with the five points. He repeated his feat once more when he drove at the DCU defence and using his strength to get the ball down just as the defence smothered him.
The Barrowsiders must have thought they game was safe at this point. It could have been better when Scott O’Sullivan ran on to a through ball but after the winger touched down, the referee disallowed the try ruling that the would be scorer had been in front of the kicker.
It was from there DCU found their feet and a line-out maul had Carlow going backwards at speed. At the third time of asking, David Leane had a simple touchdown. With Sean Hogan’s successful conversion, the game was not so far away from the Dubliners with Carlow holding a frail looking 17-7 advantage.
Before Carlow could settle into the second half, Dowse came up from another driving maul with the ball in hand. Again the conversion drifted wide but DCU had all the momentum at that stage. They forced a scrum penalty, kicked into the left corner and inevitably pushed Carlow over their line. Again, Dowse claimed the touchdown. Crucially, the conversion hit the left hand upright and dropped wide.
Somehow, Carlow managed to get themselves into the DCU half and while their heads had to be spinning, they forced a penalty. Johnson backed himself from distance but in front of the posts. His effort sailed just inside the right-hand upright and now Carlow were back in front.
The eventual winners enjoyed a period of domination but that ended for the remainder of the game when some incisive running and support by DCU, brought them back towards the Carlow 22.
It was a battle of wills from there. In that DCU breakaway, the two try scorer for, Carlow, Corey Hughes, picked up a yellow and spent 10 minutes in the bin. Without him, the Carlow defence was ferocious and they gave nothing away.
In those closing minutes, DCU went to the corner in the hope of getting a winning try. Their composure was not as assured as it had been earlier. They made mistakes in the set-piece and when they conceded a penalty, it was brought forward 10 yards for back-chat. All those moments played into the hands of a confident Carlow side.
Their manager, John Tobin, dedicated the performance to one of their players.
“We had to dig in. Some lads got injuries and belts which came their way but we did this for Sam Cullen and his family. His aunt passed away this week. He lined out and played a stormer. It is not about me. It is about those lads. They played great stuff,” Tobin articulated.
The game finished with DCU forcing the issue. Time and time again, the Carlow tackles went in and eventually, the eventual winners forced a penalty. Johnson did the needful. Taping the ball on his foot, he then booted the ball high and long over the right hand touchline for a win which had their supporters weak on their knees in the stand.
Fortune favoured the brave.
“It means everything. 40-50 lads all year bursting their asses. Absolutely brilliant. It was disappointing last year. 18-15 and we didn’t take a kick. We said this week and last we were taking nothing to chance and would take everything. That is what we did today,” said Tobin afterwards.
SETU Carlow: Adam Johnson, Scott O’Sullivan, Sean Quinlan, Sam Cullen, Killian Creed, Dylan O’Keeffe, Conor Halpenny; Oluwamayomikun Omoniwa, Corey Hughes, Gavin Redmond, Jonah O’Keeffe, Mark Kelly, Michael O’Brien, Jamie Kavanagh. Subs: Daniel Culleton, Rhys Roberts, Niall Finnegan, Sam Dunne, Richard Brophy, Billy Fitzpatrick, Jack Fitzgerald Rodgers, Kristian Jocker, Ewan Mac Gabhann.
DCU: Senan Hogan, Luke Bryan, Conor Gibney, Stefan Bors, Michael Callaghan, Shane McGuinness, Eoin Dawson; Darragh Walsh, David Dowse, Cian Connolly, Callum Cawley, Jakub Tarnwski, Sean Casey, Sean Cronin, Daniel Leane. Subs: Diarmuid Long, Cian Russell, Oscar Hunt Quinn, James Horgan, Matteo Cardiff, Sebastian Mouiemme, Ben Crotty, Guillerme Neto.
Referee: John Purcell.
Joint captain on the day (with Sam Cullen) was flanker Michael O’Brien. Brother to Irish international player, Dannah O’Brien, this was a sweet victory for him after they lost out at the final hurdle in 2022.
“It was basically the same story as last year but this time they were on the wrong end of it,” pointed out Michael. He was unable to explain why Carlow seemed to take their feet off the pedals when they were in total control.
“We had purple patches. You have to play for 80 minutes but credit to the boys that we held on after they got their tails up.”
When they went level with time moving on if the bookies were giving odds then DCU would have been money-on as they forced a series of set pieces near the Carlow line. The minutes ticked by for both teams.
“Conditions played a factor and they weren’t able to build the momentum they had earlier on,” said O’Brien who, in support of his sister, intends to be in Cork on April 1 for the ladies six nations international between Ireland and France .
“Hopefully I will be in Cork in two weeks’ time and then in Scotland to cheer her on.”
After all the SETU defending, the game down to two kicks from winning full-back, Adam Johnson. The penalty which put them back in front and the kick to touch at the end which heralded the final whistle.
“After missing two before, I had to keep the head down and strike it straight,” said Johnson as he referred to his winning penalty.
Then there was the delivery to touch at the end. His final kick came from the centre area near the 22. It wasn’t easy to kick dead in wet conditions. Adam said he was never not going to find touch.
“Not a chance. To put the ball as far back off the field as possible was my intention,” he said.
And what happened that they lost 17 points without reply?
“They kept going to that corner and mauled us around the place. We had to pull it back. We tried to keep the ball in their half trying to put pressure on them rather than putting pressure on us. We knew we would get a chance. Credit to Michael O’Brien and Jamie Kavanagh who forced the turnover,” praised Johnson.
“We make it exciting,’ he grinned.
By Kieran Murphy